Perhaps the least known Soviet general in the West, Ivan Chernyakhovsky was born in 1906 in Uman, near Kiev. He liberated Kursk, Vilna, and Kovno, and twice won the prestigious Hero of the Soviet Union medal. He was the youngest front commander, and the highest ranking Jewish officer in the Soviet Army.
His parents perished of typhoid during the civil unrest following the revolution. He began his journey as a herdsman and a workman on the railway. At 18 he joined the Red Army as a cadet in the Odessa Infantry School. There his ability in mathematics and science attracted attention, and he was sent to Artillery School in Kiev. He graduated in 1928 and joined the Communist Party.
In 1931 he went to the Stalin Military Academy for Mechanization and Motorization where he studied command engineering. He graduated in 1936. In spite of his Jewish heritage, perhaps because of his loyalty as a Communist Party operative, he survived Stalin’s late 1930s purge of 80,000 army officers.
Chernyakhovsky was promoted to deputy commander of a tank division in 1940-41. At the time of the German invasion, 22 June, 1941, he commanded the 28th Tank Division south of Leningrad. He moved his unit forward aggressively to confront the German attack. He encountered the German First Panzer Division and initially succeeded in pushing them back; however, by 25 June all of his tanks had been destroyed. Consequently, his unit was reorganized as the 241st Rifle Division.
During the Battle for Leningrad he worked with Supreme Commander Marshal Georgi Zhukov and Chief of the General Staff, Marshal A. M. Vasilevsky.
In July 1942 he took command of the 60th Army, under General Konstantin Rokassovsky, and helped to liberate Voronezh on 25 January, 1943, and Kursk on 8 February, 1943. On 23 February, 1943, he was promoted to lieutenant general.
During the drive to the border of East Prussia on 17 October, 1943, he earned his first Hero of the Soviet Union Medal.
Promoted to colonel general on 5 March, 1944, he arrived at Krasnoe on 12 April.
The 3rd Belorussian Front was created on 24 April, 1944.
Planning for Operation Bagration began on 22 May, 1944. The operation was intended to destroy the German Army Group Center, and was the largest campaign of the war. In June Chernyakhovsky was promoted to army general, the youngest to be so promoted, and made commander of the 3rd Belorussian Front, the youngest Front Commander.
Operation Bagration kicked off on 23 June, 1944, with 3rd Belorussian Front attacking north of Minsk as the right pincer. The left pincer, commanded by Front Commander General Rokossovsky, moved south of Minsk to trap the 4th and 3rd Panzer Armies. Minsk was encircled by 3 July, and Vilna was captured on 13 July. On 15 July the Nieman River was crossed, and Chernyakhovsky received his second Hero of the Soviet Union Medal at the end of July.
By 2 August Kovno was taken and the German border was crossed on 17 August. This was followed by a period of rest and refitting. After that, the 3rd Belorussian Front was on the move, penetrating 80 kilometers into East Prussia.
On 13 January, 1945, the drive resumed. Tilsit was taken 20 January. General Rokosovsky took Tannenberg on 21 January. By mid-February Chernyakhovsky isolated Koenigsberg, East Prussia. The next thrust was being planned and Chernyakhovsky intended to visit each of the armies under his command. He was on his way to the 3rd Army headquarters when his jeep was hit by an artillery shell, killing him.
Chernyakovsky was buried in Vilna, known as ‘East Jerusalem’ because of its Jewish population. When Lithuania separated from the disbanded Soviet Union, Chernyakovsky was disinterred and his body moved to Moscow for reburial.
Source: ‘Russia’s General Ivan D. Chernyakhovsky Achieved A Combat Record That Is Virtually Unknown In The West,’ Steven L. Ossad, WW II History Magazine, Sovereign Media, May 2004