|General Konstantin Rokossovsky|
The Soviet Union
Marshal of the Soviet Union, leader of the 16th Army, which was composed completely of penal infantry units.
1914 – 1962
No Battles Yet.
Konstantin Rokossovskiy (Polish: Konstanty Ksawerowicz Rokossowski, Russian: Константин Константинович Рокоссовский; December 21 [O.S. December 9] 1896 – August 3, 1968) was a Polish-origin Soviet career officer who was a Marshal of the Soviet Union, as well as Marshal of Poland and Polish Defence Minister, who was famously known for his service in the Eastern Front, where he received high esteem for his outstanding military skill. He is considered one of the Red Army's greatest strategists.
Rokossovsky held senior commands until 1937, when he became caught up in Joseph Stalin's Great Purge and accused of being a Polish spy. His association with the cutting edge methods of Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky may have been the real cause of his conflict with more traditional officers such as Semyon Budenny, who still favoured cavalry tactics, and whose policy disagreements with Tukhachevsky triggered the Great Purge of the Red Army, which resulted in the execution of the latter and many others. Rokossovsky, however, survived.
It is reported that he escaped the fate of so many other officers caught up in the purge by proving to the court that the officer whom his accusers claimed had denounced him had been killed in 1920 during the civil war. During interrogation under torture he lost nine teeth, had three ribs cracked and had his toes smashed with a hammer. According to Alexander Solzhenitsyn he endured two mock shooting ceremonies where people were shot dead around him.
In his famous "secret speech" of 1956, Nikita Khrushchev, when speaking on the subject of the purges, mentioned Rokossovsky, saying, "suffice it to say that those of them who managed to survive, despite severe tortures to which they were subjected in the prisons, have from the first war days shown themselves real patriots and heroically fought for the glory of the Fatherland.".
After his trial Rokossovsky was sent to the Kresty Prison in Leningrad, where he remained until he was released without explanation on March 22, 1940.
Semyon Timoshenko, who had been named People's Commissar for Defence of the Soviet Union after the debacle of the Winter War and was in desperate need of experienced officers to fill command posts for the rapidly expanding Soviet army, returned Rokossovsky to the command of the 5th Cavalry Corps at the rank of Colonel. Subsequently the 5th Cavalry Corps participated in the occupation of Bessarabia and he was soon promoted to the rank of a Major General and given the command of the 9th Mechanised Corps under Kirponos in the Kiev Military Region, which would later be renamed the Southwestern Front at the outbreak of hostilities with Germany.
In September 1941 was appointed to the command of 16th Army, which was composed almost entirely of soldiers serving in penal battalions, and charged with defending the approach to Moscow. Rokossovsky was now under the direct command of General Georgy Zhukov, his former subordinate. The 16th Army (later renamed the 11th Guards Army) played a key role in the Battle of Moscow when it was deployed along the main axis of the German advance along the Volokolamsk Highway that was a central junction of the bitter fighting during the German winter offensive of 1941 (Operation Typhoon), as well as the subsequent Russian counter-attack of 1941 - 42. On November 18, during the desperate last-ditch efforts of the Wehrmacht to encircle Moscow in 1941, General Rokossovsky, his soldiers under heavy pressure from Hoepner's 4th Panzer Group, asked his immediate superior, Zhukov, if he could withdraw the 16th Army to more advantageous positions. Zhukov categorically refused. Rokossovsky went over Zhukov's head, and spoke directly to Marshal Boris Shaposhnikov, now Chief of the General Staff in Zhukov's place; reviewing the situation Shaposhnikov immediately ordered a withdrawal. Zhukov reacted at once. He revoked the order of the superior officer, and ordered Rokossovsky to hold the position. In the immediate aftermath, Rokossovsky's army was pushed aside and the 3rd and 4th Panzer Groups were able to gain strategically important positions north of Moscow, but this marked the high point of the German advance upon Moscow. Throughout Operation Typhoon, Rokossovsky's 16th army had taken the brunt of the German effort to capture Moscow.
In early 1942 Rokossovsky was transferred to the Bryansk Front. He commanded the right flank of the Soviet forces as they fell back before the Germans towards the Don and Stalingrad in the summer of 1942. During the Battle of Stalingrad Rokossovsky, commanding the Don Front, led the northern wing of the Soviet counter-attack that encircled Paulus' Sixth Army and won the decisive victory of the Soviet-German war.
In 1943, after becoming commander of the Central Front, Rokossovsky successfully conducted defensive operations in the Kursk salient, and then led the counterattack west of Kursk which defeated the last major German offensive on the eastern front and allowed the Soviet armies to advance to Kiev. The Central Front was then renamed 1st Belorussian Front, which he commanded during the Soviet advance through Byelorussia (Belarus) and into Poland.
In a famous incident during the planning in 1944 of Operation Bagration, Rokossovsky disagreed with Stalin, who demanded in accordance with Soviet war practice a single break-through of the German frontline. Rokossovsky held firm in his argument for two points of break-through. Stalin ordered Rokossovsky to "go and think it over" three times, but every time he returned and gave the same answer "Two break-throughs, Comrade Stalin, two break-throughs." After the third time Stalin remained silent, but walked over to Rokossovsky and put a hand on his shoulder. A tense moment followed as the whole room waited for Stalin to rip the epaulette from Rokossovsky's shoulder; instead, Stalin said "Your confidence speaks for your sound judgement," and ordered the attack to go forward according to Rokossovsky's plan. The battle was successful and Rokossovsky's reputation was assured. After crushing German Army Group Centre in Belarus, Rokossovsky's armies reached the east bank of the Vistula opposite Warsaw by mid-1944. For these victories he gained the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union. Stalin once said: "I have no Suvorov, but Rokossovsky is my Bagration."