The name of Georgi Zhukov is associated with all the Soviet Union's major victories of World War II. He replaced Semyon Timoschenko as commander of the central front in 1940 and conducted the defence of Moscow, he led the forces that defeated the Germans at Stalingrad in 1943, and lifted the siege of Leningrad with Marshal Voroshilov. In 1944 he led the final Russian offensive against the Germans, and took Berlin in 1945.
Zhukov was born in 1896, in Strelkovka, near Moscow, the son of peasants. Like most of his class he received little formal education, and he was conscripted to serve in the Tsarist army before World, where he became a Sergeant of Dragoons. He fought in the 1917 October Revolution, and the civil war between 1918-20 which finally established the Bolsheviks in power. He joined the Communist party in 1919.
The fact that he served with Josef Stalin during this period almost certainly saved him from the purges of Red Army generals in 1937-39, and left him one of the few qualified senior officers at the outbreak of the Second World War.
Zhukov's first major victory was the Battle of Khalkan-Gol, in the summer of 1939, against a Japanese offensive in Mongolia. While few in the West noticed the battle, it effectively ended Japanese Army attempts to invade Soviet Asia and led the Japanese to look for conquests elsewhere. So, indirectly, it led to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the entry of the USA into the war.
At the end of World War II Zhukov became commander of the Soviet occupation zone in Germany and in 1946 he took overall command of Soviet ground forces. However, his popularity made Stalin jealous and in 1947 he was demoted to command the Odessa military district. In 1953, after Stalin's death, Zhukov became deputy defence minister and was promoted to defence minister in 1955.
Although he supported Nikita Khrushchev against the "anti-party faction” that tried to remove Khrushchev from power in 1957, and was named a full member of the central committee of the Communist party, later that year he again fell foul of political manoeuvring and was relieved of all his responsibilities by Khrushchev. It wasn't until Khrushchev was deposed in 1964 that Zhukov appeared in public again. He died in 1974.
One day there is certain to be another order of the Soviet Union. It will be the Order of Zhukov, and that order will be prized by every man who admires courage, vision, fortitude, and determination in a soldier. – Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1945