He joined the Communist Party after the October Revolution, and his background of poverty became an asset. After recovering from typhus he fought in the civil war (1918-1920), receiving the Order of the Battle Red Banner for subduing a peasant revolt.
By 1923 Zhukov was commander of a regiment, and in 1930 of a brigade. He was a keen proponent of the new tank warfare and was noted for his detailed planning, tough discipline and strictness. He also survived the massive and grim purges of the army command institued by Stalin in the 1930s.
Zhukov left the dangerous environment of Moscow to command the First Soviet Mongolian Army Group, and saw action against the Japanese on the Manchurian border (1938-1939). What began as a routine border skirmish—the Japanese testing the resolve of the Soviets to defend their territory—rapidly escalated into a full-scale war, the Japanese pushing forward with 80,000 troops, 180 tanks and 450 aircraft.
Zhukov requested major reinforcements and on August 15, 1939 he ordered what seemed at first to be a conventional frontal attack. However, Zhukov had held back two tank brigades, which he, in a daring and entirely successful manouvere, then ordered to advance around both flanks of the battle. Supported by motorized artillery and infantry, the two mobile battle groups encircled the 6th Japanese army and captured their vulnerable supply areas. Within several days the Japanese troops were defeated. For this operation Zhukov was awarded the title of the Hero of the Soviet Union. Outside of the Soviet Union, however, it remained little-known, as by this time World War II had begun in Europe. Zhukov's pioneering use of mobile armour went unheeded by the west, and in consequence the German Blitzkrieg twelve months later came as a great surprise.
Promoted to full general in 1940 Zhukov was briefly chief of STAVKA before a disagreement with Stalin led to him being replaced in June by Marshal Boris Shaposhnikov (who was in turn replaced by Alexander Vasilevsky in November).
In October, 1941, Zhukov replaced Semyon Timoshenko in command of the central front and directed the defense of Moscow. He also directed the transfer of troops from the far East, where two-thirds of Soviet ground forces had been stationed on the day of Hitler's invasion. This feat of logistics is considered by some to be his greatest achievement. Most analysts believe that Moscow would certainly have fallen without it.
In 1942 he was made Deputy Commander-in-Chief and sent to the southwestern front to save Stalingrad, overseeing the capture of the German Sixth Army in 1943 at the cost of perhap a million dead. In January 1943 he orchestrated the break-through of the German blockade of Leningrad. He gave General Vatutin command in the Battle of Kursk. Following the failure of Marshal Voroshilov he lifted the Siege of Leningrad in mid-1944.
However, in 1947 he was demoted to command the Odessa military district. After Stalin's death, Zhukov became deputy defense minister (1953) then defense minister (1955). He supported Nikita Khrushchev in 1957, and in June that year he was made a full member of the Central Committee. Just four months later he was relieved of his ministry and dropped from the central committee by Khrushchev. Only after Khrushchev was deposed in 1964 could Zhukov could appear in public again.
He was buried with full military honours.