19 February 2010, 15:31

Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky

Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky
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There is such a profession - to protect ones' Motherland. Defender of the Fatherland Day, celebrated on February 23 rd , has a special meaning for Russians. History shows that Russia as a state was formed in fighting against external enemies.

There is such a profession - to protect ones' Motherland. Defender of the Fatherland Day, celebrated on February 23rd, has a special meaning for Russians. History shows that Russia as a state was formed in fighting against external enemies. In ancient times it waged wars against nomad tribes, in the middle ages - against Tatars and Mongols, against German and Swedish crusaders, against Polish invaders. In the 19th century it fought against French aggressors, in the 20th - against Nazi Germany.

In the course of these wars military traditions were established. Lofty patriotism developed in the Russian nation along with fortitude, endurance and a sense of comradeship and team spirit.  

Particularly hard tests fell to the lot of those who rose to defend their Motherland against the Nazi aggressors in the 1941, who defeated the enemy in cruel battles.

Russian history knows many outstanding commanders and Konstantin Rokossovsky holds a special place among them.

On June 24, 1945, the Red Square in Moscow was jam-packed with troops preparing to march down the country's main venue in celebration of the great Allied Victory over Nazism.

The moment the giant clock high up the Kremlin's Spasskaya Tower chimed ten, Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky, who commanded the Victory Parade,  spurred his jet-black horse and galloped on to report to Marshal Georgy Zhukov, whose snow-white stallion had just passed through the Spasskiye Gate. Rokossovsky considered the one-in-a-lifetime chance to command a Victory Parade a sign of  profound appreciation of his long service to his country...

Konstantin Rokossovsky was born on December 8, 1896. His father was a Polish railroadman and his mother was Russian. When Konstantin was still a teenager, his father died in a railway accident, leaving the family high and dry. Mother died shortly after and Konstantin had to leave school and look for a job. After trying his hand doing all kinds of manual jobs, he eventually landed one with a tombstone company. When World War One erupted in 1914 Rokossovsky volunteered to the frontlines in the Russian Imperial Army starting out as an enlisted man and then moving up through the ranks to become a petty officer. He fought well, was wounded twice and awarded the St.George Orders for valor of  4tn, 3ia and 2na class.

His successful military career was briefly cut short by the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. The Bolsheviks who took power shortly  after,  needed professional  military men and thousands of low rank officers formerly serving in the Imperial army were now joining the Red Army. It was there that Konstantin Rokossovsky's military shone the brightest. Still a young man, he already had a whole division under his hand and was fast moving up through the ranks.

During Stalin's purge of the military in the mid-1930s, Rokossovsky's very successful career was cut short again. He spent two and a half years in the GULAG on a trumped-up charge, and all that time he kept insisting he was innocent. Just like so many other jailed Red Army commanders, he was released on orders from the then Soviet leader Josef Stalin in March 1940 when the Second World War was already raging in Europe. But momentum had already been lost. Who knows, maybe Hitler's invasion of June 22, 1941, would have been  little less surprising  if  Konstantin  Rokossovsky  had  then  been working at the General Military Staff...

His strategic talent didn't take long showing itself though. Encircled and heavily outnumbered by the advancing Nazis, he managed to break through, crushed the enemy and, unaware of the overall situation at the front, sent a message to his superiors asking for a permission to move on and take Warsaw. He was ordered to fall back, though, and, even though they never gave awards for retreats, Rokossovsky was decorated for getting his army corps out with minimum losses. The Nazi Generals were quick to appreciate his strategic talent and feared him. Here is just one example of that German respect for the much-talented Soviet commander.

In 1941 the Red Army was trying unsuccessfully to claw back a small town in Belorussia.  Rokossovsky was ordered to move in and help. He  sent out an open radio message saying he was coming clearly wishing it to be intercepted by  the  Germans.  And  intercept  they did abandoning the town without a fight!

Rokossovsky's role in routing the Nazis in the great Battle of Stalingrad is equally hard to exaggerate. In a textbook operation, he encircled the more than 300,000-strong German army commanded by Field Marshal Friedrich von Paulus. It was to Rokossovsky that the vanquished Nazi commander surrendered his gun. The victory in Stalingrad made him famous all over the world. Other major battles ensued, including the Battle of the Kursk Bulge, but the operation to liberate Belorussia in 1944 became the most brilliant battle he ever fought.

In Moscow Josef Stalin and his top commanders were discussing  the details  of  the  Belorussian  operation. Rokossovsky suggested the Red Army stage a two-pronged attack. "Why scatter our forces? What about striking hard in one place instead?" Stalin said, and, apparently decided, concluded in a no-nonsense voice: "That's exactly what we are going to do.", Rokossovsky dug his heels. "A two-pronged attack is a better thing to do. First, we  engage the main forces on the right wing and, secondly, we severely restrict the enemy's freedom of movement. And, thirdly, even a single successful strike will put the enemy in a serious predicament..."

Annoyed by Rokossovsky's obstinacy, Stalin asked him to leave the room and think about the original proposal.  Rokossovsky walked out, gave the whole idea another thought and, getting back, kept defending his own plan. Incensed, Stalin told him to leave and think again. Minutes later, Rokossovsky walked in and stuck to his guns again. Arguing with Stalin was no joke and only a handful of daredevils had the guts to stand up to the all-powerful dictator. Rokossovsky had and Stalin eventually agreed with him. What happened next amply proved Rokossovsky's point.

Hundreds of thousands of crack Nazi troops were encircled and destroyed and the Belorussian operation is still studied in military academies around the world. The operation was codenamed Bagration after the outstanding Russian commander of the same name who died fighting Napoleon's invasion in 1812. The operation was also named so because Stalin affectionately called Rokossovsky "my Bagration."  Stalin fully appreciated the brilliant success of the whole operation promoting Rokossovsky to the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union...

Konstantin Rokossovsky belonged to that very rare kind of commanders who are equally good in retreat and in advance. Profoundly educated and cultured and a great organizer too, he was loved and respected by all. He was also very handsome, elegant and proportionally-built. "A beautiful man who fought beautifully," Marshal Georgy Zhukov once said of him.

Marshal Rokossovsky ended the war in Wismar, Germany where on May 3 of 1945 his troops met with the advance units of the 2nd British Army. Field Marshal Montgomery  bestowed upon him the Order of the Bath which only added to the impressive collection of decorations awarded him throughout  his long  and  successful  career. Still, Rokossovsky's biggest award was  the one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to command the Victory Parade in Red Square  on June 24, 1945 presided over by Marshal Georgy Zhukov with the Commander-in-Chief Josef Stalin looking on from the Lenin Mausoleum.

"Comrade Marshal, the troops of the Red Army and the Moscow  garrison  are  ready  for  the  Victory  Parade!" Rokossovsky' s voice reverberated through the sprawling square. He handed Zhukov the report and the two Marshals rode,  side by side,  somber-looking and resplendent in their flashy uniforms, with their white and black horses trampling the vanquished Nazi banners, right into Eternity...



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