Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Rokossovsky, Konstantin Konstantinovich (1896–1968)

Marshal of the Soviet Union, marshal of Poland, deputy prime minister of Poland, and Polish minister of national defense (1949–1956). Born on 9 December 1896 in Velikie Luki, Russia, the son of a Polish railway worker and a Russian mother, Konstantin Rokossovsky moved with his family to Warsaw in 1900. Inducted into the Russian Army at the beginning of World War I, he rose to the rank of sergeant and in November 1917 became a member of the Red Guard. During the Russian Civil War, he fought in Siberia, the Far East, and Manchuria with the Reds (or Bolsheviks).

Rokossovsky completed the cavalry short course in 1923 and the Frunze Military Academy in 1929. He then successively commanded a regiment, a brigade, and a cavalry division. During 1935–1937 he commanded V Cavalry Corps. During the Stalinist purges, he was arrested in 1937 and accused of spying for Poland and Japan. Tortured and almost executed on two occasions, he was released from prison in March 1940 and resumed command of V Cavalry Corps and later IX Mechanized Corps. Beginning in August 1941, he was commander of the Sixteenth Army in the defense of Moscow.

Rokossovsky was seriously wounded in February 1942 and, upon recovery, served as commander on the following fronts: Briansk, Donsk, Central, Belarusian, 1st Belarusian, and 2nd Belarusian. As such, he took part in the Battles of Stalingrad and Kursk, in the liberation of Ukraine, the taking of East Prussia, and the Berlin Campaign. Promoted to colonel general in January 1943, he became a full general that April and a marshal of the Soviet Union in June 1944.

Rokossovsky then commanded Soviet forces in Poland (1945–1949). In November 1949, Soviet leader Josef Stalin arranged for Rokossovsky's appointment as Poland's minister of national defense, deputy prime minister of Poland, and member of the Polish Politburo. His exceptional political position enabled him to make decisions without consulting other members of the Polish government. During 1950–1954, he increased the size of the army by almost 200 percent and carried out a thorough modernization effort. He also introduced military regulations based on the Soviet model. He removed officers from the prewar army, Home Army, and Polish Armed Forces in the West, and he appointed Soviet officers to all of the most important positions.

In October 1956, Rokossovsky placed part of the Polish Army on combat alert and ordered several detachments to enter Warsaw. As a result, when Władysław Gomułka returned to power, Rokossovsky was not reelected to the Politburo and was recalled from his posts. In November 1956 he left Poland. He then became deputy minister of defense of the Soviet Union and the chief inspector of the Soviet Army. In 1957 he assumed command of the Transcaucasian Military District, but in 1958 he returned to his post as deputy defense minister. In March 1962, he was moved to the Group of General Inspectors of the Soviet Army, although he was in effect already retired. Rokossovsky died in Moscow on 3 August 1968.

Pawefl Piotrowski


Further Reading
Woff, Richard, "Konstantin Konstantinovich Rokossovsky." Pp. 177–196 in Stalin's Generals, edited by Harold Shukman. New York: Grove, 1993.; Zhukov, Georgi Z. Reminiscences and Reflections. 2 vols. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1974.
 

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