Marshal Zhukov: A Career Built on Corpses

By Dan Michaels

Source: http://vho.org/tr/2004/3/Michaels334-340.html

Viktor Suworow, Marschall Schukow – Lebensweg über Leichen, Pour-le-Mérite, Selent, Germany, 2002, 350 pp., €25.80

Prologue

Every war produces genuine military strategists and heroes, many of whom die on the battlefield or whose exploits go unrecognized. Decorated “Hero of the Soviet Union” four times, Marshal Georgi Zhukov was indisputably the most honored military figure in the Soviet Union. During World War II he rose to the position of deputy supreme commander and, after Josef Stalin, was the USSR’s most popular figure. Viktor Suvorov, arguably the foremost revisionist of the Russo-German War, attempts in his most recent book[1] to show that Zhukov was neither a genuine hero nor a great strategist. Not only, Suvorov contends, was Zhukov the only general in world history to be honored for losing more than five million of his men in combat, but he was also an unscrupulous commander who squandered the men serving under him through gross incompetence and callousness. As to the character of the man, Suvorov argues that Marshal Zhukov was by no means an honorable soldier, but, as the Russians say, a “soldafon”–a crude, loud-mouthed martinet.

The entire history of the Soviet Union, Viktor Suvorov writes in his latest book, is a fabrication based on lies and propaganda. With the exception of the Russian people themselves, whose courage and stoicism deserve every acknowledgment, there were no genuine Communist heroes during the entire Soviet regime, especially not those designated by the ink and electronic media under the direction of the propaganda directorate (Agitprop). Suvorov takes the case of four-times “Hero of the Soviet Union” Marshal Georgi Zhukov as a prime example of such fabricated heroism.

The legend of Zhukov’s genius, Suvorov states, was an invention of the Communist Party and the marshal himself in his memoirs.[2] It was propagated throughout the world by Communist political commissars and propagandists like General David Ortenberg, chief editor of the military newspaper Red Star, and Boris Polevoy (né Kampov), chief editor of Pravda. The legend was echoed and magnified in the Western media by fellow travelers and innocent dupes alike. By 1970 one benighted cleric even proposed that Zhukov be made a saint in the Russian Orthodox Church.

Essentially a crude and unprofessional soldier, Zhukov was held in low regard by his fellow Soviet marshals: Bulganin, Vasilevsky, Yeremenko, Konev, Zakharov, Golikov, Rokossovsky, Timoshenko, Biryuzov, and others. Suvorov cites descriptions of Zhukov by these colleagues, and the adjectives most frequently used to describe Zhukov are crude, brutal, sadistic, vainglorious, obtuse, morbidly narcissistic, overrated. They also employed the terms butcher, drunk, braggart, careerist, fraud, and the like. Nor were these epithets simply a matter of professional jealousy. Unfortunately for Zhukov, first Stalin and later Khrushchev concurred in this evaluation.

Writing today, Russian military historian Pavel N. Bobylev of the Russian Ministry of Defense Institute of Military History admits that “in his memoirs Marshal Zhukov concocts a mainly self-serving, self-exonerating version of what actually occurred in mid-1941 and on the eve of the war.”[3]

Marshal Zhukov was not, as the media has depicted him, the master strategist and architect of most of the Soviet battlefield victories. He was, instead, one of Stalin’s brutal executioners – a ruthless individual given plenipotentiary powers to ensure that the military strategies and tactics developed by Stalin and the Supreme High Command (Stavka) were successfully executed, regardless of the cost in men or materiel. At times the marshal used to weep uncontrollably for no apparent reason.

Suvorov compares Zhukov’s role and responsibilities to those of the secret police chief Genrikh Yagoda, who received credit for supervising the building of the Baltic-White Sea Canal in which countless thousands of slave laborers perished. Yagoda was the slave master who ensured the laborers were on the job, but had nothing to do with the planning, engineering, and subsequent operation of the canal. So it was with Zhukov, who drove his men into battle without himself having developed a strategy that would yield victory with the least number of casualties. As to Zhukov’s modus operandi, Marshal Rokossovsky wrote:[4]

“Zhukov much preferred to give orders than to lead his men. At difficult moments no subordinate could expect any support from his side – the support of a comrade, leader, or an encouraging word of friendly counsel.”

Suvorov reviews Zhukov’s career chronologically from his early undeserved “victories” to his final, fully-deserved disgrace.

Battle of Khalkhin-Gol

Zhukov’s first major command, in which he won his first Hero of the Soviet Union award, was in the Battle of Khalkhin-Gol in Mongolia in the summer of 1939, considered by many the dress rehearsal for the planned Soviet attack on Germany in 1941. When the decision was taken by the Kremlin to teach the Japanese a lesson while at the same time trying out the Soviet war machine, General Zhukov was chosen to head the operation and was given a free hand to request as many men and as much military hardware as he wanted. According to Suvorov, General Zhukov did not himself devise the sudden, Soviet steamroller encirclement operation that was executed with overwhelming forces.

While the accounts of the battle highlight the names of Zhukov, the political commissars assigned to the operation, and even those of individual heroes among the troops, no mention whatsoever is made of the key officers – the chief of staff and the chief of operations – who were most responsible for the conduct and outcome of the battle. In his research Suvorov found that most of the important data on the operation are still classified and inaccessible. He did, however, eventually find the name of Zhukov’s chief of staff in the little-publicized memoirs of Marshal Matvei Zakharov. It was Brigade Commander M. A. Bogdanov, the best in the Red Army at the time, who must be credited with developing the strategy used so successfully at Khalkhin-Gol, not General Zhukov.

Admiral of the Fleet Nikolai Kuznetsov, who was later purged by Marshal Zhukov personally, commented on Zhukov’s role in the battle:[5]

“After it was over, he [Zhukov] did everything he could to take credit for every success in the battle with the Japanese.”

Prelude to World War II

After his return from the successful campaign in Mongolia in late 1940, Zhukov found the map of Europe changed to reflect Stalin’s advance into Finland, the Baltic states, and Bessarabia, as well as Hitler’s invasion of Western Europe. In September 1940 Stalin ordered all his major military commanders and the entire Politburo to attend a ten-day conference in Moscow, beginning on December 23, to discuss possible strategies in the event of war with Germany. Ostensibly, the conference was to address the problem of how best to defend the Soviet Union in the event of an attack by Germany. Actually, Suvorov notes, most of the reports delivered by the attendees discussed methods of how best to attack Germany.[6]

General Zhukov, who was then-commander of the Kiev Military District, was – owing to his unique experience in Mongolia – assigned to deliver the main report, “The Character of a Modern Offensive Operation.” Because, he claimed, he was very busy with his other duties, Zhukov delegated the writing of his report to a then little-known but gifted officer, Colonel I. Kh. Bagramyan. Bagramyan, Suvorov notes, later rose to the rank of marshal in World War II and authored the Soviet 1944 summer offensive that broke the German front in the central sector.

Suvorov lists other reports read at the conference, e.g., “The Air Force in an Offensive Operation and in the Fight for Mastery of the Skies” by the head of the Main Air Force Administration, General P. V. Rychagov; and “The Use of Mechanized Units in a Modern Offensive Operation and the Insertion of a Mechanized Corps in a Breakthrough” by General D. G. Pavlov. When General F. N. Remizov, addressing People’s Commissar of Defense, Marshal S. K. Timoshenko, made the comment, “Comrade Commissar of Defense, by modern defense we mean…” Timoshenko cut him off sharply: “We are not talking about defense.”

The reports outlining the offensive deployment procedures to be followed to accomplish a sudden, steamroller attack against Germany similar to that used against the Japanese in Mongolia, were well received. All participants in the conference were sworn to absolute secrecy about the proceedings. However, in his memoirs published in 1969, Zhukov falsely stated that the conference was concerned with the defense of the Soviet Union in the event of a German attack.

Prewar Maneuvers

In January 1941, immediately following the conference, large-scale strategic operational maneuvers were held to test the theoretical discussions at the conference. Stalin and the entire Politburo observed. The People’s Commissar of Defense, Marshal Timoshenko, directed the war games.

According to Marshal Zhukov, he and some twenty-one other generals commanded the “Western (Blue) forces,” i.e., the invading German forces, while General D. G. Pavlov with twenty-eight generals commanded the defending “Eastern (Red) Russian forces.” Zhukov, by his own account, miraculously deployed his forces in precisely the manner the Germans did in their attack a year later. Writer Ivan Stadnyuk has sarcastically described Zhukov’s brilliance:[7] “His talent was so brilliant that he could merely glance at the map to evaluate the situation. Putting himself in the place of the German command, he almost faultlessly divined the decisions that the Germans would take.”

As a youth at the time of these maneuvers, Suvorov had wondered why the Chief of the General Staff, General Kirill Meretskov, had not himself directed the defense, as important as it was to the survival of the state. In reality, but concealed by Marshal Zhukov in his memoirs, there were not one, but two war games conducted in January 1941.[8] The first ran from 2 through 6 January during which the “Germans” launched their attack from East Prussia, while the second ran from 8 through 11 January, with the “Germans” attacking from Romania and Hungary. In the second war game, Zhukov commanded the Soviet forces, while Pavlov commanded the “Germans.” Despite the legend that the Germans attacked in Operation Barbarossa with superior forces, Suvorov points out that even in these maneuvers the Western forces had only 3,512 tanks and 3,336 aircraft, while the Russians had 8,811 tanks and 5,652 aircraft. In the actual war, the Germans had even fewer tanks and aircraft, while the Russian had more.

In these war games, Suvorov continues, the Soviet forces had two options for attack: a direct strike north of Polesya against East Prussia, Königsberg, and Berlin, which would have destroyed the entire German army; or south of Polesya, toward Budapest and the Romanian oilfields. Stalin himself chose the second option.

International Situation

Soon after the January 1941 maneuvers, Zhukov was appointed Chief of the General Staff. In that position, Suvorov asserts, Zhukov should have warned Stalin that the advances made by Soviet forces in Finland, the Baltics, and Romania in the past two years had left Hitler no choice but to attack before Germany was totally cut off from her raw material suppliers.

Germany was fully dependent on Sweden for iron ore and on Finland for nickel and timber. First, the Soviet Union in the preceding years had built up her Baltic Fleet to the point where it alone had more naval assets than Germany to defend against the combined British and American navies in the Atlantic. (For example, at that time Germany had a total of 57 submarines in its entire navy, while the USSR had 65 subs in the Baltic Sea alone.) Second, the Soviet Union had successfully invaded Finland and could now easily block the Gulf of Bothnia. Third, the Soviet Union had occupied the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. None of these measures had needed to be taken for defensive reasons. They were obviously taken to cut Germany off from her raw materials supplies.

Similarly, when the Soviet Union occupied Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina and threatened Germany’s only major oil source, Zhukov should have known that Germany could not possibly tolerate that situation for long, and warned Stalin of a possible attack. Zhukov did not.

The better strategic course of action on the Soviet side in the case of the Romanian oil fields, in Suvorov’s opinion, would have been either to seize the Ploesti oilfields outright or else not do anything in that regard. Most of Germany’s military assets at the time were committed to the Western front; the Eastern front was wide open. By taking the halfway action of seizing Bessarabia and Bukovina, the Russians succeeded only in baiting the German tiger and throwing Romania into the German camp. Boxed in a corner, the tiger could only attack. Stalin made those political decisions, but Marshal Zhukov could and should have recommended against them on strategic grounds.

June 22, 1941

When, on June 22, 1941, the German tiger attacked the Soviet Union, stunned indecision paralyzed the Stavka. As Suvorov recounts, it was not because the USSR was unprepared for war: they were armed to the teeth and almost ready to attack in an offensive war of their own design. The code name for the Soviet attack on Germany and Europe was “Groza,” or “storm.” Very detailed invasion plans had been distributed to all commanders at the front in red packets that were only to be opened when the signal was given. Commenting after the war, Marshal Vasilevsky wrote:[9]

“There were very detailed operational plans, just as there were mobilization plans. Mobilization plans had been given to literally each unit, including the secondary rear units. […] The calamity was not in the absence of operational plans but in our inability to use them in the situation that had developed.”

The Stavka had prepared absolutely no plans for a defensive war. The operational plans in the red packets were never opened. Josef Stalin and Marshal Zhukov were responsible for this.

Moreover, the main thrust of the Germans was north of Polesya, while Zhukov, who had claimed to know precisely what the Germans planned to do, had deployed his main forces somewhat south of Polesya. Because Zhukov’s own plans had been upset, his first directives to the Soviet armed forces were impromptu and confused.

On June 22, the day of the German attack, Zhukov distributed Directive No. 1 which ordered Soviet forces not to respond to any provocative actions. Directive No. 2 followed later in the day, after the Germans had already penetrated Soviet defenses. When Directive No. 3 was issued on June 24, it sealed the fate of the front line troops of the Red Army by unrealistically calling upon the Red Army in the Suvalka region to attack, encircle the enemy, and destroy him. The reverse occurred.

Two months later in August, Suvorov recalls, Zhukov was faced with another strategic decision. General Guderian’s tank units had earlier seized the strategically important town of Elnya, situated on a high-ground salient just 300 kilometers from Moscow. In August the German High Command was undecided whether to use Guderian’s forces for a push on Moscow or to turn south, meet up with General Kleist’s forces, and encircle the Soviet armies around Kiev. Zhukov decided to make a frontal assault on the German salient at Elnya. Zhukov eventually took Elnya, but his losses in men and equipment were so great that it was a Pyrrhic victory.

Unfortunately for Zhukov, Guderian’s main forces managed to slip by and elude detection by the Soviets. Before moving south, however, the Germans thoroughly mined the area around Elnya. Zhukov’s forces attacked the now abandoned Elnya salient and suffered heavy casualties on the minefields. Meanwhile, Guderian’s forces had joined up with Kleist’s southern group, encircled six Soviet armies, captured 665,000 Russian prisoners, 884 tanks, 3,178 field guns, and much ammunition and fuel.

The legend of Marshal Zhukov’s genius, Suvorov recalls, attributes to him the successful defense of Leningrad, the repulsing of the Germans at the gates of Moscow, the defeat of the Germans at Stalingrad, and the taking of Berlin.

To stabilize the front after the disastrous rout of his armies, Stalin – one week after the German attack – acted quickly by ordering the gifted strategist, General Andrei Yeremenko, who at the time was commander of the Far East Army in Khabarovsk, to take charge of the European theater, restore order, and slow the German advance. This Yeremenko, not Zhukov, accomplished in hard-fought battles around Smolensk and Bryansk.

Leningrad

Since tsarist times Leningrad has been so heavily defended on land and at sea as to dissuade any attempt to attack it. With the guns of the Baltic Fleet providing artillery support, the defense of the city was formidable indeed. Only a madman, Suvorov says, would waste forces merely to take the city as a trophy. Not being that madman, Hitler decided to leave the city to its misery and move his now depleted and exhausted forces to a more important objective: Moscow. Consequently, Suvorov comments sarcastically, Zhukov saved a city that the Germans had no intention of storming.

Moscow

While it is true, Suvorov concedes, that the Germans were stopped at the gates of Moscow, Marshal Zhukov had little to do with it. First, the German forces had been depleted and exhausted after five months of uninterrupted combat. They had also exhausted their supplies, especially fuel, and had yet to receive winter clothing. In many cases unit strength was at 40 percent or less of initial authorized strength. Second, Stavka, not Zhukov, had transferred 39 more battle-ready divisions and 42 brigades from Siberia, the Urals, and Kazakhstan to the Western front.

Soviet defenses along the Lama River, running just west and northwest of the Soviet capital, proved particularly difficult to overcome. For the first time in the Russo-German war, Soviet defenses and men were managed with consummate skill. The Russian commander who had accomplished this was given no credit. That general’s name was Andrei Vlasov, and he later defected to the German side.

German losses were indeed grave in the battle for Moscow, and in many sectors of the front they were forced to retreat. Marshal Zhukov, according to Suvorov, then falsely exaggerated to Stalin German losses and the extent of the German retreat. Zhukov convinced Stalin that a major offensive along the entire Western front would completely rout the Germans. However, instead of concentrating their forces into a fist and smashing the main German force strength, the Soviets attacked all along the front, like the fingers on a hand. Red Army losses were staggering as the German lines stiffened. Zhukov lost three more armies and two corps. “Nicht kleckern, sondern klotzen” – “Don’t piddle away your strength; concentrate it for smashing an important target!” is a famous German adage that Zhukov was apparently not familiar with.

Despite the failure of the Soviets to drive the Germans out of Russia in the first winter of the war (the Russo-German war would last another three-and-a-half years), Stalin praised Zhukov and awarded him new honors. It was the practice of Stalin, Viktor Suvorov observes, to lavish awards on his bloodiest political henchmen. Thus, for example, Stalin also made Lev Mekhlis, Lavrenty Beriya, Nikolai Bulganin, and other political murderers into generals and marshals, praised them, and gave them the highest awards.

Stalingrad

The legend of Marshal Zhukov’s genius also gives him credit for the Soviet victory at Stalingrad. Suvorov points out that Zhukov had spent very little time in Stalingrad. His first visit was on August 31, when he proposed counterattacks. After two weeks he returned to Moscow. His last visit to Stalingrad was on November 16. The main Soviet encircling offensive began on November 19, without Zhukov. The marshal was mostly concerned with launching unsuccessful offensives in other sectors of the front, especially in the direction of Sychevka, Rzhev, and Vyazem. For these failed operations, Zhukov was provided more men and materiel (ten armies, plus five more under Marshal Konev) than were allotted to the successful Stalingrad operation, which initially Zhukov thought of lesser importance.

According to Suvorov, neither the Stavka nor Zhukov believed that the Germans had committed 22 divisions to the Stalingrad operation. Believing that only about 7-8 German divisions were entrapped, Zhukov and the Stavka were planning a broad-front, deep-penetration (600 km) offensive in the direction of Riga, Vitebsk, and Minsk. As it turned out, that major planned offensive advanced only 37 km and suffered very heavy losses.

When the magnitude of the Soviet victory at Stalingrad was realized, Marshal Zhukov was in a position to entrap the entire southern wing of the German advance in the Caucasus. Had the Soviets captured Rostov, which would have cut off the Germans in the Caucasus, the war might have ended that year, Suvorov speculates. However, Zhukov failed to seize the opportunity.

Zhukov had absolutely nothing to do with the Soviet victory in Stalingrad. Most of the credit for the successful Soviet encirclement of the German 6th Army must again, as in the case of the Fall 1941 checking of the German advance on Moscow, go to General Andrei Yeremenko, the strategist who was ordered by Stalin in early August 1942 to establish a Southeast Front that would include Stalingrad and the Caucasus. General Aleksandr Vasilevsky was the responsible commander of the Stalingrad forces. General Vasili Chuykov commanded the famed 62nd Soviet Army in Stalingrad.

Operation Mars

The successful Stalingrad operation surprised both Zhukov and Stalin. When the Stavka planned its Fall 1942 offensive, it had in mind several major offensives named after the planets Mars, Uranus, and Saturn. Operation Mars, also known as the “Rzhev-Sychevka Offensive” and situated about 400 km west of Moscow, was primarily General Zhukov’s responsibility; Operation Uranus, the Stalingrad encirclement, was under the command of General Aleksandr Vasilevsky; and, finally, Operation Saturn was intended to be a drive to Rostov. All three simultaneous operations, the Soviets hoped, would result in the total collapse of German Army Group Center.

The forces allotted to Zhukov were about equal to those assigned to Vasilevsky. Mars began on November 29, Uranus on November 19. To Operation Mars Zhukov committed about 670,000 men and 2,000 tanks, while Vasilevsky could commit about 700,000 men and 1,400 tanks to the Stalingrad encirclement. Stalingrad, of course, was a major Soviet success and a turning point in the war. Operation Mars, under Zhukov, was a total failure. Zhukov failed to break the German defense line and lost most of his tanks and 200,000 dead in the attempt. To cover this failure, Stavka later claimed that Mars had only been carried out to divert forces from Stalingrad. In reality, Stavka’s original plan placed its greatest hopes on Zhukov. Because of this failure, the German Army Group Center managed to regroup and hold the line for another eighteen months.

This little known battle has been referred to as “Zhukov’s greatest defeat.” David Glantz, an American military historian specializing in the Russo-German war, has written a solid work on this one battle.[10]

Kursk

Precisely the same sequence of events occurred during the great tank battle at Kursk. As Suvorov tells it, Zhukov had almost nothing to do with either the preparations or conduct of the battle. He visited Soviet headquarters on the eve of the battle, after all preparations had been made, and departed for another sector of the front four hours after the battle had begun. Two well-prepared Soviet fronts – the Central Front under General Rokossovsky and the Voronezh Front under General N. F. Vatutin – awaited the German attack. Marshal Vasilevsky supervised from Moscow.

The Soviets had been fully informed of German plans by the English, who by this time were reading Enigma signals and sending a selection to Soviet intelligence. As a backup, Soviet intelligence had their agent John Cairncross working at Bletchley Park to provide more detailed information. After the victory Zhukov paraded about boasting of his new victory. Years later Marshal Rokossovsky recalled:[11]

“Comrades who had participated in the Kursk battle have come to me with questions: Why has Marshal Zhukov distorted history in his memoirs, claiming credit for things he never did? He shouldn’t be permitted to do that!”

Berlin

Marshal Zhukov’s final claim to fame on the battlefield was the storming of Berlin. Called to Moscow by Stalin in January 1945, Marshal Zhukov was put in charge of the 1st Belorussian Front, Marshal Konev in charge of the 1st Ukrainian Front, and Marshal Rokossovsky of the 2nd Belorussian Front. Stalin encouraged rivalry between Zhukov and Konev to take the German capital; Rokossovsky, being of Polish descent, was shunted somewhat to the sidelines because Stalin wanted a Russian to take the German capital.

In the final battle for Berlin, the city was defended by remnants of various Wehrmacht units, the Volkssturm, and small units of French and German SS. With an advantage of approximately 10:1 in men and arms; with the addition of Polish and Romanian units; and with the U.K. and U.S. air forces pounding Berlin, Dresden, and other cities in the Russian path, Russian forces finally took Berlin in the first week of May. To take Berlin, Zhukov’s forces suffered a third of a million casualties and lost two tank armies. For him it was a typical victory with Russian casualties far higher than they need have been.

Zhukov

Marshal Georgi Zhukov: The smile of a mass murderer.

Occupation of Germany

After the war Stalin had ten marshals from whom to choose his military adviser in Moscow. Having little regard for Zhukov’s intelligence, he assigned the popular marshal to Germany to restore order and put an end to the marauding, looting, raping, drunkenness, and general anarchy that was besmirching the image of the Red Army and the Soviet Union. For his personal adviser, Stalin chose Marshal Aleksandr Vasilevsky, perhaps the most talented of Russia’s generals.

In charge of the German occupation, with headquarters in Wünsdorf, Zhukov gradually restricted the lower ranks to barracks life. He indulged his own greed, however. Of course, to do this he needed accomplices, of whom many were to be found among the higher ranks, especially of the political secret police officers (NKVD). NKVD General Ivan Serov, himself a Hero of the Soviet Union, and NKVD General Konstantin Telegin organized most of the looting for the marshal and his friends. Zhukov became, as Suvorov puts it, Russia’s first oligarch by looting things of value (jewelry, furs, carpets, paintings, rare books, etc.) and shipping them home or presenting them as gifts to friends in high places who might be of use to him one day.

Suvorov’s search of the archives revealed that in August 1946 General Bulganin reported to Stalin that “seven train cars containing 85 crates loaded with furniture belonging to Marshal Zhukov were being held up in the Yagoda customs.”

To indicate how the racket was run, Suvorov also quotes several statements made by General Aleksei Sidnev, NKVD commander in Berlin, at a hearing held in Moscow in 1948:

“1) Zhukov sent me a crown that by all indications once belonged to the wife of the German Kaiser. The gold had been removed from the crown to decorate a piece of jewelry Zhukov wanted to give his daughter on her birthday.”

2) Serov ordered me to send him all the gold objects directly. In carrying out his directive, I, at various times, sent Serov’s organization about 30 kilograms of gold. Besides me, other sector chiefs sent Serov lots of gold objects.”

Stalin, fearing that the behavior of his marshals, troops, and political officers was soiling the image of the Communist Party, took action against Zhukov. In June 1946 Generalissimo Stalin stated:[12]

“Marshal Zhukov, having lost any sense of modesty and obsessed with personal ambition, considers that his services have been insufficiently appreciated. He, in conversations with subordinates, claims to have led all the major operations in the Great Patriotic War, even those in which he had not the slightest connection.”

However, when Stalin in that same year proposed to his leading military figures that Zhukov be relieved of all his commands, imprisoned, and possibly shot, the generals and marshals unanimously advised against it. According to Suvorov, they feared that if Stalin purged Zhukov, they might well be next in line. They all remembered the purges in the 1930s. As it was, Stalin reduced Zhukov in rank (up to that time the marshal had been second only to Stalin in power), and assigned him to command the Odessa Military District.

Hearings and courts were set up to try the worst offenders. Secretary of the Central Committee Andrei Zhdanov investigated the looting operations of Zhukov and Telegin. Zhukov attempted to defend himself:[13]

“Accusing me of collaborating with Telegin in looting is slander. I can’t say anything about Telegin. I assume he acquired the furniture improperly in Leipzig. I spoke to him about this. I don’t know what he did with it.”

Conveniently for the defendants, Zhdanov died in 1948; Stalin followed in 1953. The impending purge never took place, and Marshal Zhukov would remain Minister of Defense for a few more years.

In 1957, when Khrushchev, who unlike Stalin did not murder the opposition, was in power, the generals and marshals unanimously agreed that Zhukov should be relieved of all his offices and commands. And so he was.

Zhukov’s Love of Medals and Disdain for the Lives of his Men

Part of the Communist-generated legend was that Zhukov’s troops loved the marshal, and that he loved his troops. Marshal Zhukov used and wasted his men like so many sacrificial lambs. There is no evidence that Zhukov ever tried to spare the lives of his men or reduce casualties on the battlefield by brilliant tactics or subterfuge. Those that did not willingly go to the sacrificial altar were simply shot. Of some 6.5 million Russians who died on the battlefield and are known to be buried, the names of only about 2.3 million have ever been found. Mass graves were the norm for the fallen. In many cases the fallen were not even buried, but left where they fell. The profligacy and indifference with which Zhukov wasted lives and his disregard and disrespect for the fallen simply reflected the Communist Party’s attitude toward the individual.

Suvorov, however, points out how well the marshals and the political commissars took care of themselves. During and after the war Zhukov’s entire upper torso was replete with medals and awards of every sort. The marshal was especially fond of those that were decorated with precious stones. At the same time, most of the common soldiers who did the fighting and who won the war, had to be content with a simple badge “Za otvagu” (“For valor”). In 1991, some 3.2 million medals and awards that had been intended for the lower ranks were found in a warehouse in Moscow. Marshal Zhukov, who was minister of defense after the war, never found the time to award those medals, although he often awarded himself a new one.

The ultimate mockery of wartime medals, Suvorov notes, was made by the Communist Party secretary and head of state Leonid Brezhnev, who awarded himself a new Hero of the Soviet Union medal on each of his birthdays in 1966, 1976, 1978, and 1981.

Nuclear Test in 1954

A particularly graphic example of Zhukov’s vaunted “love” of his homeland and the soldiers under his command, Suvorov reveals, occurred in September 1954 in a military exercise reported decades after the event. For the purpose of studying the effects of a nuclear blast on ground forces, an experiment was conducted at 0953 hours on September 14, 1954. Under the direction of Marshal Zhukov, a bomber flying at an altitude of 13 kilometers dropped a 40-kiloton nuclear bomb (the explosive power of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs combined) timed to detonate at a height of 350 meters over 45,000 maneuvering troops (blue forces defending, red forces attacking). At the time, the medical facilities in the Soviet Union had no means whatsoever of protecting against or treating the consequences of exposure to a nuclear blast. At the instant of the blast, Suvorov recounts, some 45,000 young men were rendered sterile, countless numbers suffered radiation sickness, bloody flux, leukemia, and other debilitating and fatal diseases. The troops involved in the experiment were sworn to secrecy. Most were subsequently released from the army as unfit for military service. Zhukov chose as the site for the experiment the Totskoye test range situated in the Southern Urals Military District – an especially fertile agricultural area between the Volga River and the Urals on the Samara River. The farming folk who lived in the surrounding area were not evacuated before the experiment and suffered the same dire consequences as the troops. Marshal Zhukov was commended for his bold leadership. Some proposed he be awarded a fifth Hero of the Soviet Union medal.

Epilogue

After permitting Marshal Zhukov to head the victory parade in Moscow atop a white stallion, Stalin quickly had him reassigned to the distant Urals and kept out of sight. In the political struggles after Stalin’s death, Zhukov aligned himself with Nikita Khrushchev, who emerged as the next Soviet leader. As a reward for his support, Khrushchev appointed Zhukov defense minister. After Khrushchev’s departure Zhukov was soon forgotten again until the mid 1990s, when President Yeltsin permitted statues to be built in his honor.

To conclude, Victor Suvorov argues forcefully that a general who lost 5.3 million men, 6.3 million rifles, 20,500 tanks, 10,300 aircraft, and 101,100 field guns in the first year of the war and that number again in the remaining years of the war; a general who had no regard for the lives of his men; a general who needed an advantage of 5-10:1 just to stay even with the enemy; a general who awarded himself medals; a general who enriched himself by looting a defeated enemy; in short, a general like Marshal Zhukov cannot possibly be considered a military genius or a great strategist. Zhukov’s was a career based on stacks of corpses, mostly those of the men under his command. Like almost everything and everyone in the former Soviet Union, Zhukov was a fabrication. In reality, he was more one of Stalin’s willing executioners than he was a professional soldier. He was the master of what the Germans refer to as leading your soldiers to the slaughter (Soldaten im Kriege verheizen).

It is not at all surprising that many former Communist officials have simply transferred their Zhukovian traits–namely, their lack of ethics, criminal instincts, fondness for privilege, predilection for looting, and deficiency of professionalism–to Russia’s brand of capitalism. Zhukov himself would have made excellent Mafia material. His technique of surrounding himself with loyal stooges while sharing his looted goods with influential people in high office continues in “capitalist” Russia. Today, it is called “krysha,” or protection.

In Russia’s military establishment today, the brutality and criminality practiced by Zhukov in his various high military offices through the years is still reflected in the merciless training of new recruits, called dedovshchina. Recruits are so brutalized and hazed by their superiors during basic training that many desert the army, and some even commit suicide. Needless to say, many more young men do their best to avoid military service because of this cruel tradition.

As has been reported in past years, the iconoclastic investigative reporting of Viktor Suvorov has caused a sensation in Europe and especially in Russia. So incisive has been his research that some Russians believe that British intelligence must have provided him much of his material. Even if that were true, his critics still find it difficult to deny the validity of his arguments.

Aside from Suvorov’s first few books, neither this nor his other works have been published in English. One can only hope that his research finds its way into the hands of American historians and American officers studying at West Point, the Army War College, and other such facilities. Suvorov is a major, perhaps the major, revisionist of World War II.


Notes

[1] Russian title: Ten’ pobedy (Victory Shadows). Suvorov’s first three books on World War II have been reviewed in The Journal of Historical Review. The first two, Icebreaker and M Day, were reviewed in Nov.-Dec. 1997 Journal (vol. 16, no. 6), pp. 22-34. His third book, The Last Republic, was reviewed in the July-August 1998 Journal (vol. 17, no. 4), pp. 30-37.

[2] Georgi Zhukov, Reminiscences and reflections. May be obtained through the IHR under the title From Moscow to Berlin: Marshal Zhukov’s Greatest Battles.

[3] Pavel N. Bobylev, Otechesvennaya istoriya, no. 1, 2000, pp. 41-64.

[4] Voyenno-istoricheskiy zhurnal, no. 2, 1990, p. 50.

[5] Voyenno-istoricheskiy zhurnal, no. 1, 1992, p. 76.

[6] Suvorov’s source on the conference is titled: Nakanune voyny. Materialy soveshchaniya vysshego rukovodyashchego sostave RKKA 23-31 December 1940 (Moscow: Terra Publisher, 1993) (“On the Eve of War. Materials from the Conference of the High Governing Staff of the Red Army, 23-31 December 1940.”)

[7] Voyenno-istoricheskiy zhurnal, no. 6, 1989, p. 6.

[8] Izvestiya, June 22, 1993; Voyenno-istoricheskiy zhurnal, no. 7, 1993.

[9] Znamya, no. 5, 1988, p.82.

[10] David M. Glantz, Zhukov’s Greatest Defeat: The Red Army’s Epic Disaster in Operation Mars, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, 1999.

[11] Voyenno-istoricheskiy zhurnal, no. 3, 1992, p. 32.

[12] Order of the Ministry of Defense of the USSR Armed Forces, No. 009, June 9, 1946.

[13] Russian Military Archives, No. 1, 1993, p. 243.


Source: The Revisionist 2(3) (2004), pp. 334-340.

This entry was posted in History.

2 comments on “Marshal Zhukov: A Career Built on Corpses

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