- Historical event:
- 3 August 1968
- Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky died on this day in the turbulent year 1968. He achieved world fame during World War II, but his prewar life remains largely unknown today, despite being very interesting.
Soviet marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky died on this day in the turbulent year 1968.
Rokossovsky was born into an impoverished noble family in Warsaw, which was at that time a part of the Russian Empire. He was orphaned by age 14, and had to perform all sorts of manual labor, including working in a stocking factory and making gravestones. He volunteered for service in World War I, and performed admirably, eventually becoming a non-commissioned officer (he received the prestigious Order of St. George).
He joined the Bolsheviks already in 1917, after which he quickly rose through the ranks of the Red Army. During the Russian Civil War he fought against Kolchak’s White Army in the Urals, where he managed to kill an enemy officer in a duel.
Rokossovsky came close to being killed during Stalin’s purges. He was falsely accused, subjected to mock executions, having several teeth knocked out, and his ribs broken. However, since he was an exceptionally capable military officer, Stalin, seeing it was only a matter of time until his country became embroiled in World War II, returned him into service and gave him the rank of general.
Rokossovsky achieved world fame during World War II, where he played an important role in the battles of Moscow, Stalingrad, and Kursk, and achieved his greatest victory in Operation Bagration, where the entire German Army Group “Center” was destroyed.
However, Stalin didn’t forget Rokossovsky’s previous defiance and almost always assigned him to be under the command of Marshal Zhukov, which led to Rokossovsky being largely overshadowed by that famous Soviet marshal.
It is not widely known that Rokossovsky was christened Konstanty Ksawerowicz Rokossowski. He took on the Russified form of his name while he was still serving in the army of the Russian Empire. Along with the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union, he was also Marshal of Poland, and served as the Polish defense minister.
Even less known is the fact that Rokossovsky was one of the key people in the founding of the Mongolian People’s Republic and its land forces, or that he participated in the so-called “Eastern Railroad War” of 1929-1930, which was fought between the USSR and Chinese warlord Zhang Xueliang.
It is interesting that that was the first time Rokossovsky commanded a unit of tanks, and afterwards became one of the first proponents of armored warfare-based tactics.