Tuesday, May 24, 2011

YAKOV PAVLOV (1917-1981), The Defender of "Pavlov's House" in Stalingrad

Yakov Pavlov and "Pavlov's House" in Stalingrad

Yakov Fedotovich Pavlov (Russian: Я́ков Федо́тович Па́влов; 4 October 1917–29 September 1981) was a Soviet Red Army soldier awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union (June 27, 1945) for his role in defending "Pavlov's House" during the Battle of Stalingrad.

Born in 1917 to a peasant family in the small village of Krestovaya in northwestern Russia (present-day Novgorod Oblast), Pavlov joined the Red Army in 1938. During the German-Soviet War, he fought on the Southwestern, Stalingrad, 3rd Ukrainian and 2nd Belorussian fronts. Pavlov was a commander of a machine gun unit, an artilleryman, and a commander of a reconnaissance unit with the rank of Senior Sergeant.

As for Pavlov, he was all but canonized by Soviet propaganda. Although the documents that were disclosed after the collapse of the Soviet Union prove that Pavlov didn’t play quite the role that was ascribed to him. The true story, however, does not diminish the courage or endurance of Soviet soldier.

Yakov Pavlov was born in the village of Krestovaya in the Novgorod region. His birth and his childhood coincided with the turbulent years of the Russian Revolution. After finishing middle school, Pavlov stayed in his village to work in farming until he joined the army in 1938.

WWII brought him to Ukraine, where he took part in the first loosing battles of the Soviet Army that retreated to the east under the German push.

In July 1942 Pavlov arrived in Stalingrad after being transferred to the 13th guard division of General Aleksandr Rodimtsev, one of the most celebrated commanders of the subsequent battle. At that time, Pavlov led the machinegun squad and spent most of August in training not far from the city. When his division reentered Stalingrad in September, the enemy was already in the city.

On 27 September 1942 Pavlov received orders to determine the enemy’s position in the four-story building situated on January 9 Square. The house had an advantageous strategic position and was occupied by the Germans.

The building was strategically placed at one end of the square and give the defenders a clear line of sight to the north, south, and west. If the German army were to occupy the square, they had to secure the apartment building where Pavlov was stationed. If you were to look at the apartment building on a map you would notice that it is the last major building before the Volga River. It was the end of the line for the defenders of Stalingrad. Take "one step back" and your in the damn river. Hold the line and save the city. Lose it, and Hitler wins.

Oh, its on.

Fortunately Pavlov was reinforced with some additional units, bringing his motley crew to about two-dozen fighting men...

"Hurray! What a relief!! Wait what? Only two-dozen? What the... Is this some kind of joke? How in the name of Lenin's Ghost are we to be able to defend this pile of rubble with 24 men? ... Huh? Oh, hold out for two months he says! Suuuure, no problem. Do you want us to do it with no sleep on top of it? What more coul–– What? ... You're saying we won't get much sleep either? I... You better just walk away right now. Just walk away before I rip your head off."

They were supplied with mortar, anti-tank rifles and machine guns. They placed barbed wire and minefields at the approaches to the building and machine-guns and anti-tank rifles in the windows facing the square. They dug a tunnel to the Soviet positions along the Volga through which they could be resupplied with artillery and food.

On September 23, the German offensive to seize control of Pavlov's House, as it was now called, began in earnest. Wave after wave of German soldiers rushed Pavlov's House only to be gunned down. Pavlov himself figured out that if he stationed the anti-tank rifles on top of the building they they could fire down at the approaching tanks that were within 25 meters and hit their thin turret-armor from the top and destroy the tanks. The German tanks could not aim their turrets high enough to return fire. Pavlov alone has been reported to have gunned down 12 Panzer tanks. After every lull in the fighting, Pavlov's men would have to sneak out of the building and kick over the German bodies that were piling up in the square to prevent the next German assault from seeking cover behind their dead comrades.

The Germans attacked the building several times daily for weeks on end. Pavlov's men ripped the wool insulation off of pipes to sleep on, but the Germans would fire on the building constantly, depriving the defenders from much needed sleep. The supply line would be cut for days at a time, resulting in low ammunition and starvation. Yet no matter under what conditions Pavlov's platoon were enduring, the German military could not seize control of the building from this rag-tag group of sleep-deprived, starving, injured, exhausted Soviets. Pavlov's House was so impenetrable, it was being marked as a fortress on German maps.

Pavlov's House held out from September 23 to November 25 when the Soviet Red Army counter-offensive relieved them. For two months two-dozen men bought the Soviet army enough time to coordinate their attack on the German army that ultimately led to wining the Battle of Stalingrad and turning the tide of the war in the Soviets favor. Notice again that two-dozen men held off the German army for two months, while all of France fell within 6 weeks. Although anything looks good compared to French resolve, this is a staggering accomplishment. Through Yakov Pavlov's grit and courage, not only did he and his men change the direction of the war in the east and ultimately bring about the destruction of the Nazi regime, but they showed that the world's greatest feats and heroics are sometimes achieved by common-place men who would have never been known otherwise. Pavlov's House is a reminder to all that the human spirit and will is the strongest ally an army can have.

After the war Pavlov returned to his home region of Novgorod. He graduated from the School of the Communist Party and quickly climbed the career ladder. Pavlov was elected Deputy to the Communist Party Supreme Council of Nizhny Novgorod three times. He was decorated with a red star (Hero of Soviet Union), the highest honor for a Soviet soldier, and also received the Order of Lenin and other state honors.

Yakov Pavlov died on 28 September 1981. He was buried in Nizhny Novgorod. There are some accounts that mistakenly claim that Pavlov became a monk such as Anthony Beevor’s “Stalingrad: The Faithful Siege.” He is in fact confused with Ivan Pavlov, another Soviet soldier who took part in the Battle of Stalingrad, who entered the ministry in the eighties.

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