|Born||in Warsaw, Poland, Russian Empire [now Warsaw, Mazowieckie, Poland]|
|Died||in Moscow, Russian SFSR, USSR [now Russia]|
|Birth Name||Konstantin Konstantinovich Rokossovsky|
Mini Bio (1)
Soviet Army Gen. Konstantin Rokossovsky was born in Warsaw, Poland, which was then part of the Russian Empire (his father had moved the family to Warsaw after being appointed Inspector of the Polish Railways. His mother was Polish). Although the Rokossovsky family was descended from the Polish noble classes and its men had a tradition of service in the Polish cavalry, Konstantin was orphaned at age 14 and had no intention of joining the Polish army. He held a variety of jobs, but at the outbreak of World War I he enlisted in the Russian army, serving in a cavalry unit and working his way up to the rank of Second Lieutenant. At the outbreak of the Communist Revolution in 1917, Rokossovsky joined the Bolshevik Party and not long afterward left the army to join the revolutionary forces and was soon promoted to the rank of Commander. He led the Red Army against the forces of White Army Gen. Aleksandr Kolchak and defeated them in several battles, earning the Soviet Union's Order of the Red Banner, the highest military award at the time. Among Rokossovsky's innovations was his pushing of the use of massive armored forces in assaulting enemy positions, a belief he shared with another Russian military innovator, Gen. Mikhail Tukhachevsky, who called his theory "Deep Operations".
In 1937 Rokossovsky, who by now was a senior commander in the Red Army, found himself in the middle of what became known as "the great purges" begun by Joseph Stalin to eliminate real and potential rivals. He was accused of being connected to foreign intelligence services in a plot to overthrow the Communist government and assassinate Stalin. It is believed, however, that the charges against him were motivated more by the jealousy and resentment of more conservative Russian military leaders because of his association with Tukhachevsky, who was later arrested, tried on those very same charges and executed. Rokossovsky, however, managed to escape the purges with his life, although he was imprisoned for a period and tortured somewhat severely. He was released from prison in 1940 and restored to his former rank by Stalin.
When Nazi Germany invaded Russia in 1941, Rokossovsky was in command of a mechanized unit and, at the Battle of Dubno, not only stopped but turned back a German Army Group that was attempting to penetrate into the Ukraine. For this action he was promoted to command of the 4th Army Group and then later to command of the 16th Army Group, defending Moscow. During the battle for Moscow Rokossovsky's unit came under heavy attack from German forces and, outnumbered and outgunned, he asked permission of his superior to withdraw to fall-back positions. Unfortunately that superior was Gen. Georgi Zhukov, who was at one time Rokossovsky's subordinate, and the two did not get along at all. Zhukov denied Roskossovsky's request, but instead of following that order he went over Zhukov's head to the Chief of the Russian General Staff, who reviewed the request and overruled Zhukov's denial, granting Rokossovsky permission to withdraw. Zhukov immediately countermanded his superior's decision and ordered Rokossovsky to stay in position. Not long afterward German armored columns broke through Rokossovsky's weakened forces and gained strategically valuable positions north of Moscow. Zhukov, never one to forgive or forget real or imagined slights, never forgave Rokossovsky for making him look bad to his superiors by being right about the withdrawal.
In 1942 Rokossovsky was given command of Russian forces on Stalingrad's right flank. Although he was attacked by the Germans and fell back towards Stalingrad, he devised a brilliant counterattack strategy, eventually resulting in the encirclement and capture of the remaining German forces besieging Stalingrad. The next year he was promoted to commander of the Central Front and successfully defended the Kursk area from German attack. His overall tactics in the Battle of Kursk, notable as the largest tank battle in the history of warfare, stopped the last major German offensive on the Eastern Front and allowed the Soviets to attack and recapture Kiev. Rokossovsky's further successes on the Byelorussian front enabled his forces to reach the banks of the Vistula River overlooking Warsaw by the middle of 1944, and his reputation as a brilliant tactician was cemented, although it was somewhat tarnished by his refusal to send men or supplies to the Polish partisans during the Warsaw Uprising against the Nazi occupiers of the city, claiming that it would have been disastrous to his overall plans. The revolt was eventually suppressed by the Nazis with great brutality, resulting in severe damage to the city and thousands of partisan and civilian dead. The Poles never forgave Russia, and especially Rokossovsky, for their refusal to help.
In late 1944 he was given command of the 2nd Byelorussian Front, and his forces moved into East Prussia and northern Poland. In April of 1945 he linked up with British Gen. Bernard L. Montgomery's forces in northern Germany. Although it was assumed that he would be allowed to lead the Russian attack into Berlin, that was given to Gen. Ivan Konev and Zhukov instead, leading many to believe that Rokossovsky was denied the chance to take Berlin because he wasn't Russian but Polish.
After the war ended Rokossovsky stayed with his command in Poland. After a Communist government was installed in that country, Rokossovsky was appointed as Minister of National Defense. Even though he was an ethnic Pole, one of his first moves was to place Russian officers in charge of all units of the newly reconstituted Polish army. That policy, and the fact that he pushed his Polish lineage to the Poles but actually hadn't been in the country for more than 30 years and didn't speak Polish very well, did not endear him to Polish citizens, who considered him a Russian first and foremost. In addition, he helped to put down a burgeoning Polish independence movement, further alienating himself from the population. When protests erupted against Soviet occupation in 1956, he ordered troops and tanks to be sent against them, resulting in close to 100 protesters being killed. When another movement led by Wladyslaw Gomulka tried to take power later that year, Rokossovsky again urged military force to be used. Unfortunately for him, the Soviet government negotiated a power-sharing deal with Gomulka, who assumed leadership of the country, and Roskossovsy returned to the Soviet Union. He retired from the army in 1962 and died in 1968. He is buried along with other "heroes of the Soviet Union" in the Kremlin Wall in Moscow's Red Square.
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