Order No. 227
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Order No. 227 issued on July 28, 1942 was a grand order issued by Joseph Stalin who was acting as the People's Commissar of Defense. It is famous for its line "Not one step back!" (Russian: Ни шагу назад! / Ni shagu nazad!), which became a slogan of Soviet resistance.
During the first part of the Great Patriotic War, the Soviets experienced heavy losses along with mass retreat and desertion. Stalin released order No. 227 to reestablish discipline in the Soviet Army.
The order itself has a very passionate preamble.
“Enemy throws to battle new forces and doesn’t encounter its heavy losses, crawls to into Soviet lands, capturing new regions, havocs and destroys our cities and villages, rapes and kills Soviet population… German occupant forces by all means want to take Kuban and Northern Caucasus rich in bread and oil… Units of South front led by scaremongers left Rostov and Novocherkassk without serious resistance and without orders from Moscow, they covered their colours with shame.
"Population of our country loves and respects the Red Army, but now people are disappointed that the Red Army leaves our people to be enslaved by German oppressors and runs further to the east. Some not so smart people comfort themselves by conversations that we can run further to the east, because we have a lot of land, many people and we’ll always have plenty of bread. They use this to justify their infamous actions on the fronts.
"… but further retreat to the east means to sentence to death our people and our Motherland, every bit of our land given to the enemy will enforce him and will weaken our defense, our Motherland.”
Marshal of the Soviet Union Aleksandr Vasilevsky wrote in his book The Matter of my Whole Life: “…Order N 227 is one of the most powerful document of war years due to patriotic and emotional content… the document was motivated by rough and dark times… while reading it we were thinking to ourselves if we do everything it takes to win the battle.”
No commander had the right to retreat without an order. Anyone who did so was subject to a military tribunal of the corresponding seniority level.
Order No. 227 established that each Front must create 1 to 3 penal battalions (штрафбат, штрафной батальон, shtrafbat, shtrafnoy battalion) of up to 800 middle class commanders and high class commanders accused of disciplinary problems, which were sent to the most dangerous sections of the front lines. Each Front had to create penal companies for privates and NCOs. By the end of 1942 there were 24,993 people serving in the penal battalions, which increased to 177,694 people in 1943. The number decreased over the next two years to 143,457 and 81,766 people in 1944 and 1945, respectively, for a total of 427,910 soldiers who were assigned to penal battalions during the course of the war.
Both measures were cited in the preamble of the order as having been successfully used by the Germans during their winter retreat.
The requirement for Armies to maintain companies of barrier troops was withdrawn after just three months, on October 29, 1942. Intended to galvanize the morale of the hard-pressed Soviet Army and emphasize patriotism, it had a generally detrimental effect and was not consistently implemented by commanders who viewed diverting troops to create barrier units as a waste of manpower, so by October 1942 the idea of regular blocking units was quietly dropped. By 20 November 1944 the blocking units were officially disbanded.
- Roberts, Geoffrey. Stalin's Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939–1953. New Haven, CT; London: Yale University Press, 2006 (hardcover, ISBN 0-300-11204-1), page 132
- G. I. Krivosheev. Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses. Greenhill 1997 ISBN 1-85367-280-7
- Catherine Merridale. Ivan's War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945. Page 158. Macmillan, 2006. ISBN 0-8050-7455-4
- Sellas, Anthony (1992). The Value of Human Life in Soviet Warfare, New York: Routledge.
- History Channel, Monday 24 Nov 2008 @ 1400hr Eastern Time.
- Wikisource:Order No. 227 by the People's Commissar of Defence of the USSR (in English)
- Wikisource: Original text (in Russian)