Marshal of the Soviet Union (Russian: ''Marshal Sovietskovo Soyuza'' [''Маршал Советского Союза'']) was the de facto highest military rank of the Soviet Union. (The highest rank de jure, Generalissimus of the Soviet Union, was created for Joseph Stalin and held by him alone). Stalin, however, refused this honor, and was always depicted wearing Marshal's insignia.
. The rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union was created in 1935 and abolished in 1991. Forty-one people held the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union. The equivalent naval rank was Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union.
See also: History of Russian military ranks.
The military rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union was established by a decree of the Soviet Cabinet, the Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom), on September 22, 1935. On November 20, the rank was conferred on five people: People's Commissar of Defence and veteran Bolshevik Kliment Voroshilov, Chief of the General Staff of the Red Army Aleksandr Yegorov, and three senior commanders, Vasily Blyukher, Semyon Budyonny, and Mikhail Tukhachevsky.
Of these, Blyukher, Tukhachevski and Yegorov were executed during Stalin's Great Purge of 1937–38. On May 7, 1940, three new Marshals were appointed: the new People's Commissar of Defence, Semyon Timoshenko, Boris Shaposhnikov, and Grigory Kulik.
Even though traditional personal ranks for officers were reestablished in 1935, General ranks in the Red Army were not introduced until 1940. The updated rank system seemingly lacked a Brigadier rank and a full General rank. The position in between Lieutenant General and General of the Army was occupied by the Colonel General. Thus both Marshal of the Soviet Union and General of the Army ranks can be considered equal to the foreign rank of Field Marshal or the U.S. rank of General of the Army, leaving a Soviet Marshal as a largely honorary rank.
During World War II, Timoshenko and Budyonny were dismissed and Kulik was demoted for incompetence, and the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union was given to a number of military commanders who earned it on merit. These included Georgy Zhukov, Ivan Konev and Konstantin Rokossovsky to name a few. In 1943, Stalin himself was made a Marshal of the Soviet Union, and in 1945, he was joined by his intelligence and police chief Lavrenti Beria. These non-military Marshals were joined in 1947 by politician Nikolai Bulganin.
Two Marshals were executed in postwar purges: Kulik in 1950 and Beria in 1953, following Stalin's death. Thereafter the rank was awarded only to professional soldiers, with the exception of Leonid Brezhnev, who made himself a Marshal in 1976 and Ustinov who was appointed Defence Minister in July 1976. The last Marshal of the Soviet Union was Dmitry Yazov, appointed in 1990, who was imprisoned after the failed coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991. Marshal Sergei Akhromeev committed suicide in 1991 on the fall of the Soviet Union.
The rank was abolished with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991. It was succeeded in the new Russia by the rank of Marshal of the Russian Federation, which has been held by only one person, Marshal Igor Sergeyev who was Russian Defence Minister from 1997 to 2001.
The Marshals fell into three generational groups.
All the postwar Marshals had been officers in World War II, except Brezhnev who had been a military commissar and Ustinov who had been an arms factory manager. Even Yazov, who was 20 when the war ended, had been a platoon commander. Unlike senior U.S. commanders in the Cold War era, no Soviet Marshal had combat command experience after 1945.
Note: All Marshals of the Soviet Union, with the exception of political Marshals had at the very least started their military careers in the Army. The Service Arms listed are the sevices they served in during their respective tenures as Marshals of the Soviet Union.
|Konstantin Rokossovsky ||1896–1968||Army|
|Hovhannes Bagramyan ||1897–1982||Army|
|Sergei Biriuzov||1904–1964||Army/Air Defence/Strategic Rocket Forces|
|Kirill Moskalenko||1902–1985||Army/Strategic Rocket Forces|
|Nikolay Krylov||1903–1972||Army/Strategic Rocket Forces|
|Pavel Batitsky||1910–1984||Air Defence|
|Viktor Kulikov||born 1921||Army|
|Sergei Sokolov||born 1911||Army|
|Vasily Petrov||born 1917||Army|
|Dmitry Yazov||born 1924||Army|