Rodion Yakovlevich Malinovsky (1898–1967)


Marshal of the Soviet Union. Born to a poor peasant family near Odessa on 23 November 1898, Rodion Malinovsky enlisted in the Russian Army at the outbreak of World War I. Badly wounded in 1915, he spent several months recuperating before reassignment as a machine gunner with the Russian Expeditionary Corps in France in April 1916. He was decorated for bravery and again wounded. His unit mutinied in the spring of 1917, however, and Malinovksy was transferred to North Africa.

Malinovsky returned to Russia via Vladivostok in August 1919. He made his way along the Trans-Siberian Railway to Omsk, where he joined the Red Army and fought against the White forces. He then served as chief of staff of III Cavalry Corps. In 1926 he joined the Communist Party and a year later entered the Frunze Military Academy for a three-year officers’ training program. He next served as a military advisor to the Republican forces during 1937–1938 in the Spanish Civil War. Returning to the Soviet Union, he became a senior instructor on the faculty of the Frunze Military Academy.

In March 1941 Major General Malinovsky assumed command of the new XLVIII Rifle Corps on the Romanian border. In August, following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, he had charge of the Sixth Army in the Ukraine, where he had no choice but to withdraw before the advancing Germans. Promoted to lieutenant general that November, the next month he took command of the Southern Front. Following the ill-fated Kharkov Offensive in June 1942 for which he shared blame, he was reassigned to rear echelon duty.

During July and August 1942, Malinovsky headed the Don Operational Forces Group before being named in August to command the Sixty-Sixth Army. He also developed a long association with Nikita Khrushchev, then a political officer reportedly assigned by Josef Stalin to watch Malinovsky. He next commanded the Voronezh Front in October and the Second Guards Army in November. In the latter capacity he played a key role in the Battle of Stalingrad, in December defeating Army Group Don, the German relief force under Field Marshal Erich von Manstein.

Malinovsky was promoted to colonel general in February 1943, commanding the Southern Front that month and the Southwest Front in March. In April he was promoted to general of the army. He played a major role in the Battle of Kursk in July 1943 and then spearheaded the drive across the Ukraine, taking Odessa in April 1944. His command was redesignated the 3rd Ukrainian Front in October 1943 and the 2nd Ukrainian Front in May 1944. From the Ukraine, he led Soviet forces into Romania, Hungary, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. In September 1944 he was promoted to marshal of the Soviet Union.

When the war in Europe ended, Malinovsky took command of the Transbaikal Front in the Far East, pushing into Japanese-held Manchuria. A prominent member of the Soviet military hierarchy after the war, he headed the Far East Command during 1947–1953 and the Far East Military District during 1953–1956. He was deputy minister of defense during 1956–1957 and then succeeded Marshal Georgi Zhukov as minister of defense. In this post Malinovsky introduced strategic missiles into the Soviet arsenal and oversaw Soviet military modernization.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Khrushchev, now premier of the Soviet Union, asked Malinovsky how long it would take U.S. forces to crush Cuba. Malinovsky replied with an estimate of “two or three days,” a statement that Khrushchev passed along to a furious Fidel Castro. Malinovsky died in office of cancer in Moscow on 31 March 1967. Marshal Andrei Grechko succeeded him as minister of defense.

References Erickson, John. “Rodion Yakovlevich Malinovsky.” Pp. 117–124 in Stalin’s Generals, edited by Harold Shukman. New York: Grove, 1993. Glantz, David M., and Jonathan House. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995.

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