(This week I’m posting one of my favorite chapters from my third book, BADASS: ULTIMATE DEATHMATCH).
The Battle of Stalingrad is the single bloodiest battle in human history. Over the course of sixth months of non-stop, ultra over-the-top-in-a-bad-way combat, this unfathomably-violent blood fiesta ended the lives of two million people, almost single-handedly obliterated an entire generation of Russian and German men, and reduced a modern, sprawling industrial city to shrapnel-riddled rubble unfit for . To put the scale of this carnage in perspective, it's like taking every article on Wikipedia, turning that into a person, and then shooting them in the head. It's a number that's larger than the combined populations of Monaco, Bermuda, Estonia, Iceland, Lichtenstein, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia. Yet, despite all of this devastation and tragedy, in the middle of this blood-scorched wasteland of miserable ass-sucking awfulness, one man proved himself a hero equal in epicness to the battle that raged around him – a lowly sergeant from some unknown village in Russiawho almost single-handedly tipped the scales in the battle that changed the course of World War II in Europe. Jacob Pavlov of the 42nd Regiment, 13th Guards Division, had been little more than a proud-yet-insignificant peasant farmer at the beginning of the war. But at Stalingrad his iron-willed ability to kick the crap out of Fascist Nazi Deutschbags with a skill that has never been witnessed by human beings before or since altered the course of the battle, and, with it, the course of World War II itself.
BADASS illustration by Brian Snoddy
On the afternoon of September 28th, 1942, Sergeant Pavlov was crouch-running his way across a snow-covered, smoke-swept field towards an ordinary-looking four-story apartment building on the edge of Solechnaya Street, part of what used to be downtown Stalingrad before downtown Stalingrad simply became a festering pile of rubble and Nazis. Facing the burned-out husk of what once was the town square, this sturdy building had somehow withstood the bomb-riddled horribleness that had leveled almost the entire rest of the city, but aside from that (and, you know, the MG42s spewing a steady stream of lead death out of every other window), it was otherwise relatively unremarkable. 7.92mm bullets zipped past his helmet as Pavlov charged across the coverless field, his PPSH submachine gun blaring, while one by one the German machine gun teams methodically cut down his squad as they raced across the open ground. By the time Pavlov got anywhere near the house, all that remained of his 30-man platoon were himself and two other men. This didn't seem to bother the sturdy peasant warrior, and he wasn't the sort of unstoppable assreaming maniac who would come all the way across a bullet-strewn field just to surrender to the enemy like some total dumbass (plus it's not like he could have expected mercy from the Germans, either). Another couple bursts of fire from his submachine gun (and a few close calls) later and he slammed his back up against the brick and mortar exterior and lobbed a pair of expertly-placed grenades right through the windows of the building, dropping them conveniently on the enemy weapons emplacements. The Germans that weren't gibbed into bite-sized morsels dropped their rifles and ran for it, and Pavlov, by virtue of the fact that he was the only non-commissioned officer that wasn't currently either dead or screaming for a medic, was now the senior ranking member of his unit. He ordered his two surviving men to sweep the building while he began administering first aid to the wounded Russian POWs and civilians he found inside. Within minutes the quick-minded sergeant had organized a defensive position, set his men on watch for counterattacks, and was firmly in control of a tiny, crumbling apartment building 200 meters on the German side of the Volga River. His orders were simple – do not let the Germans take this structure. Do not let them reach the river. Hold until death. Keep holding after death, if possible.
After a super-fun night fighting off repeated counterattacks, Pavlov's platoon was reinforced to twenty-five men the following morning. There were also nearly a dozen women trapped in the hardened military bunker that at one point used to be their homes, and Pavlov wisely had everyone – soldiers and civilians – busting their ass to turn this ordinary apartment building into a fortress of impenetrable deathdealing awesomeness. Within a few hours, every approach to the building was cleared of debris and cover, sprinkled with land mines, and redecorated with thousands of feet of barbed wire. Every window in the structure was sandbagged and stocked with enough weapons and ammunition to make David Koresh's stronghold look like Barney the Dinosaur's Happy Fun Land. Pavlov's men cut glory holes in the wall just big enough to fit the barrel of a machine gun through, and they ripped out the middle of the building's interior so that in the heat of battle they could throw machine guns, ammo, and grenades back and forth to one another even if they were on different floors. The platoon also dug a ten-foot deep communications trench back to the Volga that allowed them to sneak a ridiculously-huge wheeled anti-tank artillery piece into the basement, and which also allowed them to ferry food, ammunition and medical supplies back and forth between the Russian lines and Pavlov's fortress. By the time they were done, this was the sort of place that would have withstood the zombie apocalypse.
Of course, the main difference between the Battle of Stalingrad and the Zombie Apocalypse is that the swarm of humanity rushing towards Sergeant Pavlov was highly intelligent, well-coordinated, and highly-trained in the use of hand grenades and automatic weapons. This made things a little complicated, and having full regiments of German infantry charge the apartment day and night from every possible angle shouting and shooting at you was about as much fun as hiring Pyramid Head from the Silent Hill games to perform at your child's birthday party. Despite the unrelenting onslaught, Sergeant Pavlov tirelessly urged his men to kick ass and never stop kicking ass until there were no more asses left in the universe, as he and his men desperately held out against constant bombardment by human wave attacks. Repairs to the structure were made by the light of day, and at night the tracer fire poured out by the 25 men in the fortress was so intense that their killzone was visible across the entire battlefront – in some ways standing out like a beacon of heroic resistance against the Nazis, and a detail that earned Pavlov the Code Name LIGHTHOUSE.
The Germans hurled everything and the kitchen sink at this dude, but for some ungodly reason they just couldn't slow this insane juggernaut of Proletariat asskicking down. Even though bodies were piling up and they still couldn't take the building, the Germans also couldn't just chill out and ignore the dude, either – Pavlov held the main road approach to the Volga, and the Germans couldn't win the battle unless they were able to cross that river. So they kept throwing guys at him, and Pavlov kept killing them all.
When the Germans weren't occupying his bullets with the fleshy parts of their abdomens, Pavlov was personally out on the roof with a pair of binoculars sexting coordinates to Soviet artillery guns, which then in turn rained death down on the Nazi positions. At one point the Germans got so fed up with this jerk that they called in a full Panzer Division, rolled their up tanks so close to the house that they basically jammed their gun barrels through the windows and shot point-blank into the living room, but even this failed miserably – Pavlov saw them coming and had already cleared out the main floors and moved his anti-tank weaponry into the basement, where gunners blasted straight through the floor armor of the tanks and blew the Frankenberries off everyone inside. The panzers held in reserve were then shot through the thin armor at the tops of their turrets as marksmen on the roof armed with PTRS anti-tank rifles blasted a few dozen rounds of high-explosive armor-piercing ammunition the size of a baby's fist down from the roof, through the Nazi tank commanders, and right into the hull, where the bullet ignited the ammunition stores and sent the tank up like a TNT stick stuffed with M80s and Black Cats on Chinese New Year. By the time the Panzers figured out what the hell ass was blowing the scheiße out of them, they were already too close to the structure, and they couldn't raise their turret guns high enough to shoot back.
Just keeping this daily regime of Nazi-capping insanity up for a couple days is impressive, but for TWO FULL MONTHS the men of the 42nd Regiment, 13th Guards Rifle Division held their ground. The soldiers inside represented eight ethnicities from across the Soviet Union – Russian, Kazakh, Georgian, Uzbek, Tajik, Ukrainian, Jewish and Mongolian – and with every man wounded and exhausted, and the building crumbling around them from the constant mortar, artillery, and machine gun fire hammered it nonstop, these guys resolutely fought on against all odds. Jacob Pavlov, for his part, never seemed to lose his sunny, ever-cheery disposition, and even though this guy was a low-level sergeant he not only inspired his own beleaguered unit, but the entire Red Army – his balls-out defense was a propaganda-machine-fueled beacon of heroism amid a war that up until now had seen the Germans putting their dicks in mashed potatoes from Warsaw to Moscow. Always looking for ways to improve morale, during the defense Pavlov found an old phonograph machine in a blown-out apartment – it only had a single record, and nobody knew the tune, but he and his troops played that song until they'd memorized every note.
As the most ferocious battle of World War II raged around them, men fighting street-to-street and house-to-house, the Nazi onslaught continued on this makeshift fortress. Pavlov's men constantly cranked machine gun fire in every direction, and while the Germans were well-known for their strategic blitzkrieging-your-ass-off abilities, towards the end of the battle for Pavlov's Apartment it was kind of like the commander of the Sixth Army threw all that tactical nonsense out the window and started taking his operational cues from Zapp Branigan's Big Book of War – he simply hurled wave after wave of his own men at the Russians in a fight not too dissimilar to the Nazi Zombie survival mode in Call of Duty. It allegedly got to such a point that during breaks in the fighting the Russians had to run out of the house and kick over piles of bodies just so that they'd have clear firing lanes towards the enemy. Before long the place was covered with so many skulls and bones that it was starting to look like the cover of a Warhammer 40k codex – I feel like there's probably some kind of Yakov Smirnov, "In Soviet Russia, house keels YOU!" joke to be made here, but it seems to be eluding me at the moment for some obnoxious reason.
Jacob Pavlov's troops held the position for an unbelievable fifty-nine days. By that point the Battle for Stalingrad was nearly decided – Pavlov and the other defenders of this vital city had held long enough for a fresh Soviet army group to arrive from Siberia, encircle the German Sixth army and utterly annihilate it where it stood. The defense of Stalingrad proved to be the turning point of World War II – the back of the Nazi invasion of Russia had been broken, and from that point on the Germans would be on the defensive as they retreated all the way back to Berlin. And, in the middle of all of this, for two months, one sergeant had held the high-water mark of the German invasion of Russia. The Fascists never advanced past him, never took the building , and never overran his position, despite outnumbering his force by a factor of about a hundred thousand to one. Sergeant Jacob Pavlov survived the battle, fought through the rest of the war, was present during the fall of Berlin, and was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union, the country's highest honor for military bravery. The building he defended is still standing today and is a national landmark in Russia.
But, despite all that, the greatest testament to Pavlov's defense is this – when the Russians captured the Sixth Army, they noticed that German commander General Friedrich von Paulus' personal map of the battlefield had the structure circled in red and with the hand-written word "Castle" next to it.
The Russians maps had simply labeled it "Pavlov's House."