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Marshal of the Soviet Union (Russian: Marshal Sovietskovo Soyuza [Маршал Советского Союза]) was the de facto highest military rank of the Soviet Union. (The highest rank de jure, Generalissimus of the Soviet Union, was created for Joseph Stalin and held by him alone).

The rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union was created in 1935 and abolished in 1991. Forty-one people held the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union. The equivalent naval rank was Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union.

History of the rank

Shoulder mark of Marshal of the Soviet Union since 1943

The military rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union was established by a decree of the Soviet Cabinet, the Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom), on September 22, 1935. On November 20, the rank was conferred on five people: People's Commissar of Defence and veteran Bolshevik Kliment Voroshilov, Chief of the General Staff of the Red Army Aleksandr Yegorov, and three senior commanders, Vasily Blyukher, Semyon Budyonny, and Mikhail Tukhachevsky.

Of these, Blyukher, Tukhachevski and Yegorov were executed during Stalin's Great Purge of 1937–38. On May 7, 1940, three new Marshals were appointed: the new People's Commissar of Defence, Semyon Timoshenko, Boris Shaposhnikov, and Grigory Kulik.

Even though traditional personal ranks for officers were reestablished in 1935, General ranks in the Red Army were not introduced until 1940. The updated rank system seemingly lacked a Brigadier rank and a full General rank. The position in between Lieutenant General and General of the Army was occupied by the Colonel General. Thus both Marshal of the Soviet Union and General of the Army ranks can be considered equal to the foreign rank of Field Marshal or the U.S. rank of General of the Army, leaving a Soviet Marshal as a largely honorary rank.

During World War II, Timoshenko and Budyonny were dismissed, and Kulik was demoted for incompetence, and the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union was given to a number of military commanders who earned it on merit. These included Georgy Zhukov, Ivan Konev and Konstantin Rokossovsky to name a few. In 1943, Stalin himself was made a Marshal of the Soviet Union, and in 1945, he was joined by his intelligence and police chief Lavrenti Beria. These non-military Marshals were joined in 1947 by politician Nikolai Bulganin.

Two Marshals were executed in postwar purges: Kulik in 1950 and Beria in 1953, following Stalin's death. Thereafter the rank was awarded only to professional soldiers, with the exception of Leonid Brezhnev, who made himself a Marshal in 1976, and Ustinov, who was prominent in the arms industry and was appointed Defence Minister in July 1976. The last Marshal of the Soviet Union was Dmitry Yazov, appointed in 1990, who was imprisoned after the failed coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991. Marshal Sergei Akhromeev committed suicide in 1991 on the fall of the Soviet Union.

The rank was abolished with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991. It was succeeded in the new Russia by the rank of Marshal of the Russian Federation, which has been held by only one person, Marshal Igor Sergeyev, who was Russian Defence Minister from 1997 to 2001.

The Marshals fell into three generational groups.

  • Those who had gained their reputations during the Russian Civil War. These included both those who were purged in 1937–38 (Blyukher, Tukhachevsky and Yegorov), and those who held high commands in the early years of World War II (Budyonny, Kulik, Shaposhnikov, Timoshenko and Voroshilov). All of the latter except Shaposhnikov and Timoshenko proved incompetent and were removed from commanding positions.
  • Those who made their reputations in World War II and assumed high commands in the latter part of the war. These included Zhukov, Vasilievsky, Konev, Rokossovsky, Malinovsky, Tolbukhin and Govorov.
  • Those who assumed high command in the Cold War era. All of these were officers in World War II, but their higher commands were held in the Warsaw Pact or as Soviet Defence Ministers. These included Grechko, Yakubovsky, Kulikov, Ogarkov, Akhromeev, and Yazov.

All the postwar Marshals had been officers in World War II, except Brezhnev, who had been a military commissar, and Ustinov, who had been an arms factory manager. Even Yazov, who was 20 when the war ended, had been a platoon commander.

List of Marshals of the Soviet Union

The first five marshals of the Soviet Union: Tukhachevsky, Budyonny, Voroshilov, Blyukher and Yegorov
Marshal Rokossovsky (on black stallion) and Marshal Zhukov (on the pale-grey stallion) during the Moscow Victory Parade of 1945.

Note: All Marshals of the Soviet Union, with the exception of Non-Military Marshals had at least started their military careers in the Army. The Service Arms listed are the services they served in during their respective tenures as Marshals of the Soviet Union.

Name Lifespan Appointed Service Arm/Background
Voroshilov, KlimentKliment Voroshilov 1881–1969 01935-11 November 1935 Army/Political
Tukhachevsky, MikhailMikhail Tukhachevsky 1893–1937 01935-11 November 1935 Army
Yegorov, AlexanderAlexander Yegorov 1883–1939 01935-11 November 1935 Army
Budyonny, SemyonSemyon Budyonny 1883–1973 01935-11 November 1935 Army
Blyukher, VasilyVasily Blyukher 1890–1938 01935-11 November 1935 Army
Timoshenko, SemyonSemyon Timoshenko 1895–1970 01940-05 May 1940 Army
Kulik, GrigoryGrigory Kulik 1890–1950 01940-05 May 1940 Army
Shaposhnikov, BorisBoris Shaposhnikov 1882–1945 01940-05 May 1940 Army
Zhukov, SergeiGeorgy Zhukov 1896–1974 01943-01 January 1943 Army
Vasilevsky, AleksandrAleksandr Vasilevsky 1895–1977 01943-02 February 1943 Army
Stalin, JosephJoseph Stalin 1879–1953 01943-03 March 1943 Political
Konev, IvanIvan Konev 1897–1973 01944-02 February 1944 Army
Govorov, LeonidLeonid Govorov 1897–1955 01944-06 June 1944 Army
Rokossovsky, KonstantinKonstantin Rokossovsky [1] 1896–1968 01944-06 June 1944 Army
Malinovsky, RodionRodion Malinovsky 1898–1967 01944-09 September 1944 Army
Tolbukhin, FyodorFyodor Tolbukhin 1894–1949 01944-09 September 1944 Army
Meretskov, KirillKirill Meretskov 1897–1968 01944-10 October 1944 Army
Beria, LavrentiyLavrentiy Beria 1899–1953 01945-07 July 1945 NKVD/MGB
Sokolovsky, VasilyVasily Sokolovsky 1897–1968 01946-07 July 1946 Army
Bulganin, NikolaiNikolai Bulganin 1895–1975 01947-11 November 1947 Political
Bagramyan, HovhannesHovhannes Bagramyan [2] 1897–1982 01955-03 March 1955 Army
Biriuzov, SergeiSergei Biriuzov 1904–1964 01955-03 March 1955 Army/Air Defence/Strategic Rocket Forces
Grechko, AndreiAndrei Grechko 1903–1976 01955-03 March 1955 Army
Yeremenko, AndreiAndrei Yeremenko 1892–1970 01955-03 March 1955 Army
Moskalenko, KirillKirill Moskalenko 1902–1985 01955-03 March 1955 Army/Strategic Rocket Forces
Chuikov, VasilyVasily Chuikov 1900–1982 01955-03 March 1955 Army
Zakharov, MatveiMatvei Zakharov 1898–1972 01959-05 May 1959 Army
Golikov, FilippFilipp Golikov 1900–1980 01961-05 May 1961 Army
Krylov, Nikolay IvanovichNikolay Krylov 1903–1972 01962-05 May 1962 Army/Strategic Rocket Forces
Yakubovsky, IvanIvan Yakubovsky 1912–1976 01967-04 April 1967 Army
Batitsky, PavelPavel Batitsky 1910–1984 01968-04 April 1968 Air Defence
Koshevoy, PyotrPyotr Koshevoy 1904–1976 01968-04 April 1968 Army
Brezhnev, LeonidLeonid Brezhnev 1906–1982 01976-05 May 1976 Political
Ustinov, DmitriyDmitriy Ustinov 1908–1984 01976-07 July 1976 Defence Industry
Kulikov, ViktorViktor Kulikov 1921born 1921 01977-01 January 1977 Army
Ogarkov, NikolaiNikolai Ogarkov 1917–1994 01977-01 January 1977 Army
Sokolov, SergeiSergei Sokolov 1911born 1911 01978-02 February 1978 Army
Akhromeyev, SergeiSergei Akhromeyev 1923–1991 01983-03 March 1983 Army
Kurkotkin, SemyonSemyon Kurkotkin 1917–1990 01983-03 March 1983 Army
Petrov, Vasily IvanovichVasily Petrov 1917 born 1917 01983-03 March 1983 Army
Yazov, DmitryDmitry Yazov 1923born 1923 01990-04 April 1990 Army
  1. ^ As Konstanty Rokossowski he was also a Marshal of Poland from 1949
  2. ^ also known as Ivan Baghramian

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