Ivan Stepanovich Konev

Ivan Stepanovich Konev

[kawn-yef; Russ. kaw-nyif]
Konev, Ivan Stepanovich, 1897-1973, Soviet field marshal. In World War II he reconquered (1944-45) Ukraine and S Poland from the Germans, took Silesia, and participated in the conquest of Czechoslovakia and the capture of Berlin. He became (1945) military governor of the Soviet occupation zone in Austria and (1946) commander in chief of Soviet ground forces. From 1955 to 1960 he commanded the unified military forces set up by the Warsaw Treaty. In 1961-62 he headed Soviet forces in East Germany.

Ivan Stepanovich Konev (Ива́н Степа́нович Ко́нев) (28 December, 1897May 21, 1973), was a Soviet military commander, who led Red Army forces on the Eastern Front during World War II, liberated much of Eastern Europe from occupation by the Axis Powers, and helped in the capture of Germany's capital, Berlin. Later, as the Commander of Warsaw Pact forces, Konev led the suppression of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 by Soviet armed divisions.

Early career

Konev was born into a peasant family near Podosinovsky in central Russia (now in Kirov Oblast). He had little formal education, and worked as a lumberjack before being conscripted into the Russian Army in 1916.

When the Russian Revolution broke out in 1917 he was demobilised and returned home, but in 1919 he joined the Bolshevik party and the Red Army, serving as an artilleryman. During the Russian Civil War he served with the Red Army in the Russian Far Eastern Republic. His commander at this time was Kliment Voroshilov, later a close colleague of Joseph Stalin and Commissar for Defence. This alliance was the key to Konev's subsequent career.

In 1926 Konev completed advanced officer training courses at the Frunze Military Academy, and between then and 1931 he held a series of progressively more senior commands, becoming head of first the Transbaikal then the North Caucasus Military Districts. In July 1938 he was appointed a corps commander. Promotion at this time was rapid for those officers who survived Stalin's Great Purge of 1937-38. Konev presumably owed his survival and advancement to Voroshilov's patronage. In 1937 he became a Deputy of the Supreme Soviet and in 1939 a candidate member of the Party Central Committee.

World War II

When Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941, Konev took command of the 19th Army in the Vitebsk region, and waged a series of defensive battles during the Red Army's retreat, first to Smolensk and then to the approaches to Moscow. He commanded the Kalinin Front from October 1941 to August 1942, playing a key role in the fighting around Moscow and the Soviet counter-offensive during the winter of 1941-42. For his role in the successful defence of the Soviet capital Konev was promoted to Colonel-General.

Konev held high commands for the rest of the war. He commanded the Soviet Western Front until February 1943, the North-Western Front February-July 1943, and the Ukrainian Front (later renamed the First Ukrainian Front) from July 1943 until May 1945. During this latter command he participated in the Battle of Kursk, commanding the southern part of the Soviet counter-offensive that successfully enveloped Erich von Manstein's army.

After the victory at Kursk, Konev's armies liberated Belgorod, Odessa, Kharkov and Kiev from the Germans, and advanced to the Romanian border. For his achievements on the Ukrainian Front Konev was promoted to the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union in February 1944.

A favourite of Stalin, Konev was widely renowned for brutality in combat. In one case, his forces had pursued a German division which took refuge in a small soviet town. Konev had the town surrounded, and then called in incendiary strikes from Il-2 aircraft, which turned the town into an inferno. German troops who had survived the bombardment fled into the Russian winter, only to be met by T-34 tanks which crushed them under their tracks, as well as cutting them down with machine gun fire. The survivors were then finished off with Cavalry units, who butchered the Germans with swords, with some accounts even claiming that those who raised their arms in surrender were also killed. This incident soon secured Konev's reputation as a cold and ruthless commander on all sides, most of all the Germans.

During 1944 Konev's armies advanced from Ukraine and Byelorussia into Poland and later into Czechoslovakia. By July he had advanced to the Vistula River in central Poland, and was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. In September 1944 his forces, now designated the Fourth Ukrainian Front, advanced into Slovakia and helped the Slovak partisans in their rebellion against German occupation.

In January 1945 Konev, together with Georgy Zhukov, commanded the Soviet forces which launched the massive winter offensive in western Poland, driving the Germans from the Vistula to the Oder river. In southern Poland his forces seized Krakow. Konev preserved Kraków from Nazi-planned destruction by ordering a lightning attack on the city. Konev's January 1945 offensive also prevented planned destruction of the Silesian industry by the retreating Germans. In April his forces, together with the First Byelorussian Front under his competitor, Marshal Georgi Zhukov, forced the line of the Oder and advanced towards Berlin. Konev's forces entered the city, but Stalin gave Zhukov the honor of capturing the Reichstag and hoisting the Soviet flag over Berlin. Konev was ordered to the south-west, where his forces linked up with elements of the United States army at Torgau and also liberated Prague shortly after the official surrender of the German forces.

Post-war career

After the war Konev was appointed head of the Soviet occupation forces in Eastern Germany and also Allied High Commissioner for Austria. In 1946 he became commander of Soviet ground forces and First Deputy Minister of Defense of the Soviet Union, replacing Zhukov. He held these posts until 1950, when he was appointed commander of the Carpathian Military District. This was clearly a demotion, and was in line with Stalin's policy of relegating popular wartime commanders to obscure posts so they would not become threats to his position.

After Stalin's death, however, Konev returned to prominence. He became a key ally of the new Party leader, Nikita Khrushchev, being entrusted with the trial of the Stalinist police chief, Lavrenty Beria in 1953. He was again appointed First Deputy Minister of Defense and commander of Soviet ground forces, posts he held until 1956, when he was named Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Warsaw Pact. Shortly after his appointment he led the brutal suppression on the Hungarian anti-communist freedom fighters during the Hungarian Revolution.

He held this post until 1960, when he retired from active service. In 1961-62, however, he was recalled and was again commander of the Soviet forces in East Germany. He was then appointed to the largely ceremonial post of Inspector-General of the Defense Ministry.

Konev remained one of the Soviet Union's most admired military figures until his death in 1973. He married twice, and his daughter Nataliya is Dean of the Department of Linguistics and Literature at the Russian Military University.

In 1969, the Ministry of Defense of the USSR published Konev's 285 page glorious war memoir called "Forty-Five." It was later translated into English in the same year and published by Progress Publishers, Moscow. This work discusses Konev's taking of Berlin, Prague, his work with Marshal Georgi Zhukov, Stalin, his field meeting with General Omar Bradley and Jascha Heifetz. In English, the book was titled "I. Konev - YEAR OF VICTORY." It was also published in Spanish under the title "El Año 45."

Marshal of the Soviet Union, Twice Hero of the Soviet Union, holder of the Order of Victory Ivan Stepanovich Konev was buried in the Kremlin Wall with the greatest heroes of the USSR, and can still be visited today.

In 1992 his memorial sculpture in Krakow was dismantled. The sculpture was given to Ukraine. The memorial plaque in front of the apartment building where he lived (three blocks from the Kremlin) is still mounted on the brick wall.


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