Open main menu

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 Marshal of the Soviet Union.

Semyon Timoshenko
Семён Тимоше́нко
Маршал Советского Союза Герой Советского Союза Семён Константинович Тимошенко.jpg
People's Commissar for Defense of the Soviet Union
In office
7 May 1940 – 19 July 1941
PremierVyacheslav Molotov
Joseph Stalin
Preceded byKliment Voroshilov
Succeeded byJoseph Stalin
Personal details
Semyon Konstantinovich Timoshenko

(1895-02-18)18 February 1895
Furmanivka, Bessarabia Governorate, Russian Empire (now Ukraine)
Died31 March 1970(1970-03-31) (aged 75)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Nationality Soviet Union
Political partyCommunist Party of the Soviet Union
AwardsHero of the Soviet Union (twice)
Military service
Allegiance Russian Empire (1914–1917)
 Soviet Russia (1917–1922)
 Soviet Union (1922–1960)
Branch/serviceRussian Imperial Army
Workers and Peasants Red Army
Soviet Army
Years of service1914–1960
RankMarshal of the Soviet Union
CommandsKiev Military District
Ukrainian Front (1939)
Leningrad Military District
Western Front
Southwestern Front
Northwestern Front
Belorussian Military District
Battles/warsWorld War I
Russian Civil War
Polish-Soviet War
Winter War
Great Patriotic War / World War II

Early lifeEdit

Timoshenko was born into a peasant family of Ukrainian ethnicity[1] at Furmanivka, in the Budjak region[2] (Southern Bessarabia, present-day Odessa Oblast, Ukraine).

Military careerEdit

First World WarEdit

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[3] and the Bolshevik Party in 1919.[4]

The Russian Civil War and the 1930sEdit

During the Russian Civil War, Timoshenko fought on various fronts. His most important encounter occurred at Tsaritsyn (later renamed Stalingrad), where he commanded a cavalry regiment, and met and befriended Joseph Stalin, who was responsible for the city's defense.[3] 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.

Timoshenko fought against Polish forces in Kiev and then against Pyotr Wrangel's White Army and Nestor Makhno's Black Army.[1] 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. Due to being a loyal friend of Stalin, Timoshenko survived the Great Purge to become the Red Army's senior professional soldier.

The Winter WarEdit

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 the minister of Defence.

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.[5]

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].

In June 1940, Timoshenko ordered the formation of the Baltic Military District in the occupied Baltic states.

World War IIEdit

Timoshenko in 1940

Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Timoshenko was named chairman of Stavka, the Soviet Armed Forces High Command, on June 23, 1941.[6] In July 1941, Stalin replaced Timoshenko as Defense Commissar and Stavka's chairman before sending him to the Central Front and Western Front[3] to supervise a fighting retreat from the border to Smolensk. In September, he was transferred to the Ukraine to replace Budyonny and restore order in the Southwestern Front at the gates of Kiev. In November and December 1941 Timoshenko organized major counter offensives in the Rostov region, as well as carving a bridgehead into German defenses south of Kharkov in January 1942.[3]

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 initiative in the springtime war. After initial Soviet successes, the Germans struck back at Timoshenko's exposed southern flank, halting the offensive, encircling Timoshenko's armies, and turning the battle into a major Soviet defeat.

General Georgy Zhukov's success in defending Moscow during December 1941 had persuaded Stalin that he was a better commander than Timoshenko.[citation needed] Stalin removed Timoshenko from front-line command on 23 July 1943, making him Chairman of the High Command. He was called back into service as overall commander of the Northwestern Front between October 1942 and March 1943. [7]

Between 15 August 1945 and 15 September 1945, Marshal Timoshenko traveled alone to review the Starye Dorogi displaced persons 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.[8]


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
  Cross of St. George, 2nd, 3rd and 4th class
Soviet Union
   Hero of the Soviet Union (21 March 1940, 18 February 1965)
  Order of Victory (№ 11 - 06/04/1945)
  Five Orders of Lenin (22 February 1938, 21 March 1940, 21 February 1945, 18 February 1965, 18 February 1970)
  Order of the October Revolution (22 February 1968)
  Order of the Red Banner, five times (25 July 1920, 11 May 1921, 22 February 1930, 3 November 1944, 6 November 1947)
  Order of Suvorov, 1st class, three times (9 October 1943, 12 September 1944, 27 April 1945)
  Medal "For the Defence of Stalingrad"
  Medal "For the Defence of Leningrad"
  Medal "For the Defence of Kiev"
  Medal "For the Defence of the Caucasus"
  Medal "For the Defence of Moscow"
  Medal "For the Capture of Budapest"
  Medal "For the Capture of Vienna"
  Medal "For the Liberation of Belgrade"
  Medal "For the Victory over Japan"
  Medal "For the Victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945"
  Jubilee Medal "Twenty Years of Victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945"
  Jubilee Medal "XX Years of the Workers' and Peasants' Red Army"
  Jubilee Medal "30 Years of the Soviet Army and Navy"
  Jubilee Medal "40 Years of the Armed Forces of the USSR"
  Jubilee Medal "50 Years of the Armed Forces of the USSR"
  Medal "In Commemoration of the 250th Anniversary of Leningrad"
  Medal "In Commemoration of the 800th Anniversary of Moscow"
  Honorary weapon – sword inscribed with golden national emblem of the Soviet Union (22 February 1968)
Foreign awards
  Order of the Tudor Vladimirescu, 1st class (Romania)
  Military Order of the White Lion "For Victory" (Czechoslovakia)
  Golden Order of the Partisan Star (Yugoslavia)
  Medal "30 Years of Victory in the Khalkhin-Gol" (Mongolia)



  1. ^ a b Wojciech Roszkowski, Jan Kofman (2016). "Biographical Dictionary of Central and Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century". p.1030. ISBN 1317475941
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c d Glantz & House 2009, p. 41.
  4. ^ Axelrod & Kingston 2007, p. 813.
  5. ^ Erickson 1999, pp. 96, 107.
  6. ^ Earl Frederick Ziemke; Magna E. Bauer (1987). Moscow to Stalingrad. Government Printing Office. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-16-080081-8.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Primo Levi, If This Is A Man -- The Truce (Abacus, 2013), p. 350.


  • Axelrod, Alan; Kingston, Jack A. (2007). Encyclopedia of World War II, Volume 1. H W Fowler. ISBN 978-0-8160-6022-1.

External linksEdit

Military offices
Preceded by
Ivan Fedko
Commander of the Kiev Military District
Succeeded by
Georgy Zhukov
Preceded by
Kirill Meretskov
as Commander of the Leningrad Military District
Commander of the Northwestern Front
Succeeded by
Mikhail Kirponos
as Commander of the Leningrad Military District
Preceded by
Chairman of the Soviet Armed Forces High Command
Succeeded by
Joseph Stalin
Political offices
Preceded by
Kliment Voroshilov
People's Commissar of Defense
Succeeded by
Joseph Stalin