Pavel Zhigarev

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Pavel Fedorovich Zhigarev
Pavel Fedorovich Zhigarev.jpg
Born (1900-09-06)September 6, 1900
Brikovo, Tver Oblast
Died August 2, 1963(1963-08-02) (aged 62)
Allegiance Soviet Union
Service/branch Soviet Air Forces
Years of service 1922–1963
Rank Chief Marshal of Aviation
Commands held Soviet Air Forces
Battles/wars Great Patriotic War, Soviet-Japanese War (1945)

Order of Lenin (twice)
Order of the Red Banner (three times)
Order of Kutuzov First Class
Order of the Red Star

Various others

Pavel Fedorovich Zhigarev (Па́вел Фёдорович Жи́гарев; November 6, 1900 – August 2, 1963) was the commander-in-chief of the Soviet Air Forces (VVS) twice (1941–42, 1949–57), and also served as the Chief Marshal of Aviation from 1955–59.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Zhigarev was born on November 6, 1900, to a poor peasant family in the village of Brikovo, located in present-day Tver Oblast.[1] He attended Cavalry School, graduating in 1922. He then turned to the Air Force, graduating from Military Pilot School in 1927 and the N. E. Zhukovskii Air Force Academy in 1932.[1]

Rise to prominence[edit]

In 1937, Zhigarev became the commander of 52nd Light Bomber Aviation Brigade, his first major command position. From 1937–38, he was also the Deputy Military Attaché to China. Zhigarev then served as the Head of the Directorate for Combat Training of the Air Force in the People's Commissariat of Defence from 1938 to 1939. In 1939 Zhigarev was promoted to the position of Commanding Officer of the 2nd Separate Red Banner Army Air Forces, and then to Commanding Officer of the Far Eastern Front Air Forces a year later.[1][2]

World War II[edit]

Operation Barbarossa[edit]

Before the outbreak of the Great Patriotic War Zhigarev served as First Deputy Head of the Main Directorate of the Air Force in the People's Commissariat of Defence. He was then promoted to become its Head in 1941, as well as simultaneously holding the positions of Commander in Chief of the Air Force and Deputy People's Commissar of Defence. As Commander of the Air Force, he was also a member of the Supreme Military Council of the Red Army.[1][2]

Zhigarev's promotion to the position of Commander of the Air Force was largely due to the elimination of high-ranking officers in the Great Purge. The Air Force, or VVS as it was then called, suffered particularly badly in the Purge, and Zhigarev's three predecessors (Aleksandr Loktionov, Yakov Smushkevich, and Pavel Rychagov) were all executed in 1941 by the NKVD for perceived military failures.[3]

Zhigarev was the Commander of the Air Force during the entirety of Operation Barbarossa.[1][2][4] Upon the outbreak of war, the VVS possessed 7,850 aircraft in the Western Soviet Union, in addition to the 1,500 aircraft of the Soviet Navy.[5] At the very beginning of the war, German bombers launched a massive operation to destroy Soviet planes on the ground. Since the Soviets had been caught by surprise, 3,000 aircraft were destroyed on the first day alone.[6] Throughout Operation Barbarossa, Soviet aircraft were proven deeply inferior to German planes in terms of combat capability; the Soviet bomber fleet was almost completely wiped out. However, despite disastrous losses, the VVS did manage to recover slowly for the rest of Operation Barbarossa, though the Luftwaffe did continue to hold air superiority, if not supremacy.[7]

Vyazma and Operation Hannover[edit]

As the speed of the German advance slowed and the VVS began reasserting itself, the Soviets launched a major operation which became the Battles of Rzhev. In particular, Zhigarev presided over the Vyazma airborne operation, a major operation conducted by the 4th Airborne Corps (Soviet Union) which was intended to cut off German supply and communication lines. However, the operation was not a success, and airborne elements were eliminated by German forces in Operation Hannover.[8] As a result, Zhigarev's stint as Commander of the Air Force lasted only a short time, as he was replaced in 1942 by Alexander Novikov. He then returned to serve as the Commanding Officer of the Far Eastern Front Air Forces.[1][2]

Soviet–Japanese War[edit]

In 1945 he became the Commanding Officer of the 10th Air Army,[2] participating in the Soviet–Japanese War,[1] and was then transferred to the 29th Air Army in the same year.[9] In the Soviet-Japanese War, the Soviets began with 5,368 aircraft, against only 1,800 Japanese aircraft,[10] of which only 50 were first-line.[11] The Soviet-Japanese War was in many ways a perfect operation for the Red Army, as Japanese forces collapsed rapidly and the entirety of Manchukuo was liberated within days.[6]


From 1946–49 Zhigarev simultaneously served as the First Deputy Commander in Chief of the Air Force and as the Commander in Chief of Long Range Aviation. In 1949 he returned once again as the Commander in Chief of the Air Force, a position that he would hold until 1957.[2] During this period he was also the Deputy Minister of War (1949–53), the Deputy Minister of Defence, (1953–55), and the Chief Marshal of Aviation (1955–59). From 1959 to his death in 1963, he was the Commandant of the Military Command Academy of Air Defence.[1][2]

He held the non-military position of Head of Main Directorate of Civil Aviation from 1957–59.[2]

Political career[edit]

Zhigarev was a deputy in the third, fourth, and fifth convocations of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union, and also a candidate member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1952–61.[1]


Zhigarev was a recipient of two Orders of Lenin, three Orders of the Red Banner, the Order of Kutuzov First Class, the Order of the Red Star, and various other medals.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Zhigarev, Pavel Fedorovich". The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (Third ed.). Gale Group. 1979. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Zhigarev". Retrieved 21 September 2013. 
  3. ^ Thomas, Nigel. World War II Soviet Armed Forces (1): 1939-41. Osprey Publishing. 
  4. ^ World War II Chronicle, 2007. Legacy/ Publications International, Ltd. Page 146.
  5. ^ Hooton, E.R. The Luftwaffe: A Study in Air Power, 1933-1945. London: Arms & Armour Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1-906537-18-0
  6. ^ a b Beevor, Antony (2012). The Second World War. Great Britain: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 
  7. ^ Muller, Richard. The German Air War in Russia. Nautical and Aviation Publishing Company of America, 1992. ISBN 978-1-877853-13-5
  8. ^ Christopher Chant, The encyclopedia of codenames of World War II, Routledge, 1986, ISBN 0-7102-0718-2, Google Print, p. 77.
  9. ^ "29th Air Army". Retrieved 21 September 2013. 
  10. ^ Glantz, David M. & House, Jonathan (1995), When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler, Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, ISBN 0-7006-0899-0, p. 300
  11. ^ Hayashi, S. (1955). Study of Strategic and Tactical peculiarities of Far Eastern Russia and Soviet Far East Forces. Japanese Special Studies on Manchuria (Report). XIII. Tokyo: Military History Section, Headquarters, Army Forces Far East, US Army. 
Military offices
Preceded by
Pavel Rychagov
Soviet Air Force (VVS) Commander
Succeeded by
Alexander Novikov
Preceded by
Konstantin Vershinin
Soviet Air Force (VVS) Commander
Succeeded by
Konstantin Vershinin
Preceded by
Alexander Evgenievich Golovanov
Chief Marshal of Aviation
Succeeded by
Konstantin Vershinin