A welcome new biography of the ruthless Red Army general who defeated the Nazis and then spent decades alternately disgraced and rehabilitated in Soviet Russia.
Roberts (History/University College Cork; Stalin’s Wars, 2007, etc.) relies less on his subject’s self-glorifying memoirs and more on newly available archival material in Russia. Zhukov’s relationship with Stalin emerges as a key, fascinating aspect to the story, as Zhukov, a rising cavalry commander in the rapidly modernizing Red Army, managed to escape being a victim of the army purges of 1937-38 and was then appointed on his first important mission for Stalin: to “conduct a purge” of the Japanese from the Mongolian-Manchurian border in 1939. The victory at Khalkhin-Gol was the Red Army’s first real triumph, deflecting the Japanese from Russia and establishing Zhukov as a brilliant offensive field commander who kept his cool under fire and was not averse to administering draconian discipline to his own men. Stalin had neglected defensive preparation of the Motherland in favor of the counterattack, and he summoned Zhukov after the disastrous response to Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa. From victory at Yel’nya to saving Leningrad and Moscow (“no surrender and no retreat; counterattack wherever and whenever possible”) to Operation Bagration in Belorussia, Zhukov spared no number of Russia soldiers in his path to victory. Roberts spends a good deal of space on Zhukov’s mysterious postwar dismissal to the provinces, due no doubt to his overweening confidence and “Bonapartist” self-aggrandizement, which grated on Stalin. He resurfaced supremely under Khrushchev and died a fitting hero in 1974.
A solid, engaging life.