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Ruthless General Zhukov

In response to:

The Truth About World War II from the October 11, 2012 issue

To the Editors:

In his review of Stalin’s General: The Life of Georgy Zhukov [“The Truth About World War II,” NYR, October 11], Richard J. Evans writes that millions of Soviet soldiers lost their lives unnecessarily because Red Army generals like Zhukov had a callous disregard for the lives of their troops and preferred full-frontal attacks to more sophisticated tactics. As I show in the book, Zhukov vehemently rejected such criticism and mocked armchair generals who could always tell you—after the event—how to win battles cheaper and easier. During the course of my research I came across plenty of evidence of Zhukov’s efforts to conserve forces and protect his troops, not least through his meticulous preparation for battle.

It is true that Zhukov and the other Soviet generals were ruthless in pursuit of victory and prepared to incur high casualties to achieve their goals. But who can blame them given what was at stake? The consequence of a German victory on the Eastern Front would have been a Nazi racist empire and genocide on a continental scale. The essential truth about the Second World War is that it was won by the Soviets on the Eastern Front, where 80 percent of the combat took place and where the Germans incurred 90 percent of their losses.

Zhukov’s conduct of battle was excessively brutal and disciplinarian and he made many costly mistakes, but to suppose that Hitler’s war machine could have been smashed by the Soviets without huge losses and colossal sacrifices is pure fantasy.

Geoff Roberts
School of History
University College Cork
Cork, Ireland

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