Semyon Timoshenko

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Marshal of the Soviet Union Semyon Timoshenko
Marshal of the Soviet Union Semyon Timoshenko

Semyon Konstantinovich Timoshenko (Russian: Семён Константинович Тимошенко) (February 6 O.S (February 18 N.S.), 1895-March 31, 1970), Soviet military commander, was the senior professional officer of the Red Army at the beginning of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.

Timoshenko was born into a peasant family at Frumanka, near Odessa in southern Ukraine, and was drafted into the army of the Russian Empire in 1915. He served as a cavalryman on the western front, and on the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1917 he sided with the revolutionaries, joining the Red Army in 1918 and the Bolshevik Party in 1919.

During the Russian Civil War Timoshenko fought on various fronts, but most importantly at Tsaritsyn (later renamed Stalingrad), where he met Joseph Stalin and became a friend and supporter, thus ensuring the rapid advancement of his career. In 1920-21 he served in the 1st Cavalry Army under Semyon Budyonny, and these two became the core of the "Cavalry Army clique" which dominated the Red Army with Stalin's patronage for many years.

After the Civil War, Timoshenko was commander of the Red Army cavalry forces, then successively Red Army commander in Belarus (1933), Kiev (1935), the North Caucasus (1937), Kharkov (1937), and Kiev again (1938). In 1939 he became commander of the whole western border region, and commanded the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland in September 1939. At this time he also became a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

These were the years of Stalin's Great Purge, which saw the executions of three of the five Marshals of the Soviet Union: Mikhail Tukhachevsky, Aleksandr Yegorov, and Vasily Blyukher. Since the remaining Marshals, Budyonny and Kliment Voroshilov, were Stalin's cronies with no great abilities, Timoshenko was left as the Red Army's senior professional soldier.

In January 1940 Timoshenko took charge of the Soviet armies fighting Finland in the Soviet-Finnish War, which had begun the previous November and had been disastrously conducted by Voroshilov. Under Timoshenko's leadership the Soviets succeeded in breaking through the Finnish Mannerheim Line of defence on the Karelian Isthmus. In March Finns signed peace with USSR. This established Timoshenko's reputation, and in May 1940 he became People's Commissar for Defence and a Marshal of the Soviet Union.

Timoshenko was a competent but traditionalist military commander, who saw the urgent need to modernise the Red Army if it was to fight the expected war against Nazi Germany. He succeeded in overcoming the opposition of conservatives and undertook the mechanisation of the army and the production of more tanks. He also re-introduced much of the traditional harsh discipline of the Tsarist Russian Army.

When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Stalin took over the post of Defence Commissar and sent Timoshenko to the central front, where he conducted a fighting retreat from the border to Smolensk, suffering huge casualties but saving the bulk of his army for the defence of Moscow. In September, however, he was transferred to Ukraine, where the Red Army had suffered 1.5 million casualties in the great encirclements at Uman and Kiev. Here he succeeded in stabilising the front.

In May 1942 Timoshenko, with 640,000 men, launched a counter-offensive at Kharkov, the first Soviet attempt to regain the initiative. After initial Soviet successes, the Germans struck back at Timoshenko's exposed southern flank. The Soviet offensive was halted with more than 200,000 casualties. Although the offensive slowed the German advance on Stalingrad, Timoshenko had to accept responsibility for its failure.

General Georgy Zhukov's success in defending Moscow in December 1941 persuaded Stalin that he was a better commander than Timoshenko. In 1942 Stalin removed Timoshenko from front-line command, and he was given roles as overall commander of the Stalingrad (June 1942), North-Western (October 1942), Leningrad (June 1943), Caucasus (June 1944), and Baltic (August 1944) fronts.

After the war Timoshenko was Soviet Army commander in Belarus (March 1946), the South Urals (June 1946), and Belarus again (March 1949). In 1960 he was appointed Inspector-General of the Defence Ministry, a largely honorary post, and from 1961 he chaired the State Committee for War Veterans. He died in Moscow in Timoszenko ru:Тимошенко, Семён Константинович fi:Semjon Timoenko


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