Meretskov rose rapidly through the ranks thereafter, mostly in staff positions. By 1922, he was a brigadier general and chief of staff of a cavalry corps in the Belorussian Military District. During the next decade, he held a variety of posts in the Chief Personnel Directorate and the North Caucasus and Moscow Military Districts. Meretskov was selected for secret training in Germany in 1931. After a tour in the Special Red Banner Far Eastern Army (1935–1936), he went abroad, first as an observer to Czechoslovakian military maneuvers and then as a military adviser to the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. He returned to the Soviet Union during Josef Stalin's purges of the army and was assigned as deputy commander of the General Staff.
In 1938, Meretskov headed the Leningrad Military District. When Stalin decided on war with Finland, Meretskov was given only three days to prepare an attack by four armies. The attack was a disaster, and he lost his command. He nonetheless participated in the successful phase of the Finnish war and was promoted to General of the Army in June 1940.
Meretskov took over as chief of the General Staff in August 1940, but his tenure was short-lived after his performance, again with little preparation time, in a briefing of a bilateral strategic war game against the Germans, in which General Georgii Zhukov played the German side. Zhukov succeeded Meretskov as chief of staff in January 1941.
Meretskov was subsequently arrested on false charges but was released in September 1941 and assigned as the Stavka (Soviet High Command) representative in Leningrad. He then commanded the Volkhov Front between the Leningrad and Northwest Fronts until April 1942, when he was transferred to the Western Front as Zhukov's deputy commander. Stalin, recognizing his error in judgment, restored Meretskov to command of the Volkhov Front, which helped break the siege of Leningrad in early 1944.
Meretskov assumed command of the Karelian Front in February 1944 and forced Finland from the war that October. Promoted to marshal of the Soviet Union that same month, he received command of the 1st Far Eastern Front in Manchuria, which carried out a supporting attack in the most heavily fortified Japanese-held area (opposite Soviet Primorye) and helped crush the Japanese Guandong (Kwantung) Army in a nine-day campaign in August.
Meretskov was given assignments to keep him out of the limelight, serving finally as an assistant minister of defense from 1955 until his retirement in 1964. He died in Moscow on 30 December 1968.
Claude R. Sasso
Erickson, John. The Road to Berlin. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1983.; Glantz, David M., and Jonathan House. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995.; Jukes, Geoffrey. "Kirill Afanasievich Meretskov." In Harold Shukman, ed., Stalin's Generals, 127–134. New York: Grove Press, 1993.; Meretskov, Kirill. Serving the People. Trans. David Fidlon. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1971.