World War 2 History: Pavlov's House in Stalingrad-- They Shall Not Pass
In July 1942, the Germans approached Stalingrad in the south of Russia. By taking Stalingrad, situated on the Volga River, they would cut off oil supplies from the south needed by Stalin's armies in the north. After massive bombing and artillery attacks, the Germans launched their ground assault against the outnumbered Russians. In September, as elements of the German 6th army neared the central part of the city three blocks from the Volga, they ran into Sergeant Yakov Pavlov and his men defending from an apartment building. Pavlov and the other soldiers in the building held them off for two months before significant Red Army reinforcements arrived and pushed the Germans back.
An Apartment Building in Downtown Stalingrad
On September 27, a 30-man Russian platoon was ordered to retake a four-story apartment building the Germans had just captured which overlooked a large square in the north-south center of Stalingrad. Since the platoon's lieutenant and senior sergeants were already either dead or wounded, the men were led by 24-year-old Junior Sergeant Yakov Fedotovich Pavlov. After a fierce fight that killed 26 of the 30 members of his platoon, Pavlov and three others took control of the building and set about defending and fortifying it against German counterattacks. The building had a clear view of up to a kilometer in three directions, east, north and south. In the basement were ten civilians who stayed there for the duration. There was nowhere else to go.
Tanks Below, Anti-Tank Rifle Above and Sometimes a Sniper
After several days, 26 more Russian soldiers, led by Lieutenant Ivan F. Afanasiev, who would nominally be in charge, managed to join them. They brought much needed supplies and weapons, including mines, mortars, machine-guns and a PTRS-41 anti-tank rifle. Four layers of barbed wire and minefields were laid out across the approaches to the building and machine guns were stationed in the windows facing the square. By now, the German infantry, supported by tanks, were attacking every day, sometimes several times a day, trying to dislodge them. Pavlov discovered that, by waiting for the tanks to get within 25 yards and firing from the roof, the anti-tank rifle could penetrate the turrets' thinner top armor and the tanks couldn't elevate their weapons high enough to return fire. Pavlov is credited with destroying up to a dozen tanks with his anti-tank rifle during the siege.
Later, the defenders tunneled through the basement wall and dug a communication trench to another Soviet position. In this way, when boats braving German artillery and air raids managed to cross the Volga, food, supplies and especially water, trickled in. Occasionally, they were visited by 19-year-old Anatoly Chekhov who liked to snipe from the building's rooftop. Stalingrad was a sniper's paradise; an estimated 3,000 Germans died in Stalingrad from sniper bullets. Chekhov alone was responsible for the deaths of 256 of them.
Walls of Dead Germans Knocked Down
At one point, a bomb destroyed one wall of the building, but they kept fighting the Germans off. Every time the enemy crossed the square and closed in on them, they returned such a withering barrage of machine-gun fire, mortar shells and 14.5 mm anti-tank armor-piercing rounds, the Germans were forced to retreat with heavy losses. By November, it is said that, after most assaults, Pavlov and the other defenders had to run out between lulls in the fighting and kick down piles of dead Germans so the corpses wouldn't block their view of the next assault. German maps showed the building as a fortress.
At one point, the Germans controlled 90% of the city and had divided the Russians into three enclaves with their backs to the Volga River. There were other heroic pockets of resistance-- notably to the north where large factories were fought over for months. Pavlov and the others held out in their building for two months, until November 25, 1942, when the Red Army counterattacked and they were relieved.
Turning Point in the War
The Battle for Stalingrad lasted from July 1942 until February 1943, when the surrounded Germans surrendered. The Russians lost 640,000 killed, missing or wounded along with 40,000 dead civilians. The Germans lost 745,000 killed, missing or wounded and 91,000 captured. Of those who were captured, only 6,000 ever made it back to Germany. One of Germany's most powerful armies was utterly destroyed and the Red Army had shown it could attack on a massive scale no one had thought possible. It was the turning point of World War II.
There is a mission in the popular video game Call of Duty where the player, as a Russian conscript, must help capture and defend an apartment building from waves of German attackers until reinforcements arrive. The squad leader in this mission is named Sergeant Pavlov. Also, the multiplayer version contains a map of Pavlov's House.
Sergeant Pavlov was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union, the Order of Lenin, the Order of the October Revolution, two Orders of the Red Star as well as other, lesser medals. The apartment building he defended was renamed Pavlov's House. It was later rebuilt and a monument made of bricks from its ruins was attached to the building where it stands today in modern-day Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad). Yakov Pavlov left the Army in 1946 as a lieutenant and joined the Communist Party. He was elected three times as a deputy in the Supreme Soviet of Russia, Russia's parliament. Pavlov died on September 29, 1981.