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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Story of Pavlov's House

















Pavlov's house was a four-story building in the center of Stalingrad, built parallel to the embankment of the river Volga and overseeing the "9th January Square", a large square named for Bloody Sunday. In September 1942, the house was attacked by Nazi Germans, and a platoon of the Soviet 13th Guards Rifle Division was ordered to seize and defend it. The platoon was led by Junior Sgt. Yakov Pavlov, a low-level non commissioned officer serving as acting platoon commander since the unit's lieutenant and senior sergeants had all been wounded or killed. The attack on the building was successful, although the fighting was brutal, with only four men in the 30-man platoon surviving the assault.

The strategic benefit of the house was its position on a cross-street giving the defenders a 1km line of sight to the north, south and west. After several days, reinforcements and supplies arrived for Pavlov's men, bringing the unit up to a 25-man understrength platoon and equipping the defenders with machine guns, anti-tank rifles, and mortars. In keeping with Stalin's order of "not one step back", Sgt. Pavlov was ordered to fortify the building and defend it to the last bullet and the last man. Taking these orders to heart, Pavlov ordered the building to be surrounded with four layers of barbed wire and minefields, and set up machine-gun posts in every available window facing the square. In the early stages of the defense, Pavlov discovered that a PTRS-41 anti-tank rifle he had mounted on the roof was particularly effective when used to ambush unsuspecting German tanks; once the tanks had approached to within 25 meters of the building, their thin turret-roof armor became exposed to AT rifle fire from above, but they were unable to elevate their weapons enough to retaliate. Pavlov reportedly personally destroyed nearly a dozen tanks using this tactic.

For better internal communication, they breached the walls in the basement and upper floors, and dug a communications trench to Soviet positions outside. Supplies were brought in via the trench or by boats crossing the river, defying German air raids and shelling. Nevertheless, food and especially water was in short supply. Lacking beds, the soldiers tried to sleep on insulation wool torn off pipes, yet usually the Germans kept shooting at the house with deafening machine-gun fire day and night.

The Germans attacked the building several times a day. Each time German infantry or tanks tried to cross the square and to close in on the house, Pavlov's men laid down a withering barrage of machine gun and AT rifle fire from the basement, the windows and from the roof top, devastating the German attackers and forcing them to retreat. By mid-November, Pavlov's men reportedly had to use lulls in the fighting to run out and kick over the heaped piles of German corpses so they could not be used as cover for the next round of attackers.

Eventually the defenders, as well as the Soviet civilians who kept living in the basement all that time, held out during intensive fighting from 23 September until 25 November 1942, when they were relieved by the counter-attacking Soviet forces.

Thanks to Wikipedia.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Pavlov's house was perpendicular to the Volga. The flour mill in the left background is parallel to the Volga.