Order No. 270, issued on 16 August 1941, by Josef Stalin during the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, ordered Red Army personnel to "fight to the last", virtually banned them from surrendering, and set out severe penalties for deserters and senior officers regarded as derelicting their duties. Order 270 is widely regarded as the basis of subsequent, often controversial Soviet policies regarding prisoners of war.
- Order of the Supreme Command of the Red Army on August 16, 1941, No. 270; "On the responsibility of the military for surrender and leaving weapons to the enemy"
- Not only our friends, but also our enemies are forced to acknowledge that, in our war of liberation from German-Fascist invaders, that elements of the Red Army, the vast majority of them, their commanders and commissars conduct themselves with good behavior, courageously, and sometimes – outright heroically. Even those parts of our army who, by circumstances are detached from the army and encircled, preserve the spirit of resistance and courage, not surrendering, trying to cause more damage to the enemy and to leave the encirclement. It is known that such parts of our army continue to attack the enemy, and take every opportunity to defeat the enemy and break out of their encirclement.
- Deputy Commander of the Western Front, Lieutenant-General Boldin, while in the 10th Army near Bialystok and surrounded by German-Fascist troops, organized from deep in the enemy's rear Red Army troops, who fought for 45 days behind enemy lines and made their way to the main forces of the Western Front. They destroyed the headquarters of two German regiments, 26 tanks, 1,049 passenger vehicles, transport vehicles and staff cars, 147 motorcycles, five batteries of artillery, four mortars, 15 machine guns, eight machine guns, one airplane at the airport and a bomb arsenal.
- More than a thousand German soldiers and officers were killed. On 11 August Lieutenant-General Boldin struck the Germans from behind, broke through the German front, united with our troops, and led out of the encirclement 1,654 personnel and officers of the Red Army, including 103 wounded.
- The commissar of the 8th Mechanized Corps, Brigade Commissar Popiel and the commander of the 406th Rifle Regiment, Colonel Novikov, have fought out of encirclement with 1,778 soldiers. During a bitter battle with the Germans, the Novikov-Popel group travelled 650 kilometres, causing huge losses to the enemy's rear.
- The commander of the 3rd Army, Lieutenant-General Kuznetsov and Member of the Military Council, Army Commissar 2nd Rank Biryukov fought out of encirclement with 498 soldiers and officers of the 3rd Army, and led out of encirclement the 108th and 64th Infantry Divisions.
- All these and many other similar facts show the resilience of our troops; the high morale of our soldiers, commanders and commissars.
- But we can not hide that recently there have been some shameful acts of surrender. Certain generals have been a bad example to our troops.
- The commander of the 28th Army, Lieutenant General Katchalov who – together with his headquarters troops – was surrounded, showed cowardice and surrendered to the German fascists. However, the headquarters of Katchalov came out of encirclement, a small group from the encirclement of Katchalov's group, and Lt.-Gen. Katchalov chose to surrender – chose to defect to the enemy.
- Lieutenant-General Ponedelin, commander of the 12th Army was encircled by the enemy, but had ample opportunity to get through them, as did the vast majority of his army. But Ponedelin has not shown due persistence and will to win, was panicked, frightened – and surrendered to the enemy, deserted to the enemy, thus committing the crime against the country of breaking a military oath.
- The commander of the 13th Rifle Corps, Major General Kirillov, was surrounded by German-Fascist forces and, rather than to fulfill his duty to the country, entrusted to him to organize stubborn resistance of the enemy and to move out of encirclement, deserted the field of battle and surrendered to the enemy. As a result the 13th Rifle Corps was broken, and some of them without serious resistance surrendered.
- It should be noted that in all the above situations some military council members, commanders, political workers, special section members, that were present in the encirclement, showed an unacceptable distraction, shameful cowardice and did not even try to become motivated to prevent Katchalov, Ponedelin, Kirillov and others to surrender to the enemy.
- These shameful facts surrender our sworn enemy suggests that the Red Army, bravely and selflessly protect them from their vile invaders Soviet Motherland, there are unstable, cowardly, cowardly elements. And these cowardly elements are not only among the Red Army, but also among the commanding staff. As you know, some commanders and political workers by their behavior, not only at the front of the Red Army did not show a sample of courage, strength and love of country, and vice versa hide in crevices in the offices are busy, do not see and do not observe the field of battle, and when the first serious challenges to combat shrink from the enemy, tear off his insignia, a deserter from the battlefield.
- Can we put up with in the Red Army cowards, deserters who surrender themselves to the enemy as prisoners or their craven superiors, who at the first hitch on the front tear off their insignia and desert to the rear? No we can not! If we unleash these cowards and deserters they, in a very short time, will destroy our country. Cowards and deserters must be destroyed.
- Can we assume battalion commanders and commanders of regiments, who hide in crevices during combat, do not see the battlefield, and make no progress on the field of battle are regimental commanders and battalions? No we can not! These are not commanders of regiments and battalions, they are impostors.
- If such impostors are unleashed, they soon turn our army into a into a massive bureaucracy. These impostors should be immediately dismissed from office, reduced in post to the rank and file, transferred, and if necessary shot on the spot, before appointng in their place bold and courageous people from the ranks of junior command personnel or soldiers.
- I order:
- That commanders and political officers who, during combat tear off their insignia and desert to the rear or surrender to the enemy, be considered malicious deserters whose families are subject to arrest as a family, for violation of an oath and betrayal of their homeland.
- All higher commanders and commissars are required to shoot on the spot any such deserters from among command personnel.
- Encircled units and formations to selflessly fight to the last, to protect materiel like the apple of their eye, to break through from the rear of enemy troops, defeating the fascist dogs.
- That every soldier is obliged, regardless of his or her position, to demand that their superiors, if part of their unit is surrounded, to fight to the end, to break through, and if a superior or a unit of the Red Army – instead of organizing resistance to the enemy – prefers to become a prisoner they should be destroyed by all means possible on land and air, and their families deprived of public benefits and assistance.
- Division commanders and commissars are obliged to immediately shift from their posts commanders of battalions and regiments, who hide in crevices during battle and those who fear directing a fight on the battlefield; to reduce their positions, as impostors, to be demoted to the ranks, and when necessary to shoot them on the spot, bringing to their place bold and courageous people, from among junior command personnel or those among the ranks of the Red Army who have excelled.
- This order is to be read in all companies, squadrons, batteries, squadrons, teams and staffs.
- Headquarters of the Supreme Command, Red Army
- Chairman of the State Defence Committee J. STALIN
- Deputy Chairman of the State Defence Committee V. MOLOTOV
- Marshal S. BUDYONNY
- Marshal S. TIMOSHENKO
- Marshal B. SHAPOSHNIKOV
- General of the Army G. ZHUKOV
During the pre-war period, the efficiency and morale of Red Army command staff was low as a result of Stalin's purges.
By August 1941, Axis forces had achieved overwhelming successes in their advancement deep into Soviet territory. Their successful blitzkrieg strategy disorganized the Soviet defense system, led to the encirclement of numerous Soviet units, including whole field armies.
Stalin issued the order in his capacity as People's Commissar of Defence.
The order was aimed primarily at rapidly raising the effectiveness and morale of officers.
In the preamble, the order gives examples of troops fighting in encirclement, as well as cases of surrender by military command.
The first article directed that any commanders or commissars "tearing away their insignia and deserting or surrendering" should be considered malicious deserters. The order required superiors to shoot these deserters on the spot. Their family members were subjected to arrest.
The second article demanded that encircled soldiers must use every possibility to fight on, and to demand that their commanders organize the fighting; according to the order, anyone attempting to surrender instead of fighting must be killed and their family members deprived of any state welfare and assistance.
The order also required division commanders to demote and, if necessary, even to shoot on the spot those commanders who failed to command a battle directly in the battlefield.
Commenting on Order No. 270, Stalin stated: "There are no Soviet prisoners of war, only traitors."