Georgi Konstantinovich Zhukov was born on January 12, 1896 in Strelkova, Russia to a small family of peasants. At the age of eleven, he moved to Moscow, where he became an apprentice in fur trading and continued working until 1915. That year, he joined the Imperial Army and served with pride. Zhukov was promoted to officer status and continued serving until the Russian Revolution.
After the Russian Revolution, Zhukov abandoned the Imperial Army to join the new Red Army and the communist party. Throughout the civil war that followed, his leadership abilities and knowledge of military tactics distinguished him from his fellow soldiers. He quickly rose through the ranks, gaining command of a mounted cavalry regiment in 1923.
Zhukov was known for being strict and disciplined, but his men respected him, as did his superiors. He was frequently entered in training courses to hone his skills and even wrote several manuals on military service and strategy. In 1930, he was given command of the 2nd Cavalry Brigade, which allowed him to experiment with mechanized tanks.
During the early 1930s, Stalin conducted many purges of military officers that struck fear into Zhukov. Approximately 40,000 officers were imprisoned or executed and Zhukov always kept an emergency bag ready in case he needed to escape the country. Luckily, he was recognized as being politically acceptable and allowed to live.
In 1939, he was sent to Mongolia, where he managed to gain command of the First Soviet Mongolian Army when the Japanese invaded. He quickly organized defenses and conducted highly skilled offenses using artillery, aircraft, and tanks. Zhukov also replaced a number of weak officers with strong ones, greatly increasing the ferociousness of the army. After launching a three-pronged attack, the Japanese were caught by surprise and retreated to the safety of the Khalkin Gol river.
While the Japanese were regrouping, Zhukov called in a massive force of tanks and strengthened his defensive line while planning an offensive. When he released the attack, his forces encircled and destroyed the Japanese forces within three days time. This feat earned him the "Hero of the Soviet Union" title, despite heavy casualties. Japan's sudden defeat prompted them to sign a non-aggression treaty with Stalin, ending the conflict.
Now that the Japanese were no longer a serious threat to the Soviet Union, Zhukov was recalled to Moscow. There he met with other high level officers to engage in war games and recover from their victory. The war games pitted Zhukov, as Germany, against the Soviet forces and he managed to win. His victory in the games convinced Stalin to promote him to Chief of General Staff and prepare the Soviet military for the impending invasion by the Germans.
On June 22, 1941, Germany began its invasion of the United States, killing and capturing hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers. Zhukov met with other officials in Moscow on July 29th to discuss how best to push the Germans back. Zhukov pushed forward a proposal that involved withdrawing Russian forces from Kiev and reorganizing the front line. Stalin was infuriated and forced Zhukov to resign from his position in the general staff.
Zhukov returned to the front lines in Leningrad, where he completely replaced the commanding officers of the army, helping to restore confidence and morale in the troops. As the German forces moved towards Moscow, Zhukov moved there to help build a defensive force against the seemingly invincible German army.
Luckily, a massive winter storm came in, freezing the German troops just outside of Moscow. Utilizing the opportunity, Zhukov launched a small offensive that forced the Germans to retreat behind the Volga canal. Stalin demanded that Zhukov continue the offensive, although Zhukov pleaded for delays to build up the Russian forces. Stalin refused to accept any delays and Zhukov launched his large push in December with 88 infantry divisions, 15 cavalry divisions and 1500 tanks. The Germans were overwhelmed by this massive force and retreated until the offensive gradually petered out, as Zhukov had predicted.
In August 1942, Zhukov went to Stalingrad to solve what had been a very bad situation for the Russians. He launched carefully planned assaults on the weak parts of the German lines, eventually forcing them to surrender. Despite the victory, nearly one million Russians died in the battle of Stalingrad.
In 1943, Zhukov showed his military brilliance in Kursk by allowing the Germans to tire themselves during their attack on his strong defensive force. As the enemy were recovering, he sent forward an offensive force, crushing the Germans. He continued directing Russian forces, driving back the Germans from the Ukraine and eventually pushing the Germans out of the Soviet Union and eastern Europe by the end of 1944.
Zhukov had effectively saved the Soviet Union from what originally appeared to be an impossible situation. The German military would never recover from the devastating losses incurred by the Soviet Union. He didn't stop there and continued pushing the Germans back, seizing Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania.
In January 1945, Zhukov directed an attack at the Vistula river to distract Germans from the Ardennes, where the British and Americans were attacking. He launched a massive artillery bombardment that allowed the Russians to advance through Warsaw and push the Germans back. Zhukov continued moving, covering an average of 35 miles every day until he reached the Oder river.
At the Oder, Zhukov was forced to wait while Stalin negotiated plans with the other Allied leaders. He wanted to advance, but the waiting ruined their window of opportunity and he decided to postpone the operation. Meanwhile, the Soviet army invaded Austria and Zhukov made plans with the other Soviet commanders. The final plan was for Zhukov and Koniev to envelope Berlin while Rokossovky moved north to Denmark.
In April 1945, Zhukov launched a small attack on German defenses that allowed Soviet forces to get past the Oder river. His attack on the city of Seelow involved a massive artillery bombardment, immediately followed by an aerial strike. The German forces were startled, but even more startled when Zhukov launched a night offensive. Unfortunately, the Germans were well fortified and easily fought back the Soviet forces. An angry Zhukov amassed most of his tanks and launched a furious offensive, eventually pushing through German lines.
Zhukov's artillery came within range of Berlin later that month and began their bombardment. By now, thousands of bombs had been dropped on Berlin, leaving most of the city devastated. Zhukov's forces rolled into Berlin, engaging in intense urban battles with the remaining German forces. Zhukov directed his forces to move house-to-house, securing every building before moving forward. Every advance was preceded by bombardment, which greatly helped the Soviets keep the upper hand.
On April 28th, the Soviets secured the Ministry of the Interior building, moving on to the Reichstag, which had been the center of German government. On the night before May 1st, Zhukov's forces raised a Soviet flag on the Reichstag while the fighting raged on. Once the Soviets reached the Reichs Chancellory, they discovered Hitler's body and a number of surviving German officials.
On May 2, 1945, General Weilding, the commander of Berlin's defensive force, surrendered. Zhukov oversaw the capture of German forces and the last of the fighting. Zhukov returned to Moscow briefly for a victory parade before returning to Berlin to meet the Allied forces. He met with British Field Marshal Montgomery, who awarded Zhukov with the Knights Cross of the Order of the Bath.
Despite his amazing victories, Zhukov was considered a threat to Stalin and sent to places far from Moscow to serve the remainder of his time in the military quietly. Once Stalin died, Kruschev appointed Zhukov Deputy Minister of Defense, allowing him to regain some of his stature in the government. During his time in office, Zhukov directed Soviet nuclear policy until he retired in 1957. He lived the rest of his life in obscurity, gravely disappointed by the Soviet Union's failure to recognize him for his achievements.
On June 18, 1974, Zhukov died in Moscow and was given an honorable military ceremony at the Red Square.