Konstantin Rokossovsky Biography

Konstantin Rokossovsky, a prominent Russian military general during World War II, played a crucial role in defending Moscow and contributing to the defenses at Stalingrad and Kursk. Despite being of Polish origin, his allegiance was with Russia, where he served as a main commander of the ‘Red Army’ and held positions such as Marshal of Poland and Marshal of the Soviet Union. However, he faced imprisonment and torture during Joseph Stalin’s “Great Purge” before being released to defend his country against the Nazi invasion. After Władysław Gomułka took power in Poland, Konstantin was forced to return to Russia, where he remained until his death in 1968.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Konstantin Konstantinovich Rokossovsky
  • Died At Age: 71
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Julia Barmina
    • Father: Ksawery Wojciech Rokossowski
    • Mother: Antonina Ovsyannikova
    • Siblings: Helena Rokossovskaya
    • Children: Nadezhda Rokossovskaya
  • Born Country: Poland
  • Military Leaders
  • Government Officials
  • Died on: August 3, 1968
  • Place of Death: Moscow, Russia
  • Notable Alumni: M. V. Frunze Military Academy, Frunze Military Academy
  • Cause of Death: Prostate Cancer
  • City: Warsaw, Poland
  • More Facts
  • Education: Frunze Military Academy, M. V. Frunze Military Academy
  • Awards: Hero of the Soviet Union, Legion of Honour

Childhood & Early Life

Konstantin Konstantinovich Rokossovsky was born on December 21, 1896, in Velikiye Luki (Warsaw, according to some resources), then Congress Poland, Russia. His father, a railroad engineer, had shifted to Warsaw with the family, after being made the inspector of the ‘Polish Railways.’ Konstantin’s mother was Polish. They were descendants of the Polish nobility and their ancestors had the tradition of serving the Polish cavalry. Konstantin became an orphan at age 14. Initially, he did not wish to join the Polish army.

Military Career

Konstantin worked a number of jobs initially. However, when World War I began, he joined the Russian army and worked in a cavalry unit. He gradually became a second lieutenant. During the beginning of the Communist Revolution of 1917, he became a member of the ‘Bolshevik Party.’ Soon, he quit the army to join the revolutionary forces. He was then promoted to the post of commander. He was in charge of leading the ‘Red Army’ against the ‘White Army’ under General Aleksandr Kolchak. Konstantin’s forces crushed them in many battles. He then earned the Soviet Union’s ‘Order of the Red Banner,’ the highest military honor of that time. Konstantin was known for his innovative ways of warfare, such as using huge armored forces to attack enemy positions, a strategy that was common to another Russian military pioneer, General Mikhail Tukhachevsky, who named the strategy “Deep Operations.”

By 1937, Konstantin had been promoted to the post of senior commander in the ‘Red Army.’ Around that time, he experienced what was known as “the Great Purge,” started by Joseph Stalin. It was a method to remove potential rivals. Konstantin was accused of treachery and of being part of a plot to assassinate Stalin and overthrow the Communist government. However, it is believed, he was dragged into trouble driven by the jealousy and of the extreme-conservative Russian military generals. Tukhachevsky, with whom he had been associated, was later arrested and charged of the same offense. Tukhachevsky was executed later. Konstantin, however, managed to evade the purge. He was in prison for a while and was also tortured badly, but in 1940, he was released and reinstated to his previous rank by Stalin.

In 1941, in the wake of the ‘Nazi’ invasion of Russia (World War II), Konstantin was in charge of a mechanized unit. At the Battle of Dubno, he forced a German army group to retreat. The group was on its way to march into Ukraine. Following this, Konstantin was promoted to the post of the commander of the ‘4th Army Group.’ He was later put in charge of the ‘16th Army Group,’ defending Moscow. Konstantin’s unit was attacked badly by the German army during the battle for Moscow. Konstantin, sensing danger, asked his superior if he could withdraw to fall-back positions. However, his superior, General Georgi Zhukov, who was once his subordinate, denied his request. It is believed, they were not on good terms earlier. Konstantin, reluctant to follow Zhukov’s orders, reached out to the chief of the ‘Russian General Staff.’ The request was reviewed, and Zhukov’s denial was overruled. The chief granted Konstantin the permission to withdraw his forces. Zhukov went against his superior’s decision and ordered Konstantin to maintain his position. Soon, German forces crushed Konstantin’s army and acquired crucial positions north of Moscow. Zhukov, however, was furious about Konstantin making him look bad for being correct about his decision of withdrawing.

In 1942, Konstantin was made in charge of the Russian army on Stalingrad’s right flank. The Germans attacked him, and he fell back toward Stalingrad. However, he made a plan of counterattacking. He went ahead and encircled the German forces that were on their way to besiege Stalingrad. The following year, he was promoted to the post of commander of the ‘Central Front.’ He was able to defend the Kursk area from the Germans. His methods in the Battle of Kursk, which is known as the largest tank battle in warfare history, prevented the last major German campaign on the Eastern Front and made it easy for the Soviets to attack and regain control of Kiev. Konstantin was also successful on the Byelorussian front and led his army to the banks of the Vistula River, overlooking Warsaw, by mid-1944. He was the commander of the Operation Bagration and was also made the “Marshal of the Soviet Union.” Though he came to be known as a remarkable strategist, his image was tarnished by his reluctance to support to the Polish partisans during the Warsaw Uprising that fought the Nazi invasion. He said he took the decision of not helping the Polish since that would have been detrimental to his bigger plans. The uprising was crushed by the Nazis, and that left the city damaged and its people killed and captured. The Poles felt betrayed by Russia, and especially by Konstantin, for the refusal.

Konstantin was made the commander of the ‘2nd Byelorussian Front’ in 1944. His army marched into East Prussia and northern Poland. In April 1945, he joined hands with British general Bernard L. Montgomery’s army in northern Germany. People assumed that Konstantin would be leading the Russian attack of Berlin, but the honors were given to Zhukov and General Ivan Konev instead. This led people to believe that Konstantin was not allowed to march into Berlin because he was Polish and not Russian.

After World War II

Following the war, Konstantin continued to stay with his army in Poland. After the Communist government came into power in the country, Konstantin was made the minister of national defense of Poland (1949) and was also made the “Marshal of Poland.” He was also the deputy chairman of the Soviet-ruled Poland’s council of ministers (1952). However, he put Russian officers in charge of the newly made Polish army, in spite of being Polish himself. The Polish citizens did not like this. Apart from this, the fact that Konstantin did not even know Polish language or associate with the country made them go against him. Konstantin also helped crush a Polish independence movement later. This was when, in 1956, the Poles revolted against the Soviet occupation. Konstantin ordered tanks and forces to be sent against them. The resulting clash witnessed the death of almost 100 protesters. Another movement, under revolutionary leader Wladyslaw Gomulka, tried to raise its head the same year. Konstantin used military powers against the new movement, too. However, the Soviet government signed a deal with Gomulka later, making Gomulka the leader of his country. Following this, Konstantin went back to the Soviet Union. In July 1957, Nikita Khrushchev made Konstantin the deputy minister of defense and the commander of the Transcaucasian Military District. In 1958, he was made the chief inspector of the ministry of defense. In 1962, he retired from the army.

Awards & Achievements

Among his many awards and honors was the “Gold Star” (‘Hero of the Soviet Union’) twice (on July 29, 1944 and on June 1, 1945). He also won the ‘Cross of St. George’ (4th class) and the ‘Legion of Honour.’

Family, Personal Life & Death

During his early military career in Mongolia, Konstantin met Julia Barminan, his future wife. Julia was a high-school teacher and could speak fluently in four languages. She had also studied Greek mythology. Konstantin and Julia got married in 1923. In 1925, their daughter, Ariadna, was born. Some resources mention Konstantin had another child, with Galina Talanova, a doctor at a field hospital. It is believed he had not married Galina but had given his family name to their daughter, Nadezhda, who was born in January 1945. Konstantin breathed his last on August 3, 1968. He remains buried in the ‘Kremlin Wall’ in Moscow’s ‘Red Square,’ along with other Soviet heroes.

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