Of the three great fighting generals who led the Allied armies to victory in 1945, General Eisenhower and Field Marshal Montgomery have already made their personal contributions to the historical record of the Second World War. Marshal Zhukov’s memoirs complete the picture with a military and political document of the first importance.
Regimental Commander at twentysix, Divisional Commander at thirtyfour, and Chief of General Staff at forty-five, Zhukov was born into an impoverished peasant fanning family in 1896. At the age of eleven he was apprenticed to a furrier in Moscow. He was drafted into the Tsar’s army in 1915 and saw brief combat with the Germans before being wounded by a mine. Shortly after his return to duty, with N.C.O. stripes and two military decorations, the Bolsheviks took over his unit, finally disbanding it. A year later he volunteered for the 4th Moscow Cavalry Regiment of the Red Army, then 200,000 strong, and fought in the Civil War against the White Russians. By 1930 married and with a small daughter, he was Assistant Cavalry Inspector of the Red Army.
Although a dedicated, self-educated and highly respected professional soldier, whose sympathies lay wholly with the new Soviet, seven more years were to pass before he felt moved to make any sort of serious study of political theory, and ten before his first meeting with Stalin. Zhukov describes in detail his work during those years building up and organizing the Red Army. He claims that Russia was the only country prepared to defend Czechoslovakia with arms against Germany, staying its hand simply because a weak Czech government preferred appeasement to war.
Zhukov’s account of the conduct of the war against the Nazis occupies the greater part of his book. He gives a clear insight into the operation of the Russian High Command and his relationship with Stalin - sometimes fraught with fierce disagreement - and other political leaders. He describes all the epic campaigns - Leningrad, the defeat of Moscow, the turning of the tide at Stalingrad - and gives a powerful picture of the Russian march on Berlin.
Regardless of politics, every reader will be moved by Zhukov’s love for his people and his devotion to their cause of self-determination. It was the military genius of Zhukov and the unflagging will of the Russian soldier (to whom this book is dedicated) that kept Russia free to pursue her great experiment.
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