Zhukov was Deputy Supreme Commander in Chief of the Red Army for almost the entire war, taking a major role both in planning overall strategy and in directing many effective campaigns in the field. His rise to prominence began with a successful operation against the Japanese in Mongolia in 1939, during which he learned much about Japanese military techniques. He was then appointed Chief of Staff of the Red Army during the Russo-Finnish War.
Following the German invasion of the USSR, Zhukov was installed as Director of the Soviet Army High Command. He served well but unsuccessfully in the defense of Smolensk in August 1941. In October 1941 he replaced VOROSHILOV as Commander of the northern sector, in personal charge of the defense of Leningrad. He was then sent to Moscow as Commander in Chief of the entire Western Front and defended the capital successfully against two German offensives. On 5 December 1941 Zhukov counter-attacked and forced the Germans back but reached a standstill by February 1942. He was then appointed Deputy Commissar for Defense.
In the 1942 campaign Zhukov was in command of the defense of Stalingrad. He directed and shared in the planning of the counteroffensive of November in which his forces broke through from the northwest and south of the city to meet at the River Don encircling PAULUS’ Sixth Army which surrendered on 31 January 1943. Zhukov was also involved in the Battle of Kursk (July 1943), a major German defeat and the largest tank battle of the war.
Zhukov directed the Russian sweep across the Ukraine, and had to replace VATUTIN as Commander of the 1st Ukrainian Front. The Front advanced at the rate of 30 miles per day during February and March 1944, though he was forced to a halt when supplies failed in April. He then took overall command of the Fronts in June 1944 for the USSR’s greatest breakthrough: the collapse of Army Group Center in Belorussia. This offensive stopped short of Warsaw in August but was resumed in January 1945. After the fall of Warsaw, Zhukov’s Fronts advanced at the rate of 100 miles per week through Prussia until he again had to stop because of supply problems. On 16 April Zhukov crossed the Oder, launching the final offensive which led to the Battle of Berlin on 2 May. On 8 May after a week of intensive fighting, Zhukov signed the German surrender in Berlin.
As a General Zhukov was imaginative and very successful, overly cautious at the beginning of the war but daring and decisive by the end. He had a fascinating and popular personality, and was a great friend of EISENHOWER’s. For all these reasons STALIN both needed and mistrusted Zhukov.