Instead of brute force, many battles and wars were won with great tactical thinking by brilliant strategic minds. Regardless of times, clever strategy has always found its way over weapons and arms, yet only few were able to make the most out of it. Gifted with extraordinary vision and sense for combat, only a handful of chosen ones were able to lead their armies and nations into victory largely with the power of their mind.
Georgy Zhukov (Гео́ргий Жу́ков)
Most decorated general of Soviet Union who is widely considered to be one of the greatest military tacticians of World War II, Zhukov commanded a series of crucial battles, most notably the Battle of Berlin which ended the Nazi regime and War in Europe. Born into a poor peasant family, Zhukov was 13 years old when he first came to Moscow to study a furrier trade. As recorded in his letters, “With five boiled eggs and a cake in a knapsack, accompanied by uncle Sergei on a Moscow suburban train, I went into the world.” Training for 13 hours a day made Georgy into one of best furrier apprentices, and he soon started working in prestigious furrier shops on Moscow’s famed Tverskaya Street. However, his successful furrier career didn’t last long, as he was conscripted by the Russian Empire at the age of 19. Without any previous military training, Zhukov proved himself to be a brilliant soldier, and was awarded Cross of St. George and promoted into an officer. Commanding various regiments from 1920. to 1930., Zhukov graduated from the Higher School of Cavalry.
Known for his love of strict discipline and detailed planning, Zhukov first came to high profile prominence after his victory at the Battle of Khalkhyn Gol, a decisive battle of the undeclared Soviet-Japanese border war in 1939. Declared a Hero of the Soviet Union in 1939., Zhukov entered his biggest war yet, World War II in 1940. Defending Leningrad, Moscow and Stalingrad by accurately predicting moves and manoeuvres of the enemy, Zhukov was the commander of Soviet’s final counterattack on Germany and occupation of Berlin in April, 1945. According to Dwight D. Eisenhower, ‘’The war in Europe ended with victory and nobody could have done that better than Marshal Zhukov – we owed him that credit. He is a modest person, and so we can’t undervalue his position in our mind. When we can come back to our Motherland, there must be another type of Order in Russia, an Order named after Zhukov, which is awarded to everybody who can learn the bravery, the far vision, and the decisiveness of this soldier.’’
Disliked by Stalin because of his large popularity with the people, Zhukov was ostracized and pushed as far as possible from Moscow after the WW2. After Stalin’s death, Georgy was made Minister of Defence, and kept the position until his fallout with Khruschev. Zhukov died in 1974. of stroke, and was cremated against his and will of his family. His ashes were buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis, along with other great Soviet generals and heroes. Asteroid 2132 Zhukov was named after him, and Order of Zhukov, as well as Medal of Zhukov were established as a state award of Russian Federation in 1995.
Živojin Mišić (Живојин Мишић)
Considered to be the most brilliant tactician of the WW1 and crucial figure in Serbian warfare history, Mišić was honored with Order of St Michael and St George, Legion of Honour and Order of the Bath among numerous other decorations. Known for his innovative and courageous command of legendary Battle of Kolubara against far larger Austro-Hungarian Empire, Mišić’s military prowess reached its peak after he led the breach of Thessaloniki Front and subsequent liberation of occupied Yugoslavia. Born into a peasant family with 13 children, Mišić described his childhood in memoirs, stating it mostly consisted of shepard duties and farming. He was accepted into the 11th Class of Military Academy at the age of 19, but didn’t finalize his education, as he was conscripted for war only two years later. Advancing to a Liutenant’s rank by the end of First Serbian-Ottoman War, Mišić had an important role in Second Serbian-Ottoman War, as well as Serbo-Bulgarian war which ensued in the following years. After a brief retirement due to political manipulations, Živojin returned to military duty only after being summoned personally by King Peter I of Serbia. Acting as a right hand to famed Serbian Field Marshal Radomir Putnik, Mišić took on a role of a main strategist during the First and Second Balkan War. However, his strategic and military brilliance fully came to display during the WW1, in which Serbia was aggressively pulled into by Austro-Hungarian Empire.
After the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, Austro-Hungarian Empire declared a war on Serbia. Since Field Marshal Putnik was old and quite ill, Mišić was an obvious and best choice if Serbia was going to defend itself. First invasion of Serbia began on the 15th of August, and eventually escalated into a legendary Battle of Cer, first Allied victory of the WW1, and first big Serbian victory under the direct command of Mišić. This victory improved Serbia’s reputation around Europe, and made Austro-Hungarians rethink their approach. Mišić continued his successful campaign, and eventually humiliated far bigger and better equipped enemy army with a masterful victory at the Battle of Kolubara.
Following a series of embarrassing defeats, Austro-Hungarian Empire joined forces with Germany and Bulgaria and attacked Serbia from three sides. After the breakdown and difficult retreat through snowy Albanian and Montenegrin mountains, Serbian army led by Mišić made it to Greece, with more than 10 000 soldiers dying along the way. After recovery on the Greek islands, approximately 150 000 Serbian soldiers joined Allies in the breach of Thessaloniki Front led by Živojin Mišić, which directly led to liberation of Serbia and breakdown of Central Powers. Ranking as a Field marshal of Serbian army after WW1, Mišić remained a respected and admired figure until his death, receiving hundreds of international military decorations for his service to Allies. Mišić died of lung cancer on January 20th, 1921., which caused a havoc on the streets of Belgrade, as over a million civilians gathered to pay their respects. He is included in the list of 100 Most Prominent Serbs, and is cited as one of the most quoted tacticians at international military schools.
Famed for being one of the few generals in history who have never lost a battle, Jan Žižka was a Czech Hussite leader also known as One-eyed Žižka. A legend of medieval Czech civil war, he is especially praised for his ability to quickly and effectively train peasants and civilians, who successfully faced professionally trained and equipped enemy armies. Commanding in some of the decisive battles in Medieval Europe, most notably Battle of Grunwald, Žižka pioneered usage of field artillery in battles, reforming the way wars were fought from then on. Born into an aristocratic family, Žižka was close to the royal court of Bohemia. A loyal supporter and follower of Czech philosopher and reformer Jan Hus, Žižka rebelled against the Emperor Sigismund after Hus had been burned at the stake for his rebellion against the teachings of Catholic church. Hussites, the supporters and followers of ideology of Jan Hus were a disagreeable community, which led to separation of certain groups. Leading his group which mostly consisted of peasants and ordinary civilians, Žižka improvised both with their training and arms. Using parts of farming equipment as battle tools, Žižka’s method of combining tanks and pistols with improvised weapons brought him victory.
After Emperor Sigismund threatened to take Prague over during the first anti-Hussite crusade, Žižka was summoned by the civilians to come to their aid. Soon after an attack on the city of Kutna Hora followed, as it was taken by Sigismund and Žižka tried to liberate it. Failing the first time, he eventually managed to defeat Sigismund. Winning victory over certain fractions of Hussites, Žižka managed to unite the whole community and was proclaimed leader of the final attack on Sigismund. However, Jan Žižka died of plague before he reached Moravia where the attack on Sigismund’s forces was supposed to happen. Today, many streets and a district are named after Žižka, and a Prague monument of him on a horse is the largest of the sort in the world.
Konstantin Rokossovsky (Konstanty Ksawerowicz Rokossowski)
One of the most notable Red Army commanders of the WW2, Rokossovsky has been repeatedly celebrated for his brilliance in the strategic planning and execution of crucial Operation Bagration. Managing to rupture the entire German front line and annihilate its Group Centre, Rokossovsky’s tactics brought irreversible damage to German forces in the Belorussian Front. Born into a noble working class family of Polish descent, he became an orphan at the age of 14, doing various manual labor jobs to survive. Applying for enlistment into the Russian Army at the beginning of WW1, he entered military without any previous training. However, his courage and strategic brilliance were apparent, and his many clever manoeuvres during the War earned him a rank of Officer and numerous decorations. Zhukov and Rokossovsky were known to be rivals during the WW2, although this was internal in nature and can be interpreted from certain memoirs and documents they wrote about each other. Caught up in a Stalin’s Great Purge, Rokossovsky was accused of being a traitor and a spy in 1937., because of his alleged connections to Polish and Japanese intelligence agencies.
He was incarcerated and reportedly forced to sign a false confesion. According to his cellmate Rachesky’s memoirs, “Those who refused to sign a false statement were beaten up, as long as the false statement was not signed. There were steadfast people who stubbornly did not sign. But there were relatively few. K. K. Rokossovsky, as he sat with me in the same cell did not sign a false statement. But he was a brave and strong man, tall and broad-shouldered. He too was beaten.” Breaking ribs and plucking fingernails, as well as mock shootings were also some of the frequent methods by which the regime attempted to gain false confessions, however Rokossovsky never confessed to espionage. His trial was finalized with him being sent away to Leningrad’s Kresty Prison, from which he was eventually liberated without explanation.
A formerly humiliated Officer and prisoner, WW2 endeavours of Rokossovsky made him a great hero and Marshal of Soviet Union only few years later. Taking part in every strategically important decision and operation, he was one of the major brains behind Red Army’s tactical manoeuvres against Germany. Operation Barbarossa, Battle of Brody, Battle of Smolensk, Operation Typhoon, Operation Uranus, Battle of Stalingrad and Battle of Kursk are just some of many Konstantin Rokossovsky has played a crucial strategic and commanding part in. Yet, his biggest and most famed achievement is Operation Bagration, in which he famously dared to contradict Stalin.
Insisting two points of breakthrough, Rokossovsky stood up to traditional Red Army method of single point breakthrough. After convincing Stalin it was the right decision and proving his point in the battlefield with a glorious victory, Rokossovsky was made a Marshal of Soviet Union. His heroic actions during the WW2 brought him Order of Victory and positions of a Minister of Defense of Poland and Vice President of Poland. Rokossovsky died in 1968., aged 72, and was buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis at Moscow’s Red Square.