An interview in which a Soviet commander admitted how close Moscow came to defeat by Germany during the Second World War has been broadcast in Russia for the first time.
The Soviet Union nearly lost the war in 1941 and suffered from poor planning, according to Marshal Georgy Zhukov in the frank television interview that has been banned since it was recorded in 1966.
Zhukov, the most decorated general in the history of both Russia and the Soviet Union, admitted that Soviet generals were not confident that they could hold the German forces at the Mozhaisk defence line outside Moscow.
“Did the commanders have confidence we would hold that line of defence and be able to halt the enemy? I have to say frankly that we did not have complete certainty.
“It would have been possible to contain the initial units of the opponent but if he quickly sent in his main group, he would have been difficult to stop,” he told the interviewer, the Soviet writer Konstantin Simonov.
Zhukov also revealed details of his exchanges with Joseph Stalin, the wartime leader, in the interview broadcast on state-run Channel One.
He recalled that a flu-struck Stalin summoned him to Moscow in October 1941 to salvage what until then had been a stuttering defence on the Western front outside Moscow.
After arriving at the front, Zhukov found that the defences in place were “absolutely insufficient”.
“It was an extremely dangerous situation. In essence, all the approaches to Moscow were open,” he said. “Our troops on the Mozhaisk defence line could not have stopped the enemy if he moved on Moscow.”
“I telephoned Stalin. I said the most urgent thing is to occupy the Mozhaisk defence line as in parts of the Western front in essence there are no (Soviet) troops.
Shortly afterwards, Stalin phoned Zhukov back to inform him he had been made commander of the Western Front.
The relationship between the two men would end in acrimony when Stalin became suspicious of Zhukov’s popularity after the war, giving him obscure posts in Odessa and the Urals.
Zhukov had been given the honour of leading the Red Army victory parade in 1945, riding into Red Square on a white stallion, and some historians believe Stalin feared he was being upstaged by the charismatic general.
After Stalin’s death, Zhukov served as defence minister but remained a controversial figure and the Soviet authorities ordered the tape of his interview with Simonov to be destroyed. However one archive copy survived.
Ultimately, Russia’s notorious weather played a major part in the defeat of Nazi Germany, but the Wehrmacht “overestimated themselves and underestimated Soviet troops,” said Zhukov.
In giving the reasons for the Soviet victory, Zhukov made no mention of Stalin, who was taken unawares by the Nazi invasion of Russia.
The broadcast of the banned interview came ahead of a huge parade on May 9 to mark the 65th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany and as Russia appears to be cautiously eroding several taboos surrounding its war victory.
Notably, Russia recently posted online documents about the Katyn massacre of Polish officers by Soviet forces in 1940.
Published: 11:58AM BST 05 May 2010
Source: The Telegraph