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A Character Assassination Attempt and a Rebuttal

Pictured: Colonel-General Chuikov’s 62nd (8th Guards) Army on the streets of Odessa in April 1944. A large group of Soviet soldiers, including two women in front, march down a street.

When researching an internationally known leader like Marshal Chuikov, there are times when information is discovered which seems to be completely out of character. I recently found such an instance and was compelled to address it in my blog. One can rightfully assert that my approach to the topic of Marshal Chuikov’s life and work is biased. However, I take time to compare the information with my research conducted over the past two years to bring clarity and address potentially apocryphal anecdotes as needed.

Recently, I discovered a description of a source of disparaging information about Marshal Chuikov in post-war Germany. Under an alias, a former 8th Guards logistics officer, Red Army deserter and defector Vladimir Fedorovich Petrovsky published a book with the help of one of his contacts after leaving East Germany. Historian Igor Petrov shared the following about this work:

“In February 1947, a very strange book was published in the American zone of occupation of Germany. The author called himself Sabik-Vogulov. The book was titled In Defeated Germany. […] The author in this book described in great detail the unsightly behavior of Soviet soldiers and officers in relation to the civilian German population at the end of the war and in the first post-war months. […] But the author also spoke about his own commander as follows: ‘A typical […] tyrant who proved himself to be a master of [the] massacre of people subordinate to him.’ He also told how this general allegedly shot a traffic controller, a Soviet servicewoman, who stopped his car for a check. The identity of the general, whose name and patronymic were given, was deciphered quite easily: it was Vasily Ivanovich Chuikov.”

Having spent time researching Marshal Chuikov through his own writings and the accounts of those who worked closely with him and knew him, the incident of shooting a Soviet female traffic controller who was serving the public appears to be slanderous. What was the logic in it? In other words, why would someone like Chuikov, who valued female soldiers and officers and wrote prolifically about their selfless contributions and who took measures to protect women during the worst of days, dispatch a Soviet woman who was simply doing her job in post-war Germany? To substantiate my viewpoint, I evaluated his writing about the women who served in the defense of Stalingrad to whom he gave his highest praise. In his book titled The Battle for Stalingrad, Vasily Ivanovich shared the following:

“Thinking back to the battle on the banks of the Volga, I must dwell for a moment on one important question which has, in my opinion, not been given enough attention in literature about the war, and is sometimes, without justification, ignored in attempts to draw conclusions from our experience in it. I am thinking about the part played in the war by women, who played a tremendous role not only at the rear, but at the front also. They bore all the burdens of military life on the same footing as men, and went right through to Berlin with the men” (239).

After spending several pages heralding the contributions of Soviet women in the effort to defend Stalingrad, he wrote about a situation when the Military Council made the decision to send female soldiers to the eastern bank of the Volga:

“In the second half of October the situation grew considerably worse, and the distance between the front line and the Volga grew so short that the Army Military Council had to ferry some units and establishments across to the left bank, so as to avoid unnecessary losses. First and foremost it was decided to send the women across to the left bank. Commanders and chiefs of staff were ordered to propose to women soldiers that they should temporarily go across to the left bank, so as to rest and return to us in a few days. The Military Council took this decision on 17 October.

On the morning of 18 October a deputation of women signallers came to see me. The deputation was led by Valya Tokareva, a native of Kamyshin. She put a point-blank question to me: ‘Comrade Commander, why are you sending us packing out of the city? We want to die or win alongside the rest of the Army. Why are you making a distinction between women soldiers and men? Do we really work any worse? As you like, but we’re not going across the Volga.’

As this conversation took place on 18 October, the day we transferred to our new command post, I told them that at our new command post we could not use all kinds of equipment; circumstances compelled us to use smaller signalling equipment, like portable radios, and this was our only reason for sending them across to the other bank, temporarily, until we had organized enough room for heavier types of equipment. The women’s deputation agreed to carry out the Military Council’s order, but asked me to give my word of honour that as soon as conditions were ready for them to resume work, we would bring them back across to the right bank. […] We kept our word. At the end of October, together with signalling equipment, we brought them back to the dug-outs we had prepared. They were extremely pleased. That was the kind of woman we had at the front” (252-3).

During the heat of battle, Commander Chuikov tried to protect the women serving in the 62nd (8th Guards) Army, to the best of his ability. He certainly respected women and their unflinching commitment to defending the Motherland, and recognized them for their effort and contributions. And this appreciation is stated in Chuikov’s other books as well. In the work titled Soviet Women in the Great Patriotic War, author V. S. Murmantseva quoted from Marshal Chuikov’s account titled Unparalleled Feat:

“In the battles for the city on the Volga, military signalmen also acted bravely. In the communications units of the 62nd Army, girls were mainly employed, ‘who knew how to faithfully carry out an order.’ Having sent female signalmen to intermediate points of communication, the commanders were sure that under any conditions communication will be provided. ‘[Even if] artillery and mortars are hitting this point, even if bombs are raining down on it from aircraft, even if enemies surround this point, the women will not leave without an order, even if they are in danger of death’ – this is how the Commander of the 62nd Army, V. I. Chuikov, characterized them. Confirmation of this [lies in] dozens of examples […] and, in particular, the feat of Elena Stempkovskaya, who died, but did not leave her combat post” (177-178).

Back to Petrovsky’s writing… I appreciate that historian Igor Petrov used the term “allegedly” when describing the purported incident with Chuikov. When accusing a highly respected and popular prominent leader of such reprehensible behavior, one has to wonder at the motivation behind it. Is it based on revenge? And it begs the question… Could Marshal Chuikov, the man who wrote so highly about women in the Red Army who helped to secure victory over Fascist Germany—the Commander who actively worked to protect women when he could—be the same person who would flippantly shoot a Soviet female traffic officer for halting his car for a check? My definitive answer is and will always be a resounding “Nyet!"


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