The Fall of Berlin

Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968

What a find at the Philippolis-on-Sea charity store! It is not even acknowledged to exist in the Wikipedia entry on Chuikov.

This is the second of Chuikov’s books on his part in WWII, the first being his book on Stalingrad, which I would love to read. For those who don’t know who this Chuikov is, he is the Red Army general who held on to Stalingrad, the battle for which city on the Volga enabled the Red Army to regroup and counterattack. The counterattack trapped the German 6th Army under von Paulus, said Army being forced to surrender under the most terrible conditions of cold and hunger. Of the 250,000 still alive in the pocket, only about 5000 ever returned to Germany. It turned the tide of WWII, and it was backwards all the way for the Germans after that. All enabled by the courage and massive sacrifices made by Chuikov’s troops in Stalingrad.

This book takes up Chuikov’s story after the destruction of the Stalingrad pocket. His army, now honoured to be renamed the 8th Guards Army, is moved up from the south to be directly on the main ( straight ) axis of advance towards Berlin, as they are to be allowed to take central Berlin in recognition of their contributions at Stalingrad. For the most part Chuikov relates each phase of the inexorable advance in a simple and clear way from his point of view. He was known to be, like Rommel, a general who led from the front, and this is borne out in the story. One incident - he had climbed up to the top floor of the only tall building in the area to get a good view of the battle, but the German artillery shelled the building causing Chuikov to be thrown into a bathtub. This resulted in an immediate outbreak of the skin disease from which he suffered ( clearly visible on his face in pics of him at Stalingrad ). He is quite candid and factual about this - no pretensions there!

He is interesting on his relationships with his superiors - Rokossovsky, and then Zhukov. He disagreed quite strongly with them most of the time, mainly because of his more aggressive way of conducting operations. He also at numerous points in the book mentions actions by individuals and small groups that turned the fighting favourably for the Red Army, and he praises his men frequently. Like Rommel again, he was very closely involved with his troops on the ground.

You also get the inevitable doses of political propaganda without which such a book would not have been allowed to be published, I am sure. Also, some interesting expositions on tactics, especially how he had his forces deal with the German habit of holding most of their forces back in a third line of defense in the hope that the Red artillery would waste their shells on the frontmost lines.

After the war he became a member of the Soviet Central Committee and remained such for 20 years or so of the cold war until his death. The book is of interest also for the distrust shown towards the Western Allies, and the interpretations of the actions of Churchill in particular, for whom Chuikov had extreme distrust. It is fascinating to read such opinions from “the other side” as it were, and quite a bit makes sense to an old cynic like rwenzori!

It’s a bit plodding and factual in places, but nevertheless overall quite fascinating.