Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Vasilevsky, Aleksandr Mikhailovich (1895–1977)

Soviet marshal and chief of staff of the Red Army. Born in Novaya Golchikha in the Volga region on 30 September 1895, Aleksandr Vasilevsky was the son of an Orthodox priest and attended a seminary before entering the tsar's army and rising to captain. He joined the Red Army in 1919, and during the Russian Civil War, he was elected commander of a rifle regiment. Vasilevsky then commanded the 143rd Regiment of the Moscow Military District and was chief of the Red Army's Combat Training Directorate from 1931 to 1934. In 1935, he was appointed deputy chief of staff of the Volga Military District. Between 1936 and 1937, he attended the Frunze General Staff Academy and taught tactics there for several months.

Vasilevsky was then attached to the General Staff as chief of the Operations Training Section. Admitted to the Communist Party as a full member in 1938, he was deputy chief of operations of the General Staff in 1939 and 1940 and then chief of the Operational Department in 1941. Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June, Vasilevsky became invaluable to Stavka (the Soviet High Command) in his visits to and coordination of the various military fronts. Only General Georgii Zhukov, with whom he worked out the successful 1942–1943 Soviet winter offensives, was more active in this regard. Appointed chief of the General Staff in June 1942, Vasilevsky was promoted to full general in January 1943 and to marshal of the Soviet Union in February 1943.

Vasilevsky coordinated the 3rd and 4th Ukrainian Fronts from Kursk through the advance from the Dnieper River to the Dniester and Prut Rivers. He subsequently coordinated operations for the 1st Baltic and 2nd Belorussian Fronts in East Prussia. In February 1945, he stepped down as chief of the General Staff to take command of the 3rd Belorussian Front following the death of its commander, General Ivan Chernyakhovsky.

Less volatile than Zhukov, Vasilevsky is said to have been a "rational influence" on Josef Stalin, who selected him in July 1945 for the singular honor of being the first Soviet theater commander against the Japanese. Vasilevsky's Manchurian campaign was a lightning operation that required the coordination of three fronts from three directions, with the object of penetrating into central Manchuria to destroy the Japanese Guandong (Kwantung) Army. The campaign was a complete success.

In November 1948, Vasilevsky was reappointed chief of the General Staff, and in March 1949, he became minister of defense. He retired from public life following Stalin's death in March 1953. Vasilevsky was one of 11 Soviets to receive the five-star ruby Order of Victory and was twice named a Hero of the Soviet Union. He published his war memoirs, Delo Vsei Zhizni (A Lifelong Cause), in 1973. The work revealed Stalin's failure to follow the recommendations of his military advisers in the opening and disastrous stages of the German invasion. Vasilevsky died on 5 December 1977.

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.; Glantz, David M., and Jonathan House. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995.
 

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