- "La Garde meurt mais ne se rend pas!"Once Again on the 28 Panfilov Heroes
Ikh bylo tol´ko dvadtsat´ vosem´,A za spinoi byla Moskva![There were only 28 of them,But they had their backs to Moscow!]—Song of the 28 Panfilov Soldiers1
Every Soviet citizen got to hear about the feat of the 28 men from the 316th Rifle Division commanded by General Ivan Panfilov. The first Soviet multi-volume academic history of the war presented their endeavor of 16 November 1941 in the following terms:
A group of tank destroyers from the 1077th Rifle Regiment of the 316th Rifle Division accomplished an unprecedented feat at Dubosekovo Station: 28 heroes fought 50 enemy tanks. The enemy hoped to break through our defenses at this sector to the Volokolamsk Highway and [then] advance on Moscow. ... The enemy employed 20 tanks. ... At that moment, Company Commissar V. G. Klochkov came to the trenches of tank destroyers. "It is not that scary," he told the soldiers. "There is less than one tank per person." The courageous Panfilov men destroyed 14 tanks with hand grenades, Molotov cocktails, and anti-tank rifles. The remaining tanks retreated. The soldiers barely had time to bandage their wounds before 30 more tanks attacked their position. ... Commissar Klochkov told his soldiers the words that were later to become the slogan of all Moscow defenders: "Russia is vast, but there is nowhere to retreat— we have our backs to Moscow!" Severely wounded, the commissar threw himself under an enemy tank with several hand grenades and blew it up. This heroic battle lasted for four hours. The enemy lost 18 tanks and dozens of soldiers but failed to break through.2 [End Page 769]
As a Russian author observed, "the news about the unprecedented feat at Dubosekovo Station spread all across the country; dozens of articles, brochures, songs, verses and poems were written about the courage and valor of the 28, and their famous story entered high-school and university textbooks."3
Most of the information in this story is false. The described unit was regular infantry rather than tank destroyers. They belonged to the 1075th rather than the 1077th Rifle Regiment. The Germans did not consider the Volokolamsk Highway as a shortcut to Moscow; in fact they advanced across the highway because they planned no direct assault on Moscow. Instead they intended to envelop the Soviet capital from the north. There is no hard evidence that the famous 28 destroyed any German tanks. The units that opposed the German tank attack that day were far larger than a 28-man platoon: two companies of the 316th Rifle Division defended positions around Dubosekovo and Shiriaevo with about 120-40 soldiers each. It was a sergeant, rather than Commissar Klochkov, who commanded the majority of the 28 for most of the engagement. Klochkov never said the flamboyant phrases attributed to him, and it is unknown how and where he died during that day. Finally, 2 of the 28 had died two days before this action, and 1 did not participate in it. It is unknown how many of the 28 were killed or taken prisoner in this particular action, although it is clear that at least 6 of them survived the war, contrary to the Stalinist official version of this event, which claimed that all 28 died. These soldiers failed to stop the German offensive, and in the afternoon of 16 November, German units reached the positions they had intended when they compiled their schedule several days earlier.
In 1948, the Military Prosecutor's Office conducted an investigation of the action at Dubosekovo and proved the falsity of the canonized account. The prosecutors summarized the outcome of their work: "The feat of the 28 Panfilov Guards described in the media is the invention of the reporter Koroteev, [and of] Ortenberg, editor of the Krasnaia zvezda newspaper, and especially of Krivitskii, literary secretary of the newspaper."4 When the prosecutors passed this conclusion on to the Politburo, however, the Politburo chose to ignore it and kept the verdict classified, thus perpetuating the myth, which has survived until the present. The state built numerous monuments to the...