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A Letter, a Book, and a Battle

Pictured: Handwritten letter from Lieutenant-General V. I. Chuikov to his wife; Cover art for a book commemorating the 62nd Army and the Battle for Stalingrad; title page for the book featuring authors A. D. Stupov and V. L. Kokunov. The text of Chuikov’s letter dated 16 July 1943 reads:

“Hello my dear Valechka! My greetings and kisses to you. Hugs and kisses to Nelichka and Rina. This letter will be sent using hand delivery by Comrade Stupov, who is going to Moscow to complete the book «62nd». Also sending some food stuff with him. I would really like to know how did you all get settled in Moscow—is there any hope of moving to an apartment and visiting the village. My health is fine, [and I am] in a cheerful mood.

The situation becomes even funny, since the German offensive on Kursk was smashed to smithereens and they can hardly repeat anything similar. Fritz will have a bad time this year. We already have no small success…”

As a researcher, when one can link a personal letter or conversation with another event, it is an exciting discovery and provides context and a form of triangulation for qualitative data collection and analysis. I recently found a photo of Marshal Chuikov’s letter dated 16 July 1943 online—the original was gifted to the Tula Regional Museum of Local Lore by his relatives. The contents of Vasily Ivanovich’s wartime letter written to his wife Valentina Petrovna give the reader an insight into the affection he had for his family; moreover, it gives references tied to other historical events.

According to Chuikov, the letter was personally carried from the front to Moscow by author Alexey Dmitrievich Stupov, the Deputy Head of the Political Department of the 62nd Army, who collected content for publishing a book written for Red Army officers and soldiers. It also provides references to Chuikov’s health, battle conditions, and location which may have been censored had the letter been processed via the typical channels for military mail. Titled 62nd Army in the Battles for Stalingrad, the 2nd edition of the book’s abstract stated the following acknowledgment for Vasily Ivanovich’s contribution, which he referenced in his personal letter:

“The authors did not aim to give complete and comprehensive coverage of the events of the Battle of Stalingrad. Their task was to use the example of the 62nd Army to show the growth of combat skill and the heroism of the valiant defenders of Stalingrad, whose experience of struggle serves and will continue to serve the cause of further improvement of the combat skills of soldiers and officers of the Soviet Army. […]

The authors express their deep gratitude to Army General V. I. Chuikov, Twice Hero of the Soviet Union, who gave very valuable instructions and comments in preparing materials during the Battle of Stalingrad and in preparing the first edition for printing.”

Vasily Ivanovich’s letter also referred to the Battle of Kursk, which was the largest tank battle in history. In July 1943, Germany launched Operation Citadel, a response to their humiliating defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad, around the Soviet city of Kursk in western Russia. During The Great Patriotic War, this was Germany's last chance to regain dominance on the Eastern Front, and it was also the last blitzkrieg offensive of the war. Although the Red Army defeated the Germans at Kursk, the victory came at a great cost to the Soviets.

While the Battle for Kursk raged on, Chuikov provided an overview of the 8th Guards Army’s duties in his book titled In Battles for Ukraine:

“On 7 July, at the height of the fighting on the Kursk-Oryol salient, I and the commander of the neighboring 1st Guards Army, Colonel-General V. I. Kuznetsov, were summoned to the front headquarters. We realized that the time had come for us to act.

Front Commander Rodion Yakovlevich Malinovsky explained the idea of ​​the Headquarters of the Supreme High Command: taking advantage of the battles near Kursk, by the fact that the main striking forces of the Nazi army were involved in these battles, launch an offensive against the Donbass by the forces of the Southwestern Front, having the task of either overturning the enemy, or, in extreme cases, to pin down his forces in the sector opposing the Southwestern Front.

The task for the 1st and 8th Guards Armies was formulated as follows: by bringing two armies into battle, cross the Severny (Seversky) Donets, break through the enemy defenses in the area of ​​the city of Izyum and, developing the offensive, in the general direction through Barvenkovo ​​to Krasnoarmeiskoye, together with the troops of the Southern front advancing from the Mius River to Stalino, defeat the Donbass grouping of the enemy and reach the Dnieper.”

Next, Chuikov described the activities of the 8th Guards Army at the battlefront from mid-July 1943, the time period during which his letter home was dated:

“The deadline for readiness for the offensive was set on 15 July. The preparation was allotted, therefore, eight days. To accomplish the assigned tasks, the 8th Guards Army at that time had three fully-equipped rifle corps: the 28th Guards, 29th Guards, and 33rd Rifle Corps. The 33rd Rifle Corps was already in position for the offensive, being at the forefront.

It was necessary to clarify the intelligence data about the enemy and to imagine the location of his artillery positions and firing points as fully as possible. Usually, these data are found out by reconnaissance in battle. But this would mean giving up the suddenness of the strike. Army Intelligence Chief Colonel M. Z. German found a creative solution to this problem. He proposed to create a single map of the enemy's defensive fortifications based on all, even the smallest, data about the enemy that had accumulated by that moment in army units. Contact with the enemy always tells something even to an ordinary fighter. […]

The map was revised twice or thrice, and at last everything was ready. I invited the commanders and chiefs of military branches, heads of departments of headquarters to a meeting, listened to their reports on readiness for the offensive, about the enemy, traveled with them to the areas selected for the offensive, studying the right bank and the front line of the German defense. […]

And just like that, an insignificant front-line episode crushed our aim at surprise. At the location of the 74th Guards Division, two soldiers went for a swim at night. They were lost and went not to the oxbow lake as they had planned, but to the bank of the Northern Donets. They climbed into the water and were captured by enemy reconnaissance. The situation was extremely tense. The enemy feared our advance.

Our two soldiers were a godsend for them. […] We managed to establish that our fighters, even under torture, did not name the hour of the beginning of our offensive. The warning to the enemy command, as we see, was received a few minutes before the start of artillery preparation. Still, it was a warning. The enemy got the orientation.

At dawn on 17 July, aviation and artillery preparation began in the sectors of the 1st Guards and 8th Guards Armies. Artillery preparation lasted 1 hour 30 minutes. We concentrated up to 19 guns per kilometer of front and 75-90 guns from concealed positions for direct fire. […] The sultry July dawn with its bright orange colors flared up over the steppe. Guards mortars fired blinding volleys. Over the river, over the reeds, over the bushes along its banks, a dense fog stretched and enveloped everything with an impenetrable smoke screen…”


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