Panfilov's Twenty-Eight Guardsmen
Not to be confused with the Panfilovtsy in general.
The Panfilov Division's Twenty-Eight Guardsmen (Russian: Двадцать восемь гвардейцев дивизии Панфилова), commonly referred to simply as Panfilov's Men (Russian: Панфиловцы, Panfilovtsy), were a group of soldiers from the Red Army's 316th Rifle Division who took part in the defense of Moscow during World War II. According to official Soviet history, they were all killed in action on 16 November 1941, after destroying 18 German tanks. The Twenty-Eight were collectively endowed with the title Hero of the Soviet Union. An investigation by Soviet authorities in 1948, since declassified, revealed that the description of the events was not accurate. Not all the twenty eight were killed — six of the soldiers were still alive. One of them was arrested in 1947 on charges of high treason and confessed to having “voluntarily” surrendered to German troops and later joined a German police force. The findings were kept secret, and the Twenty-Eight Guardsmen were considered national heroes until the collapse of the USSR.
Battle of Dubosekovo
The Red Army's 316th Rifle Division – a formation that consisted mostly of recruits from the Kazakh and Kirghiz Soviet Republics, commanded by General Ivan Panfilov – took up defensive positions in the vicinity of Volokolamsk as part of Konstantin Rokossovsky's 16th Army (Western Front). On the morning of 16 November, the positions of the Division's 1075th Regiment near the village of Dubosekovo were attacked by German forces from the 11th Panzer Division. In the ensuing battle, the Regiment was overwhelmed and retreated from the area. In a later testimony, the 1075th's commander, Colonel Ilya Kaprov, told that his unit was engaged by German tanks, and that the 4th Company of his 2nd Battalion, commanded by Captain Pavel Gundilovich, suffered over a hundred casualties in the fight against them, and yet managed to destroy some (tanks). Dubosekovo was occupied by the Germans until 20 December.
Krasnaya Zvezda articles
On 24 November 1941, Vasily Koroteev – a front reporter of the Red Army's newspaper, Krasnaya Zvezda – traveled to the 16th Army headquarters to interview Rokossovsky. While in the command post, he met Commissar Sergei Egorov, the chief political officer of the 8th Guards Panfilov Division - the new name of the 316th Division, which was granted to honor the memory of its commanding general, who was killed in action on 18 November. Egorov told the reporter of a group of soldiers who, when faced by 54 German tanks, fought to the last and shot two from among their own who wished to surrender. The commissar added that he was not present at the event, and heard of it from another political officer. He recommended that Koroteev would write about it in the newspaper.
Upon returning to Moscow, Koroteev spoke with the editor of Krasnaya Zvezda, David Ortenberg, and when asked how many soldiers took part in the clash, he arbitrarily replied that there were thirty in whole, and two traitors who wanted to surrender – thus reaching the number twenty-eight. Ortenberg decided that two would-be deserters were too many, and told him to reduce their number to one. On 27 November, an article by Koroteev, entitled Guardsmen in the Battle for Moscow, was published in Krasnaya Zvezda. The report discussed the Panfilov Division's contribution to the fighting, and mentioned that "A group of soldiers... were attacked by a column of 54 enemy tanks, yet they did not flinch..." and adding that a Commissar named Diev led the soldiers until they have all been killed. Koroteev wrote that the enemy sustained eight hundred casualties and lost 18 tanks. On the following day, Krasnaya Zvezda ran an editorial by journalist Aleksander Krivitsky, under the title The Will of the Twenty Eight Heroes, dedicated solely to the incident in Dubosekovo which presented the same description of the events, adding that all the Guardsmen were buried in a mass grave in the village.
The Krivitsky mission
In January 1942, after the region in which the fighting took place was cleared of German forces, Krivitsky - accompanied by Kaprov, Gundilovich and the 1075th Regiment's Commissar, Akhmetzhan Muhamedyarov – went to Dubosekovo at Ortenberg's behest. The local villagers had found six corpses of Red Army soldiers in the area, one of which was that of the 4th Company's political officer, Vasily Klochkov, nicknamed "Diev", who allegedly led the twenty-eight soldiers. Gundilovich and Muhamedyarov compiled a list consisting of the names of the soldiers which they identified as the Guardsmen. On 22 January 1942, Krivitsky published another article in Krasnaya Zvezda, writing that Klochkov's last words were: "Russia is a vast land, yet there is nowhere to retreat – Moscow is behind us!" and that the Guardsmen destroyed the 18 tanks using their few anti-tank guns and Molotov cocktails. The article claimed that the last survivor from the group, soldier Ivan Natarov, described their exploits shortly before dying of his wounds in a field hospital. The names of the dead were listed in addition.
The story of the Twenty-Eight gained wide publicity. In March 1942, Nikolai Tikhonov wrote a poem entitled A Verse to the Twenty Eight Guardsmen. Other authors followed suit, and several literary works dealing with the battle at Dubosekovo were released. Consequently, the Guardsmen became celebrated heroes throughout the Soviet Union.
On May 1942, the NKVD arrested a soldier of the Western Front, Danil Kuzhebergenov, for allegedly 'giving himself up to the enemy' by trying to surrender. When he was interrogated, the suspect claimed that he was the same Danil Kuzhebergenov that was listed as one of the Twenty-Eight Guardsmen. The NKVD discovered that he indeed served in the 4th Company of the 1075th Regiment's 2nd Battalion. Kuzhebergenov claimed that during 16 November he was knocked unconscious by an explosion and picked up by a German burial detail who presumed he was dead. He later managed to escape and joined General Dovator's Cavalry Division. The man was later recognized by other participants as one of the soldiers in Dubosekovo.
The NKVD forced Kuzhebergenov to sign a confession in which he professed to having been an impersonator who was never present at the area of the battle and based his claims on material gleaned from the newspapers. Commissar Muhamedyarov wrote a letter in which he claimed to have erroneously ascribed Danil Kuzhebergenov as one of the Guardsmen instead of another soldier, Askar Kuzhebergenov, who was henceforth listed among the Twenty-Eight in official publications. According to the division's records, a soldier by that name joined it during January 1942 and was killed shortly after. Danil Kuzhebergenov was imprisoned on charges of impersonation and cowardice, and later sent to a penal battalion. His criminal record as a 'traitor to the Motherland' was never expunged.
In November 1947, the Kharkov Military Prosecutor's Office arrested Ivan Dobrobabin, a resident of the Kyrgyz town Kant, for being a suspected collaborator with the enemy. Dobrobabin told the investigators that he was one of the Panfilov Guardsmen. His claim was verified; he indeed was the same Ivan Dobrobabin who was listed as one of the dead in Dubosekovo. Dobrobabin claimed that during the clash on 16 November, he was captured by the Germans but managed to escape. He then decided to return to his native town of Perekop, in Ukraine, that was under German occupation. There, Dobrobabin joined the local Hilfspolizei and was made its chief. He was accused of participating in anti-partisan activity and of assisting the deportation of forced laborers to Germany. In 1944, when the German defeat was imminent, he fled his village and re-enlisted into the Red Army. Upon his return to Kant, he found a monument to himself as one of the city's heroes. Dobrobabin was convicted and sent to fifteen years in prison.
The Dobrobabin affair led to an official investigation of the Panfilov's Guardsmen story. A military judge, Lieutenant-General Nikolai Afanasyev, supervised the process. When he interviewed Kaprov, the Colonel told him that although heavy fighting took place in Dubosekovo, the Guardsmen did not perform the deeds attributed to them by the press. When questioned, Krivitsky admitted that he made up most of the details which were published in his articles, including Klochkov's famous last words and the dying Natarov's tale – documents from the 1075th Regiment's staff later revealed that Ivan Natarov was killed two days before the battle. Ortenberg and Koroteev told the judge that their main motive was to boost the morale of the Soviet troops, and they have therefore published Egorov's story.
In addition to Kuzhubergenov – who the investigation confirmed to have a been one of the Twenty-Eight – and Dobrobabin, four other surviving Guardsmen were located by the commission: Grigory Shemiakin and Illarion Vasileev were injured severely on the 16 November incident and evacuated to hospitals; Dmitry Fomich and Ivan Shadrin were taken prisoner but eventually repatriated to the Soviet Union. In his report, submitted to the Procurator General of the Soviet Union on 10 May 1948 and passed on to Joseph Stalin and Andrei Zhdanov, Afanasyev concluded that the Panfilov Guardsmen's last stand "did not occur. It was a pure fantasy."
In spite of the Afanasyev report, the wartime version of the events was upheld. The 1965 official history of World War II claimed that the Twenty-Eight Panfilov Guardsmen knocked out 18 tanks and killed 70 enemy soldiers. Memorials to the fallen heroes were built throughout the Soviet Union, including five 12-metre tall statues near the site of the battle and the Twenty-Eight Guardsmen Park in Alma Ata. The municipal anthem of Moscow makes a reference to the city's "twenty-eight brave sons".
During the Perestroika, the still-living Ivan Dobrobabin petitioned the Military Prosecutor General for rehabilitation, claiming that he never hurt anyone during his service in the Hilfspolizei. Dobrobabin's plea attracted media attention to the case, which resulted in the eventual declassification of the Afanasyev report.
In July 2015, the State Archive of the Russian Federation posted online the results of the 1948 investigation by Soviet military prosecutors, which concluded that journalists from the military newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda had concocted the story's details.
The Twenty-Eight Guardsmen
Killed in action
- Nikolai Ananiev (b. 19 November 1912)
- Nikolai Belashev (b. 1911)
- Grigory Bezrodnikh (b. 1909)
- Yakov Bondarenko (b. 1905)
- Piotr Dutov (b. 6 August 1916)
- Piotr Emtsov (b. 14 May 1909)
- Nursutbai Esebulatov (b. 1913)
- Dmitri Kalenik (b. 1910)
- Vasily "Diev" Klochkov (b. 8 March 1911)
- Grigory Konkin (b. 1911)
- Alikbai Kosaev (b. 11 May 1905)
- Abram Kriuchkov (b. 1910)
- Nikolai Maximov (b. 5 July 1911)
- Nikita Mitchenko (b. 3 April 1910)
- Gavril Mitin (b. 1908)
- Ivan Moskalenko (b. 1912)
- Ivan Natarov (b. 1910)
- Grigory Petrenko (b. 22 November 1909)
- Musabek Sengirbayev (b. 10 March 1917)
- Ivan Sheptekov (b. 1910)
- Duishenkul Shopokov (b. 19 May 1915)
- Nikolai Trofimov (b. 9 May 1915)
- Dimitry Fomich (5 February 1907 – 6 June 1950)
- Ilarion Vasileev (5 November 1910 – 6 October 1969)
- Grigory Shemiakin (25 December 1906 – 25 October 1973)
- Danil Kuzhubergenov (1917 – 1976)
- Ivan Shadrin (17 June 1913 – 21 October 1985)
- Ivan Dobrobabin (21 June 1913 – 19 December 1996)
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- The Twenty-Eight Guardsmen on Pobeda.ru.
- The Twenty-Eight Guardsmen on Pobeda.mo.ru.
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- Afanasyev report – digital copy at the Russian State Archive
- Gaijin's announcement of the release date for the movie on their War Thunder forum