Iosif Stalin, Order No. 227. July 28, 1942
The enemy feeds more and more resources to the front, and, paying no attention to losses, moves on, penetrates deeper into the Soviet Union, captures new areas, devastates and plunders our cities and villages, rapes, kills and robs the Soviet people. The fighting goes on in Voronezh area, at Don, in the Southern Russia, at the gates of the North Caucasus. The German invaders are driving towards Stalingrad, towards Volga, and want to capture Kuban and the North Caucasus with their oil and bread riches at any price. The enemy has already captured Voroshilovgrad, Starobelsk, Rossosh, Kupiansk, Valuiki, Novocherkassk, Rostov on Don, half of Voronezh. Some units of the South front, following the panic-mongers, have abandoned Rostov and Novocherkassk without serious resistance and without order from Moscow, thus covering their banners with shame.
The people of our country, who treat the Red Army with love and respect, are now starting to be disappointed with it, lose faith in the Red Army, and many of them curse the Army for its fleeing to the east and leaving the population under German yoke.
Some unwise people at the front comfort themselves with arguments that we can continue the retreat to the east, as we have vast territories, a lot of soil, many people, and that we will always have abundance of bread. By these arguments they try to justify their shameful behavior at the front. But all these arguments are fully false, faked and working for our enemies.
Every commander, every soldier and political officer have to realize that our resources are not infinite. The territory of the Soviet Union is not a wilderness, but people – workers, peasants, intelligentsia, our fathers and mothers, wives, brothers, children. Territory of USSR that has been captured by the enemy and which enemy is longing to capture is bread and other resources for the army and the civilians, iron and fuel for the industries, factories and plants that supply the military with hardware and ammo; this is also railroads. With loss of Ukraine, Belorussia, the Baltics, Donetsk basin and other areas we have lost vast territories, that means that we have lost many people, bread, metals, factories, and plants. We no longer have superiority over enemy in human resources and in bread supply. Continuation of retreat means to destroy us and also our Motherland. Every new piece of territory that we leave to the enemy will strengthen our enemy and weaken us, our defenses, our Motherland.
This is why we have to eradicate the conversations that we can retreat without ending, that we have a lot of territory, that our country is great and rich, that we have a lot of population and we will always have enough bread. These conversations are false and harmful, as they weaken us and strengthen the enemy, for if we do not stop retreating, we will be left without bread, without fuel, without metals, without raw materials, without factories and plants, without railroads.
The conclusion is that it is time to stop the retreat. Not a single step back! This should be our slogan from now.
We need to protect every strongpoint, every meter of Soviet soil stubbornly, till the last droplet of blood, grab every piece of our soil and defend it as long as it is possible. Our Motherland is going through hard times. We have to stop, and then throw back and destroy the enemy, whatever it might cost us. The Germans are not as strong as the panic-mongers say. They are stretching their strength to the limit. To withstand their blow now means to ensure victory in the future.
Can we stand and throw the enemy back toward west? Yes, we can, as our plants and factories in the rear areas are working perfectly and are supplying our army with more and more tanks, planes, artillery and mortars.
So what do we lack? We lack order and discipline in companies, regiments and divisions, in tank units, in the Air Force squadrons. This is our major drawback. We have to introduce the strictest order and strong discipline in our army, if we want to save the situation and defend our Motherland.
We can no longer tolerate commanders, commissars, and political officers, whose units leave their defenses at will. We can no longer tolerate the fact that the commanders, commissars and political officers allow several cowards to run the show at the battlefield, that the panic-mongers carry away other soldiers in their retreat and open the way to the enemy. Panic-mongers and cowards are to be exterminated at the site.
From now on 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. This is the call of our Motherland.
To fulfill this order means to defend our country, to save our Motherland, to destroy and overcome the hated enemy.
After their winter retreat under pressure of the Red Army, when morale and discipline fell in the German troops, the Germans took some strict measures that led to pretty good results. They have formed 100 penal companies that were comprised of soldiers who broke discipline due to cowardice or instability; they have deployed them at the most dangerous sections of the front and have ordered them to redeem their sins by blood. Further on, they have formed around ten penal battalions comprised of officers who had broken discipline due to cowardice and instability, deprived them of their decorations and put them at even more dangerous sections of the front and ordered them to redeem their sins by blood. At last, the Germans have formed special guards units and deployed them behind unstable divisions and ordered them to execute panic-mongers at the site if they tried to leave their defensive positions without order or if they tried to surrender. As we know, these measures were effective, and now the German troops fight better than they fought in winter. What we have here is that the German troops have good discipline, although they do not have an uplifted mission of protection of the Motherland, and only have one goal – to conquer a strange land. Our troops, having defense of defiled Motherland as their mission, do not have this discipline and thus suffer defeat.
Shouldn’t we learn this lesson from our enemy, as our ancestors learned from their enemies in the past and overcame their enemies? I think that we should.
The Supreme Command of the Red Army Orders:
1. The military Councils of the fronts and first of all front commanders should:
a) In all circumstances decisively eradicate retreat attitude in the troops and with an iron hand prevent propaganda that we can and should continue the retreat to the east, and this retreat will not be harmful to us;
b) In all circumstances remove from offices and send to Stavka for court-martial those army commanders who allowed their troops to retreat at will, without authorization by the Front command;
c) Form within each Front 1 to 3 (depending on the situation) penal battalions (800 personnel), where commanding, senior commanders and political officers of corresponding ranks from all services, who have broken discipline due to cowardice or instability, should be sent. 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.
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 authorization by the army command, and send them to the Military Councils of the Fronts for court-martial;
b) Form 3 to 5 well-armed guards units, 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, thus giving faithful soldiers a chance to do their duty before the Motherland;
c) Form 5 to 10 (depending on the situation) penal companies, where soldiers and NCOs, who have broken discipline due to cowardice or instability, should be sent. These units should be deployed at the most difficult sectors of the front, thus giving their soldiers an opportunity to redeem their crimes against the Motherland by blood.
3. Corps and division commanders and commissars should:
a) In all circumstances remove from offices regiment and battalion commanders and commissars who allowed their troops to retreat at will without authorization from divisional or corps command, deprive them of their military decorations and send them to the Military Councils of fronts for court-martial;
b) Provide all possible help and support to the guards units 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.
People’s Commissar for Defense, I. Stalin
Source: Robert H. McNeal, ed. Resolutions and Decisions of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974).