Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Konev, Ivan Stepanovich (1897–1973)

Marshal of the Soviet Union. Born in the village of Lladeino, near Kirov, on 28 December 1897 and schooled to age twelve, Ivan Konev became a lumberjack. Conscripted into the Russian Army in 1916, he served in the artillery on the Galician Front, rose to officer rank, and was demobilized in November 1917. He 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 in 1927 and then switched to the command side. He rose to divisional command and attended special courses at the Frunze during 1934–1935. He then served in turn as commander of the Special Red Banner Army in the Far East and head of the Transbaikal Military District (1938–1941). His presence in the Far East and his political acumen helped him survive the Great Purge of the Soviet Army officer corps. In the course of fighting against the Japanese in 1939, Konev developed a bitter rivalry with Georgi 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. In September 1941 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 now replaced Konev, but Zhukov saved Konev by appealing to Stalin. Konev thus became Zhukov's deputy. Subsequently, Konev did not repay the favor. As colonel general, he then commanded the Kalinin Front, formed in October. Here he successfully defended the northern approaches to Moscow and in mid-December 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. Konev halted the last German drive toward Moscow and was shifted to command the Northwestern Front (February–June 1943). During the critical July 1943 battle for Kursk, Konev commanded the strategic reserve Steppe Front, the powerful armor forces that 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 in May 1944, he 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. Heavy German resistance allowed Konev to propose that his armor be diverted north to the city, and Stalin agreed. On 25 April 1945 Konev's tanks linked up with Zhukov's tanks, 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." Konev served 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 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 upon 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 Konev was called upon to head Soviet forces in Germany again through April 1962. He went into active retirement in 1963 as a Ministry of Defense inspector. Konev died in Moscow on 21 May 1973.

Claude R. Sasso


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

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