#5 - JRL 7176
May 9, 2003
The man who really beat Hitler
As Russia celebrates Victory Day a book published this month gives a new insight into the commander who led the Red Army and defeated Hitler
By Chris Summers
Marshal Georgi Zhukov was the commander of the Red Army which came back from near defeat at Stalingrad and pushed the Wehrmacht back to Berlin, where the Nazi regime collapsed.
He became a hero in the Soviet Union but Stalin, and later Khrushchev, were so jealous of his stature they forced him into taking a series of dead-end jobs and tried to airbrush him out of the history books.
By the time of his death in 1974 Marshal Zhukov had been rehabilitated by the Soviets and was accorded a huge state funeral - a million people attended in lying-in-state and several died in a stampede.
But Zhukov is not a household name in the West.
Albert Axell's book, Zhukov: The Man Who Beat Hitler, which has been written with the help of two of the great man's daughters, is an attempt at putting things right.
Axell believes Zhukov was a military genius on a par with Napoleon and Alexander The Great.
His leadership during the "Great Patriotic War" is still studied at West Point and Sandhurst, as well as the great Russian military academies.
But Axell also sheds light on a little known confrontation in 1939 which arguably changed the course of history.
Zhukov commanded Soviet troops who fought off a major Japanese incursion at Kalkin-Gol in Mongolia.
So impressed were the Japanese with the Red Army that, Axell argues, when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941 the Japanese decided not to join in and instead attacked the Americans.
Zhukov was one of the few Red Army commanders who escaped Stalin's purges of the late 1930s.
He later led the Red Army to victory at Stalingrad and Kursk, as well as relieving the siege of Leningrad and defending Moscow from the Germans and masterminding the capture of Berlin and the downfall of Hitler.
But after the war Stalin became jealous of Zhukov, and Stalin's secret police chief Lavrenti Beria sought to manufacture several spurious charges against Zhukov.
Eventually he was shunted into obscurity, only to return after Stalin's death in 1953, when he played a leading role in Beria's arrest and execution.
After a spell as Defence Minister, Zhukov was again booted into the wilderness, this time by Khrushchev.
In 1957 the Indian ambassador in Moscow, Krishna Menon, wrote: "The party may succeed in keeping Zhukov's figure out of the public eye but it will not succeed in keeping his memory out of the hearts of men."
He was later restored to grace and in the late 1960s began writing his memoirs.
Censors cut 150 of the 1,500 pages. He was also forced to include an entirely bogus wartime reference to Leonid Brezhnev, the then Communist Party leader, who wanted to be linked in the public mind to the great hero.
Nowadays, while Stalin is revered mainly by ageing and hardcore communists, Zhukov remains a heroic figure to all Russians.
Next month, when President Putin comes to London on an official visit, he is expected to attend the Imperial War Museum, which has a bronze bust of Zhukov.
Axell says: "Like all the top generals, he was a staunch communist. He considered himself a good party man but he was a military man and a patriot before anything else."
Asked what Zhukov's great skills were, Axell replies: "He was a genius of strategy and deception, a great planner, and he could inspire men. But he was also ruthless, extremely severe and unforgiving."
The book also reveals the depth of Zhukov's friendship with General, later President, Eisenhower.
Axell points out how well they worked together, after the war, in managing the occupation of Germany and wonders if the Cold War would have happened had they not been withdrawn by their respective commanders-in-chief.