Cowards are to be Exterminated…

In 1942, the United States had hardly stepped into World War II. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, was getting beat up pretty badly by the Germans. The Nazis were moving hard and fast through Russia, pushing the Red Army further and further back. But one battle showed the that the Soviets were not going to go down without a fight…

In the summer of 1942, the Germans were trying to get to the oilfields of Baku in order to cut off the Soviet oil supply. Stalingrad, a city on the Volga that was a target of the offensive, was not only of strategic significance, but also was the city named after the Soviet’s fearless leader, Joseph Stalin. The Germans began a ruthless bombardment of the city in August of 1942, and soon gained control of 90% of the city.  With their backs to the river, the Soviets held their ground and pressed forward, eventually surrounding the Germans and turning the tide in the war. But was the victory due to Soviet aggression, or because of fear?

On July 28, 1942, Stalin issued order no. 227. This infamous order is known for its harshness and its significance for the Soviets in World War II. It was basically an order from Stalin to all soldiers that there will be no more retreating. In it, he wrote “The conclusion is that it is time to stop the retreat. Not a single step back! This should be our slogan from now.” This doesn’t seem too bad, almost just like a motivational speech. But later he writes: “Panic-mongers and cowards are to be exterminated at the site” and “…[those] who retreat without order from above, are traitors of the Motherland.” At the end of the order, Stalin even orders that units should be created to shoot anyone who retreats, and those that break discipline will form “Penal Battalions,” which will be sent to places of the heaviest fighting in order to redeem their cowardice.

What started out as a rally cry turned into a death warrant for anyone that retreats from battle. The Soviets fighting in Stalingrad were fully aware of this and fought theGermans rather than face death from their comrades. History writes Stalingrad as a huge victory for the Soviets, but maybe it was the fear of Stalin himself that kept the Soviets from being utterly defeated.

Attached are videos from the battle of Stalingrad. The first is a video of street fighting taken by the Soviets during the battle. The second is a BBC radio broadcast that details the battle.

“We’ve Taken One More House” (1942)

“Siege of Stalingrad” (February 9, 1943)

4 Replies to “Cowards are to be Exterminated…”

  1. Order #227 has always astounded me. Stalin’s men were so underprepared and armed to fight the Germans; what did he expect would happen when they were thrown against German forces after 2 weeks of training? But the Order did work and helped turn the tide. Great post!

  2. I really like your topic, and I think it’s really representational of the type of society Stalin was trying to create. To me, he was trying to create a society where everyone was ‘in it together’ and people outside of the norm were disgraced, so order 227 reflects that. It does seem pretty harsh and probably did instill fear, but sometimes that’s what it takes.

  3. Your post on order 227 and the battle of stalingard was very interesting. I always been interested in how retreating has been viewed in history. I don’t know if you’ve read The Red Badge of Courage, but it is a really interesting short book about a solider retreating from battle in the American Civil War. I would recommend it.

  4. Really enjoyed your post. 227 was clearly an attempt to foster the “all in it together” as the others have mentioned. I think that such a policy is effective in principle, because of the moral boost it provides to soldiers in battle.

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