Alright you fuckers, suck in that gut, bring it in, and put down your goddamn phones and ‘Pokemon Go’. Today I’ve got some a life lesson and some shit that’s half motivation and half warning, especially for you young NCOs… See, your perception of what war is has been shaped by your generation and the conflict it fought. Terrorists are not what we fundamentally train to fight. The Iraqi or Afghan insurgent doesn’t pose an existential threat to the United States, He’s an asshole. An unprofessional. An amateur 3rd world garbage person with a Kalashnikov and a copy of the Quran. He is not why we wear the uniform. He will not eradicate our Republic even if he had a million of his brethren behind him in his backwards shithole of a country. He can’t get here in force. We train to fight professionals, and like the prize fighter ten years out of the circuit we have not done that for a very long time. Even Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard were not dedicated professional soldiers of their country… They were at best a well-trained militia with 1970’s era armaments – one that had never won a war. They were wiped out by our superior technology in mere days in 2003. However, with all the hysteria about Russia these days, let’s not forget who we really train to fight; professional militaries who could pose an existential threat to the United States and its Constitution. You may have been heavily indoctrinated in star-spangled awesomeness while you were in basic training or the basic NCO course of your service… but remember, being an American does not stop bullets and the enemy is capable of quality leadership and the profession of arms too. Case in point; Junior Sergeant Yakov Pavlov of the Soviet Union.
The trendy thing among American liberals right now is to fear monger against the Russians, but I’m not here to do that. I’m here to deliberately and solemnly remind you that the enemy is also capable of leadership and valor. Ivan is the bad guy and always will be as far as I’m concerned; but just like Apollo Creed, failing to respect him is a recipe for failure and death. If you think that’s not possible in our technologically advanced modern military I’d recommend you look up what happened to Task Force Smith in the opening days of US involvement on the Korean peninsula. So, today’s story is about the professional competence and valor of a goddamn Russkie Communist Heathen, but one who put such a hurt of the Nazis that his name will live in Russian lore for centuries to come.
Junior Sergeant Yakov Pavlov was one of the shiniest new non-commissioned officers in the Red Army in 1942, but his valor and professional competence would bring an entire Nazi army to its knees in one of the most vicious battles in human history; Stalingrad. In 1942, the Nazi German Wehrmacht was invincible; It had conquered France and Poland in 6 weeks a piece. It had run unopposed through Denmark, Norway, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Holland, and the Balkans in mere months. It had put Britain on its heels and seized mainland Europe under the control of Fascism and Nazi tyranny in the span of a couple human pregnancies. Hitler looked as if he would be the new Charlemagne and a 3rd Reich was poised to conquer the cradle of modern civilization… In 1941 amidst his period of seeming invincibility; Hitler broke his non-aggression pact with Stalin and rolled his Panzer divisions East in pursuit of the communist motherland. His initial assault covered vast swaths of Russian territory, driving entire Soviet armies into submission and subjugating millions of Russian people under Hitler’s vision of “lebensraum” (living space) for Germans. In their way were a bunch of half-starved Russian Patriots in a city along the Volga River. Now, the initial German assault went really well for them. The defenders outside the city were crushed. The bombing campaign reduced much of the city to piles of smoldering rubble and the defenders were pushed back to a series of pockets on the banks of the Volga. Victory looked assured for the Wehrmacht in Stalin’s namesake city. However, the Red Army held on in 2 small beachheads and offered stiff resistance with their backs to the Volga. In the center of these pockets was a 4-story brick apartment building that overlooked a key road intersection to the Soviet positions. The entire German 6th Panzer Army had its sights set on that building; if it fell to the Germans, they could easily roll up the Soviet defenders, collapse their perimeter and push the remains of the Red Army into the river. In their way was an under-strength platoon led by Junior Sergeant Pavlov.
If you’re wondering why a junior sergeant (what we in the US military would call a “Buck Sergeant”) is leading a Platoon, remember that Stalingrad was a great place to die. Over 2 Million people both military and civilian would take the big dirt nap there. Between the 2 armies over 6,000 artillery pieces, 3,000 aircraft, and millions of small arms ensured that there was enough metal flying around to give everyone a piece of something to remember the war by. It was such vicious fighting that the 13th Guards Rifle Division (Pavlov’s division) ceased to exist as a unit after 3 days. Of the 10,000 men, only 320 would survive the battle. That’s what happened to Sergeant Pavlov’s platoon as they advanced to the apartment building he was tasked to hold. The remaining men available to seize and hold the building that were not dead or wounded was Sergeant Pavlov and 3 junior enlisted soldiers. They took the building and held out for a couple days fending off initial German probing attacks all by themselves. About 2 days into their defense another platoon came to reinforce them with about 25 men. That brought the total to 29 enlisted and 1 useless Lieutenant that had shown up with the reinforcements. The men took all direction from Sergeant Pavlov.
Then came the rest of the 6th Panzer army…
Sergeant Pavlov understood his situation and what it meant if his position fell. So he did what any good NCO would do; he organized his men, set sectors of fire, and improved his position at every opportunity. He placed machine guns in the basement windows to give covering fire across the open space in front of the house, he had his men construct a communications trench between the building and friendly positions to his rear to protect his runners from the constant German fire and snipers. He emplaced a PTRS-41 anti-tank rifle on the upper floor to engage the German light tanks and armored cars that probed his position. By letting the German armor get close and hitting them in the upper turret with the 14.5mm API bullets, his men could destroy or disable the Panzers without exposing themselves to return fire – the Germans could not elevate their turrets high enough to engage the roof at close range. By day his men manned their positions and by night they improved them. Under cover of darkness Sergeant Pavlov led his men crawling into the open to place anti-tank and anti-personnel mines around the house to cover the dead-space their machine guns couldn’t reach and stop the approaches of German tanks. They would also kick down the German bodies that had piled up the day prior in order to keep their sectors of fire clear. They cut mouse-holes in the interior walls of the building to move ammunition quickly between gun positions and ran a telegraph wire out the communications trench behind them to call for artillery support. Spools of barbed wire were unrolled at key points to canalize the German troops into machine gun fire. Mortar pits were dug behind the house to provide indirect fire support to the beleaguered defenders. By the end of the first week the house had become a fortress. The men would hold it for another 8 weeks until the Soviets counter-attacked in force and expanded their bridgehead on the western bank of the Volga.
Despite constant artillery fire, repeated attacks, and bombs from German aircraft destroying one side of the building; the defense never caved, all due to Sergeant Pavlov’s leadership. When the Soviets finally forced the surrender of the 6th Panzer Army on February 2nd, 1943 the map in German Field Marshall Freidrich von Paulus’ HQ had a building circled on it labeled “Das Schloss” (the Castle). In Soviet Field Marshall Zhukov’s HQ the same building was also circled on the map, but was simply labeled “Sergeant Pavlov’s House”. More Germans died trying to seize this one building than they did taking the entire city of Paris. A piece of that building still stands in the city that no longer bears Stalin’s name (Stalingrad is now called Volgagrad) and is a national monument of Russia. Sergeant Yakov Pavlov would earn the title “Hero of the Soviet Union” for his unyielding defense. He would go on to attain the rank of ‘Starshina’ (Sergeant Major) and continued his career for many years in the Soviet army, training thousands of new NCOs in the process. He died in 1981 of heart disease.
I want to impart on you that war with another world power will not be like chasing Haji fuckheads through the sandbox and then waiting for some O-6 to give you approval to kill them from 150 Kilometers away after he and his legal team review the ROE. War with Russia, China, North Korea, or even Iran will be very different from what you have ever fought. These countries have professional militaries, especially the goddamn Ivans. Ivan is training today knowing he may have to kill you. His army isn’t concerned with transgender sensitivity training. They don’t put women in their infantry. They haze their soldiers until they get stronger, break, or quit. He’s a hard motherfucker and you have an uphill battle to be harder than he is. Wars of the future will be Stalingrad all over again. 80% of the world’s population lives in cities… Imagine Fallujah, but with 10,000 professional soldiers in it instead of 3,600 amateur insurgents. Imagine a war where the US Air Force doesn’t have complete control of the skies at all times. Someday you might have to get your gun team to hump up 16 stories to clear communist heathens out of a South Korean apartment building. You might have to help the Ukrainians clear the streets Kiev of Russian armored divisions. You might be the one holding some god-forsaken shithole against hordes of screaming Chinese like your grandpa did with First Marines in Chosin Reservoir. You will not rise to the occasion, you will sink to your lowest level of training.
Somewhere out there is a competent Russian NCO like Sergeant Pavlov running his fire team or his squad into the dirt, rucking them until their feet harden, and taking them through shooting drills until their arms go numb. That motherfucker is who you will have to fight. If you hope to win you need to train. Train harder than he does. Train despite the garrison bullshit the Army or the Marines want you to do. Train despite the weather. Innovate if you have to. Improvise, adapt and overcome if your training resources aren’t sufficient. There’s always a way to do PT! Train your body, your mind, and your teamwork until you know your squad mates instinctively. Don’t let your men slack in training. Dig that foxhole to standard. 33% watch at all times. No “admin” patrol bases. Train until there are no weak links. Go to the fucking gym and then go run your ass off… because I guarantee out there is another Sergeant Pavlov who is doing exactly that.
Iron Mike – Gruntworks Contributing Author