Semyon Timoshenko

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Semyon Timoshenko
Семён Тимоше́нко
Semyon Konstantinovich Timoshenko (1895-1970), Soviet military commander.jpg
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 Semyon Konstantinovich Timoshenko
(1895-02-18)18 February 1895
Furmanivka, Bessarabia Governorate, Russian Empire
Died 31 March 1970(1970-03-31) (aged 75)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Nationality  Soviet Union
Political party Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Awards Hero of the Soviet Union Hero of the Soviet Union
Ethnicity Ukrainian
Military service
Allegiance  Russian Empire
 Soviet Union
Service/branch Russian Imperial Army
Soviet Army
Years of service 1914 – 1960
Rank Marshal
Commands Kiev Military District
Northwestern Front
Belorussian Military District
Battles/wars World War I
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 Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939.

Early life

Timoshenko was born into a peasant family of Ukrainian ethnicity at Furmanivka, in the Budjak region[1] (Southern Bessarabia, present-day Odessa Oblast, Ukraine).

Military career

First World War

In 1914, he was drafted into the army of the Russian Empire and served as a cavalryman on Russia's 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.[citation needed]

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), where he met and befriended Joseph Stalin. This connection 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 the commander of the Red Army cavalry forces. Thereafter, under Stalin, he became Red Army commander in Byelorussia (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, replacing Stalin's crony Marshal Voroshilov as Commissar.

British historian John Erickson has written:

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.[2]

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[citation needed].

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 the Ukraine, where the Red Army had suffered 1.5 million casualties while encircled at Uman and Kiev.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.

Between 15 August 1945 and 15 September 1945, Marshal Timoshenko traveled alone to review the Starye Dorogi recovery camp where Auschwitz Concentration Camp survivors recuperated after their liberation. Later author Primo Levi (Prisoner 174517) wrote in The Truce, how the extremely tall Timoshenko "unfolded himself from a tiny Fiat 500A Topolino" to announce the liberated survivors would soon begin their final journey home.[3]


After the war, Timoshenko was reappointed commander of the Baranovichi Military District (Byelorussian Military District since March 1946), then of the South Urals Military District (June 1946); and then the Byelorussian Military District 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.


Russian Empire
RUS Georgievsky Krest 2st BAR.svg Cross of St. George, 2nd, 3rd and 4th class
Soviet Union
Hero of the Soviet Union medal.pngHero of the Soviet Union medal.png Hero of the Soviet Union (21 March 1940, 18 February 1965)
Ordervictory rib.png Order of Victory (№ 11 - 06/04/1945)
Order of Lenin ribbon bar.png Five Orders of Lenin (22 February 1938, 21 March 1940, 21 February 1945, 18 February 1965, 18 February 1970)
Order october revolution rib.png Order of the October Revolution (22 February 1968)
Order of Red Banner ribbon bar.png Order of the Red Banner, five times (25 July 1920, 11 May 1921, 22 February 1930, 3 November 1944, 6 November 1947)
Order suvorov1 rib.png Order of Suvorov, 1st class, three times (9 October 1943, 12 September 1944, 27 April 1945)
Defstalingrad.png Medal "For the Defence of Stalingrad"
Defleningrad.png Medal "For the Defence of Leningrad"
Defkiev rib.png Medal "For the Defence of Kiev"
Defcaucasus rib.png Medal "For the Defence of the Caucasus"
Ribbon bar for the medal for the Defense of Moscow.png Medal "For the Defence of Moscow"
Capturebudapest rib.png Medal "For the Capture of Budapest"
CaptureOfViennaRibbon.png Medal "For the Capture of Vienna"
Liberationbelgrade rib.png Medal "For the Liberation of Belgrade"
Victoryjapan rib.png Medal "For the Victory over Japan"
OrderStGeorge4cl rib.png Medal "For the Victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945"
20 years of victory rib.png Jubilee Medal "Twenty Years of Victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945"
20 years saf rib.png Jubilee Medal "XX Years of the Workers' and Peasants' Red Army"
30 years saf rib.png Jubilee Medal "30 Years of the Soviet Army and Navy"
40 years saf rib.png Jubilee Medal "40 Years of the Armed Forces of the USSR"
50 years saf rib.png Jubilee Medal "50 Years of the Armed Forces of the USSR"
Soviet 250th Anniversary Of Leningrad Ribbon.jpg Medal "In Commemoration of the 250th Anniversary of Leningrad"
800thMoscowRibbon.png Medal "In Commemoration of the 800th Anniversary of Moscow"
Именная шашка.png Honorary weapon – sword inscribed with golden national emblem of the Soviet Union (22 February 1968)
  • Honorary revolutionary weapon - a sword with a nominal Order of the Red Banner (28 November 1920)
Foreign awards
Order of Tudor Vladimirescu 1st.png Order of the Tudor Vladimirescu, 1st class (Romania)
60px Military Order of the White Lion "For Victory" (Czechoslovakia)
Order of the partisan star with golden wreath Rib.png Golden Order of the Partisan Star (Yugoslavia)
Med XXXth anniversary of chalkin gol victory rib.PNG Medal "30 Years of Victory in the Khalkhin-Gol" (Mongolia)
Political offices
Preceded by
Kliment Voroshilov
People's Commissar of Defense
Succeeded by
Joseph Stalin


  1. [1]
  2. John Erickson, The Road to Stalingrad: Stalin's War with Germany, Vol. 1 (Yale University Press, 1999: ISBN 0-300-07812-9), pp. 96, 107.
  3. Primo Levi, If This Is A Man -- The Truce (Abacus, 2013), p. 350.

External links