Konstantin Rokossovsky rose rapidly in the Red Army through 1936, when he became a corps commander, but, like so many other officers of the period, he fell into disfavor with Joseph Stalin before World War II, and his career was effectively suspended. Rokossovsky was luckier than many, however, in that he was merely imprisoned and tortured for a time but was spared execution. Released in 1940, he was a corps commander during the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. In July, Georgi Konstantinovich Zhukov raised him from corps to army command. Zhukov had once served under Rokossovsky and had great respect for him. He championed his former commander, and in September 1942 persuaded Stalin to turn over to him the Don front ("front" was the Red Army term for what the Western allies called an army group) between the Volga and Don Rivers during the Battle of Stalingrad. Thus, in January 1943, Rokossovsky led the culminating operation against the "Stalingrad pocket" and had the honor of receiving the German surrender.
After Stalingrad, Rokossovsky transported his entire staff and a single army by rail to the Kursk sector. After receiving reinforcements, his force was redesignated the Central front and held the north face of the Kursk salient until after the conclusion of the Battle of Kursk in July.
After Kursk, Rokossovsky advanced toward the Dnieper, which he crossed during November 1944, having in the process amalgamated the Central and Briansk fronts to form the massive Belorussian front. Rokossovsky extended his lines westward through the Pripet marshes until his Belorussian front (later called the First Belorussian front) reached across all the southern half of the salient occupied by German Army Group Center. This allowed him to envelop and destroy that force in July.
Rokossovsky continued his advance, reaching the Vistula north and south of Warsaw by September 1944, whereupon Stalin promoted him to marshal of the Soviet Union. Despite this promotion, Stalin turned the First Belorussian front over to Zhukov and transferred Rokossovsky to the Second Belorussian front. Presumably, Stalin wanted to deny Rokossovskywhom he had, after all, once purgedthe honor of conquering Berlin.
As commander of the Second Belorussian front, Rokossovsky advanced across Poland in January 1945 and, after conducting various operations in West Prussia and Pomerania, supported Zhukov's advance to make contact with U.S. troops at Wismar, 124 miles west of the Oder River on May 2.
After the war, Rokossovsky, who had been born in Poland but had lived most of his life in the Soviet Union, remained in command of Soviet forces in northern Poland and Germany. In 1949, he was appointed Polish minister of national defense and marshal of Poland. In 1952, he became deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers of the People's Republic of Poland. After Poland was somewhat liberalized by reformers in 1956, Rokossovsky returned to the Soviet Union. In July 1957, he was named deputy minister of defense and commander of the Transcaucasian Military District. The following year he became chief inspector of the Ministry of Defense, the post he held until his retirement in April 1962.