Rodion Malinovsky

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Marshal of the Soviet Union Rodion Malinovsky
Marshal of the Soviet Union Rodion Malinovsky

Rodion Yakovlevich Malinovsky (Russian: Родион Яковлевич Малиновский, Rodion Jakovlevič Malinovskij; November 23, 1898-March 31, 1967) was a Soviet military commander, Defense Minister of the Soviet Union in the late 1950s and 1960s, who played a key role in World War II, including the major defeat of Nazi Germany during the Battle of Stalingrad; during the post-war era, he had a pivotal contribution to the strengthening of the Soviet Union as a military superpower.


[edit] Early life

[edit] Before and during World War I

Born in Odessa, Malinovsky was of Karaite Jewish descent.[1] His father abandoned the family, and the child was officially registered as "illegitimate"; in search for a livelihood, his mother left the city for the rural areas of the Ukraine, and remarried. Her new husband, a poverty-stricken Ukrainian peasant, refused to adopt her son and expelled him when Malinovsky was only 13 years old. The homeless boy survived by working as a farm-hand, and eventually, received shelter from his aunt's family in Odessa, where he worked as an errand boy in a general store.

After the start of the World War I in July 1914, Malinovsky, who was only 15 years old at the time (too young for military service), hid on the military train heading for the German front, but was discovered. He nevertheless convinced the commanding officers to enlist him as a volunteer, and served in a machine-gun detachment on the notorious frontline trenches. In October 1915, as a reward for repelling a German attack, he received his first military award, the Cross of St. George of the 4th degree, and was promoted to the rank of corporal. Soon afterwards, he was badly wounded, spent several months in hospital, and, after his 1916 recovery, he was sent to France in 1916 as a member of the Western Front Russian Expeditionary Corps. Malinovsky fought in hotly-contested sector of front near Fort Brion and was promoted to sergeant. He suffered a grave wound in his left arm, and received a decoration from the French government. After the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the French government disbanded Russian units, but offered some of the best Russian soldiers service in the French Foreign Legion. Malinovsky fought against the Germans until the end of the war, was awarded French Croix de guerre, and promoted to senior NCO.

[edit] Interwar

He returned to Russia in 1919, joined the Red Army in the Civil War against the White Army and fought with distinction in Siberia. He remained in the army after the end of the conflict, studied in the training school for the junior commanders, and rose to commander of a rifle battalion. In 1926, he became a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, a membership which was a prerequisite for advancement in the military ranks.

In 1927, Malinovsky was sent to study at the elite Frunze Military Academy. He graduated in 1930 and during next seven years rose to the Chief of Staff of the 3rd Cavalry Corps, where his commander was Semyon Timoshenko (a protégée of Joseph Stalin's).

After start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Malinovsky volunteered to fight for the Republicans against right-wing nationalists of General Francisco Franco and their Italian Fascist and Nazi German allies. He participated in planning and directing several main operations. In 1938, he returned to Moscow, being awarded the top Soviet decorations Order of Lenin and the Order of the Red Banner in recognition of his service in Spain; he was appointed a senior lecturer at the Frunze Military Academy.

In the spring of 1941, Timoshenko who then served the People's Commissar for Defense, was alarmed by massive German build up on the Soviet borders, as the Wehrmacht was secretly preparing for Operation Barbarossa. In order to strengthen the Red Army field command, he dispatched some of the top officers from the military academies to the field units. Malinovsky was promoted to Major General, and took command over the freshly raised 48th rifle corps in the Odessa Military District. A week prior to the start of the war, Malinovsky deployed his corps close to the Romanian border.

[edit] World War II commander

[edit] Early assignments

After Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, as the Red Army suffered enormous defeats and lost hundreds thousands troops in German encirclements, Malinovsky emerged as one of the few competent Soviet generals. His corps of three partly formed rifle divisions faced German Blitzkrieg along the line of the Prut River. While, as a rule, Red Army generals would lead their forces from behind the frontline, Malinovsky went to the crucial sectors of the battles to be with his soldiers and encourage them. Unable to stop the numerically and technically superior forces of the seasoned Wehrmacht, Malinovsky had to retreat along the Black Sea shore, while frustrating enemy attempts to encircle his troops. The Germans succeeded in cornering his corps in Nikolaev, but Malinovsky breached their ring and retreated to Dnepropetrovsk.

In August, he was promoted to Chief of Staff of the badly-battered 6th Army, and soon replaced its commander. He halted the German advance in his section of the front and was promoted to Lieutenant General. After the retreat of the Red Army to the Donbass, Malinovsky commanded a joint operation of the 6th and 12th armies, managing to drive the Wehrmacht out of the region. In December 1941 Malinovsky received command of the Soviet Southern Front, consisting of three weak field armies and two division-sized cavalry corps. They were short of manpower and equipment, but Malinovsky managed to push deep into the German defenses.

[edit] Battle of Kharkov

On January 18, 1942, Malinovsky and the Southwestern Front, under the overall command of Timoshenko, launched a joint attack in the Second Battle of Kharkov pushing the Germans back 100 kilometers. Timoshenko overestimated the Red Army ability for the offensive war and suffered a heavy defeat. Although Stalin, in spite of opposition of his top military advisers, supported the ill-fated Kharkov offense, he became suspicions that Malinovsky had intentionally failed his troops (he feared that Malinovsky had established and kept connections with foreign interests during his World War I stay in France). In July 1942, the Southern Front was taken out of combat, its units and staff were transferred to the North Caucasian Front as a Don Operational Group under the command of Malinovsky (who also became Front's deputy commander). Stalin ordered Malinovsky to stop the intrusion of the German Army Group A towards Rostov and the vital oilfields of Caucasus; the Germans had almost ten times numerical superiority and a sizeable technical superiority over Malinovsky, and cut through his weak defenses. As a consequence, Stavka disbanded the Don Operational Group in September.

[edit] Stalingrad and Ukrainian Front

The Red Army was hard-pressed by Germans in the Battle of Stalingrad, and Stalin entrusted Malinovsky with the command of the hastily formed 66th Army to held positions north-east of Stalingrad. At the same time Stalin charged, Nikita Khrushchev, who served his top political officer in Stalingrad "to keep an eye" on Malinovsky.

The 66th Army had no combat experience, but this was the first time in the war Malinovsky commanded a unit that was near its full strength in both troops and equipment. In September and October 1942, he went on offense; the territorial gains were marginal, but he denied Germans an opportunity to encircle Stalingrad from the north and, slowed they push into the city. Later that month, Stavka dispatched Malinovsky to strengthen Voronezh Front as its deputy commander; in December 1942, it dispatched him back to Stalingrad. There, the Red Army achieved its greatest success: on November 22, the Red Army fronts encircled the German Sixth Army; the German Army Group Don, commanded by the most successful Wehrmacht Field Marshal, Erich von Manstein, gathered its Panzer troops in town of Kotelnikovo (150 kilometers east of Stalingrad) and spearheaded by the Wehrmacht's most prominent Panzer General, Hermann Hoth, desperately tried to save the 6th Army.

Malinovsky led the powerful Soviet Second Guards Army against Hoth. In a vicious fight of armor he forced German retreat, counterattacked, breached deeply echeloned and well-prepared German defenses, and destroyed the Kotelnikovo army grouping. It was the first World War II large scale clash of armor to be lost by Germany. Malinovsky's victory sealed the fate of 250,000 German and other Axis Powers soldiers trapped in the Stalingrad pocket. Stalin promoted Malinovsky to Colonel General, and awarded him with the highest Soviet decoration for the outstanding generalship — the Order of Suvorov of the 1st degree.

In February 1943, Malinovsky resumed his command of Southern Front, and in a less than two weeks he expelled Manstein from Rostov, opening to the Red Army road to Ukraine. In March 1943, Stalin elevated him to rank of Army General and gave him command of Southwestern Front with task to drive German troops away from the industrial rich Donbass. Through a sudden attack in mid-October, Malinovsky managed to surprise a large German force in the region's key city of Zaporizhia and captured it. The campaign split German forces in the South and isolated German forces in Crimea from the rest of the German Eastern Front.

On October 20, the Southwestern Front was renamed 3rd Ukrainian Front. From December 1943 to April 1944, Malinovsky smashed the German Army Group South, and liberated much of the southern Ukraine, including Cherson, Nikolaev and his home city of Odessa. By that time, according to Khrushchev's opinion, Stalin grew much more confident of Malinovsky's loyalty.

[edit] Romania and Hungary

In May 1944, Malinovsky was transferred to 2nd Ukrainian Front. He expelled Germans from the remaining Soviet territory, and launched an invasion of the Balkans together with Army General Fyodor Tolbukhin (who received Malinovsky's former command over smaller 3rd Ukrainian Front). In Jassy-Chişinău Operation in late August and early September of 1944, Malinovsky unleashed a highly successful Soviet version of the Blitzkrieg. Together with Tolbukhin, he encircled and destroyed half million of German, and more than 400,000 of Romanian troops, and forced Romania to overthrow pro-German Conducător Ion Antonescu, and switch from the Axis to the Allies camp (see Romania during World War II). A triumphant Stalin recalled Malinovsky to Moscow, and, on September 10, 1944 made him Marshal of the Soviet Union. Malinovsky was also nominal head of the Allied Commission in Romania (represented by Vladislav Petrovich Vinogradov).[2]

He continued his offensive drive, crossed Southern Carpathians into Transylvania (entering Hungarian-ruled Northern Transylvania), and on October 20, 1944, captured Debrecen, defended by a large German force. His troops were tired after several months of combat and needed to be replenished and resupplied, but Stalin ordered Malinovsky to take Hungarian capital Budapest (see Battle of Budapest), in order to open the road to Vienna and preempt the Western Allies from conquering the former Austrian capital. With the help of Tolbukhin, Malinovsky carried out Stalin's order, and faced Adolf Hitler's determination to defend Budapest at any cost. The Germans and their Hungarian Arrow Cross Party allies tried to turn Budapest into a "German Stalingrad"; Hitler engaged the bulk of his Panzer troops (among them six elite panzer Waffen SS divisions and five Panzer divisions of the Wehrmacht — one fourth of all Wehrmacht's armor), weakening German forces fighting the Soviets in Poland and Prussia, as well as those engaging the Western Allies on the Rhine. Malinovsky's strategic and operational skills enabled him to overcame his troops' weakness and to conquer Budapest on February 13 1945, following an exceptionally harsh battle. He captured 70,000 prisoners. In Budapest Stalin's NKVD committed one of their most notorious crimes, arrest of Raoul Wallenberg. Continuing his drive westward, Malinovsky routed Germans in Slovakia, liberated Bratislava, and on April 13, 1945, captured Vienna.

These new victories established the Soviets supremacy over the Danubian heartland of Europe. In return, Stalin rewarded him with the highest Soviet military decoration of the period, the Order of Victory. Malinovsky ended his campaign in Europe with the liberation of Brno in the Czechs lands, and observing a jubilant meeting of his and American advance forces.

[edit] Japanese Front

After the German surrender in May 1945, Malinovsky was transferred to the Russian Far East, where he was placed in command of the Transbaikal Front. In August 1945, he lead the last Soviet offensive of World War II: he invaded Manchuria, which was under the occupation of one million men strong Japanese Kwantung Army, renowned for its troops' qualities (see Operation August Storm). Malinovsky crushed the Japanese in ten days, in what was since considered a model of mechanized Blitzkrieg warfare and a classical double envelopment, as well as being the most successful achievement of Soviet World War II military craft (in audacity, scale, as well as in surgical execution and tactical innovation). His capture of Manchuria gave an enormous emotional uplift to the Russian nationalist sentiment, as it seemed to erase memories of the humiliating defeat in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 war. Malinovsky was awarded the Soviet Union's greatest honors, the order of a Hero of the Soviet Union.

[edit] Post-war career

[edit] Far East

During the next decade Malinovsky was involved in key decisions involving Soviet strategic interests in the Far Eastern region. Initially a commander of Transbaikal-Amur Military District (1945-1947), with the start of the Cold War he was appointed the Supreme Commander of Far Eastern Forces in charge of three military districts (1947-1953). He trained and supplied North Korean People's Army and the Chinese People's Liberation Army prior to and during the Korean War (1950-1953).

As an expression of Malinovsky's belonging to the Soviet Party-state elite, Stalin made him a Member of the Soviet Supreme Soviet (1946), the candidate (non-voting) member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1952). After the end of the Korean War, Moscow disbanded Far Eastern Supreme Command. Malinovsky continued to control the major Soviet force in the region as the commander of the Far Eastern military district.

[edit] With Khrushchev

After Stalin's death in 1953, Khrushchev became the Soviet leader and, during the De-Stalinization process and the consolidation of his power in the Kremlin, he promoted Malinovsky to Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Ground Forces and First Deputy to Minister of Defense Marshal Georgy Zhukov (1956). To confirm Malinovsky's high status in the Soviet Party-state hierarchy, he was selected a full member of the Communist Party Central Committee. In October 1957, Khrushchev, who had grown apprehensive of Zhukov's political ambitions, ousted him and entrusted his post as minister to Malinovsky, who served in this position until his death, gaining lasting reputation as the best person ever to lead the Ministry.

Although a personal friend of Khrushchev, Malinovsky maintained his independent position regarding military affairs. Khrushchev and several members of the Soviet military establishment were convinced that the future wars will be won by the nuclear missile attack. They advocated main investment to the development of the missiles and a drastic reduction of conventional forces. Malinovsky supported adaptation of strategic nuclear missiles, but he saw nuclear missiles as a deterrent useful for the prevention of the war, and not as a main weaponry of the war. He developed concept of broad based military and vigorously argued that while the nature of the war changed, the decisive factor still will be a standing army proficient in modern military technology and capable to conquer and control the enemy territory. Soviet military policy during these years was a compromise between the views of Malinovsky and those of Khrushchev. Malinovsky built Soviet army into the most accomplished and powerful force in the world by achieving parity with the United States in nuclear weapons and modernizing the huge conventional force.

[edit] Final years

Khrushchev's provocation of the Cuban missile crisis, which brought the world on the brink of nuclear catastrophe, alienated Malinovsky. Following the crisis, he publicly demanded in the army publications that military will be given greater voice in formulating Soviet strategic policy. The army discontent with Khrushchev encouraged a Party plot and removal of Khrushchev from power in October 1964. The new Party leadership accepted Malinovsky's demand for an autonomous and professional military establishment, as well as his concept of balanced development of the armed forces.

He was honored with a state funeral and was buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis. The government gave his name to the leading Soviet Military Academy of Tank Troops in Moscow and to elite guards tank division. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Malinovsky continued to be regarded in as one of the most important military leaders in the history of Russia.

[edit] Awards

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Rossiiskaia evreiskaia entsiklopedia, vol. 2, Moscow, 1995, p.232
  2. ^ Adrian Cioroianu, Pe umerii lui Marx. O introducere în istoria comunismului românesc, Editura Curtea Veche, Bucharest, 2005, p.59

[edit] References

  • John Erikson, "Rodion Yakovlevich Malinovsky" in Harold Shukman, ed., Stalin's Generals, Grove Press, New York City, 1993
  • David M. Glantz, The Soviet Strategic Offensive in Manchuria, 1945. 'August Storm', Frank Cass Publishers, London, 2003
  • Mark Shteinberg, Evrei v voinakh tysiachiletii, Moscow, Jerusalem, 2005, pp. 316-318
  • Joseph E. Thach, Jr., "Malinovskii, Rodion Yakovlevich" in The Modern Encyclopedia of Russian and Soviet History, vol. 21
  • Alexander Werth, Russia At War, 1941-1945, Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., New York City, 1999

[edit] External links

Preceded by
Georgy Zhukov
Minister of Defence of Soviet Union
Succeeded by
Andrei Grechko