“NOT A SINGLE STEP BACK” Stalin’s Order No. 227
“You have to be brave to be a coward in the Red Army” ~ Joseph Stalin
Soviet Stamp: “Not one step backwards”
Approximately 8.7 million Red Army soldiers died during WWII. A great majority of these soldiers were not willing, patriotic Russians, but rather Ukrainian, Belorussian and many members of other nationalities which came (usually by force) from all over the Soviet occupied empire and the Gulag Death Camp system.
Soviet Russia defeated Germany because it had many more men and absolutely no scruples in regard to how many would die, in order to defeat the Third Reich.
Stalin declared in the Preamble of the August 1942 Order No. 227 – that the ‘Iron Law’ of discipline for every officer, soldier, political officer should be; “Not a Single Step Back” without order from higher command.
Company, battalion, regiment and division Commanders, as well as the Commissars and political Officers of corresponding ranks who retreat, without order from above, are Traitors of the Motherland. They should be treated as Traitors of the Motherland.
Although Penal Battalions (shtrafbats) were used prior to this August 1942 order, it introduced severe disciplinary punishments, including summary execution and forcing disgraced Officers to the Front-lines with other prisoners, all being unarmed.
Under Stalins Order No. 227, the idea for fighting Germans was, to throw as many men at the German defenses, until the Germans, literally, ran out of bullets. Among the armed soldiers, were hundreds of ‘Unarmed Penal Battalions’ (initially consisting of 800 Soviet Prisoners per Battalion) sent to charge the German lines.
Section 1 (c) of the Supreme Command Order 227;
“These battalions should be put on the more difficult sections of a Front, thus giving them an opportunity to redeem their crimes against the Motherland by blood.”
Stalin’s blindness to Hitler’s pre-invasion manoeuvres, which allowed the Germans to occupy Russia’s industrial heartland… it was only then, with reluctance, did Stalin shift more of his attention from killing Russian citizens to killing more Germans. These military tactics, if they can be dignified with such a term, in effect were, “Killing two birds with one stone.”
All Red Army soldiers (unarmed or not) who showed any sign of resistance to these inhumane tactics, was shot on the spot. In fact, trailing the Red Army was the NKVD army, which numbered several hundreds of thousands, and its sole purpose was to keep the Red army advancing forward, at any cost… the ultimate cost, was death by purportedly, fellow countrymen.
Sections 2, (a) and (b)
2. “The Military Councils of armies and first of all army commanders should:
a) In all circumstances remove from offices corps and army commanders and commissars, who have allowed their troops to retreat at will without authorisation by the army command, and send them to the Military Councils of the Fronts for court-martial;
b) Form 3 to 5 well-armed guard (barrage) units (zagradotryads), deploy them in the rear of unstable divisions and oblige them to execute panic-mongers and cowards at site in case of panic and chaotic retreat…”
Section 3 (b);
b) “Provide all possible help and support to the guards (barrage) units (zagradotryads) of the army in their work of strengthening discipline and order in the units.
This order is to be read aloud in all companies, troops, batteries, squadrons, teams and staffs.”
The People’s Commissar for Defense
Stalin’s Order #270
Order of the Supreme Command of the Red Army on August 16, 1941, No. 270; “On the responsibility of the military for surrender and leaving weapons to the enemy”
Order No. 270 was issued by Stalin on 16 August 1941, which commanded the Red Army personnel to “Fight to the Last.” This banned army personnel from surrendering and set out severe penalties for deserters and senior officers regarded as derelicting their duties.
The first article directed that any Commanders or Commissars “tearing away their insignia and deserting or surrendering” should be considered Malicious Deserters. The order required superiors to shoot these Deserters on the spot. In the event they did desert or surrender, their family members were then subjected to arrest too.
I Order (Stalin)
“That commanders and political officers who, during combat tear off their insignia and desert to the rear or surrender to the enemy, be considered malicious deserters whose families are subject to arrest as a family, for violation of an oath and betrayal of their homeland.
All Higher commanders and commissars are required to shoot on the spot any such deserters from among command personnel…”
The second article demanded that encircled soldiers must use every possibility to fight on, and to demand that their commanders organise the fighting; according to the order, anyone attempting to surrender instead of fighting must be killed and their family members deprived of any state welfare and assistance.
The order also required division commanders to demote and to shoot on the spot those commanders who failed to command a battle directly in the battlefield.
“…Encircled units and formations to selflessly fight to the last, to protect material like the apple of their eye, to break through from the rear of enemy troops, defeating the fascist dogs.
That every soldier is obliged, regardless of his or her position, to demand that their superiors, if part of their unit is surrounded, to fight to the end, to break through, and if a superior or a unit of the Red Army – instead of organizing resistance to the enemy – prefers to become a prisoner, they should be destroyed by all means possible on land and air, and their families deprived of public benefits and assistance.
Division commanders and commissars are obliged to immediately shift from their posts commanders of battalions and regiments, who hide in crevices during battle and those who fear directing a fight on the battlefield; to reduce their positions, as imposters, to be demoted to the ranks, and when necessary to shoot them on the spot, bringing to their place bold and courageous people, from among junior command personnel or those among the ranks of the Red Army who have excelled”
This order is to be read in all companies, squadrons, batteries, teams and staffs.
Headquarters of the Supreme Command, Red Army
Chairman of the State Defence Committee, J. Stalin
Between the years 1941-1942 alone, up to 200,000 Red Army soldiers were executed by the NKVD. However, since Order No. 227, the Battalions were increased in number and men within each increased also. Estimates on how many Red Army prisoner/soldiers, “Deserters” and “Panic-mongers” were executed throughout the war, are estimated between hundreds of thousands to a million… but one cannot truly know the true loss of life under these Orders.
Commenting on Order No. 270, Stalin stated:
“There are no Soviet prisoners of war, only traitors.”
Stalin’s conviction toward his own orders were demonstrated when [ironically] the “apple of his eye,” Yakov Dzhugashvili – Stalin’s eldest son – who served as an Artillery Officer in the Red Army, was captured by the Wehrmacht (German Army) on 16 July 1941, during the Battle of Smolensk, in the early stages of Operation Barbarossa.
There is debate as to whether Yakov was captured or surrendered, however in 2013, Der Spiegel provided evidence that Yakov had surrendered. A letter written by Dzhugashvili’s Brigade Commissar to the Red Army’s Political Director, quoted by Spiegel, states that after Dzhugashvili’s battery had been bombed by the Germans, he and another soldier initially put on civilian clothing and escaped, but then at some point Dzhugashvili stayed behind, saying that he “wanted to stay and rest.”
Further support to his surrender, was given by his wife during interrogation – pursuant to the Articles of Order 270, upon her arrest – that it was her request that he surrender to stay alive. She repeated this in her Memoirs.
Other sources suggest that the retreating Yakov Dzhugashvili was handed over to the Germans by his father’s unhappy subjects, the Muzhiks (Russian Peasants), who hated the Kolkhoz system and the Soviet power in general. In the first hours of capture, the panic-stricken young man got rid of his Officer’s insignia and hid among the masses of POW’s. Unfortunately for him he was recognized by one of his former comrades who immediately turned him in.
In either event, whether surrendering or not fighting to the end, was – according to Stalin – traitorous to the Motherland and attracted severe punishment, even when returned after the war.
Stalin first learned of his son’ capture via a communiqué received from the Germans, which included a picture of his son with German Officers. Stalin reacted (referring to an earlier suicide attempt by Yakov), “The fool – he couldn’t even shoot himself!” An angry Stalin blamed Yakov for “surrendering like a coward” to the enemy.
The Germans showered the Soviet trenches with leaflets, stating that – with the exception of “NKVD and Commissars” – they promised good treatment for those Red soldiers who surrendered unarmed. Several leaflets featured a photograph of Yakov accompanying the Wehrmacht Officers. Printed on the back of one of the publications was a copy of the letter Yakov had written to his father, which had been forwarded to Stalin;
“Dear Father! I have been taken prisoner. I am in good health. I will soon be sent to a camp for officers in Germany. I am being treated well. I wish you good health. Greetings to everyone. Yasha.”
Yakov was temporarily housed at a guarded villa in Berlin, then several temporary Officers camps, but later transferred to the Sachsenhausen camp.
On January 31, 1943, during the Battle of Stalingrad (August 1942 to February 1943), Generalfeldmarschall Friedrich Paulus was captured by the Red Army, along with 107,000 other Axis Servicemen (only 6,000 were ever seen alive again, by 1955). As Hitler noted that there was no precedent of a Generalfielmarschall ever being captured and kept alive, so he attempted to negotiate the POW trade of Yakov for Freidrich Paulus. Stalin’s response was, “I have no son called Yakov” and, “I will not trade a Marshall for a Lieutenant.”
The circumstances of Yakov’s death a few months later remain unclear, but by the time he reached the Sachsenhausen camp and, given his previous psychological health and repeated suicide attempts, his nerves had deteriorated considerably. He had constant visitors from Berlin seeking translations, radio broadcasts and photographing him, was detested by fellow British POW’s, who often physically fought him (one such occurrence that same day) and he is said to have attempted suicide from the electric perimeter fence of the camp, or had unknowingly wandered toward it, or attempted escape. In any event, he ignored repeated orders to move away from the fence and return to barracks, or he would be shot.
He did not follow the orders and after nearly two years as a POW, he was shot on April 14, 1943.
This was seen by Stalin as a more honorable death and Stalin’s attitude towards his son softened slightly.
N. Jones is a Writer, Researcher, Historian and Literary Critic.