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.