Much has been made of the enormous casualties the Soviet Union suffered in the war. Figures range from 20 million to 25 million. However, there has not been a breakdown of how many Soviet citizens were killed by the Soviets themselves. Perhaps it is impossible to obtain an accurate estimate. This is an embarrassment that few people would be interested in. One of the factors that was responsible for these deaths was: 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." This order reads in part:
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? Cowards and deserters must be destroyed. 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. 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.
One of the consequences of this order was described by Gottlob Herbert Bidermann in his book, In Deadly Combat:
When the Russians successfully landed in Feodosia. the capture of one particular camp, holding five thousand prisoners, appeared to be imminent. Rather than face liberation by their Soviet comrades, the prisoners requested permission to march to the German lines at Simferopol, and this movement was conducted without the necessity of employing guards to prevent escapes. It is likely that they were fully aware of the treatment they would receive at the hands of the Soviets for having surrendered to the German army. 1