Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Stalin's General: The Life of Georgy Zhukov by Geoffrey Roberts

While there are multiple biographies of German generals Zhukov seems to be the only figure that western historians concentrate on when looking at the Soviet Union and the Eastern Front. In this case, Zhukov has had numerous biographies written about him and Roberts has made a worthwhile addition with this newest attempt to document the life and career of one of the more impressive figures to come out of the Red Army and Soviet Union. "Stalin's General" spans from Zhukov's early life to his postwar career and Roberts does an excellent job documenting various periods of his life while contextualizing the overall situation occurring within the Soviet Union.

I found the most interesting aspects of this work the various 'myths' that Roberts attempts to address. It is no surprise that when Zhukov sat down to write his memoirs he did so with a mission in mind: to protect and justify his actions during the war against those who had now turned on him both under Stalin and Khrushchev. Thus various meetings/events that Zhukov described could in all honesty have been fabricated in order to protect his version of events. Roberts notes multiple attempts to do just that by cross-referencing Stalin's log/meeting book/schedule and pointing out those dates/events that do not coincide with available information. Now this isn't to say, and Roberts readily admits so, that meetings outside what was recorded could have occurred, but there are some events that sound like they were an impossibility rather than an improbability. Thus one of the more interesting aspects of 'Stalin's General' is the detective work that Roberts went through to figure out how Zhukov put his memoirs together, including what he attempted to exaggerate and gloss over, etc.

Zhukov's abilities and the battles he participated in are well known to those familiar with the Eastern Front. Although Roberts discusses them there are certainly better monographs and histories for those purely interested in the military aspects of Zhukov's career. For Roberts, Zhukov's life and postwar career carry just as much weight and interest as his wartime activities. By the end of the book I would agree with the author's conclusions that Zhukov, while not an original thinker (he did not add much to Soviet strategy or operational art like other theorists one could point to), was still successful in helping the Red Army and Soviet Union overcome the genocidal threat that was the Wehrmacht and Nazi Germany.

Finally, I was hopeful that Roberts would utilize the latest research on some aspects of Zhukov's career, like Operation Mars. Geoffrey Jukes's latest book ("Stalingrad to Kursk") offers an original look and assessment of Operation Mars but unfortunately that information is absent here as Roberts mainly relies of Glantz's work, which while excellent is somewhat lacking. Overall, for those interested in the Soviet Union, the Eastern Front, Zhukov, and the postwar battle(s) around the history(ies) of the war, this is a highly recommended book.


kenyon84 said...

Hey there, like the review, any surggestions on other good books on Zhukov? more military orientated?

T. Kunikov said...

Otto Preston Chaney's Zhukov would probably be my recommendation.

There is also "Stalin's Generals" by Harold Shukman (covers a wide variety of Soviet commanding officers):