CounterPropaganda · Information operations · Information Warfare · Propaganda · Russia

Russian War Story Proven to be a Fabrication

George Winston

War propaganda is rampant wherein the popular imagination is considered, and at least for western audiences, it really is only in recent years that war has been portrayed either negatively or realistically, including casualties, loss and the true drama of conflict.

While most movies may flub a detail or two for the sake of drama, and others retain complete fidelity with the documented course of events, there is a third case and that is the out and out lie, and now historians are saying that a particular Russian film regarding the defense of Moscow in The Great Patriotic War (World War II) is one of those.

The movie is 28 Men.  It’s a fabrication straight out of the annals of Soviet mythology in which 28 men serving with the 316th Rifle Division hold their ground in 1941 against the Wehrmacht.  The men, recruits from the Kyrgyz and Kazakh region of the Soviet Union, served as part of a larger division commanded by Major General Ivan Panfilov.

Major General Ivan Panfilov

The story has it that they all died in glorious fashion, but not before they destroyed eighteen German tanks.  The story is likened to that of the Spartan 300 and Battle of Wizna in 1939, in which Polish forces squared off against the Wehrmacht at a rate of 40-1 and held them off for three days.

Russian television showed the film being watched by both Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Russian president Vladimir Putin in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan in Central Asia.

Ivan Panfilov 8th Guards Rifle Division.Photo RIA Novosti archive, image #716031 : V. Kinelovskiy : CC-BY-SA 3.0

Even though, the product of a 1948 investigation by a Soviet team discovered that the tale had been a complete lie, concocted from the Red Army’s newspaper, the Krasnaya Szezda, and that the results were not publicized.  Director of the Russian State Archive, Sergei Mironenko, sited historical papers indicating that the story was indeed a complete social myth in June of 2017, and for his candor, he suffered a rebuttal from the culture minister and was in turn fired from his position in March of 2018.

Naturally, this works well with the Kremlin’s official view of World War II, in which the Soviet’s fought in a heroic war that united the Soviet state against fascism, which is a popular political trope they trot out.

Soviet poster proclaiming, “Let’s make a stand for Moscow!”

The film’s creators tend not to let something as paltry as the truth stand in the way of good nationalist sentiment.  Their primary resistance or reinterpretations of world war two, or indeed other times regarding Soviet history that does not follow the official line, according to BBC News.

A Soviet machine gunner covers attacking infantry near Tula, in November 1941.

Dozdh, a broadcaster was attacked and accused of a smear campaign against the memory of veterans of the Great Patriotic War by suggesting whether or not the citizens of Leningrad could have been spared their lives and the hardships they suffered if they had simply let the Nazi forces take the city.

Anti-aircraft gunners on the roof of Moscow’s central Hotel “Moskva”. The Great Patriotic War (1941-1945). Photo: RIA Novosti archive, image #887721 Knorring CC-BY-SA 3.0

A new and contentious law instituted in 2014 discourages any public conversation against the restoration of Nazi philosophy.  Kommersant, a daily newspaper, reported in July of 2018 that the fine of nearly 200,000 roubles (or roughly $3,200) was imposed on Vladimir Luzgin, a blogger from the Perm region of the Urals, for recirculating a story about the war on the social network VK.

The court’s contention was that Luzgin reposted an article regarding the joint invasion of Poland by Soviet and German forces on September 1, 1939, knowing full well that it was indeed false.