Semyon Konstantinovich Timoshenko
(Семё́н Константи́нович Тимоше́нко, Semën Konstantinovič Timošenko
; February 18
– March 31
) was a Soviet
military commander and 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 Furmanca (Furmanka
), in Southern Bessarabia
region (now part of Ukraine
). In 1915, he was drafted into the army of the Russian Empire
and served as a cavalryman
on the western front. On the outbreak of the Russian Revolution
in 1917, he sided with the revolutionaries, joining the Red Army
in 1918 and the Bolshevik Party
The Russian Civil War and the 1930s
During the Russian Civil War
, Timoshenko fought on various fronts. His most important encounter occurred at Tsaritsyn (later renamed Stalingrad
, and now Volgograd
), where he met and befriended Joseph Stalin
. This would ensure his rapid advancement after Stalin gained control of the Communist Party by the end of the 1920s. In 1920-1921, Timoshenko served under Semyon Budyonny
in the 1st Cavalry Army
; he and Budyonny would become the core of the "Cavalry Army clique
" which, under Stalin's patronage, would dominate the Red Army for many years.
By the end of the Civil and Polish-Soviet Wars, Timoshenko had become commander of the Red Army cavalry forces. Thereafter, under Stalin, he became Red Army commander in Belarus (1933); in Kiev (1935); in the northern Caucasus and then Kharkov (1937); and Kiev again (1938). In 1939, he was given command of the entire western border region and led the Ukrainian Front during the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland. He also became a member of the Communist Party's Central Committee. As a loyal friend, Timoshenko survived Stalin's Great Purge, to be left as the Red Army's senior professional soldier.
The Winter War
In January 1940, Timoshenko took charge of the Soviet armies fighting Finland
in the Soviet-Finnish War
. This had begun the previous November, under the disastrous command of Kliment Voroshilov
. Under Timoshenko's leadership, the Soviets succeeded in breaking through the Finnish Mannerheim Line
on the Karelian Isthmus
, prompting Finland to sue for peace in March. His reputation increased, Timoshenko was made the People's Commissar
for Defence and a Marshal of the Soviet Union
Timoshenko was a competent but traditionalist military commander who nonetheless saw the urgent need to modernise the Red Army if, as expected, it was to fight a war against Nazi Germany. Overcoming the opposition of other more conservative leaders, he undertook the mechanisation of the Red Army and the production of more tanks. He also reintroduced much of the traditional harsh discipline of the Tsarist Russian Army.
World War II
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
to conduct a fighting retreat from the border to Smolensk
. Huge casualties were suffered, but Timoshenko managed to save the bulk of the army for the defence of Moscow
. In September, he was transferred to Ukraine
, where the Red Army had suffered 1.5 million casualties while encircled at Uman
. 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 gain the initiative in the war. After initial Soviet successes, the Germans struck back at Timoshenko's exposed southern flank, halting the offense. Although Timoshenko's actions slowed the German advance on Stalingrad, he was forced to accept responsibility for failing to drive back the German forces.
General Georgy Zhukov's success in defending Moscow during December 1941 had persuaded Stalin that he was a better commander than Timoshenko. Stalin removed Timoshenko from front-line command, giving him roles as overall commander of the Stalingrad (June 1942), then North-Western (October 1942), Leningrad (June 1943), Caucasus (June 1944) and Baltic (August 1944) fronts.
After the war, Timoshenko was reappointed Soviet Army commander in Belarus (March 1946), then of the southern Urals
(June 1946); and then Belarus again (March 1949). In 1960, he was appointed Inspector-General of the Defence Ministry, a largely honorary post. From 1961 he chaired the State Committee for War Veterans. He died in Moscow in 1970.