Page from the Stalingrad transcripts
Lieutenant General Vasily Chuikov (1900–1982) is probably the best-known defender of Stalingrad. He commanded the 62nd Army as it fought from September 1942 to February 1943 against the initially far superior German forces in the city center and the industrial district to the north. At the beginning of October the 62nd held a seven-mile-wide front along the Volga. By the next month the Germans had cut through three of the narrowest sections—just over two hundred yards deep—and advanced to the river. That these dramatic events are widely known owes in good part to Chuikov’s own efforts: on the fifteenth anniversary of the battle he published his first account of Stalingrad, which focused on the “legendary 62nd.” Despite this memoir and the others he would soon write in rapid succession, Chuikov’s interview with the Moscow historians provides a trove of new information and impressions.1
The interview took place on January 5, 1943, at the command post of the 62nd Army, near the Red October steelworks. (Chuikov was interviewed again in February or March 1943; parts of that interviews are also shown here.) More so than in later years, Chuikov speaks directly, colorfully, and forcefully. One detects in his mental leaps a nervous tension revealing how close the 62nd Army came to obliteration, and the severe measures Chuikov took to prevent it. He told the historians that on September 14, two days after being put in charge, he shot dead a regimental commander and commissar as their soldiers watched in line formation. The crime? The officers had abandoned their command post without permission. Soon after that, he shot two brigade commanders and their commissars for fleeing to the eastern bank of the Volga. These executions, Chuikov explained, had an immediate effect. In his memoir Chuikov spoke openly about enforcing Stalin’s “not one step back” order, but thirty years on he told a different story: the cowardly officers had received nothing more than “a sharp rebuke.”2
To begin, Chuikov talks about growing up poor in a large family and about his rapid rise in the wake of the 1917 revolution. Following the example of his older brothers, three of whom served in the revolutionary-minded Baltic Fleet, he felt instinctively drawn to the Bolsheviks, whose radicalism and relentlessness impressed him. In Petrograd he joined the armed workers militias of the Red Guards and enlisted in the Red Army immediately after it was formed in January 1918; one year later he became a member of the Bolshevik party. During the Civil War, Chuikov commanded his own regiment (he was only nineteen at the time) and took part in offensives against the White Army in the Urals and in Siberia. His superior and mentor was the divisional commander Vladimir Azin, whom Chuikov likened to the Civil War hero Vasily Chapayev: “A man of military culture, but also like Chapayev [ . . . ] someone who didn’t mind participating in an attack himself, kicking in the face of anyone who wasn’t fighting well, who would do what was needed for victory.” In Chuikov’s telling, the commander had a pronounced physical authority: he pulled rank by punching his inferiors in the face. Like his mentor, Chuikov had a short temper and was inclined to violence, as many of his fellow soldiers testified. But his mouthful of gold-capped teeth—which many western journalists noted on first meeting him—suggests that he had received punches in the face from his own superiors.3
After the end of the Civil War, Chuikov visited the Frunze Military Academy in Moscow. (His previous education had been limited to four years of primary school.) Stalin’s purges in the Red Army (Chuikov does not mention them in his testimony) did much to promote his ascent. By 1939 he had been named army commander. Chuikov’s biography bears the marks of a typical Soviet success story. Like many commanders in the Red Army, he grew up poor in tsarist Russia before acquiring education, respect, and authority in the Soviet system. Not surprisingly, Chuikov passes over the low points of his career, such as the ignominious end the 9th Army met under his command during the Winter War. As punishment he was transferred to China, where he served as a military attaché. In March 1942 he was recalled to serve as deputy commander of the 64th Army, a reserve unit stationed near Tula. In July 1942, the army pushed forward to the Don, where it first did battle against Germany’s 6th Army. On September 8 Chuikov was made commander of the 62nd Army.4
In providing an account of the battle in Stalingrad, Chuikov describes the emergence of the heroic spirit in the Red Army but also seeks to exemplify it. The general portrays himself as a pivotal hero of the battle and downplays the achievements of his rivals, particularly those of Alexander Rodimtsev, the commander of the 13th Guards Division, who even then was legendary. In Life and Fate, Vasily Grossman depicts the infighting among Red Army commanders, each bent on obtaining the greatest accolades. He mentions an incident at the February 4, 1943, victory rally where a “drunken Chuikov leapt on Rodimtsev and tried to strangle him—merely because Nikita Khrushchev had thrown his arms around Rodimtsev and kissed him without so much as a glance at Chuikov.”5 After this incident, the NKVD reprimanded Chuikov for his “unpleasant” behavior. An internal report from March 1943 recounts a conversation between Chuikov and his deputy for political affairs, Lieutenant General Gurov, in which they dubbed Rodimtsev a “newspaper general” who had good contacts in the press but nothing to show for himself on the battlefield. According to the NKVD informant who wrote the report, these intrigues were the reason why Rodimtsev was the only divisional commander in the 62nd Army who failed to receive a commendation for the defense of Stalingrad.6
Chuikov’s 64th Army—renamed the 8th Guards Army in April 1943—continued to fight as it moved west, reaching Berlin in 1945. Between 1949 and 1953, Chuikov served as commander in chief of the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany, and in 1955 he was promoted to Marshal of the Soviet Union, the highest rank in the Soviet military. Chuikov later received a special form of immortality in Volgograd. In 1967, a memorial site, crowned with a monumental Motherland Calls statue, was erected on top of Mamayev Kurgan and dedicated on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the battle of Stalingrad. On the central axis of the memorial stands a fifty-foot sculpture of a bare-chested soldier. Though the heroic torso is that of a young man, the facial features are those of Vasily Chuikov. As stipulated in his will, Chuikov’s body was buried at the feet of Motherland Calls.
of interview with Comrade Lieutenant General Vasily Ivanovich
Stalingrad, January 5, 1943
Interview conducted by scientific secretary A. A. Belkin8
There’s a village called Serebryanye Prudy in the Tula region.9 A peasant family, eight sons, four daughters. At that time, with these big families, you worked at home for your father until ten or twelve, and then you’d leave to work in the city.
Vasily Chuikov in Stalingrad
Ours was a good family. We were quiet, as they say. There was never anything bad going on. And I did much the same as everybody else. I graduated from the village school. Then they opened a higher primary school—our village was a trading center. I studied there for a year. That was in 1912. I was born in 1900. Then I went to St. Petersburg. I had brothers there already. They were all working. They all had the lowest kind of jobs: laborers, porters, janitors. That’s how I got started in Petersburg. At the Seribeyevskiye baths on Basseynaya Street. I was the errand boy at the front staircase. For wages I got five rubles a month and my meals. I lived like that for about two years. Always getting into mischief. I worked from 7:00 A.M. to 11:00 P.M.
And then, on the eve of a feast day—it was Easter, 1914—I got into trouble. We had a strict boss who happened to notice some trash on the front stairs. He came over, saw it, and fired me right then and there. I was on my knees begging him not to, there was absolutely nowhere else for me to go. I couldn’t go back home to the village because there was already fifteen or sixteen people in the family, and I’d just be another mouth to feed. What was I going to do? I got another job through a guy I knew. He was a cab driver with the same last name as me—Pyotr Chuikov. He got me set up at the Sanremo boarding house on Nevsky Prospect doing the same thing as before. I was the boy on front stairs, the hall boy, as they say. God knows what I was doing, but one time I was on my way up to a room with a samovar and some dishes when I tripped and broke everything on the tray. The maid started yelling at me, and I got mad and stomped my feet. Everything went flying, and I ran out of the room. What a scene. So it wasn’t more than three weeks before poor little me got sent packing again.
Then I got yet another job through people I knew. They sent me to a hotel, the so-called Moscow Yar on the corner of Svechny Lane and Yamskaya Street. You could find everything there, as they say, except for anything good. I witnessed all the vulgar debauchery that existed at that time. To tell you the truth, I got completely sick of working there, and I decided that I’d leave no matter what. But where could I go? I was still a boy, but physically I was grown up. Unless I’m mistaken, the war had already started by then. [ . . . ] I’m my father’s fifth son. All of my older brothers were drafted into the military. Three of the four were sailors in the Baltic Fleet. That was when Romania declared war on the Germans. The autumn of 1916.10
I can also remember that I came back from somewhere soaked through and shivering, and I got sick. I was ill for about two months, but I kept on working. Then blood started coming from my mouth and nose. I’d always been strong and healthy, I don’t know what was the matter with me then. My sister was working in Petersburg as a servant. I was just wasting away. I remember waking up at night with my mouth full of blood. I would cough and spit it up for a while, then it would happen again.
Twice I went to the doctor. I couldn’t work anymore. Later I found out that my sister had written my father, saying that his boy was dying. After that I got a tearful letter from my father: Come home, there’s nobody here now, all your brothers have left, you can help me out at home. As I recall, by early 1917—January—I’d left Petersburg on my last legs. I stayed sick almost all the rest of the winter. The February Revolution found me in Serebryanye Prudy.
By spring I had started to get better and could help with the work. I can’t remember exactly when I was completely recovered. I got tired of living in my father’s home, so I left to see my brothers in Kronstadt. I made it there. I understood a thing or two about the political situation. The summer of 1917 was a time of political demonstrations. The Left Socialist Revolutionaries11 held a lot of sway in our village. When my brothers came home, they would tell me everything that was going on. Of course we, the young people, couldn’t stand the Socialist Revolutionaries, and people nicknamed us “Bolsheviks.” Considering that the Bolsheviks got the blame for anything and everything, that was the role we played. We couldn’t be reasoned with. When we were all together, we were a pack of kids you didn’t want to mess with. One of my brothers now manages the Sergo Ordzhonikidze machine tool factory in Moscow.
When I got to Kronstadt, I entered a completely new environment. First of all, Kronstadt was a revolutionary city. They were getting ready for October.12 It wasn’t spoken of openly or loudly, but the work was under way. I didn’t want to leave, so I signed up in the same training unit as one of my brothers. I learned how to be a sailor—how to swear and eat gruel and wear wide-legged trousers. There were conversations and discussions, and from this I began to form some opinions. My brothers were not party members, but they all had Bolshevik sympathies. Three of them took part in the October Revolution. They wouldn’t take me. “Where do you think you’re going, kid?” they said. They were part of the group that stormed the Winter Palace, two of them13 actually fought the cadets who had set up in there. My other brother never left his ship.
We all know how that revolutionary uprising ended. Soon after you got the sense that the old military organization was beginning to come apart. People were leaving the front, leaving the fleet, and we—I think this was in early 1918—all of us ended up in Serebryanye Prudy. We came to the home of our father, whose household now consisted of eighteen people because his older sons had gotten married. The family lived with my father, and then we show up, the scamps, and what’s there for us to do? Especially since it’s winter.
When I got to my village all the young people came to me. We all did a lot of thinking, but not for long. Around that time they issued the decree on the formation of the Red Army.14 We all got together. What are we going to do now? Join the army! From our village it was me, Vasily Kuzmich Rykin, Alexei Gubarev, and Yegor Minkin. We went to Moscow. We didn’t know where to go. We went up to the first person we saw in an army overcoat and asked him where the nearest military unit was. He turned out to be a good guy.
“What do you want?” he said.
“We want to join the Red Army,” we said.
“Do you have documents?”
We went back to our village council15 to get the right documents showing that we were politically trustworthy. The man recommended that we go to Lefortovo.16
He said: “They’re putting together some sort of courses there. They might take you.”
The commissar in charge of the courses was Segal, if I’m not mistaken. We went there with all our belongings. If we couldn’t get work, we might as well study. He talked to us and signed us up right then. They immediately started getting us in line, took us out on walks every Sunday through Moscow to show off the armed forces of the proletariat. We looked pretty good.
Then the Left Social Revolutionaries led an uprising,17 and we were put in to suppress it. The uprising was crushed. For me it was a baptism of fire. After a while, at the end of July, early August, we graduated. So we had about four months’ training. Those were the Red Army’s first military instructor courses at the former Alexeyevskaya Academy18 in Moscow. They sent us to the front. [ . . . ]
[A long story about Chuikov fighting in the Civil War follows.]
I was admitted to the party in 1919 on the shores of the Vyatka.19 It was very simple:
“Why should we take you?”
“Why wouldn’t you?” And that was that.
Then I was sent on a long trip to China. After that I worked in the Special Far Eastern Army until 1933. Then I worked for a time in Moscow as the head of the Red Army’s Officer Training School, until 1935, and after that I studied for another seven months at the Stalin Academy of Motorization and Mechanization. In 1936 I joined the command staff of a mechanized brigade in Bobruysk. In 1938 I was made commander of a rifle corps, then the commander of the Bobruysk Army Group, which then became the 4th Army during the move into Poland. As soon as that campaign was over, they sent me to the Finnish Front. I was leading the 9th Army toward Ukhtinsky. Then that campaign was over. And right when we got back west to the 4th Army, they sent me again to China to be Chiang Kai-shek’s chief adviser. I know some English, enough to hold a conversation, and then I started learning a bit of Chinese.
The war found me still in China, and in March 1942 I came home. I was appointed commander of the 1st Reserve Army in Tula. I came here with that army on July 17. [ . . . ]
My first fight with the 64th Army was not a success. I’m not sure why. We got in on the 17th [of July], and on the 19th we got the order to move in and take up defensive positions, even though 10 percent of our forces hadn’t arrived, and by the start of the battle we had 60 percent of our forces at most. The divisions had come two hundred kilometers from the station where they’d disembarked, and then they were going almost straight into combat. The leadership had some strange ideas, and we suffered for it. That’s what happened with Gordov.20 The 64th Army avoided the catastrophe that happened to the 62nd Army on the other shore. I got us out. People called it a chaotic retreat, but I got the army out from under enemy fire. The ones who didn’t do this paid dearly, such as the 51st Army and many divisions. But I kept the 64th Army strong. We took casualties, but you can’t get anything done without some casualties. I didn’t want to leave the front. Whatever happens, happens. Then a group that was made up of the 64th Army and the remnants of the 51st Army was sent to Kotelnikovo.21 We fought there. They really hit us hard. Front command misjudged the direction of the attack, even though comrade Stalin had told Gordov and everyone else that Tsimlyanskaya22 was the enemy’s main objective.
An enormous German motorized group came out of there and moved from Tsimlyanskaya toward Stalingrad. No one took the appropriate actions. Then they started getting something together to throw at them. They sent me in with my group. At first we were four divisions, then seven. We held the enemy back and made it possible for our troops to move laterally. We foiled the enemy’s plan to hit Stalingrad via Kotelnikovo. We slowed them down, took out a large number of tanks and tens of thousands of infantry, especially Romanians, thereby forcing their retreat. We accomplished this primarily with fast troop movements and tough defensive actions. We managed to create a front—otherwise there would have been nothing, just an open gate. [ . . . ]
On September 11, I was summoned to see Yeryomenko and Khrushchev at front headquarters, where I was told that I was to take command of 62nd Army. My mission: defend Stalingrad. They told me to find out what units were there, since they themselves didn’t know exactly.
The Germans were coming in from two directions. The first group was coming at the 62nd Army from the west via Kalach, just north of Spartakovka and Rynok; the second strike force was coming out of the southwest from Tsimlyanskaya and Kotelnikovo. These pincers were coming together on the 62nd Army in Stalingrad, because the 64th Army had withdrawn to Beketovka. The Germans didn’t go there. I personally think their strategy was to try and take Stalingrad as quickly as possible, which would demoralize our army so much that we wouldn’t know what to do. Stalingrad was important to them as a departure point for the north. Their pincers came together in the area of Karpovka-Nariman, and everything was focused on Stalingrad, where we had only the 62nd Army. The rest of our forces were outside the pincers. [ . . . ]
After Nikita Sergeyevich23 told me to go to Stalingrad, he asked me: “What are your thoughts?” Yeryomenko also wanted to know. He’s known me a long time. Well, what could I say? I said: “I understand my orders just fine, and I’ll carry them out. I’ll do what I can. I’ll either keep them out of Stalingrad or die trying.” There were no more questions after that. They offered me tea, but I declined, got in my car, and drove to Stalingrad.
Our command post was located on Hill 102,24 and the enemy was three kilometers away. We had communications, telephone and radio. But they were breaking through all over the place, everywhere you looked. The divisions were so tired out and drained from the previous fighting that they couldn’t be relied on. I knew I’d be getting reinforcements in three or four days, but I spent those days on pins and needles trying to scrape together enough men to produce something like a regiment to plug the gaps. The front ran from Kuporosnoye and Orlovka to Rynok.25 The Germans’ main thrust was directed at Gumrak26 and the train station in the center of town, and the second strike was coming on the south side, against Olshanka27 and the grain elevator.
A division. How many men? Two hundred, from various units. A brigade. How many men? They’re saying three hundred. Some divisions were down to only thirty-five men. We had some artillery, not divisional artillery but an antitank regiment.
Those four days were torture, in the fullest sense of the word. The 6th Guards Brigade was completely eliminated on the 13th. Only one tank remained in working order, a T-34. The 113rd Brigade held on to about twenty tanks. They were in the south, and the 6th Guards Brigade had been on the right flank. Colonel Krichman28 was their commander. They were a fine brigade, but they were on that right flank. There were some other brigades, but they didn’t have any tanks, and the Germans were advancing.
General Vasily Chuikov (second from left) at his command post. To his left is his chief of staff, Nikolai Krylov; to his right is General Alexander Rodimtsev. Next to him sits divisional commissar Kuzma Gurov. Photographer: Viktor Temin Chuikov’s bandaged finger was, according to his son Alexander, not the result of a combat wound but of a nerve-related skin disorder that plagued him chronically in Stalingrad.29
When I got to army headquarters I was in a vile mood. I only saw three people: comrade Gurov,30 chief of staff Krylov,31 and chief of artillery Pozharsky.32 Three of my deputies had fled to the east bank. But the main thing was that we had no dependable combat units, and we needed to hold out for three or four days. The divisions had their respective headquarters on the Volga, and we were still forward on this hill. We were in this tunnel alongside the Tsaritsa River, while all the command posts were farther back. This turned out to be the right decision. And then there’s one thing that went well, if we can use such a word. We immediately began to take the harshest possible actions against cowardice. On the 14th I shot the commander and commissar of one regiment, and a short while later I shot two brigade commanders and their commissars.33 This caught everyone off guard. We made sure news of this got to the men, especially the officers. If you go down to the Volga, they said, then you’ll find army HQ right ahead of you. And so they went back to their places. If I’d gone across the Volga myself, they’d have shot me when I got ashore, and they’d have been right. The needs of the day determine what needs to be done.
We knew that we could hold out because we knew the enemy had weaknesses of his own. We had detached divisions of thirty-five men, or a group of two hundred, while the Germans rolled right into the city with tanks and other vehicles. On the 14th, when they came into the city, they were getting ready to celebrate. But these detached divisions put them in their place and pushed them back from the riverbank. They’d broken through to the crossing. What could we do? We were completely cut off, there was nowhere to run. We gathered our staff officers, and I got four tanks, and we threw everything we had at them. Rodimtsev’s division arrived.34 We had to at least clear out the landing area. We threw everything at them. The enemy got pushed back to the train station. Everyone stayed in line to the last man. We made it so two of Rodimtsev’s regiments could make the crossing safely. They entered the battle from the moment they disembarked at the landing. They didn’t know where they were or what was happening; they didn’t know whether it was night or day. But we had a sense that the enemy was being reckless, that they were coming at us without taking any precautions whatsoever. Our divisions were small, but we kept at it, we kept cutting them down. We still had plenty of ammunition. All the ammo dumps were here.
During those three days we took out a huge number of enemy tanks. We lost a lot. They got all our guns and crews, but there was nothing we could have done. Everyone knew we had no right to pull back. And the fear of tanks goes away once you’ve learned how to treat them, and after a while you no longer give a damn about them. Of course there were cowards, men who ran away. But our communications were functioning, we had our liaison officers making sure that every divisional and regimental commander knew that anyone who went back to the riverbank, anyone who came close, was to be shot. The men knew that they had to fight to the last for Stalingrad, and they knew reinforcements were on their way.
The political work was conducted haphazardly, but it was appropriate to the circumstances. During such dangerous times a soldier doesn’t need lectures or clever slogans. He needs to know that high command is with him, that his commander is with him. He needs to say that we must kill the Germans and that we will not cross the Volga. Among our commanders and commissars there were both brave men and cowards.
We’d been fighting for three days when Rodimtsev’s division arrived, and they’d been fighting for six days in extremely difficult conditions. Sure, they didn’t make any gains, but they held that line on the riverbank. The enemy got nowhere in this fighting and started to bypass us, moving toward Mamayev Kurgan. Then we were able to catch our breath. [ . . . ] At that time the men and officers started realizing that the Germans weren’t managing to capture a damn thing, that we could fight and kill them. The men started running with the idea. Soldiers came up with their own slogans. They were starting to feel joy again.
They dropped probably around a million bombs on us, not counting artillery and mortar shells. Our communications were established and worked without interruption. Colonel Yurin was our chief of communications. Even during that brutal bombardment, when everything was exploding, flying, burning, I spoke with every commander on the telephone twice a day, or a dozen times with some of them if they were taking part in an important attack. Our command post had moved to the Barricades factory to the fuel tanks. At that time we were two kilometers from the front lines. We’d sit down to eat, and the enemy would pour down bombs, try to bomb us out. Our soup came to the table with shell fragments in it. Lebedev, a member of the Military Council, told me about a time a shell landed when he was in the latrine. Yes, you’d go into the latrine—and find corpses there.
Supplies reached us only over the Volga and only at night. Our men would go two or three days without eating. There was no way to get anything to them, no time to even think how you might do it. Here’s how the wounded got out: if you get wounded, you stay put until night. You’re bleeding, but you can’t do anything about it because you won’t make it if you crawl out of your trench, so you stay there, and tonight someone will find a way to get you out. You couldn’t go five minutes without fifteen or twenty airplanes flying overhead. They never stopped bombing, never stopped shelling. Everything kept close to the ground. Their tanks crept forward, with submachine gunners right behind. Their dive-bombers came within forty or fifty meters of the ground. The enemy had a map of Stalingrad and good air-to-ground communication. Their liaisons were excellent. But our soldiers knew that the closer they were to the enemy, the better. They stopped being afraid of tanks. The infantrymen would get in a trench, ravine, or building, and start shooting the enemy infantry who were advancing behind the tanks. The tanks would move through, and we’d leave them to our artillery, which was two to three hundred meters back from the front lines and would fire when they came within twenty to fifty meters. And we didn’t let their infantry through. The Germans would think that this area was already cleared, that it was dead ground. But that dead ground came back to life. And we had our Katyushas and our artillery.
The enemy threw one tank division and three rifle divisions against a single two-kilometer section of the front, and there was enough artillery preparation to make your hair stand on end. Their tanks advanced, and more than half stayed with us, disabled. There was no attack like that the next day. They were beaten, and they had some ten to fifteen thousand wounded. We sent back around 3,500 wounded, but who knows how many more stayed behind—not only on the front as a whole but just on that on that two-kilometer meat grinder.
The crossing was under constant fire. The riverbank was ironed flat. It was being shelled the whole time. Comrade Stalin sent Yeryomenko to me to find out how we were holding up. It took him two and a half days to cross over to our bank. His adjutant was wounded in the shoulder, and two cutters were sunk. They crossed at night because of all the planes. Only the cutters were going. The steamers worked at night and hid themselves before dawn, so there wasn’t so much as a rowboat on the Volga. They went to Tumak35 and Verkhnyaya Akhtuba,36 but they still got hit there. As for our barges—who knows how many of them got sunk?
We didn’t have any marine brigades, but we had sailors from the Far East who had come in as reinforcements.37 They were good men but poorly trained. Their morale was good. You’d give one of them a submachine gun and he’d say: “First time I’ve seen one of these.” After a day he’d know how to use it. There was no shortage of cartridges, they just had to learn what to do with them.
As for the nationalities—there were Russians, many of them from Siberia. Seventy percent were Russian, 10 percent Ukrainian, and the rest were other nationalities. The Russians are the best fighters.
The worst time during the defense of Stalingrad was after Hitler’s speech, when Ribbentrop and others announced that Stalingrad was going to be taken on October 14. They took five days to prepare for this. We could feel this. We knew they were bringing in fresh tank divisions, massing new divisions on this two-kilometer section, and in advance of this they were shelling and bombing us more than ever, we could hardly breathe. We stayed in our ravine. They bombed and shelled away, started fires. They knew our army’s command post was there. And so were eight fuel tanks. Every one of them was leaking. Fuel flowed down into the dugout of our chief of artillery. Everything caught fire, and it was burning for a whole kilometer along the bank of the Volga. The fire lasted three days on end. We were afraid of being suffocated or being so poisoned by fumes that the enemy would be able to take us alive. We moved to another command post closer to where the enemy would be attacking. And we stayed there. We knew that every extra meter of telephone wires increased the risk of our communications being broken. The most criminal, most dangerous thing for a commander, especially a senior commander, is when you lose control and communications. Most of all, we were afraid of losing control of our troops. I may not be able to send one of my commanders any reinforcements, but it’s enough for me to grab the phone and say the right thing, that’s all he needs.
I’ve endured plenty of bombardments and artillery preparations during my life, but I’ll always remember the 14th of that month. You couldn’t hear individual shells going off. No one was counting the planes. You could leave your bunker and not be able to see five meters ahead of you because of all the smoke and dust everywhere. On the 14th our army headquarters lost sixty-one people, but we still had to stay there. When the enemy launched his attack at eleven o’clock on the 14th, I already knew that we didn’t have enough men, and that our only hope was that the men still left would be able to do their job. Just the day before I managed to bring up a single tank brigade, get them well camouflaged and position guards all around them. That night the enemy didn’t bomb them. They didn’t know we were waiting to ambush them. Our tanks knocked out three columns of enemy tanks. Then our tanks were destroyed, but the fact remains that we put a stop to their attack. There wasn’t anything tougher than that day, though we had something similar on November 11.
The attack was on the 14th, and by the 15th they weren’t going to be able to make another one like it. We mobilized our entire army headquarters, our last outpost was on the front lines. We held out for three days until the 138th Division arrived.
People think that urban warfare is a matter of walking down a street and shooting. That’s nonsense. The streets are empty, and the fighting is going on in the buildings, in structures and courtyards where you’ve got to pluck the enemy out with bayonets and grenades. For those fights our men love the Fenya, which is what they call our hand grenade. In urban combat you use hand grenades, submachine guns, bayonets, knifes, entrenching tools. You come face to face with the enemy and slash at them. The Germans couldn’t hold out. They’d be on one floor, our men on another. And then there were their tanks. They brought everything they could, but we had the Volga. (Now at last we can walk along the Volga, and it’s such a pleasure.)
There were no pauses in combat operations, none at all. On September 13–14 our armies came together and wrestled. We hammered each other. We knew perfectly well that Hitler was not going to stop and that he would keep throwing more and more men at us. But he could sense that this was a fight to the death, and that Stalingrad would keep fighting till the bitter end. Stalingrad was constantly under attack, and this lasted until November 20. When we began to sense they were slacking off, we immediately threw in our forces and launched counterattacks. We didn’t leave them alone on Mamayev Kurgan. We attacked them dozens of times. The 37th Division went on the attack around the Tractor factory. There were deadly skirmishes all the time. Up until then we were actively on the defense. Attacking wasn’t part of our mission. But our defense was an active defense. We weren’t just there to withstand attacks, but to use every minute so we could attack later. Some days the fighting was fiercer, some days it was quieter, but it never stopped. Attacks were always underway. What happened on some days was beyond all imagining.
We were waiting for the enemy’s attack before the November holidays. Intel had it that Hitler would be launching a new attack on Stalingrad on November 3. We readied our ammunition and our men. There was no lull in the fighting, but we were still expecting things to heat up. The intel was right. The attack came at the Barricades factory. The enemy was aiming for the north landing, hoping to cut our army in two. But then we were amazed when there wasn’t more of an attack on the 3rd, 4th, 7th, and 10th. The fighting continued, but you didn’t feel much pressure. Front headquarters was worried. The Germans had a huge concentration of equipment, of weaponry of all kinds. They had two divisions in reserve. We knew all this. Had they discovered we were transferring troops to the right flank? Every day Yeryomenko asked me: “What’s going on over there? Have you run away from your sector?” On the 11th the enemy put in the last two divisions that had been in the reserve. We’d basically dragged them in with all our activity. Not to the 64th Army’s sector, not against the Don Front, but against us in particular. We had no aerial reconnaissance, but we had some information from agents. [ . . . ] We got information from prisoners, from the dead, from documents—from things there’s no arguing with.
And then after the 20th that enemy air activity came to a sudden halt, like they’d just been cut off, and they also put a stop to every kind of attack. This was not a time to rest. There was fighting going on somewhere, and this bothered us: “What are we going to do, sit here?” We hadn’t been given reinforcements, they’d all gone to another section of the front.
This active defense—there were two stages—started on September 12–13 and finished on November 20, 1942. Then we felt that we should attack. We gradually began to capture ground we had lost. They launched massive attacks. They had a hell of a lot of firepower. None of our artillery was in a position to suppress it. With this modern automatic fire, you can crush infantry with only a small amount of manpower. Tanks couldn’t move in the city because of all the mines and metal barricades everywhere. After October 14 the enemy tanks hadn’t been able to operate because the terrain was too broken up. I wanted to get seven tanks over to the Red October factory. The men struggled and struggled but we couldn’t get them through. Craters everywhere. The tanks would fall in and not be able to back out. Everywhere was under fire. Some buildings were burned to the ground, but tanks still couldn’t get through.
We had small assault groups that started operations on November 23. Their targets were buildings, basements, factory workshops. These were small but well planned and organized groups with hand grenades. They used all kinds of weapons that I won’t go into here. In particular, flamethrowers—as a defensive weapon—and high-explosive shells. We would drag them out onto the streets, set them up and detonate them. There would be a blast radius of a hundred meters, and then our infantry would move in. The Germans couldn’t withstand them. Balls of thermite. The long-range artillery mostly shot at enemy firing points, and here we had mortars, antitank guns, and our hand grenades. We used them the most, and they’re what worked the best.
The aim of the third stage was to make sure that the enemy forces located here would stay here and not be transferred to other sections of the front. We dragged them into the fight. It was high command’s idea that they should be prevented from leaving. We achieved this. Some of their tanks got away, but the divisions we’d been fighting are all still in place, even though they’ve been shot to pieces. [ . . . ] We’re smashing them. Their morale must be pretty low. We’ve been up against German divisions for the most part. The commander of these two armies is Paulus, a colonel general.
So: the very first stage of this battle took place beyond the Don. It was two armies fighting there for the most part, the 62nd and the 64th, against the enemy’s main attacking forces. We wore them down a lot during that attack. They were already severely weakened by the time they reached Stalingrad. But there they launched aircraft form Crimea and all new forces. The main two strike forces came together near Stalingrad and were directed against the 62nd Army. The 64th Army was resting, doing nothing.
At the second stage, the stakes were total annihilation: either they’d destroy us or we’d destroy them. There was no other way. Every soldier understood that there would be no mercy, that Hitler was not going to stop. I think the enemy’s losses were around three to four times higher than ours, for both tanks and infantry, not including airplanes. That was not a pretty sight. Our Stalin’s Falcons38 would only get as far as the Volga before dropping their payload. They’d fly in and drop their bombs. Sometimes they’d hit us and sometimes they’d hit Germans. And then they’d return. But sometimes we’d see several German planes attack one of ours—and that was just awful, we knew that was the end of our boys. Our air forces did good work at night. I don’t know who thought up that U-2,39 but that’s one valuable invention. We called that plane the KA: king of the air. It wasn’t afraid of anything. And the Germans had such respect for it. They called it death from above. You can take them down with armor-piercing bullets, but it’s not so easy to hit them at all.
The third stage, which is where we are now, is to prevent the enemy from leaving, to pin them down with our artillery. On November 22 we knew that the enemy had fallen into the ring. They couldn’t get out all the equipment they still had. While they were still wondering what to do, our pincers closed tight. We had sensed that our high command was preparing a major attack, but we didn’t know where exactly. We had sensed this from the very beginning of November. We were being given less and less help. We’d been used to talking to people from front HQ every day, but now they’d all vanished. Khrushchev wasn’t here, and Yeryomenko came only once. [ . . . ]
To be honest, most of the divisional commanders didn’t really want to die in Stalingrad. The second something went wrong, they’d start saying: “Permit me to cross the Volga.” I would yell “I’m still here” and send a telegram: “One step back and I’ll shoot you!” The commander of the 112th Division got such a telegram, so did Gorokhov, Andrusenko,40 Guryev.41 But Rodimtsev, though he barely made it to my command post, just said: “We’ll go down fighting.” All the divisional commanders held on to their divisions except for Yermolkin with the 112th,42 Andrusenko, and Tarasov.43 Rodimtsev behaved excellently in this regard, as did Gorishny44 and Guryev. Lyudnikov45 fought best of all. He got sick before one attack, but at the height of the worst attack on the 11th he went back into battle even though he was sick. He didn’t take one step back. Batyuk and Sokolov46 behaved wonderfully, and Zheludev47 did well. You pick up the phone, yell at him, and say: “What’s going on?” Then he calls for the divisional commissar and gives him an earful. But I very rarely had to talk like that with Rodimtsev, Batyuk, and Guryev.
I couldn’t afford not to be harsh with every one of my divisional commanders, I had to be methodical, constantly keeping tabs on them. The absolute worst thing we’ve had to put up with is when the staffs are lying, and the divisional commander doesn’t check up on them, and they give me false reports. There was plenty of stubbornness among the divisional commanders, except for those I mentioned. Sometimes I had to take action to deal with this.
During the most dangerous time, I told Yeryomenko that everything I had was coming apart and that I was losing control. Have the Military Council stay here on the west bank, but let me move my control base across the river. Communication along the shore was breaking up, our radio wasn’t working, and it was up to me to reestablish communication between the east bank and west bank, where it would connect with the front lines. I thought it necessary to move our army headquarters there, so I could lead better, and to leave the Military Council here. Then I talked to Krylov and Pozharsky: “You’re going over there, and we’re staying here.” I spoke to them one at a time. They both replied: “I’m not going one step away from you.” Rodimtsev might have said the same, Lyudnikov too, and perhaps Guryev or Batyuk. I wouldn’t vouch for some of the others. If I’d said, “All right. Go across to the island,” then they’d have said: “Thank God, he’s letting us go.” Some of them are younger than me, some are my age, and some are older. I didn’t know them before they were sent to me here. But here you don’t need a long history—relationships and bonds are forged in an instant. Every soldier who comes here understands in an instant what his tasks are, he instantly masters the job he is meant to perform. The problem is that many of them don’t last long. [ . . . ]
Divisional commander Nikolai Batyuk (center) and General Chuikov (left) in Stalingrad, January 1, 1943. Photographer: Georgy Zelma
I don’t know the 35th [Guards] Division48 at all. They weren’t defending Stalingrad directly. Guards divisions aren’t really all that different. I’m not about to say they fight any better than non-Guards units. They and the others have strengths when it comes to persistence, responsibility, their willingness to die and to defend until the last drop of blood. They also have their faults. Even in the 13th Guards there were deserters, and Rodimtsev had the most people who “voted with their feet.” But at the same time, take the 84th, 138th, and 95th Divisions—none of them were Guards. Would the Guards have done any better in their place? It’s hard to say. Maybe better, maybe worse.
We have many failings. First of all there’s lying, which is the most detrimental thing for us. Lying and the bad leadership that comes from our commanders’ not knowing what’s what. They don’t know something, but they pretend they do. That’s good for absolutely nothing. Better to say nothing at all. They’re not man enough to say they don’t know. This one time I was speaking with Guryev. I respect him as a leader, but sometimes he doesn’t think before he opens his mouth. We were about to launch an attack. I’d already checked everything to do with the artillery, who was in charge, how the observation and liaison was organized. I called him: “Comrade Guryev, how are things there?” He said: “Everything’s fine, all’s well,” and so on.49 I said: “You’re lying, that’s not right.” And I started to lay it out to him.
“That’s not possible.”
“What do you mean ‘not possible’? Get on the phone right now, check it out, and report back to me in half an hour.”
Half an hour later he called back: “You were right.”
But it’s difficult to speak to someone that way if you don’t have any hard facts. Usually people just tell you that they’ve completed this task and that task. Does that mean I should write my report right now? Just wait a minute. I’m sending my own liaisons. They’ll go check on things themselves. I’ll go to the divisional HQ myself, talk with them, see how the liaison officers are doing, and if they’re not up to the task I get rid of them.
My own mistakes? I ought to have pulled back certain units, chosen a more defensible line. But I couldn’t do that because I wasn’t sure whether they’d stop at that line. That’s one. The second relates to how we use our tanks. This wasn’t clear then, and it still isn’t clear now. There’s no point in digging the tanks in and keeping them there simply as guns. You can affect a better ambush with field guns. They’re smaller, easy to move, and easier to keep supplied. Tanks ought to be used as mobile groups. Light tanks haven’t proven their worth. KVs50 and T-34s should stay. Their guns and armor make the KV strong, as does their power and off-road capabilities. Aircraft now being what they are, it’s impossible to camouflage tanks intended for an important offensive in such a way that the enemy can’t find them. But I can’t agree with turning tanks into a passive means of defense. A tank will always be a tank, an offensive weapon. Better to replace it in a defensive role with our 45mm cannon. I can drag one of them into a building or an attic, but you can’t disassemble a tank, can’t drag it out and put it somewhere. We had our tanks set up in the ground, but they ought to have been pulled out and made into some kind of strike force. After we remembered this, we created a few mobile reserves, and they’ve played their part. [ . . . ]
We have enough artillery. The guy inside a tank, he’s behind armor, but when the bombs are coming he can feel it all that much more, and on top of that he can’t see a thing. What’s that for a vision slit? We can’t even make him a decent vision slit. The German tanks are better in terms of visibility. Our tanks are better that the Germans’ when it comes to speed and maneuverability, but they’re blind.
Just understand this one thing: all of this has made an impression on our psyches, but you can’t go and make generalizations based on our actions. At the same time, we wonder: Could we have done something better? I honestly don’t think so. What did we overlook? Here I’ve got to admit that it was the factories. This is despite the fact that we had an order and the forces—we positioned special sapper units there to fortify them, though this work wasn’t coordinated—and we also weren’t seeing the same resilience and persistence that the Germans are showing us now. We missed it, even though we could have turned the factories into strong centers of resistance in the city. What kept the units inside the factories from doing this? No doubt it was the enemy aircraft. They were able to build well enough when the factories weren’t being bombed. But when they started bombing, the machines and roofs went flying. Reinforced concrete doesn’t hold up. They left the factories. Ready-made graves. Bad enough if they’d been dropping small bombs—but, as it was, we had one-ton and five-ton bombs flying around, along with armor plating and steel rails—no one can cope with that. It was mostly Messerschmitt51 fighters dropping these bombs.
How was this typical of the fighting in Stalingrad? When an officer or soldier comes to Stalingrad and crosses to this side, he’s already hardened, he knows his mission, what he’s fighting for, why he came here, and what he’s got to do. During the entire time we’ve been fighting for Stalingrad I don’t think there’s been a case of our units retreating or running away when they ought to have been fighting somewhere. You couldn’t find such a company. You stay wherever dawn finds you because you can’t move at all during the day. You’d be shot to pieces, so you stay there until dark. We fought to the last. We didn’t know retreat. Hitler didn’t allow for this, and that was a mistake.
People were different ages, but the bulk of them were thirty to thirty-five. There were young people, especially the sailors who came from the Far East, but there were also a lot of old ones. We screened them, but you can’t do anything much on the move. For some reason every soldier understood that he couldn’t leave Stalingrad. They knew that the whole country was talking about it, that Stalingrad could not surrender, that Stalingrad was defending the honor of the Soviet Union.
There were a lot of girls: communications workers, paramedics, medical assistants, doctors. They did exceptionally good work, even if you compare a woman with our soldiers. They can’t do what a man can do physically, but they outdo men in terms of courage. And in their fortitude, heroism, honesty, and loyalty, not only do they not fall behind, but in many cases they outdo the men. It’s true that during heated and difficult combat situations I sent all my female staff workers to the east bank and had them replaced with men, but this was only because of their physical weakness, it had nothing to do with their moral qualities. Whenever you’d go along the riverbank you’d see the work of our medical units. All of our crossings were centralized. The divisions themselves didn’t transport anything. There was a mobile unit, a field hospital with surgical facilities. During the fighting we had a working surgical laboratory. One doctor has done two hundred complex operations. And take a look at these so-called nurses. Incredible! They’re buried in dust, but they just keep plugging away. I could tell you so many examples of how well these women worked. Looking at percentages, women receive more orders and medals when compared with the men, especially the medical workers. I can’t think of a single woman who’s been to Stalingrad and hasn’t been decorated, and if there is one, she won’t stay that way for long.
The peculiarities of the fighting in Stalingrad, in terms of city defense and attacking whole cities, can all be applied to all combat situations. Any populated area can be turned into a fortress and can grind down the enemy ten times better than a garrison.
Ambition is still there, but it’s not talked about much.
We don’t have heroes who aren’t afraid of anything. No one sees or knows what Chuikov does when he’s by himself, when there’s no witnesses, nobody to see him, to see what’s going on in his head. The idea that a commander would go to his subordinates and bare his poor little soul—you could find them, but they’re the rejects and failures. We’re in a bunker, and shell fragments are flying at us. But what, you just sit there, and that doesn’t get to you? I don’t believe it. The survival instinct is still there, but a man’s pride—an officer’s especially—is of vital importance in combat. Lev Tolstoy was right about that.
Here’s an example. Shells are flying, whistling, buzzing around—and then there’s a hit. Not everyone has the courage not to duck down when a shell’s coming. But ducking’s not going to protect my head or chest from a shell, so I’m no better off if I duck. Nevertheless, people do it. But my pride doesn’t permit this. I never do it. It would be completely different if I were on my own, but I’m never on my own. I don’t duck for shells, and I stake my life on that.
Take, for instance, the title of Guards unit, or the honorary titles given to our heroes, the insignia: Don’t you think Stalin takes that into account? Grossman puts it this way. You’ve got some hard-hearted people: a battalion commander who’s been fighting all the time. He gets sent on a course, and then someone comes to say good-bye: “Comrade commander, permit me to say farewell. I’ve given my all.” “Oh, so you have. All right then.” I told Grossman: That is a valuable commander. In other circumstances they might be all tears and kisses, but here you shouldn’t display any weakness. A commander sees thousands of men die, but this can’t faze him. He can cry about it when he’s alone. Your best friend can get killed here, but you’ve got to stand there like a rock.52
Here’s another example. On the 14th [of October] the bunker of the artillery section was destroyed. Nine men were buried, one jumped out, but his legs were stuck. It took two days to dig him out. He was alive. They’d dig, but then the dirt would fall in on him again. It just kills you to see that. But you can’t let on that it does.
Or take this. Four men are in a pipe. They’re surrounded by eight Fritzes. One of them, wounded, crawls his way through the pipe with a message: open fire on us. We open fire, and the soldiers die along with the Germans. Think that’s easy?
If the Germans had taken into account the psychological element, the political factor, the importance that Stalingrad has to every man and officer who comes here, who’s gone beyond the point of no return, if they’d taken into account that it wasn’t all haphazard and rushed, then they wouldn’t have gotten themselves into such a mess.
It was impossible, in Stalingrad, to conduct any strategic or tactical maneuver. All we could do was just sit there. There was no opportunity for any kind of Napoleonic brilliance.
[ . . . ] At one point I was livid with our journalists and writers, who seemed to be baiting Hitler on purpose: Stalingrad won’t be taken, Stalingrad won’t be taken. But the enemy was hitting us harder and harder, and we were sick of it. It’s terrible having to take all that. The foreign press, too: Stalingrad won’t be taken. A better prize for Hitler! Even without that he was tearing his way in, and now he was being encouraged, he kept hitting us, throwing in fresh troops, and I couldn’t get reinforcements. [ . . . ]
October was the worst time for us in terms of enemy offensive operations. That was when Hitler promised everyone and anyone that Stalingrad would be taken. He really did throw everything at us that they had us on the front. Two, two and a half thousand airplanes were circling not just Stalingrad, but the entire army. They bombed us day in and day out. Mortar and artillery fire never stopped.
What does a thousand airplanes mean? There wasn’t a single five-minute stretch when you didn’t have twelve, eighteen, thirty airplanes overhead. And they kept dropping more and more bombs. It happened so much that when someone brought you your soup you’d have to scoop the shell fragments out with your spoon. You’d see bits of bombs or stone, they’d landed in the soup on its way to you from the canteen.
In early November the absolute worst thing was the Volga. It was starting to ice up, but the river was still flowing. There was no regular river transport. The armored cutters couldn’t get through. In other words, we weren’t getting supplies. The planes could only drop supplies at night because they couldn’t come out during the day. They were making drops for three days. This was tough for the pilots because our strip of land was so narrow. Sometimes what they dropped would hit the bank, sometimes it would go to the enemy, sometimes to us. They’d fly right up to us and yell: “Hey, where do you want it?” The U-2s were just excellent. We were worn down, nearly out of ammunition. We had limited supplies, limited amounts of food. Got to our last cartridge, despaired, but kept fighting. At that time there we had some stubborn hand-to-hand combat. I think the photographers captured some images. I should say that some of the photographers (this one in particular) didn’t hesitate to come with me up to the front lines to take pictures of the fighting twenty-five meters away. We’ve got an image of our soldiers sticking bayonets into the Germans—that’s as real as it gets. No touch-ups there. The battle’s raging, and they’re capturing it. It’s happening right here, and they’re getting it on film.
Those were the most difficult days of all. We had a few tons of chocolate in store, and I thought, if we get a bar and some water to every soldier, we’ll live through this. We were much more concerned about ammunition. They started bringing things in from Moscow, uniforms and food. To hell with that. I said: “Get me some ammunition, I’m not about to start fighting with socks!” But we eventually got through all that. Not many in the army have gotten frostbitten. We haven’t been starving. Not too much in the way of lice. Just now the 64th has had some typhus, but in the 62nd we’ve only had six suspected cases. Three times a month my men have been going to the baths, the steam baths. They go, hit one another with twigs, feel healthier. All of this is at the riverbank. The bombs are coming, but you’re there getting cleaned up, feeling healthy. It’s true we went more than a month without the baths, but then we set up several dozen, maybe a hundred. The men are taking baths ten times a month.
We haven’t lost control the entire time. We’ve known pretty well what the enemy is planning to do. Since we know his plans, we can make countermeasures in time. What countermeasures?
We make observations or find out from prisoners that the enemy is going to hit us hard at some location. They’re moving in their forces, dragging out their artillery, infantry, tanks, ammunition. We had a group of German forces in an area of about three to four square kilometers. With such a tight concentration of forces, you’ve just got to attack. You wait until the enemy is nearly ready, and then a few hours before their attack you open fire with your artillery, Katyushas, mortars. For an hour, or two or three, we give them hell. And we watch them, as if it were a movie, we watch their ammunition explode, their vehicles, we see their arms and legs go flying. Nothing remains of that elegant order they wanted to create. We’ve shattered it. Then they try to put things back in order. We nearly didn’t bother counting up their losses. We would just report that the enemy took a loss directly in front of our front line. We really got the better of them with that countermeasure. In some ten to fifteen minutes we shot thousands of shells on that concentrated force. We learned of the results from the prisoners we took. When they start to describe our artillery raid, our operations, you feel a rush of pride. The prisoners say that their hair stood on end, that they sensed they wouldn’t be able to take Stalingrad. They were devastated, and taking heavy losses. There was nothing they could do in Stalingrad, because the people defending it weren’t people, but some kind of wild animal. “Well,” I thought, “good luck to you all!”
Hitler didn’t count on the fact that we would resist. When our men entered the city, when scores and hundreds of Germans started to surrender, this boosted our morale. Our men saw that we could hit the Germans and hit them hard. That’s the first factor.
The second factor was the orders, and then our propaganda: you can die, but you can’t retreat. There’s nowhere to fall back to: Stalingrad will decide the fate of the motherland. The men understood this. The men were in such a mood that if they’d been wounded, even with a broken spine, they had tears in their eyes as they were being taken to the east bank. They’d say to their comrades who had brought them out: I don’t want to go. Better to be buried here. They considered it shameful to go wounded to the other bank. This echoed comrade Stalin’s order.
The third factor was the merciless treatment of cowards and panickers. On September 14 the commissar and commander of the 40th Regiment left their regiment and ran. They were shot right then and there in front of the whole army. Two brigades ran off to the east bank and evaded me for several days. I found them and had their officers and commissars shot. The order was passed through all the units: There will be absolutely no mercy for cowards and traitors.
The fourth factor was that you could look at the Volga and see it was damn difficult to get back across. That’s a purely geographical factor.
There were foreign correspondents who were always digging for information: Which units are here? Where are they from? They asked: Are these the Siberian units? I said they were nothing of the sort: they’re Russians, Ukrainians, Uzbeks, Tatars, Kazakhs, and so on. That was the truth. There were people representing all nationalities. There weren’t any special or elite units that were created just for Stalingrad. Obviously Russians were in the majority because there’s a larger Russian population. The best fighters we have are the Russians, then the Ukrainians, and even the Uzbeks, who’d never fought before.
They did cry a bit on the first and second day, but the situation forced them to follow the example of the Russian and Ukrainians and to fight and die with them. The soldiers had an exceptionally high level of political consciousness.
We’d lie down dead there, but we wouldn’t retreat. If it came to it you’d put a bullet in your head. We decided that unless there was an order from above, we wouldn’t leave for any reason. In this regard I can attest that the Military Council did not leave, and, if they had, no others would have followed them.
Did we feel we had the assistance and support of Moscow?
What does it mean when N. S. Khrushchev calls on the phone? And he called very often. We know who N. S. Khrushchev is. A member of the Politburo and the Central Committee, someone who can speak directly with comrade Stalin. He didn’t pronounce Stalin’s name, but the fact that he often called to ask how things are going, how we’re feeling—that has meant a lot to us.
“We’re fine, not too bad.”
“Good, I’ve got a lot riding on you.”
Yeryomenko came here. It took him over two days just to get across the Volga to speak with me. The Volga was boiling and burning, but nevertheless he came over on some sort of cutter. We’re old friends.
“Comrade Stalin told me to check in on you, see how you’re doing, see what you need.” 53
Things were bad in terms of ammunition and other supplies. There was no supply operation, and we were low on shells. He sent a telegram to Moscow, and the reply came back in a flash, and we could immediately feel the material support. The supply of ammunition and shells meant everything to us. There was aid not only on a material level. If there was something or someone you needed, you always went through Moscow. I only rarely resorted to this, but resort I did.
The wounded were evacuated to the other side. “We’re bleeding to death,” I wrote to Moscow. “We don’t mind dying, and we’re fighting bravely. Stalingrad is holding out, so send us more men!”
And they did. They wrote to me directly at my command post. “Why hasn’t Chuikov been given this and that, send him this and that.”
We got the papers regularly. A soldier, naturally, is flattered when he reads the pages of central newspapers like Pravda and Izvestiya, where from the lead article to the very last page they’re always writing: “Stalingrad, Stalingrad.”
My chief deputy of the medical administration once told me he’d seen a badly wounded soldier. He asked him where he was from and where he was going. The wounded man thumped himself on the chest and said:
“62nd Army. I’ve been wounded three times, but I’ll get better and get back for sure.”
We were getting so many parcels from all corners of the Soviet Union. We somehow managed to present these gifts to the men: a few apples, a piece of sausage. But the best soldiers, the ones who really distinguished themselves, they were always getting things. [ . . . ]
Here’s what my wife wrote me: “I know that you’re in Stalingrad. It’s dangerous there, but I take pride in this struggle for Stalingrad. It looks like it’s a duel with the Führer. Hit him hard so his tongue sticks out like it does in the picture (see page 291).” And what do you think people wrote to the soldiers? What did people write to the officers?
With regard to the country as a whole, to Moscow, to the high command, or comrade Stalin himself, I don’t have a bad word to say. We felt that we were doomed because we were physically cut off from everything. We felt the full weight of the situation. We felt that we were ready to die if it came to that. But we never felt forgotten or unappreciated. Of course we knew that no one could write openly about the defenders of Stalingrad, that no one could name names. These were military secrets. But when the People’s Commissariat of Defense issued a resolution in which the 62nd Army was singled out, every one of our men held his head high and walked with a spring in his step.
In 1943, with comrade Stalin’s permission, I took a plane to see my family in Kuybyshev. It coincided exactly with the celebration of the anniversary of the Red Army on February 23. I was invited to the theater. They persuaded me to give a short speech. Marshal of the Soviet Union B. M. Shaposhnikov54 was there. Many people spoke, and they were greeted cordially, but when the last of them gave me the floor, I stood there like an idiot for five minutes. Every time I opened my mouth, they’d interrupt with applause. I could sense how well they understood our situation and our struggle. . . .
N. A. Dolgorukov, “As it was . . . so it will be!” Soviet propaganda poster from 1941.