Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Konev, Ivan Stepanovich (1897–1973)

Marshal of the Soviet Union who would command Soviet occupation forces in Germany at war's end. Born in the village of Lladeino, near Kirov, Russia, on 28 December 1897 and schooled to age 12, Ivan Konev initially became a lumberjack. After being conscripted into the Russian army in 1916, he served in the artillery on the Galician Front, achieved officer rank, and was demobilized in November 1917. Konev joined the Red Army and the Communist Party in 1918, serving as military commissar on an armored train on the Eastern Front. He rose to divisional commissar by 1920.

Konev played a notable role in crushing the Kronstadt Rebellion of March 1921. He graduated from the Frunze Military Academy six years later and then switched to the command side. He was given divisional command and attended special courses at the Frunze in 1934 and 1935. He went on to serve as commander of the Special Red Banner Army in the Far East and then as head of the Transbaikal Military District (1938–1941). His presence in the Far East and his political acumen helped him survive the late 1930s' great purge of the Soviet army officer corps. In the course of fighting against the Japanese in 1939, he developed a bitter rivalry with Georgii Zhukov.

Promoted to lieutenant general, Konev assumed command of the North Caucasus Military District in January 1941. In June, when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, he received command of the Nineteenth Army. That September, he was promoted to colonel general and succeeded Semen Timoshenko as commander of the Western Front. Terrible Soviet defeats followed, with five Soviet armies encircled and a half million men taken prisoner. Responsibility for the defeat lay with Konev and Josef Stalin, as the large encirclement could have been prevented. Zhukov then replaced Konev. However, in an appeal to Stalin, Zhukov saved Konev and made him his deputy—a favor that Konev would not repay.

When the Kalinin Front was formed in October, it was commanded by Konev as colonel general. In that post, he successfully defended the northern approaches to Moscow, and in mid-December, he drove the German army from Kalinin.

In August 1942, Konev again secured command of the Western Front when Zhukov returned to duty with the Stavka. He halted the last German drive toward Moscow and was shifted to command the Northwestern Front (February to June 1943). During the critical July 1943 Battle of Kursk, Konev commanded the strategic reserve Steppe Front, the powerful armor forces of which blunted the German panzers at Prokhorovka.

Konev secured promotion to General of the Army in August 1943. In October, his front, now known as the 2nd Ukrainian Front, played a key role in the encirclement of German forces at Korsun-Shevchenko, earning him promotion to marshal of the Soviet Union in February 1944. Taking command of the 1st Ukrainian Front that May, Konev swept through southern Poland and captured the Silesian industrial region. Zhukov was initially assigned the honor of taking Berlin, while Konev moved south of the German capital to the Elbe. But heavy German resistance allowed Konev to propose that his armor be diverted north to the city, and Stalin agreed. Thus, on 25 April 1945, Konev's tanks linked up with those of Zhukov, isolating Berlin. That same day, Konev's patrols made contact with the U.S. First Army on the Elbe at Torgau, in effect splitting Germany. Konev then commanded Soviet occupation forces in Austria.

By July 1946, Konev had succeeded Zhukov as commander of occupation and ground forces in Germany, having provided "evidence" against Zhukov during Stalin's inquiry of the latter's "improper behavior." He would go on to serve as chief inspector of Soviet Forces (1950–1952), commander of the Transcarpathian Military District (1952–1955), and commander in chief of Soviet Ground Forces (1955–1956).

On the formation of the Warsaw Pact, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev named Konev commander of its forces (1956–1960) in time to crush the Hungarian uprising of 1956. Konev again turned on Zhukov when Khrushchev removed him in 1957. Ironically, Konev's Zhukov-like objections to the move from conventional forces to missiles resulted in his "voluntary" retirement to the Inspectorate. During the Berlin crisis of 1961, he was called on to head Soviet Forces in Germany again, through April 1962. Konev went into "active retirement" in 1963 as a Ministry of Defense inspector. He died in Moscow ten years later, on 21 May 1973.

Claude R. Sasso


Further Reading
Erickson, John. The Road to Berlin. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1983.; Erickson, John. The Road to Stalingrad. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1984.; Konev, Ivan. Year of Victory. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1969.; Rzheshevsky, Oleg. "Ivan Stepanovich Konev." In Harold Shukman, ed., Stalin's Generals, 91–107. New York: Grove Press, 1993.; Shtemenko, Sergei M. The Soviet General Staff at War, 1941–1945. 2 vols. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1970.
 

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