Joseph Stalin’s Order Number 270

I’ve been listening to a really fantastic history podcast, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. The most recent episode is Ghosts of the Ostfront II. It is the second part of a show that deals with what the Russians refer to as The Great Patriotic War, the theatre of war between the German Third Reich and the old Soviet Union during World War Two.

I learned something I had never heard of before, something called Order No. 270.

At the onset of war between Germany and the Soviets, German troops, thanks to their blitzkrieg tactics, were making great strides deep into the Soviet Union. Large groups of Soviet soldiers were simply giving up and surrendering to the advancing Germans without putting up much of a fight.

On August 16, 1941, Joseph Stalin issued Order No. 270. It stated that any Soviet soldier that willingly surrendered to the Germans would be considered a “malicious deserter”.  Their family would be arrested as a family of an “oath breaker” and betrayer of the Motherland. Soviet soldiers that found themselves encircled by German soldiers were to fight to the death or to try to reach their own lines. Those who chose to be captured instead of escaping or committing suicide were to be killed if at all possible.  Family members of Soviet soldiers captured by the Germans would be totally cut off from all state allowances and assistance.

How completely crazy is that? Could you imagine if a soldier in Iraq was captured by insurgents and his or her family back home was rounded up by the FBI and thrown into jail?

Talk about not supporting the troops.

11 thoughts on “Joseph Stalin’s Order Number 270”

  1. Stalin was not much different on surrender policy than Hitler nor Tojo.

    A couple of examples:

    Hitler had a policy of fighting to the death. He expected Rommel and his Afrika Corps. to fight to the death instead of withdrawal when they had run out of supplies and equipment. Rommel disobeyed him.

    Hitler ordered the Sixth Army at Stalingrad commanded by General Paulus to fight to the death instead of attempting a breakout before they were out of food, medicine, ammunition and proper winter clothing in Arctic type winter temperatures. Paulus believed Hitler was a mad man disobeyed and surrendered himself and the sixth army to the Russians. Hitler attempted a prisoner exchange of Stalin’s son Yasha for Paulus because he wanted to have the pleasure of executing Paulus for disobeying him. Stalin surprised Hitler when he replied to the offer “I have no son in your prison” and later Yasha committed suicide as a POW because he feared he might later be sent back to Russia where he would be executed by his father.

    The Japanese military had a policy of no surrender for anyone in the Japanese military for any reason. To surrender was to dishonor your country, emperor and family and you could never return home with any honor so you might as well fight to the death or commit Hari-Kari because your life as you knew it was over.

    Both the German army as well as the Soviet Army had “penal battalions” people that were comprised of deserters, defeatists, malingers that would rather take their chances in a penal battalion rather than a death camp prison were sent ahead of regular troops to clear mine fields or make a frontal assault on a very dangerous objective. In either army if they turned and ran their fate was the same…they were shot by the troops behind them. One way they might live but to try to run away was sure death.

  2. Absolutely fascinating… especially as one who has served in the military (the US military, thankfully).

  3. It very easy to judge now, fifty years on, for people who never had such a war being fought on their OWN land! You cannot compare the Great Patriotic War to Iraq in anyway.

    In no way am I justifying Stalin’s actions who took severe measures to win the war against Hitler, since my own grandfather was captured by the Nazis and taken hostage. He later escaped only to find himself as ‘the enemy of the Motherland’ and sent off to Siberia.

    But thanks to Stalin we are not all speaking German at the moment. History is sadly being rewritten and many have no idea what Russia did to win WW2.

    1. I’m not really judging Maria. I just thought it was fascinating. And I wasn’t trying to compare the Great Patriotic War to the conflict in Iraq. I just didn’t have anything else to compare it to.

      And you are right. Most people don’t understand that it was the Soviet Union that brought an end to the Third Reich, not the Americans or the British. When the Allies invaded Normandy, it was to ensure that the Soviets didn’t capture western Europe after defeating Germany.

      I only know this because I am a World War II buff. At least that’s what the Miami Herald says.

      1. Hmmm… perhaps they were confused because you are fascinated with WWII while in the buff. Big difference there.

        My Dad loves things related to the Civil War, but seldom reads books naked. I, on the other hand, read James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific like three times a year, often while basking naked on the deck.

        The Miami Herald is obviously anti-nudite.

        1. Not that I don’t know a thing or two about WW2 history. You might not believe it, but I once made a visit to the island of Corregidor and saw where General Douglas MacArthur made the famous quote about vowing to return.

  4. Thanks for your reply. I definitely picked the wrong word when I said – “judging”, just the reference to Iraq touched me. But i understand the point you were bringing across. Appreciate the post!!!

    1. I’m curious, with your personal connection to the Soviet Union, have you read the two novels by Tom Rob Smith, Child 44 and The Secret Speech? If not, you ought to give them a read. They take place in 1953 Russia. I found them to be remarkable books to read.

  5. @Maria:

    Thanks to Stalin? I suggest you re-read a bit of history. Stalin executed most of his officers before the war, leaving his military crippled. When Barbarossa began, Stalin insisted on commanding his army himself. Unlike Hitler, however, Stalin was smart enough to quickly wise up to the fact that he wasn’t such a good general after all. Once he delegated command to his Generals the war began to turn around.

  6. And if he hadn’t given that order, what then? If Germany had won a complete victory over Russia the situation would have been far worse for the allies. It’s a lesser of two evils proposition, like Trotsky aiming machine guns at his own advancing troops to ensure they wouldn’t retreat. Or perhaps like the firebombing of Tokyo, and the two atomic bombs– war is brutal, and everything about it is a lesser of two evils proposition, kill or be killed. There’s no doubt that Stalin was insane and I can’t and won’t defend his purges or paranoia, but in war morals are a continually shifting boundary; many Americans will shudder at order 270, but justify torture of suspected terrorists. If you really want to be moral, you drop your weapon and turn and face the machine guns and accept your fate.

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