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Chuikov and Khrushchev: An Uneasy Relationship

Pictured: Commander of the 62nd Army of the Stalingrad Front, Lieutenant-General V. I. Chuikov; Commander of the 64th Army, Lieutenant-General M. S. Shumilov (center); and member of the Military Council of the Southern Front, Lieutenant-General N. S. Khrushchev on the podium during a rally in the liberated Stalingrad, 4 February 1943.

In his book titled The Battle for Stalingrad, Marshal Chuikov recalled his time before taking command of the 62nd Army. He received formal higher education at the Frunze Military Academy, where he excelled at his studies to the point that he was invited to an additional year of study focusing on Chinese language and culture training. Years later, after he returned to Moscow from his second call of duty in China where he served as military advisor to Chiang Kai-Shek from late 1940 until early 1942, Chuikov was placed in command of a reserve army in the Tula Region. This reserve army, renamed the 64th Army, was called into action in July 1942.

Due to a severe car wreck in mid-1942 that injured Chuikov’s spine, causing him to be placed in traction for a week, he used a walking stick for at least one year afterward (19). However, the fact that he walked with a cane, dressed differently, and was refined due to his higher education and experience in China set him apart from others. Khrushchev wrote the following about his first impressions of Lieutenant-General Chuikov in his memoirs titled Memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev: Commissar, 1918-1945, Volume 1:

“Chuikov was elegantly dressed. His clothing was unusual, not what the other generals were wearing during the war. He was holding a riding crop. He gave the not especially favorable impression of a man who was putting on airs. […] In view of the terrible situation and also the fact that Chuikov had just arrived from China and outwardly appeared to have odd mannerisms, he created an unfavorable impression. We were obliged to raise the question of replacing him. Chuikov was relieved of his duties; he was transferred to an operational group, and Shumilov was appointed to replace him as head of the 64th Army” (400).

However, Khrushchev’s opinion of Chuikov improved as Vasily Ivanovich demonstrated his effective leadership when tasked with organizing remnants of retreating soldiers into units of defense. When Stalin asked Khrushchev his opinion of Chuikov being promoted to Commander of the 62nd Army to defend Stalingrad, he replied:

“Chuikov has shown himself to be a very good commander of a detachment that he himself organized. I think that in the future too, he will be a good organizer and a good commander of the 62nd Army” (402).

Marshal Chuikov was outspoken in his opinion about Khrushchev, as theirs was an uneasy relationship. His grandson Nikolai shared the following about their difficulties:

“[Nikita] Khrushchev was the enemy. My grandfather didn't like him very much either. This dislike began in the military [at] Stalingrad. On the Square of the Fallen Fighters on 4 February 1943, there was a rally in honor of the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad. Khrushchev, as a member of the Military Council of the Stalingrad Front, came to the rally and began to make a speech. But he never came to Stalingrad during the battle. And Chuikov said quite loudly: ‘We won, but no one saw you here.’ And it went into the microphone, and everyone heard and laughed. Khrushchev hated Chuikov forever.

Already when Khrushchev was the head of the country, my grandfather often disagreed with him, in particular, on the Caribbean Crisis [also known as the Cuban Missile Crisis] and on relations with China. But Khrushchev snapped: ‘Go command the ground forces, but don't get in here!’ He wanted to demote my grandfather from his position, but [Khrushchev] himself was close to losing power, his strength was weakening.

And then Kosygin, with whom Chuikov had good relations and complete mutual understanding, offered him the post of Head of the Civil Defense of the USSR. It was a state committee, analogous to a ministry, and it was subordinate to the Chairman of the Council of Ministers—that is, Kosygin. Chuikov, by the way, took an active part in the conspiracy against Khrushchev.”


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