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Authentic Leadership: Championing for the Team

Pictured (a still from archival footage): Soldiers of the 8th Guards Army hoisting Colonel-General Chuikov into the air celebrating the capitulation of Berlin, May 1945.

Red Star war correspondent Vasily Grossman was ever-present with the Red Army and recorded his interviews with soldiers and officers alike. He traveled with the advancing army during the Great Patriotic War all the way to Berlin in 1945. Grossman’s notes were later edited and compiled into a book titled A Writer at War. In an excerpt from the book, a conversation with then Colonel-General Chuikov took place outside of Lublin, Poland. The text of focus is provided below, and my commentary follows.

“In July 1944, Grossman, once again accompanied by [Oleg] Troyanovsky, rejoined General Chuikov and his Stalingrad Army, now renamed the 8th Guards Army. Troyanovsky described the approach to the city of Lublin in eastern Poland. 'The road to Lublin is literally crammed with troops. There is much air activity on both sides. Writer Vasily Grossman and I take turns to watch the sky. It had been raining. There is water in the ditches and in bomb and shell craters, yet one still often has to hide in them from the enemy's Messerschmitts.' Troyanovsky also recorded their meeting with General Chuikov. Grossman wasted no time in questioning the general, both of whose hands were bandaged [due to painful stress-induced excema].

'What about Lublin?' Grossman asked. 'Lublin will be liberated. It's a matter of a few hours. It's something else that I am concerned about.' We said nothing. 'Look, one could almost touch Berlin with one's hand now. And it's the dream of every Soviet warrior to take part in capturing Berlin. But I'm afraid that the [Stavka] leadership could change their minds and move my army to another axis. It's happened a few times before. Yet it's perfect logic and common sense. Just think: Stalingradtsy, advancing on Berlin!'

While Chuikov fretted over his army's right to glory in the advance Berlin, his soldiers were just about to discover the [concentration] camp of Majdanek on the other side of Lublin (280).”

The particular remark I take issue with is the description of Chuikov’s “fretting” over whether the 8th Guards Army would be allowed to storm Berlin in the final days of the war. After all, his troops were transferred to a different front in June 1944, only one month before the above-referenced conversation took place. The 8th Guards transfer from the 3rd Ukrainian Front to the 1st Belorussian Front is described in the first few pages of Chuikov’s book, The Fall of Berlin. From what I have learned and observed about Vasily Ivanovich’s personality, he was not self-seeking in his desire for the 8th Guards Army to take Berlin. Instead, he understood the gravity of the task ahead and wanted his soldiers, the defenders of Stalingrad, to have the honor of advancing into the city, the stronghold of the Nazi forces. In The Fall of Berlin, Chuikov shared his reaction to the news of his Army’s transfer to the 1st Belorussian Front.

“Then suddenly the official decision [was announced]: ‘The Army is being transferred to one of the main lines of advance.’ Was I glad? Yes. What military man is not glad when he is accorded honour and trust? He would be worth nothing otherwise. One must want to be where one can do the most for the common cause. But I had no time for rejoicing. There were many current jobs to be dealt with, first of all regrouping the troops on the Dniester bridge-head without losses and without giving anything away to the enemy” (11).

After living through the death and destruction of the German onslaught of Stalingrad and other battles since that point, Chuikov thought it was fitting for the 8th Guards to have this honor. As an authentic leader and their champion, he communicated this desire on behalf of his soldiers. Fortunately, Stalin was already thinking the same thing—and Chuikov's troops took Berlin’s Templehof Airport on 26 April 1945. A few days later, Chuikov personally accepted the surrender of the German forces in Berlin from General Weidling.


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