Rodion Yakovlevich Malinovsky (Родио́н Я́ковлевич Малино́вский, Rodion Jakovlevič Malinovskij; November 23, 1898 — March 31, 1967) was a Soviet military commander in World War II and Defense Minister of the Soviet Union in the late 1950s and 1960s. He contributed to the major defeat of Nazi Germany at the Battle of Stalingrad and, during the post-war era, made a pivotal contribution to the strengthening of the Soviet Union as a military superpower.
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.
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 the massive German military 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 General-Major, 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.
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 General-Leytenant. 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.
The 66th Army had no combat experience, but this was the first time in the war Malinovsky had commanded a unit that was near full strength in both troops and equipment. In September and October 1942, he went on the offensive. His territorial gains were marginal, but he denied the Germans an opportunity to encircle Stalingrad from the north, and, slowed down, they decided to push into the city. Later that month, Stavka dispatched Malinovsky to the Voronezh Front as its deputy commander; in December 1942, he was sent back to Stalingrad. There the Red Army achieved its greatest success to that point in the war: on November 22, the Red Army fronts encircled the German Sixth Army. The German Army Group Don, commanded by Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, gathered its Panzer troops in the town of Kotelnikovo 150 kilometers west of Stalingrad and launched a desperate counterattack to save the Sixth Army.
Malinovsky led the powerful Soviet Second Guards Army against Hoth. In vicious fighting he forced the Germans to retreat, 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 outstanding generalship — the Order of Suvorov of the 1st degree.
In February 1943, Malinovsky resumed his command of Southern Front, and in less than two weeks he expelled Manstein from Rostov-on-Don, opening the road to Ukraine to the Red Army. In March 1943, Stalin elevated him to rank of Army General and gave him command of Southwestern Front, tasked to drive German troops away from the industrially 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.
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 the 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, the arrest of Raoul Wallenberg. Continuing his drive westward, Malinovsky routed Germans in Slovakia, liberated Bratislava, and on April 4, 1945, captured Vienna.
These new victories established the Soviet's 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, observing a jubilant meeting of his and American advance forces.
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.
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.
After his death Malinovsky was honored with a state funeral, being buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis. The government gave his name to the leading Soviet Military Academy of Tank Troops in Moscow and to an elite guards tank division. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Malinovsky continued to be regarded as one of the most important military leaders in the history of Russia.