Sunday, March 15, 2015

KIRIL A. MERETSKOV, (1897–1968)

General Kirill A. Meretskov (1897-1968), commander of the Volhkov Front in 1941-44 and the man ultimately held responsible by Stalin for the relief of Leningrad. Meretskov was a gifted staff officer but his performance was undermined by his rival Zhukov and political interference from Stalin.

Marshal of the Soviet Union. He joined the Red Army during the Russian Civil War (1918–1921) serving with the Konarmiia . During the 1920s he continued to serve in the cavalry, then moved to the Soviet far east.

Rising rapidly, Meretskov was made a brigade commander in 1922, sent to train in Germany in 1931 and in 1936 he went to Spain as an adviser. He helped to plan the Republican counteroffensive at the battle of Guadalajara in March 1937, which inflicted 6,000 casualties on the Italians and prevented the encirclement of Madrid. After his successful performance in Spain, Meretskov returned to the USSR and was commanding the LMD at the beginning of the disastrous Soviet invasion of Finland in November 1939. During the Finnish–Soviet War (1939–1940) he was in command of two of the largest Soviet formations, Leningrad Front and 7th Army. After his victory on the Mannerheim Line, General Meretskov was made a Hero of the Soviet Union and Chief of the General Staff, but was replaced by Zhukov in January 1941.

He was chief of the General Staff until January 1941, when he was replaced by General Grigori Zhukov following war games that revealed deep problems in the Red Army. After losing his senior staff position, Meretskov was arrested. In June 1941, Meretskov was running the training section in the Stavka and two days after the German invasion began, he was arrested by the NKVD because of his personal friendship with General Dmitri Pavlov, commander of the Western Front, who had been recalled to Moscow and executed. Meretskov was accused of being a traitor and tortured for two months in the Lubyanka Prison; he was repeatedly beaten about the head with rubber truncheons and eventually signed a written confession.

However, once Leningrad was encircled Stalin recognized that he needed Meretskov's battlefield skill and he was released on 8 September and sent to take charge of the 7th Army on the Svir River front and then the 4th Army near Tikhvin in November. Given command of the Volkhov Front, Meretskov spent the next 17 months trying to batter his way through to relieve Leningrad. Later, he commanded the Karelian Front during the Soviet offensive against the Finns in June 1944, was promoted to marshal in October 1944 and then led the 1st Far Eastern Front into Manchuria in August 1945. Meretskov was an excellent set-piece battlefield commander - one of the best the Soviets had - but he was constantly forced to act prematurely owing to fear that any hesitation to act would result in being sent back to the Lubyanka Prison.

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