Comprehension in the Blink of an Eye: How Stalin Shocked Churchill Near Stalingrad

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


The website of the TV channel “Tvzvezda” has published a series of articles on the great Patriotic war of 1941-1945 by writer Leonid Maslovsky, based on his book “Russkaya Pravda”, published in 2011.

In his opinion articles, Maslovsky reveals “the myths of the imaginary foe, Russia, and the events of the great Patriotic war, showing the greatness of our Victory.” The author notes that in his articles he is going to “show the US’ unhelpful role in West Germany’s preparations for war with the USSR”.

Russia’s detractors write, speak, and push out movies that claim that penal battalions won the Great Patriotic war. It is not that they are wrong or mistaken. It is that it’s a malicious lie. And it is not without the help of Western sponsors that it is spreading across the country en masse, like an infection during an epidemic.

The lie infects the citizens of Russia with the deadly disease of disrespect towards themselves, towards their people, towards their homeland, towards Soviet history, towards the leaders of the war, which are in fact worthy of being remembered with a removed cap and a bowed head with gratitude from the soul for the fact that they were able to organise the rescue of the people of Russia from extermination.

Pay attention to the purely symbolic number of penal battalions and penal companies: on the front 1-3 battalions; in the army 5-10 penal companies.

It means that on a front with an average of 400,000-500,000 people, according to the order, 800-2,400 people could be assigned to penal battalions, composed of guilty persons from officer staff, which amounts to 0.2-0.6% of the number of troops of the front.

For an army of 100,000 people, the order determined that the number of fighters of penal companies is to be between 750-2,000 people, which amounts to 0.75-2.0% of the army.


It is natural to ask liberals: why do they believe that the war was won not with 98-99% of the Red Army soldiers, but with the 1-2% in its number of fighters of penal companies and battalions?

It should be clear to any normal person that penalised persons in military units, because of its tiny number, could not play any significant role in the defeat of the Nazi invaders. But for representatives of the liberal press it is not clear, and they persistently claim that the 1-2% penalised persons in the number of armed forces of the USSR won the war. After all, these representatives create public opinion. They rely on uninformed readers and listeners, deprived of the truth about the great Patriotic war.

Many lies have been written and said by the same persons about barrier troops. But by the order, a 100,000-army had to have 600-1,000 people serving in the defensive squads. It is clear that 100 people standing behind a division can’t stop 10,000 people, but can only really stop cowards and alarmists. They actually existed to intimidate this category of fighters.

And these measures of intimidation were taken to save the population of the whole country in the most crucial time, when really it was impossible to allow the further retreat of the army. They didn’t cause unjustified losses. Rokossovsky wrote that the penal companies were mainly used for combat-reconnaissance to locate the enemy weapon emplacements, after which the artillery suppressed the discovered enemy weapon emplacements, and the main forces went on an offensive.

Why was so much noise raised because of this? After all, the order essentially only prohibited, without permission or instruction from high command, to leave taken positions; introduces measures contributing to its implementation; specifies penalties for failure to comply with the order. And above all, it addresses the conscience of soldiers and commanders. It explains all the mortal dangers of the existing situation.

In my opinion, it was precisely this order that gave a certain category of researchers the grounds to talk and write about the fact that our troops fought under fear of punishment. They with emphasis do not notice the mass heroism of our soldiers, both before and after the issuance of this order. And concerning heroism, it is possible to say that all our military leaders, and many years later, after the war, wrote about it.

They do not understand, or rather do not want to understand, that it is impossible to force millions of people with guns to fight heroically. If desired, these people will crush everyone, including the government itself. Only ardent love for the Motherland and hatred for the enemy can raise the spirit of a soldier until he is ready to sacrifice his life in battle with the enemy.

As for the fear of punishment, even today we all live in fear of punishment. Many laws exist, including Labour, Civil and Criminal Codes, which prescribe punishment for the commission of illegal acts. But this does not mean that we do not commit illegal acts only because of fear of punishment. Discipline is the basis of labour activity, especially military service, and especially in the harsh hours of the fight for the life of the nation.

This order was awaited by soldiers, because most of our soldiers were heroes, and they could not bear to quietly look at the cowards and alarmists, who shamed and disrupted military units and formations. It was awaited also by officers as a means of influencing individual negligent soldiers. It was awaited by the whole army, which already itself could not endure the shame of retreat.

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And if earlier, on the way to the Volga, retreat was somehow justified by the need to escape encirclement by the superior forces of the enemy, today, when Stalingrad was behind us and the Germans reached the Volga, the soldiers and officers in the majority understood that there is a need for an order that obliges to fight to the death until permission is given to leave positions. And this is understandable. Not everyone is psychologically ready to volunteer to fight to the death. This order especially helped the weak to survive. It’s easier for a soldier to fight if there is an order that forbids the unauthorized leaving of positions. Soviet soldiers understood it correctly and said, “Beyond the Volga there is no land for us.”

Already before the publication of the order, at sunrise on the 20th of July, Stalin told the first Secretary of the Stalingrad Regional Committee of the CPSU(b) A. S. Chuyanov, “tell everyone, we will not surrender Stalingrad to the enemy”.

The allocated-by-the-Stavka 1st and 4th tank armies were able to eliminate the blows of the breakthrough of the front by the German divisions on the great bend of the Don. They were just called tank armies because they were at the stage of formation and were not ready for action. But the Stavka had no other reserves.

The German group already, on July 23rd, received an additional four divisions allocated to help the advancing troops. The response of the Stavka allocated six new rifle divisions to the Stalingrad front from the still remaining reserves, which in the midst of the fighting on the bend of the Don had just been transferred to the Stalingrad region. Having organized counterattacks, it became possible to avoid the Germans capturing the crossings of the Don and the encirclement of our 62nd and 64th armies. The rifle division and the tankists (group of Zhuravlev) encircled by the Germans were able to join their comrades.

The US and Britain, fearing for their country, were nervously watching the fighting on the Don. Most of the military and politicians, being familiar with German and our forces, predicted that the Germans will immediately cross the Don. But they were wrong, this did not happen. The fighting on the great bend of the Don continued until August 10th, which allowed the strengthening of the fortifications on the approaches to Stalingrad.

And on the 10th of August the Soviet troops departed from the left bank of the Don, took up defensive positions on the outer perimeter of Stalingrad, and stopped the enemy’s advance. The German high command declared the capture in these battles of 11,000 prisoners, 270 destroyed tanks, and 560 guns. I believe the German command, as always, showed wishful thinking, and given the scale of the battle and knowing the quotation from German data, it is possible to say that the Soviet soldiers and officers did not yield themselves prisoner.

Of course, there were prisoners as well as irrevocable losses on both sides, but the number of prisoners compared to the number of participating fighters was negligible. Overall, in the fighting on the great bend of the Don, our troops suffered heavy losses.

The German command tried to capture Stalingrad also from a South-Western direction, and to accomplish their aims was forced on the 31st of July to turn the 4th Panzer division of H.Hoth from the Caucasus to Stalingrad. Advanced German units on 2nd August came in the area of Kotelnikovo.


The 4th Panzer division was opposed by the South-Eastern front. On the 5th of August, the Stavka decided to split the Stalingrad front, which stretched wide by 800 kilometers, into two fronts: Stalingrad and South-East. The latter was command by Colonel General A. I. Eremenko, and the Stalingrad one, like before the separation, by V. N. Gordov. The decision to separate the fronts was correct, because the Germans were advancing from two directions, and each direction was defended by its own front.

Already on the 2nd of August the regiment of our 208th rifle division, which was unloaded in Kotelnikovo, took the fight to the units of the 14th German Panzer division that approached the station. But the Panzer division, not getting involved in long battles, and having done a 150-mile march in 15 hours, penetrated into a wide gap in our front, but failed to accomplish their mission. Near Abganerovo it was met by our 40 T-34 tanks, manufactured at the Stalingrad tractor plant, and the 126th rifle division.

The tank corps entered into battle with our units, but having met fierce resistance on the outskirts of Abganerovo station, having lost only ten tanks from the fire of Soviet soldiers, the German tank corps went on the defensive and started to wait for the approach of the main forces of the 4th Panzer division. Our tankists who went towards the Germans tanks lost only one tank from German artillery fire.

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Thus, on 9th-10th August, the troops of the South-Eastern front were counterattacked by the advancing German 4th Panzer division. As a result of the fighting of Soviet troops, on August 10th, at the turn of the River Aksay-Abganerovo boundary, troops of the 4th Panzer division of H.Hoth were also obliged to go on the defensive. The rapid breakthrough to Stalingrad from the South failed.

We owe it to our tankists that the Germans couldn’t cross the Don and break through to Stalingrad from the South.

“The transition of troops of the 6th and 4th Panzer German divisions to the defensive forced the enemy command to begin preparations for a new offensive in order to seize Stalingrad with simultaneous concentric blows of the two divisions: the 6th from the area of the Verkhne-Buzinovka from the North-West; the 4th from the Abganerovo area from the South. The enemy took about a week to regroup, as well as for the transfer of new troops and the preparation of this operation,” wrote A. M. Vasilevsky.

In the Caucasus direction, German troops of army group “A”, on July 24th, 1942, entered Rostov-on-Don. And on July 25th, the battle for the Caucasus began. Our troops were retreating to the front to the North. Twenty-six Turkish divisions deployed on the border with the Soviet Union awaited the arrival of the Germans. The very existence of Russia was put under threat. Besides Baku and the North Caucasus, the Soviet Union didn’t have other major oil fields. Other large oil fields were discovered and developed after the war.

The North Caucasus front was commanded by Soviet Union Marshal S. M. Budyonny. It should be noted that even after the withdrawal of the 4th Panzer division from the Caucasus to Stalingrad, the Germans had the advantage in strength over our troops.

At this time, August 12th, 1942, Sir Winston Churchill arrived in Moscow. Prior to his arrival, in the spring of 1942, an event occurred that is worth mentioning. Stalin decided to send the people’s Commissar for foreign affairs V. M. Molotov to Washington and London.

Stalin understood that the United States needs to subjugate Europe, including England, and hoped that this endeavor will help in 1942 to open a second front with the Armed Forces of the United States and England. For negotiations on this question Molotov had to fly via London, Iceland and Canada to Washington, that is, in the United States, in a Soviet four-engine TB-7 (PE-8) heavy bomber, which on looks alone, showed the power of the Soviet Union.

The British did not want a one-to-one meeting with representatives of the Soviet and American governments. The first flight was conducted to test the route, and our huge, armoured, heavy plane, operated by the commander and remarkable pilot S. A. Asyamov, successfully flew to and landed at the Tealing airfield.

“The next day, major S. A. Asyamov, accompanied by our military mission Colonel Pugachev, engineer of the 2nd rank Baranov and assistant military attaché for aviation major Shvetsov – at 9 a.m. flew from London to Tealing in an English “Flamingo” plane. On the plane, besides our comrades and four members of the English crew, was the liaison officer of the Air Ministry Wilton and liaison officer Lieutenant-Colonel Edwards, both spies.

The plane arrived safely in Tealing, and then flew to East Fortune (as was subsequently reported by the Air Ministry for the inspection of airfield and aircraft). From East Fortune the aircraft flew to London. In the region of York, 200 miles from London, an accident occurred, which resulted in all ten people onboard the plane being killed.

What happened to cause the accident? It turns out that the plane caught fire mid-air and broke apart. Our comrades were identified only by the remnants of their clothing… it became apparent that some high-ranking officials in Britain knew about the impending meeting of the leaders of our state with the President of the United States of America, and clearly did not want it happen…

Everything was done according to all rules of art, the crew of the British aircraft perished, two representatives of English government departments perished too. To investigate the incident a special commission was appointed, in which we were invited to join. Ordinary people in England could sincerely believe what happened was a misfortune. We didn’t have such a belief… In the history of England, as we know, such “cases” were experienced more than once. Confidence in the security of the presence of Soviet citizens on the territory of an ally state turned out to be premature.

The plane without its commander, it seemed, was doomed to long-stay parking at Tealing airport, because sending another pilot there, who now was missing in the crew, would require a lot of time.

Our beautiful friend, with a wide Russian soul, ceased to exist… How many times he flew into battle, deep in the rear of Nazi Germany and selflessly performed his duty! How much energy he invested in the defeat of the fascist armies near Moscow, and did he think that someday he will die in the skies of our allies, deprived of the opportunity to protect himself!

The news of the death of Asyamov made a strong impression on Stalin. He remained silent for a long time, and then, shaking his head, said:

“Yes, we have good allies, do not say anything! Look with both eyes and to all sides.” Again he paused and asked: “Well, what should we do now? A meeting with Roosevelt must take place obligatorily! Do you have something else to offer?”

“I can, comrade Stalin,” I replied, as this question had already been thought out by us. “Pilot Pusep, who is now in England, is commander of the plane (during the flight to England he, the commander, was flying as co-pilot). He is a polar pilot, accustomed to flying long hours in the North without landing, and during the war he had to be in the air for a long time, so he will bring the plane home alone. Here we will complete the crew and it will be possible to go.”

“Ah, well! Are you sure about this?”

“Yes, I’m sure, comrade Stalin.”

“So, go for it!”

The surprise for the British was great when the heavy four-engine bomber with one pilot went up in the air, orientated his course to the East, and after a few hours landed safely at its airport.

Shortly after returning the plane, I visited Stalin. He asked whether it is possible to fly to Roosevelt, and, receiving an affirmative answer, instructed to prepare the plane for the flight to Washington. Having looked attentively at me, he said that Vyacheslav Molotov will fly to America,” wrote the main Marshal of the aircraft A. E. Golovanov, describing these events.

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After some time the Soviet bomber went up from one of the Moscow airports and went westward. The aircraft guided by Pusep, and V. M. Obukhov was appointed as the second pilot. V. M. Molotov was onboard the plane.

On 12th June, 1942, the aircraft returned from Washington and London and landed at the airfield in the Moscow region. The flight was fine, except that in the Kalinin region it was attacked by our fighter, who mistook our plane for the enemy. The radio compass of the plane was hit by a cannon, and in several places the shell of the aircraft was punctured. The attacker was not found. None of the crew and passengers were injured.

In Washington and London, Molotov negotiated with the governments of the U.S. and England, who signed the relevant treaties and assured Molotov that the 2nd front would be opened in 1942. But, having signed the treaties, the governments of neither the first nor the second country in fact had intended to attempt a landing of their troops on the European continent.

On the contrary, their whole policy was directed towards the Russians and the Germans  killing each other as much as possible in the bloodiest of all wars of mankind. US’ goal was world domination, and they sought for themselves this domination using the armies of Germany and its allies and using the labour of the population across Europe. The second front initially was contrary to the plans and interests of the United States. It was opened only in 1944, i.e., at the time when the opening of the 2nd front started to align with the interests of the United States.

The second front only by its existence would save thousands of lives of Soviet soldiers and officers, since the Germans could not transfer from the West to the East more and more divisions. Stalin, like every man, understanding everything, hoped, because, as they say, hope dies last.

Yes, Stalin understood everything, but he negotiated and was glad at least that the US and Britain don’t fight against us, but even help, mainly with food – stew. The rest of the help was measurable in fractions of a percent when compared to the produced-by-the-USSR military products. Negotiations on a second front allowed Stalin to keep the leaders of the United States and England in the role of a self-justifying side. That’s why Churchill traveled by air to justify and explain the reasons why a second front could not be opened in 1942.

Stalin was a head taller than Churchill. It was very difficult for Churchill to convince Stalin, and all his arguments for the 2nd front looked pathetic and dubious. Churchill described to Stalin about the impending Operation “Torch” in the Mediterranean sea.

Stalin, without any preparation, pointed out all the positive and negative sides of the operation. Churchill was shocked, and later he wrote: “This remarkable formulation thoroughly impressed me. It showed that the Russian dictator quickly and completely mastered a problem that was previously unfamiliar to him. Very few people could comprehend in a few minutes the arguments that we all have been puzzled by for months. He understood everything in the blink of an eye”. But Stalin, of course, wasn’t thinking about the minor, unnecessary-for-the-USSR Operation “Torch”, but about Stalingrad.

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