Valentin Pikul

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Valentin Pikul
Valentin Pikul.jpg
Born (1928-07-13)July 13, 1928
Leningrad, Soviet Union
Died July 16, 1990(1990-07-16) (aged 62)
Riga, Latvia
Language Russian
Genre fiction
Notable works At the Last Frontier

Valentin Savvich Pikul (Russian: Валенти́н Са́ввич Пи́куль) (July 13, 1928 - July 16, 1990) was a popular and prolific Soviet historical novelist of Ukrainian-Russian heritage. He lived and worked in Riga.

Pikul's novels were grounded in extensive research, blending historical and fictional characters and often focusing on Russian nationalistic themes. Pikul's best-selling 1978 novel At the Last Frontier was a dramatized telling of Rasputin's influence over the Russian imperial court. Richard Stites says he was "a name hardly known to literary scholars but the most widely read author in the Soviet Union from the seventies to today [i.e., 1991]... Pikul's works were wildly popular in the book market (in the years 1967–1979 over a million copies were printed), but politically controversial because of his ardent patriotism which was sometimes expressed in thinly veiled Russian nationalism."[1] According to Natalya Ivanova:

History in his interpretation acquired market value, and the circulation of his national-romantic “novels” left Bulat Okudzhava’s and Yury Davydov’s books far behind. Pikul owed his popularity not only to a method depending on adventure and simplification. His national-patriotic ideology, hostile to the official and liberal internationalism of the day, drew the readers indifferent to schematic representations of history by Soviet scholars like a magnet. Pikul developed and consistently used the propaganda mechanism successfully exploited by mass culture to captivate the minds of unprepared audiences.[2]

Little of Pikul's work has been translated into English. In May 2001 a seagoing minesweeper of the Black Sea Fleet was named in his honor.

The Requiem for Convoy PQ-17[edit]

This work by Pikul, published in the 1970s, describes the history of the Arctic convoys from the official Soviet point of view.

The book starts with a brief description of the hunt for the Bismarck, which corresponds more or less to current English-language sources available.

Then, according to the book, the British Sea Lords were deadly afraid of the remaining battleship Tirpitz, which was, according to Pikul, unmatched by any British battleship.

So, when there was a threat of a Tirpitz sortie against Convoy PQ 17, the British Sea Lords ordered the naval escort of the convoy to scatter, abandoning the slower cargo ships and thus condemning many sailors from the convoy's cargo ships to death (the ships were mostly sunk by German submarines and air force).

Nevertheless, according to the book, Captain Lunin on his K-21 submarine actually scored a torpedo hit on Tirpitz, which caused the Germans to interrupt the sortie.

The book gave strong emphasis on the distinction of brave Capt. Lunin, as compared to cowardly (according to the book) First Sea Lord Dudley Pound. According to the book, the low-rank sailors on British and U.S. ships were much surprised with Pound's order, since they expected USS Washington and HMS Duke of York to be capable of quickly destroying Tirpitz.

This perfectly aligns with the following theses of the Soviet propaganda:

  • Soviet warriors are the bravest
  • in other nations, the low-rank people are good while the upper-rank ones are evil
  • the foreign policy of the U.K. and U.S. during the war was to interrupt the convoys in order to prolong the Soviet-Nazi war so that both the USSR and the Third Reich would be weakened to the maximum degree possible.

Nevertheless, there are major doubts in the fact that K-21 actually hit Tirpitz. Most English-language sources say "K-21 missed", and the log of the battleship has no mention of such a hit.

According to Pikul, Lunin fired 4 torpedoes from the rear tubes, and then heard explosions, at least two of them were actually hits on Tirpitz. Nevertheless, the German commanders, Admiral Schniewind and Captain Topp, just concealed the hits from SS, Gestapo and the Nazi leadership, in order to avoid the possible unjust punishment for not keeping the battleship safe. According to the book, there was some tension between the German professional sailors (of which Topp was one) and the Nazi party, SS and leadership, which was also enforced by the personal hostility between the two German admirals Erich Raeder, Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy, and Karl Dönitz, commander of the German submarine fleet.

Around 2003–2004, a movie was released in Russia based on the book, which also included the Soviet idea of K-21 actually hitting Tirpitz.



  1. ^ Richard Stites, Russian Popular Culture (Cambridge UP, 1992, repr. 1995), p. 151.
  2. ^ Natalya Ivanova, "A New Mosaic out of Old Fragments: Soviet History Re-Codified in Modern Russian Prose" (Conference Papers, Stanford University, October 1998), pp. 25-26.