Konev, Ivan Stepanovich

views updated May 14 2018


(18971973), military leader and marshal of the Soviet Union.

Born to a peasant family in Viatsky, Konev entered the Old Army in 1916 and rose to the rank of junior officer before joining the Party and the Red Army in 1918 and being appointed commissar of Nikolskii District. During the civil war, he was commander of Armored Train No. 105, attached to the 5 Rifle Brigade, and fought in Siberia and the Far East. From 1921 to 1922 he took part in putting down the Kronshtadt Rebellion and was appointed commissar in the staff in the National Revolutionary Army of the Far East Republic.

Konev attended a higher course in the military academy in 1926 and graduated from the Frunze Academy in 1934. During the 1920s and 1930s he commanded the 2 Rifle Division and later a corps. Untouched by the purges, he was elected to the Supreme Soviet in 1937, and in 1938 he took over as the commander of the newly formed 2 Independent Red Banner Far East Army. Despite rumors to the contrary, Konev was not involved in fighting the Japanese in Lake Khasan or Khalkhin Gol. In 1939 he was elected as a candidate member of the Central Committee. During 1940 and 1941, he commanded the Transbaikal and North Caucasus Military Districts. The latter was reinstituted shortly before World War II as the 19 Army and was transferred to the Western Special Military District to be mauled by the blitzkrieg.

In September, 1941, Konev took over the command of the Western Front, which was pushed back in the Battles of Orel and Viasma by the Germans, and for a few anxious days in October contact was lost with him. Josef Stalin threatened to courtmartial him but was persuaded by Zhukov to appoint Konev as commander of the newly formed neighboring Kalinin Front, which played a significant part in finally stopping the German advance toward Moscow. In August 1942 Konev replaced Zhukov as commander of the Western Front, which failed to defeat the now well-entrenched Germans. For a brief period in March 1943 Konev commanded the Northwest Front before being appointed commander of the Steppe Military District (later Steppe Front), the massive reserve force formed by the Russians in anticipation of the German attack against the Kursk Bulge. Konev's units were deployed sooner than planned, but managed, with enormous losses, to persuade the Germans to break off their offensive. With the German defeat at Kursk, which Konev called the swan song of the German panzers, the Red Army went on the offensive with Konev commanding the 2 Ukraine (October 1943) and later 1 Ukraine (May 1944) Fronts.

Konev was involved in most of the major battles of the last two years of the war, which included the crossing of several major rivers, including the Dnepr and Vistula-Oder. During the Battle of Berlin, Stalin used the rivalry between Konev and Georgy Zhukov, who now commanded the neighboring 1 Belorussian Front, to advance his military and political goals. In the last phase of the campaign, forces commanded by Konev captured Prague. In both 1944 and 1945 Konev received the title Hero of the Soviet Union. After the war, Konev was appointed commander of the Central Group of Forces, and in 1946 he took over the ground forces, as well as being appointed Deputy Minister of the Armed Forces. He lost the former position in 1950. In 1951 he was appointed commander of the Carpathian Military District.

In late 1952 Konev wrote to Stalin claiming that he had been a victim of the Doctor's Plot. In December 1953 Konev presided over the military court that sentenced to death Laurenti Beria and his colleagues. In 19551956 Konev was once again commander of the Ground Forces. From 1955 to 1960, he was also the first deputy minister of the Armed Forces, and from May 1955 to June 1960 commander of the Warsaw Pact Forces, taking part in putting down the 1956 revolution in Hungry. In 19611962 Konev was commander of Soviet forces in Germany before being transferred to the military inspectorate. In 1965 he represented the USSR at Winston Churchill's funeral. Konev himself is buried at the Kremlin Wall. Konev was a typical Soviet commander in his indifference to losses and was one of Stalin's favorites.

See also: military, soviet and post-soviet; world war ii; zhukov, georgy konstantinovich


Polevoi, N. (1974). Polkovodets. Moscow: Politizdat.

Portugal'skii, R. M. (1985). Marshal I. S. Konev. Moscow: Voenizdat.

Michael Parrish