J. V. Stalin

Letter to V. I. Lenin about the Situation on the Western Front 1

August 11, 1919

Source : Works, Vol. 4, November, 1917 - 1920
Publisher : Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1953
Transcription/Markup : Salil Sen for MIA, 2009
Public Domain : Marxists Internet Archive (2009). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.

To Comrade Lenin.

The situation on the Western Front is becoming more and more ominous.

The old, battered and weary units of the Sixteenth Army, which is being hard pressed by the most active enemy on the Western Front—the Poles—are not only unable to withstand the onslaught, are not only unable to defend themselves, but have even become incapable of covering the retreat of their batteries, which are, naturally, falling into the hands of the enemy. I am afraid that, with its units in such a state, the Sixteenth Army in its retreat to the Berezina will find itself without guns or baggage trains. There is also the danger that the battered and absolutely demoralized cadres of the majority of the regiments may soon be incapable of assimilating replenishments, which moreover — it must be said — are arriving with preposterous delay.

The enemy is driving towards the Berezina along two main directions: towards Borisov, and towards Slutsk and Bobruisk. And he is driving successfully, for he has already advanced some thirty versts in the direction of Borisov, and in the South, with the capture of Slutsk, he has seized possession of the key to Bobruisk—the splendid highway, the only one in the area.

If Borisov is captured, and if, as is likely, the severely battered 17th Division of the Sixteenth Army rolls back as a result, the Fifteenth Army will be in jeopardy, and Polotsk and Dvinsk will be directly menaced. And if Bobruisk is captured and the enemy strikes at Rechitsa (which is his direct aim), the entire Pripyat group of the Sixteenth Army, that is, the 8th Division, will automatically suffer disaster, Gomel will be directly threatened, and the flank of the Twelfth Army will be laid bare.

In brief, if we allow the enemy to knock out our Sixteenth Army, and he is already doing it, we shall be letting down the Fifteenth and Twelfth Armies, and we shall then have to repair not only the Sixteenth Army but the whole front, and at a far heavier cost.

Evidently, we are approximately in the same position as that of the Eastern Front last year, when Va-tsetis and Kostyaev allowed Kolchak to knock out first our Third Army, then the Second and then the Fifth, thereby quite unnecessarily wrecking the work of the whole front for a good half year.

On the Western Front, this prospect has every chance of becoming a reality.

I have already written before that the Western Front represents a threadbare garment which cannot be patched up without trained reserves, and that the enemy has only to deliver one serious blow at one of the important points to make the whole front reel, or rather, shake.

Unfortunately, these apprehensions of mine are now beginning to be borne out.

Yet the enemy in the West, who is united under a single command, has not yet brought into action those Russian corps which he has ready, or nearly ready, in Riga, Warsaw and Kishinev.

About three weeks ago I believed that one division would be enough to enable us to launch an offensive and occupy the Molodechno and Baranovichi junctions. Now one division may not be enough even to enable us to hold the Borisov-Bobruisk-Mozyr line.

A successful offensive is not even to be thought of, because for this we should now (August 11) need at least two or three divisions.

Now decide yourself: can you let us have one division, if only in successive brigades, or are you going to allow the enemy to smash the already crumbling Sixteenth Army? But decide without delay, because every hour is precious.


J. Stalin

P. S. This letter has been read and approved by all the members of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Western Front, not excluding the Front Commander. A similar statement will be sent in a day or two to the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic.

J. St.

Smolensk, August 11, 1919


1.At the beginning of July 1919 the Polish whiteguards launched a general offensive and created a direct threat to the Soviet Republic from the West. J. V. Stalin was instructed by the Central Committee of the Party to take over personal direction of the Western Front. He was appointed a member of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Western Front, and he arrived at front headquarters in Smolensk on July 9, 1919.