top of page

Authenticity and the Achilles’ Heel

Pictured: Newsweek 11 April 1949 article titled “The Rudest Russian” and Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung German-language newspaper article labeled “Stalin’s Coarsest General” dated 27 May 1949, which mirrored information from the earlier Newsweek article. Both articles announce General Chuikov’s appointment as Marshal Sokolovsky's replacement as Chief of the Soviet Ground Forces in Germany and include a comparison of the two men’s temperaments.

Authenticity inspires loyalty in followers, and Marshal Chuikov was highly regarded, admired, and respected by his soldiers despite any shortcomings he may have possessed. The positive characteristics of effective leaders far outweigh the negative ones, but there are still some weaknesses that can cause problems. To be authentic, one must be aware of weaknesses and possess the emotional intelligence necessary to recognize triggers for negative behavior. Steve Milano described authentic leaders as being less than perfect, requiring acknowledgment of weak areas and continuously developing strengths and improving skills.

In the articles from Newsweek and from a German newspaper in 1949, Vasily Ivanovich’s temperament was highlighted and described in uncomplimentary terms. One anecdote in particular focused on his physicality—when angered, he “pounded tables until they jumped on the dirt floors of the dugouts” (30). Considering the rivalries during the Cold War were in place at that time of history, Chuikov was portrayed as malevolent by US and German news sources, which identified him as a “professional roughneck.” However, it is my assessment that these descriptions were crafted as short-sighted propaganda and demonstrated bias in journalism which served to perpetuate misinformation.

A more balanced approach (which I highly recommend reading) to Chuikov’s traits is provided in Stalingrad: How the Red Army Triumphed. Michael Jones addressed Marshal Chuikov’s temperament as his ‘Achilles’ heel,’ but spent time in his book expounding upon Vasily Ivanovich’s virtues and strengths to provide a more complete picture. Anatoly Mereshko, who served in the 62nd Army’s HQ in Stalingrad, worked closely with Chuikov and shared the following:

“In tough situations, Chuikov could be abrasive and harsh. Mereshko noted, ‘He could be rude to people, and this was not always justified, but in general it sprang from an unwillingness to accept cowardice, lies, or failure to take responsibility. He was rude to such people because he simply did not want them around—but if he saw you had fulfilled your order and had genuinely done your best, it was completely different.’”

Marshal Chuikov’s son Alexander Vasilievich also served as a source for Michael Jones, and provided the following:

“Every commander has a weak point—and Chuikov’s was his explosive temper. ‘I have his personal file as his military career developed,’ said his son Alexander, ‘and amidst the compliments [of being] well-educated, promising, devoted to the party of Lenin and Stalin, is one warning refrain—too explosive.’ […] If Chuikov had not possessed exceptional qualities this character defect would have seriously undermined his command.”

Through his natural charisma and his exemplary leadership abilities, Vasily Ivanovich was able to motivate and inspire his soldiers. For instance, famous Red Army sniper Vasily Zaitsev was credited with the maxim, “For us, there is no land beyond the Volga.” Zaitsev responded to Chuikov in this way when asked the rhetorical question of how the defenders of Stalingrad could face their families if they retreated from fighting. Jones included this pronouncement in his text, and continued:

“We understand more fully why this soldier’s simple declaration of faith held such resonance for his commander. Chuikov had given everything he had to his army. He created a tactical system of fighting to blunt the German advance and encouraged an atmosphere of equality and pride within the defenders. Above all, he had determined to trust the ordinary soldiers—and to try and restore their sense of hope and self-belief.” It was a truly Herculean effort…


bottom of page