Rank: Army General
Fate: Died of wounds near Kiev 1944, aged 42
Bio: Vatutin was the son of Russian peasants, who joined the Red Army as an officer in 1920 during the Russian Civil War. He was a dedicated Communist Party member who trained as a staff officer at the Soviet military academy. When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 Vatutin was the General Staff’s Chief of Operations. But talent for staff work was found wanting in the disastrous opening phase of the war, and he was replaced by the meticulous Aleksandr Vasilevsky.
Vatutin was sent to the Northwestern Front (defending Leningrad) as Chief of Staff, where he began to redeem his reputation as a military commander. Vatutin favoured bold, aggressive action, and although he suffered several costly reverses, he helped to encircle German forces at Demyansk in February 1942, creating a major crisis for the German High Command.
In October Vatutin took command of the Southwestern Front, which helped to encircle the German 6th Army at Stalingrad. In 1943 he also played a leading role in the Battle of Kursk. His Voronezh Front, defending the open steppe on the southern flank of the Kursk salient, absorbed all the punishment that von Manstein’s forces could throw at it, before going over to the offensive. Vatutin’s troops liberated the city of Belgorod, which Stalin ordered to be marked by an artillery salute in Moscow – the first such celebration of the war.
In November 1943, using the bold, imaginative and aggressive tactics that had become his trademark, Vatutin liberated Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. That winter his forces were involved in savage fighting at the Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket, leading to huge losses on both sides.
In February 1944 Vatutin’s staff car was ambushed by Ukrainian nationalist partisans. The general was seriously injured, and died six weeks later when his wounds became infected.
Vatutin is little known in the West, but was regarded at the time as one of the more original and daring Soviet commanders. His operations often proved very costly, but he was respected by Stalin (not least for his ardent Communism) and by German opponents alike.
Rank: Army General