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A Bridge-Building General: Leadership in Action


Pictured: Article featuring General of the Army V. I. Chuikov and his appointment in Berlin in The Vancouver Daily Province, 30 March 1949.


As highlighted in a previous blog entry, Marshal Chuikov was a physically powerful man who held a strong work ethic established in his early years in Tsarist Russia. Growing up in a large family of peasant farmers and leaving home at the age of twelve to pursue work in the city, young Vasily Ivanovich was no stranger to hard work and sweat. When he was a 19-year-old Red Army Calvary regimental commander during the Russian Civil War, Vasily Ivanovich displayed leadership qualities beyond his age. As a life-long learner, he continued developing his leadership skills during the interwar period. A true “fighting general” in later years, Chuikov was actively in the trenches with his soldiers in the Great Patriotic War, achieving the unthinkable in holding Stalingrad from the German invaders.


As a Commander, Chuikov was not afraid to “dirty his hands” and actively took part in defense as well as the offensive drive. This type of leadership is based on a foundation of humility. Interestingly enough, the root word for humility comes from humus, which means “earth” or “dirt.” One example of his leadership style comes from an anecdote shared in The Vancouver Daily Province newspaper in 1949. Journalist David Nichol described a time when Colonel-General Chuikov actively assisted Red Army sappers in building a wooden bridge to cross a river in Ukraine:


“The general is short and less stocky than most Russians. He speaks quietly but in quickly shifting moods. He has a ready laugh but can also be coldly correct and forbidding. Chuikov’s name appeared regularly in Soviet communiques for the exploits of the units he commanded, and his soldiers regarded him most highly.


Later in Ukraine, I heard another account from admiring Russian GIs. Chuikov once came up to a stream which Soviet engineers were bridging with trees when engaged in a forward drive. In his urgency to go ahead, Chuikov peeled off his jacket and pitched in himself with axe and hammer. When the bridge was complete, he broke out a vodka bottle as a reward. Then he swirled on toward the Nazi lines.”

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