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Prominent Russians: Rodion Malinovsky

November 23, 1898 — March 31, 1967

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Rodion Yakovlevich Malinovsky was a military commander during both World Wars of the 20th century. During World War II he participated in all the key battles – including the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942-1943. Rodion Malinovsky planned the operation against the Japanese forces in August 1945 – the last battle of WWII. In the 1950s-1960s he was in charge of restructuring and strengthening of the Soviet Army and served as Defense Minister of the Soviet Union from 1957 to 1967. Many analysts and historians have written that Malinovsky’s efforts helped build the image of the USSR as a military superpower.

On the Black Sea Coast, Poland and France

Rodion Malinovsky was born in Odessa, a port on the Black Sea Coast. He never saw his father who was killed before Rodion’s birth. To make ends meet, Rodion’s mother, Varvara, worked in a city hospital – she took care of those wounded in the war between Russia and Japan. But in search of a better life, she left the city for the nearby village, to where she had been invited by a countess who often visited wounded soldiers. Varvara married one of rich lady’s servants. The man did not like Rodion and had no intention of adopting him. So the little boy had to start work at the age of 13, first, at a nearby farm and then, after his relatives from Odessa took him in, as an errand boy in a general store.

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In 1914 Rodion, then 15 and too young for military service, became a solider on his own initiative. He simply hid inside the train with troops on their way to the frontline. He was found as soon as the train reached its destination. However, Rodion managed to convince the commanding officers to enlist him as a volunteer in a machine-gun detachment. His first battles took place on Polish soil. In March 1915 he received his first award, the Cross of St. George, for fighting off a German attack – he was promoted to the rank of the corporal.

In September 1915 Rodion Malinovsky was badly wounded. When he recovered he continued his fight for Russia in France as a member of the Russian Expeditionary Corps. The soldiers were sent to France to fight against Germany in exchange for the armament and supplies badly needed by the Russian Army. He took part in several major battles for which he was promoted to sergeant – several times fought to repel German attacks. Life in the trenches was hard to bear – after one year of heavy fighting the First Expeditionary Corps Brigade, where Malinovsky served, had lost more than one third of its soldiers in combat.

Immediately after the 1917 October Revolution all Russian units in France were disbanded. The government of France invited the best soldiers to join the Foreign Legion and continue to fight the Germans. Malinovsky was among those who remained. As a senior non-commissioned officer, he continued to fight against the Germans until the end of the WWI. However, after hearing about the revolutionary events back home, most Russian soldiers began to dream about returning. This only became possible, however, in 1919 – when the French government finally gave in to pressure from the Soviet leadership.

Back home – from gunner to commander.

Rodion Malinovsky’s journey back home was long. In 1919, with three fellow combatants, he arrived in the Far Eastern port of Vladivostok. At that time it was occupied by Japanese troops. Theough many hardships Malinovsky and his friends made their way to the Siberian city of Omsk where they were immediately enrolled into the Red Army as machine-gunners. He and his “brothers in arms” fought heavily against the “White Guard” – the former troops loyal to the late Russian Emperor who were heavily supported by Great Britain, France and other countries. Senior officers immediately paid attention to the great combat skills of the new rookie. Soon he became a machine-gun squad commander. Thanks to the efforts of Rodion and his fellow soldiers the 27th Red Army Division took control of the most important Siberian cities of Omsk and Novo-Nikolaevsk as well as key railway junctions. Shortly after these victories Rodion was struck with spotted fever. In 1920, when he recovered, he was sent to the school of junior commanders. After graduation he was put in charge of a machine-gun platoon. Then he was promoted to company commander. And later he took charge of the infantry battalion.

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In 1926 Malinovsky joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union – it was the main condition for any serviceman to advance in military ranks. In 1927, Malinovsky’s superiors recommended him for study at the Frunze Military Academy, the leading Soviet institution training high-ranking military commanders. It was quite a career breakthrough for a 29-year-old with no basic education. Three years later – after graduation – he served in the high ranks of several units until he became a Chief of Staff at the 3rd Cavalry Corps under the commandment of Stalin’s favorite Semyon Timoshenko. At that time the Red Army still used the old cavalry ways of combat. But Malinovsky showed a great ability to absorb all the latest strategic innovations in the art of military and adapt them to his own use.

In 1936 the Civil War in Spain broke out. Malinovsky volunteered to fight against the right-wing nationalists of General Francisco Franco who were heavily supported by his allies – the fascist regimes of Germany and Italy. He arrived in Spain in 1937. Under the nickname “Malino” he planned and coordinated activities that dealt a heavy blow to the ruling regime in Spain. The most successful of these were the operations near Barcelona and Guadalajara. Some historians say that this Spanish mission saved Rodion Malinovsky’s life – because he was far away from home he escaped Stalin’s purge of high-ranking military commanders in 1937. When Malinovsky returned to Moscow a year later he was awarded the Order of Lenin and the Order of the Red Banner– the highest badges of honor in the USSR. He went on to lecture at the Frunze Military Academy – the institution he had graduated from only eight years earlier.

Three months before the Soviet Union was dragged into World War II – in the spring of 1941 – Malinovsky, already a General-Major, took command of the 48th Rifle Corps in the Odessa Military District. He was stationed in the city of Beltsy in Moldova – close to the border with Romania. He was there when Germany attacked the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941 along its western borders.

On the fronts of WWII

German forces greatly outnumbered Soviet troops. But even under these circumstances Rodion Malinovsky proved to be one of the few competent Soviet generals who knew the “rules of engagement.” His 48th Rifle Corps held out – for several days they kept their defense along the banks of the Prut River – on the border with Romania. But Malinovsky’s resources were limited and his regiment had to retreat from the border to coastal areas in southern Ukraine. There his troops were encircled by the Nazis. Malinovsky used all his skill to get out of this “trap” – his corps kept moving east. In spite of the harsh conditions and inability to stop the numerically and technically superior German forces Malinovsky managed to impose heavy fighting on the south and make dangerous counterattacks. The ability to escape German encirclements brought him the respect of the Supreme Commandment. He was given the rank of Lieutenant-General. In August 1941 he became in charge of the 6th Army and in December he was appointed the Commander of the Southern Front.

When it was impossible to hold on even after his promotion, he found the strength to disobey the order of Stalin not to surrender the cities of Rostov-on-Don and Novocherkassk to the Nazis – the continuation of fighting under those conditions meant an unnecessary sacrifice of the troops to the enemy. When Malinovsky was summoned by Stalin to Moscow, he felt resolved and calm; his colleague, Major-General Larin, shot himself as soon as he found out about the trip they both had to make. After the hard talk with Stalin Malinovsky found out that he had been appointed Commander of the 66th Army. Technically, Stalin’s order was a setback but under the circumstances it was also a “lucky escape.” At the same time, Stalin personally assigned a promising Communist Party executive named Nikita Khrushchev, who would later become a Soviet leader, to “keep a close eye on Malinovsky.”

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The city of Stalingrad was strategically important for both sides. And it became an important place in Malinovsky’s career. The main mission of his 66th Army was to hold positions to the northeast of the city. Malinovsky also had tank and artillery units at his disposal. In September-October 1942 the units of the 66th Army, together with the 24th and the 1st Armies began a heroic offensive to the north of Stalingrad. They managed to hold off the might of the Nazi’s 6th Army that was trying hard to break into the city.

In October 1942 Rodion Malinovsky was appointed the Commander of the Voronezh Front, 500 miles to the northwest of Stalingrad. Then he went to the city of Tambov – where he formed the 2nd Guard Army. The mission of the unit would be a complete crush of German troops near Stalingrad. General Sergey Biryuzov became Malinovsky’s Chief of Staff. This was the first of many successful operations both men carried out.

The fight of the 2nd Guard Army is one of the brightest episodes of the WWII. Its offensive began at the most critical point of the war. Nazi commanders dispatched their best tanks units from “The Don” Army Group to help their encircled troops near Stalingrad. When they were near the target they were met with heavy fire from Malinovsky’s regiments – with the help of tanks and artillery the 2nd Guard Army stopped the advance of Nazi units: the Germans lost a chance to encircle Stalingrad. In December 1942 Malinovsky’s units – together with the 5th and the 51st Armies - destroyed the group of Nazi armies led by General Erich von Manstein. Neither severe frosts, nor the fierce resistance of the Germans could prevent Malinovsky from making the plans of Soviet commandment a reality.

After the battle of Stalingrad, Stalin transferred the experienced General to positions where his commanding talent was very much needed. In February 1943 Malinovsky again took command of the Southern Front - as in 1941. In March Stalin promoted him to the rank of Army General and gave him command of the Southwestern Front, which would later be renamed the 3rd Ukrainian Front. Malinovsky would stay in this position until May 1944. He drove German troops away from eastern Ukraine, an area rich in coal and other mineral resources. He also once again showed his ability to come up with unusual decisions that could be striking and devastating to his opponents. When his Southwestern Front was taking hold of the Ukrainian city of Zaporozhye in October 1943, Rodion Malinovsky carried out a massive night assault with the help of three armies and two corps – it had never been done in military practice before.

As Commander of the 3rd Ukrainian Front he smashed Nazi troops near the towns of Melitopol and Nikopol, crossed the Southern Bug River and liberated his hometown of Odessa. Malinovsky managed to isolate German forces in the Crimean Peninsula from the rest of the enemy’s troops. For these heroic deeds Malinovsky received the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.

In May 1944 Rodion Mailnovsky took command of the 2nd Ukrainian Front from Marshal Ivan Konev – another legendary field commander of WWII. The task was to carry out the Operation of Yassy and Chisinau that would unite the forces of the 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian Fronts, the Black Sea Fleet and the Danube River Military Flotilla. The successful actions of all these forces from 20-29 August led to the surrender of Romania and Bulgaria – German allies. It completely changed the situation in the South in favor of the Soviet Union. On 13 September 1944, for his talent as a front commander, he was awarded the title of Marshal of the Soviet Union – the highest military rank in the USSR. Right after this, Malinovsky returned to the front to complete the destruction of the Army Group South – one of the most powerful German Forces at the time. In October 1944 his troops came very close to the Hungarian capital of Budapest.

In 1944 Rodion Malinovsky barley escaped another standoff with Stalin. The Supreme Commander wanted Malinovsky to capture Budapest by 7 November – which was the anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in the USSR. Malinovsky valued his troops and thought that it was not possible. However, Stalin insisted on his order and Malinovsky had to obey. This offensive campaign was one of the most dramatic ones in WWII history – the soldiers fiercely fought for every house due to heavy resistance of Hungarian formations that were loyal to the Nazis. The losses of the Red Army were high. Instead of the five days planned by Stalin, the campaign lasted 108 days. It was possible to capture Budapest only in February 1945. No sanctions from Stalin followed.

Malinovsky continued his offensive drive from Hungary and Slovakia all the way to the Austrian capital. He managed to liberate Vienna on 4 April 1945. These victories established the Soviet troops’ supremacy in Central Europe. The European campaign for Malinovsky ended after he liberated the Czech city of Brno where he met with allied American forces.

But the Second World War was not over for Malinovsky after Germany pledged unconditional surrender on 8 May 1945. The danger of Japanese aggression was looming close to the far-eastern borders of the USSR. To put an end to the hostilities the Supreme Commandment sent the troops of the 2nd Ukrainian Front to the area; they formed the Trans-Baikal Front. And it was Rodion Malinovsky who would lead the last offensive campaign of WWII – he came to the Far East right after the victory parade that was held in Moscow on 24 June 1945 to mark the end of the war with Germany. His first step was to invade Manchuria in the Chinese northeast. It was the last stronghold of the Kwantung Army – one of the best the Japanese Emperor had ever had. It took Rodion Malinovsky 10 days in August to crush them completely – something Nazi Germany had dreamt about when they tried to invade the Soviet Union. That victory was a true demonstration of what one good commander can do with the total commitment of his soldiers. On 2 September 1945 Japan signed a pact of surrender – this event marked the end of the WWII.

For the activities that led to the demise of the Kwantung Army Rodion Malinovsky was awarded the title of Hero of Soviet Union for the second time. Throughout the period of WWII the orders of the Supreme Commander Joseph Stalin mentioned the gratitude to the Marshal and his troops 48 times.

At the foundation of a “Superpower”

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After the Second World War Malinovsky did not move westwards – he stayed in the Far East to control Military Forces in that area for more than 10 years. He was also in charge of the military consultancy efforts of the Soviet Union to North Korea during the military conflict on the Korean Peninsula in 1950-1953. After the death of Stalin, Malinovsky was called to Moscow by the new leader of the Communist Party, Nikita Khrushchev. In 1956 he became the First Deputy to the Minister of Defense and a year later, he took the top army job from his predecessor, Georgy Zhukov, one of the “symbols” of the Soviet Union’s victory in the WWII.

This fact has caused much debate among historians who are still undecided about who exactly toppled Zhukov from the post. Most researchers say it was Khrushchev who became worried about the ambitions of the renowned general. Other historians point to the fact that Malinovsky was better educated than Zhukov, which caused the envy of the latter.

After his appointment Malinovsky did the best he could to enhance the military might of the country. First, he sought to minimize Khrushchev’s effort to reduce the Soviet Armed Forces. He was a supporter of the balanced development of the Armed Forces without major setbacks in the infrastructure. Second, he was not a supporter of the concept that nuclear might can win the global war. Malinovsky was a strong advocate of the balanced development of conventional forces. He tried to hold on to this strategy even during the times of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 – when the USSR and the US were at the brink of the nuclear war. After it was all over, Malinovsky continued to work to turn the Soviet Army into the most accomplished and powerful force in the world. Part of his “recipe” was maintaining parity with the United States both in nuclear and conventional forces.

An unusual General

Many remember Malinovsky as a very delicate general. At all times he showed the outmost degree of respect to his subordinates. He was always calm and polite. He could attentively hear out and understand each person who needed his help. Here are the words of Francisco Ciutat de Miguel – a Chief of Staff of the Northern Front during the Civil War in Spain: “Colonel Malino gave me not just the lessons of soldierly courage – but the lessons of being delicate as well. Thanks to him I realized that a commander should not only be clever – he should have a good heart.”

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Rodion Malinovsky was the only Red Army General who could fluently speak three languages: French, German and Spanish. These are the languages of the countries that he fought in. Another feature of Malinovsky was his love of books. He read the works of French philosophers as well as Cervantes and Heine in the original. Journalists and writers were always pleasantly surprised when Malinovsky quoted Pascal, Michel de Montaigne, François de La Rochefoucauld and other philosophers and writers. No other Soviet military commander could do that.

Now it is known that after Word War II many military commanders brought from Europe to the USSR many trophies including cars, carpets, musical instruments, canvases etc. To take all this away one needed to have a railway car – only high-ranking generals could afford it. Some witnesses said that Georgy Zhukov, one of the most prominent Marshals of WWII, was one such “collector.” But nothing like that was ever mentioned about Rodion Malinovsky who brought no trophies back. He was considered the most modest and just of all Soviet military commanders.

Rodion Yakovlevich Malinovsky never retired. He died in the rank of Defense Minister in 1967. He was honored with a state funeral in the Kremlin Wall – the burial place for the most prominent figures of the USSR as well as the leader of the international Communist movement himself, Vladimir Lenin. Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union Malinovsky is still viewed as one of the most experienced and professional defense ministers the country has ever had.

Written by Oleg Dmitriev, RT

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