Semyon Timoshenko

Semyon Timoshenko
Marshal Semyon Timoshenko
Семён Тимоше́нко
People's Commissar for Defense of the Soviet Union
In office
7 May 1940 – 19 July 1941
Premier Vyacheslav Molotov
Joseph Stalin
Preceded by Kliment Voroshilov
Succeeded by Joseph Stalin
Personal details
Born 18 February 1895(1895-02-18)
Furmanivka, Bessarabia Governorate, Russian Empire
Died 31 March 1970(1970-03-31) (aged 75)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Nationality Soviet
Political party Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Military service
Allegiance  Russian Empire
 Soviet Union
Service/branch Russian Imperial Army
Soviet Army
Years of service 1915–1960
Rank Marshal
Battles/wars Russian Civil War
Polish-Soviet War
Winter War
Great Patriotic War / World War II

Semyon Konstantinovich Timoshenko (Russian: Семён Константи́нович Тимоше́нко, Semën Konstantinovič Timošenko; Ukrainian: Семе́н Костянти́нович Тимоше́нко, Semen Kostiantynovych Tymoshenko) (18 February [O.S. 6 February] 1895 – 31 March 1970) was a Soviet military commander and senior professional officer of the Red Army at the beginning of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.


Early life

Timoshenko was born into a peasant family at Furmanivka, in Southern Bessarabia, now a part of Odessa Oblast, Ukraine. In 1915, he was drafted into the army of the Russian Empire and served as a cavalryman on the western front. On the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1917, he sided with the bolsheviks, joining the Red Army in 1918 and the Bolshevik Party in 1919.

The Russian Civil War and the 1930s

During the Russian Civil War, Timoshenko fought on various fronts. His most important encounter occurred at Tsaritsyn (later renamed Stalingrad, and now Volgograd), where he met and befriended Joseph Stalin. This would ensure his rapid advancement after Stalin gained control of the Communist Party by the end of the 1920s. In 1920–1921, Timoshenko served under Semyon Budyonny in the 1st Cavalry Army; he and Budyonny would become the core of the "Cavalry Army clique" which, under Stalin's patronage, would dominate the Red Army for many years.

By the end of the Civil and Polish-Soviet Wars, Timoshenko had become commander of the Red Army cavalry forces. Thereafter, under Stalin, he became Red Army commander in Belarus (1933); in Kiev (1935); in the northern Caucasus and then Kharkov (1937); and Kiev again (1938). In 1939, he was given command of the entire western border region and led the Ukrainian Front during the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland. He also became a member of the Communist Party's Central Committee. As a loyal friend, Timoshenko survived Stalin's Great Purge, to be left as the Red Army's senior professional soldier.

The Winter War

In January 1940, Timoshenko took charge of the Soviet armies fighting Finland in the Soviet-Finnish War. This had begun the previous November, under the disastrous command of Kliment Voroshilov. Under Timoshenko's leadership, the Soviets succeeded in breaking through the Finnish Mannerheim Line on the Karelian Isthmus, prompting Finland to sue for peace in March. His reputation increased, Timoshenko was made the People's Commissar for Defence and a Marshal of the Soviet Union in May. John Erickson writes: "Although by no means a military intellectual, Timoshenko had at least passed through the higher command courses of the Red Army and was a fully trained 'commander-commissar'. During the critical period of the military purge, Stalin had used Timoshenko as a military district commander who could hold key appointments while their incumbents were liquidated or exiled."[1]

Timoshenko was a competent but traditionalist military commander who nonetheless saw the urgent need to modernise the Red Army if, as expected, it was to fight a war against Nazi Germany. Overcoming the opposition of other more conservative leaders, he undertook the mechanisation of the Red Army and the production of more tanks. He also reintroduced much of the traditional harsh discipline of the Tsarist Russian Army.

World War II

When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Stalin took over the post of Defence Commissar and sent Timoshenko to the Central Front to conduct a fighting retreat from the border to Smolensk. In September, he was transferred to Ukraine, where the Red Army had suffered 1.5 million casualties while encircled at Uman and Kiev.

In May 1942, Timoshenko, with 640,000 men, launched a counter-offensive (the Second Battle of Kharkov) which was the first Soviet attempt to gain the initiative in the war. After initial Soviet successes, the Germans struck back at Timoshenko's exposed southern flank, halting the offensive and turning the battle into a Soviet defeat.

General Georgy Zhukov's success in defending Moscow during December 1941 had persuaded Stalin that he was a better commander than Timoshenko. Stalin removed Timoshenko from front-line command, giving him roles as overall commander of the Stalingrad (June 1942), then North-Western (October 1942), Leningrad (June 1943), Caucasus (June 1944) and Baltic (August 1944)[specify] fronts.

In 1944, his daughter Ekaterina married Stalin's son Vasily.[2]


After the war, Timoshenko was reappointed Soviet Army commander in Belarus (March 1946), then of the southern Urals (June 1946); and then Belarus once again (March 1949). In 1960, he was appointed Inspector-General of the Defence Ministry, a largely honorary post. From 1961 he chaired the State Committee for War Veterans. He died in Moscow in 1970.


Preceded by
Kliment Voroshilov
People's Commissar of Defense
Succeeded by
Joseph Stalin


  1. ^ John Erickson, The Road to Stalingrad: Stalin's War with Germany, Vol. 1 (Yale University Press, 1999: ISBN 0300078129), pp. 96, 107.
  2. ^ Aleksandr Kolesnik, Хроника жизни семьи Сталина [Chronicle of the life of Stalin's family] (Interbuk, 1990), p. 108.

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