Georgy Zhukov, who would become one of the finest leaders of the Soviet Army, had modest beginnings. Born near Moscow of peasant stock like many of Stalin's cronies, he had been a cavalry NCO in the Imperial Russian Army, which he entered at the age of 15. He joined the Communist Party in 1919. Unlike generals from this background like Voroshilov and Budenny, he was tough and highly competent. His nicknames with the frontoviks (the front-line soldiers) were 'Vinegar Face' or 'Cropped-Head'. In September 1939 the then little-known General Zhukov inflicted a sharp defeat on the Japanese Kwantung Army on the Halha River at Khaikin-Gol in Outer Mongolia. His skilful handling of five armoured brigades expelled the Japanese from the positions that they had captured on the Mongolian-Manchurian border. The Japanese commander, who had disobeyed orders and invaded Soviet territory, had air superiority and had assembled three infantry divisions, 180 tanks, 500 guns and 450 aircraft. The Soviets had 100,000 infantry with 498 tanks, strong artillery and 580 outclassed aircraft. Zhukov used his infantry to hold the Japanese front and then launched his armour in a pincer attack. The Soviet losses were about 10,000 but the shaken Japanese withdrew after suffering losses of about 18,000. Zhukov was one of the outstanding commanders of World War II. Unlike British or US commanders, he was less inhibited about incurring losses but was also under often under intense pressure from Stalin to deliver victory. For this Zhukov received the Order of Lenin. At Leningrad he was seen as halting the German attack and so Stalin moved him to Moscow. Here poor weather, fatigue and stiffening Soviet resistance halted the attack and, using reinforcements from the Far East, Zhukov attacked in December and remained on the offensive until March 1942. At Stalingrad he would mastermind Operation Uranus, the counter-attack that was followed by Operation Saturn that forced the Germans back to the Donets River. In January 1943 he was promoted to the rank of marshal. At Kursk Soviet forces under his overall command halted the German attacks and then rolled onto an unstoppable offensive. In Operation Bagration in June and July 1944 he destroyed Army Group Centre, finally leading the First Belorussian Front to victory in Berlin in 1945. Resentful of his popularity, Stalin banished him to command a remote military district after the war. However, following Stalin's death, Zhukov would rise to be minister of defence in the USSR in 1953.