The most successful and most decorated general of the Soviet Union, Gregori Konstantinovich Zhukov was born in December 1896 AD in the backwater (and that’s being generous) village of Strelkova to a peasant family. In 1915, while serving as an apprentice to a furrier in Moscow, he was conscripted into the 106th Reserve Cavalry Regiment and served throughout the war. In a wise career move, he joined the Bolshevik Party immediately after the 1917 October Revolution, serving the Party well during the Russian Civil War.
For his role in suppressing the 1921 Tambov Rebellion, Zhukov was promoted – the first of several that in May 1933 brought him to command of the 4th Cavalry Division and in 1937 the 6th Cavalry Corps. Over these years he became convinced that armored warfare was the way of the future, and he developed his own views on how it should be used to batter an enemy into submission. Successfully evading Stalin’s purges of the military, Zhukov was tasked with halting the Japanese aggression along the Mongolian-Manchurian border. Arriving in May 1939, in August Zhukov annihilated the Japanese 23rd Division by outflanking it with armored forces. Returning to Moscow in 1941, he was declared a hero and made Chief of Staff of the Red Army – just in time to see it crushed by the invading Wehrmacht.
Zhukov’s first task was to save Moscow – victory. Then to halt the Germans at Stalingrad – victory. Then to push the invaders back into Eastern Europe – victory, Then to capture Berlin – victory. For his exploits (although these came at great cost for the common Russian soldiers), now Marshal of the Soviet Union, he was termed “the general who never lost a battle.” However, Zhukov’s fame was his undoing, for Stalin wasn’t one to tolerate anyone more popular than he. Zhukov was demoted after the war and assigned to a minor posting. Although he experienced a brief rise in stature when Stalin died in 1953, Zhukov spent his remaining days in relative obscurity until his death in 1974.