Who gets the dacha?
- BuyStalin’s General: The Life of Georgy Zhukov by Geoffrey Roberts
Icon, 375 pp, £25.00, August 2012, ISBN 978 1 84831 442 9
Of the Soviet Union’s World War Two military leaders, Marshal Zhukov was the most celebrated, both at home and in the West. Broad-faced, stocky, plain-spoken with a touch of swagger, Georgy Konstantinovich epitomised Russian solidity and resolve. The commander with the golden touch, Stalin’s favourite, he seemed to be everywhere during the war: stopping the Germans entering Leningrad in the autumn of 1941; commanding the defence of Moscow; co-ordinating Soviet forces in the battle of Stalingrad; heading the westward drive on the Belorussian Front in 1944; taking Berlin and accepting the German surrender in May 1945. Zhukov was the man on the white horse who led the victory parade in Red Square.
Vol. 35 No. 4 · 21 February 2013
From Robert Kaplan
Sheila Fitzpatrick seems oblivious to the main reason anyone would be interested in General Zhukov – namely, his outstanding military skill (LRB, 24 January). Given the circumstances that prevailed in the USSR following the Nazi invasion – its officer class heavily reduced by the Purges and then held back by Stalin’s bizarre refusal to accept that Hitler had broken his promises – Zhukov started with an enormous handicap compared to the leaders of the other Allied armies. Also, at least until Stalingrad, he had to deal with Stalin’s constant interference in military planning, and at the same time worry that if he took one step too far in pushing his case it might lead to summary execution.
Zhukov may not have had the flashy style of Manstein or Guderian, but their abilities were most effective in the Blitzkrieg tactics used early in the war. After Hitler embarked on Operation Barbarossa it soon became evident that Blitzkrieg had had its day and, once he was able to gather the resources, Zhukov decisively out-generalled his opponent. His preparations were meticulous, and he had exceptional strategic insight (he was an excellent chess player). He made extraordinary efforts to build up, train and supply his troops, often going to the front lines to check on preparations before battle. At Moscow and Stalingrad, he was able to build up huge concentrations of troops and armour without the enemy knowing – the Soviet army not only had superb tanks and artillery, but also excelled in camouflage – and then unleash them at precisely the point when the enemy was most extended and vulnerable. By contrast, at Kursk he created an intricate defensive structure that systematically chewed up the Nazi forces despite the best efforts of Manstein, Model and other top generals.
Of course Zhukov used his position in the Soviet hierarchy to his benefit and had a number of overlapping relationships during his life. So what? Surely the important issue is to examine how, in the most difficult conditions, he marshalled the resources of the Soviet state into first holding, then turning the Nazi invasion.
University of Wollongong
New South Wales