Zhukov and the Rise of the Generals

Image source: Pavel Korin: Marshal Zhukov (1949)
Source: Tarakhanov, Aleksei and Sergei Kavtaradze: Architecture of the Stalin Era. New York: Rizzoli. 1992.

Stalin had a major problem on his hands: Germany was attacking from the west, and Stalin had purged or demoted most of his competent Generals. Fueled by fear of succession, Stalin attempted to rid the Soviet Union of any general that posed a threat to his power, but it left the country vulnerable to a calculated attack by Hitler.
Realising that his military could not function properly and efficiently without comparable leadership, the decision was made to put the honor back in USSR military leadership. Generals were adorned with gold ropes and medals on their uniforms and promoted to higher ranks than during the purges. This helped to bolster morale and pride in the Soviet military during the trying battles of World War II.  “In gratitude for the hope they offered during the dark early days of war, these military leaders were honored in plays, movies, biographies and even hagiographies. Military orders of great prestige were founded in their honor. With gold braid on their shoulders, and new military orders on their breasts, officers recovered so much prestige as to form a separate caste.”

Image Source

The above-linked image portrays generals adorned in medals, trampling Nazi flags and in front of Russian symbols like the profiles of both Lenin and Stalin. The picture is an image of propaganda, glorifying the power of the military generals.

This audio clip is from Genreal Zhukov’s address to the victory parade in 1945. “Marshal Zhukov gave the address at a victory parade held in Moscow’s Red Square on June 24, 1945. Representatives from all battle fronts took part. The victors threw banners captured from Hitler’s army at the base of Lenin’s Mausoleum”

Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, Epaulets for the Red Army. January 6, 1943

Original Source: Vedomosti, No. 2 (10 January 1943).

The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR decrees:

1. To comply with the petition of the People’s Commissar of Defense and introduce, in place of the existing (insignia), new insignia of rank–epaulets for Red Army personnel.

2. To approve the models and description of the insignias of rank of Red Army personnel.

3. To authorize the People’s Commissariat of Defense of the USSR to fix the date of change to the new insignia and introduce the necessary changes in the uniform of Red Army personnel.

Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Union of Socialist Republics, Kalinin
Secretary of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Union of Socialist Republics, Gorkin


J. Meisel and E. S. Kozera, eds., Materials for the Study of the Soviet System (Ann Arbor: G. Wahr Pub. Co., 1953), pp. 372-373.

Epaulettes Back on Uniforms

4 Replies to “Zhukov and the Rise of the Generals”

  1. You’ve got the gist of Soviet military leadership in this post but I think your post would have benefited if you went in depth on the wartime relationships between Stalin and Zhukov and another general or two. These were give and take and extremely complex relationships that would have contributed to your post and provided some fascinating material, especially between Stalin and Zhukov. Other than that – solid work.

  2. I think you picked a really cool topic to write about! Communist ideals of equality conflicted with traditional military values. I remember reading in a book, “800 Days on the Eastern Front”, liberated towns were skeptical about the Red Army as their officers wore distinctive ranks and medals. One thing that would be cool to see was what Zhukov did after the war. He was immensely popular and I would love to see his perspective on the Cold War. Great work this week!

  3. Very interesting post! it’s amazing just how paranoid Stalin was to any threats to his mandate. He was, however, a brilliant mind in terms of how he dealt with issues within his military ranks and how he quelled any possible rebellion

  4. So, the detail on the epaulettes really stands out to me here as a signal of the broader changes around leadership. Rather less egalitarian than the Petrograd Order No. 1 we read about it earlier. I especially liked the picture on 17 Moments, linking Zhukov with medieval and imperial Russian figures (Donskoi, Nevskii, Kutuzov).

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