In the autumn of 1941, German units stationed outside Volokolamsk were a mere two hours’ drive from Moscow. The road
to the capital, however, was guarded by the 316th Rifle Division, commanded by General Ivan Panfilov. So
highly-regarded was this commander among his men, that they referred to themselves as “Panfilov’s Men” (Panfilovtsy)
and to the division as a whole as the Panfilov Division.
For proving itself to be such a battle-worthy and accomplished fighting force, the 316th Rifle Division was granted
the status of a Guards formation, becoming the 8th Guards Panfilov Division on 17 November 1941. As fate would
have it, General Panfilov was killed in action the very next day. Nonetheless, the division was permitted to
commemorate his name in its own. Only one other Soviet division – the 25th Guards Rifle Division – was ever
granted a similar honour, when it was conferred the name Chapayevskaya in memory of the Red Army Civil War hero
And so, on 16 November (two days before the general’s demise), 4th Company, 2nd Battalion of the Panfilov Division’s
1075th Regiment came face-to-face with the enemy on a day that would go down in World War II history.
Having dug in at a crossroads in Dubosekovo, 28 of Panfilov’s Men barred the way to a German tank battalion – and stopped its advance.
This feat on the part of Panfilov’s twenty-eight heroes became one of the most emblematic symbols of the Battle of Moscow.
After the war, the last words of Vasily Klochkov, the 4th Company’s political officer, “Vast is Russia, yet there
is nowhere to retreat to. Moscow is behind us” could be found in almost every museum of the war.
Monuments to these heroes were built in their native Kazakhstan and a memorial was erected on the battleground near Moscow.
Schoolchildren would learn about the Battle of Dubosekovo before they began studying history. The story of Panfilov’s
Twenty-Eight was included in the Coursebook of Native Speech (Uchebnik Rodnoy Rechi) and used to teach children to read.
To this day, Moya Moskva, the Moscow anthem, includes the lines:
«And in eternity shall live the twenty-eight,
The most courageous of your sons».
And yet, none of this has stopped some from undermining this heroic feat.
Today, any adolescent who googles “Panfilov’s Twenty-Eight” will find articles – laden with “facts” – about how and why
the myth of the 28 soldiers who stopped the German tanks was fabricated.
In the 21st century, the tide of historical “truth” has turned away from the heroes. However, nothing can change
what actually happened. And the story of what happened, back in 1941, will be brought back to life: the fighters of
4th Company will emerge from their bomb-blasted fortifications, shake off the dirty snow, count themselves off and
realize that only 28 of them remain – so they will finish their roll-up cigarettes, pick up their grenades and prepare
to meet the onslaught of German tanks.
Theirs is the tale we shall tell.