Throughout the summer of 1944, the men of General der Artillerie Maximilian Fretter-Pico’s German Sixth Army were literally fighting for their very existence. The Red Army, pushing ever westward, was nearing the zenith of its strength. Although German soldiers were killing Russian soldiers at a rate of 4.5 to 1, conscripts from newly liberated Soviet territory made good the losses.
Tough, confident generals had long since replaced the inefficient Red Army commanders responsible for the disasters of 1941 and 1942. The commander of the 2nd Ukrainian Front, Marshal Rodion Yakovlevich Malinovsky, was one such general. Born near Odessa in 1898, he joined the Czarist army at age 15 and was wounded in World War I. In 1919, he became a machine-gun instructor in the Red Army.