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A Personally Delivered Order

Pictured: Meeting of participants of the Stalingrad battles with Yakov F. Pavlov, Vasily G. Zaitsev, and Marshal V. I. Chuikov on the platform of the railway station in Volgograd, 1972.

Being entrusted with important tasks is one way in which effective leaders recognize their best team members for their knowledge, skills, and abilities. Marshal Chuikov was known for trusting his soldiers, and he often visited them in the trenches personally, even during the most difficult days of Stalingrad. The impact of a Commander engaging his troops directly inspired them to hold on in the direst of circumstances and was a meaningful, although dangerous, practice. John Walker’s article titled “Apocalypse on the Volga” appearing in the WWII History periodical included the following featured account of 13th Guards Lieutenant Dragan who was approached directly by Chuikov for a crucial task:

“One of Rodimtsev’s junior officers was handpicked by the Commander of the Soviet 62nd Army himself to carry out a vital, though suicidal, mission—to hold the railroad station in downtown Stalingrad. Lieutenant Anton K. Dragan received his orders from Chuikov in person. Gathering a platoon of 50 men, Dragan and his soldiers proceeded to frustrate the Germans for almost three weeks in an epic room-by room struggle for control of the depot.

Breaking through walls, crawling over rafters, and burrowing under floorboards, the Russians grudgingly yielded portions of the building to the attackers, only to emerge elsewhere and resume the struggle all over again.

Like Soviet soldiers elsewhere in the city, Dragan’s men contested every inch of ground, even down to the sewer system. Combatants were reduced to a primitive, almost inhuman level of existence in the blasted, gutted ruins, fighting a war the Germans called Rattenkrieg, or ‘rat’s war,’ in a hellish, surrealistic tableau recalling scenes from Dante’s Inferno.

Despite its heroic resistance, Dragan’s small force was eventually reduced to a mere handful of survivors. Running out of ammunition and rations, one of the soldiers took out a bayonet and carved on the wall, ‘Rodimtsev’s Guardsmen fought and died for their country here.’ Under cover of darkness, Dragan and just five survivors slipped out of the building, made their way through enemy lines, and rejoined the fighting elsewhere in the city.”


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