Shortly after the German army invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, Vatutin became chief of staff of the Northwestern Front. In September 1941, he represented Stavka (the Soviet High Command) at Leningrad. In the critical defense of Moscow, he served as chief of staff to General Ivan Konev, commanding an operational group. Winning recognition in the Soviet winter counteroffensive, Vatutin returned to the Northwest Front and remained with it until May 1942, when he went back to his post with the General Staff in Moscow. He then commanded the collapsing Voronezh Front, which lost Voronezh in early July 1942, although he was promoted to colonel general less than a week later.
Vatutin received command of the new Southwestern Front at Stalingrad in October 1942. The next month, his men drove 75 miles in three days on the north side of the double envelopment of the Sixth German Army at Stalingrad. Vatutin then commanded the outer encirclement forces and advanced into the Donets Basin to fight Field Marshal Erich von Manstein's Fourth Panzer Army.
Promoted to General of the Army in February 1943, Vatutin boldly advanced his forces at great cost to the outskirts of Zaporozhye before being struck by Manstein's counterattack. He commanded the Voronezh Front and stopped Manstein's attack in the July 1943 Battle of Kursk with the help of the reserve Steppe Front. He brought his front across the Dnieper, where it became the 1st Ukrainian Front on 20 October. The front recaptured Kiev on the night of 4–5 November 1943 and participated in the Korsun-Shevchnkovskii operation that encircled 57,000 Germans in the Cherkassy bulge. Shortly thereafter, on 29 February 1944, Vatutin was shot and seriously wounded by Bandera guerrillas (Ukrainian partisans) in the Korotsen area, 75 miles north of Kiev, while on a trip to visit his Sixtieth Army. He died on 15 April 1944 in Kiev. Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgii Zhukov, who had been his Stavka coordinator, admired Vatutin's industry and strategic thinking. Claude R. Sasso
Erickson, John. The Road to Stalingrad. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1983.; Shtemenko, Sergei M. The Soviet General Staff at War, 1941–1945. 2 vols. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1970.; Zhukov, Georgii Z. Reminiscences and Reflections. 2 vols. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1974.
Claude R. Sasso