The house was a four-store building in the center of Stalingrad, built perpendicular to the embankment of the river Volga and overseeing the "9th January Square", a large square named for Bloody Sunday. In September 1942, the house was attacked by German soldiers, and a platoon of the Soviet 13th Guards Rifle Division was ordered to defend it. The platoon was led by Junior Sgt. Yakov Pavlov, a non-commissioned officer serving as acting platoon commander since the unit's lieutenant and senior sergeants had all been wounded or killed.
The strategic benefit of the house was that it defended a key section of the Volga bank. The tactical benefit of the house was its position on a cross-street, giving the defenders a 1 km line of sight to the north, south and west. After several days, reinforcements and resupply arrived for Pavlov's men, bringing the unit up to a 25-man understrength platoon and equipping the defenders with machine guns, anti-tank rifles, and mortars. In keeping with Stalin's Order No. 227—"not one step back", Sgt. Pavlov was ordered to fortify the building and defend it to the last bullet and the last man. Taking this advice to heart, Pavlov ordered the building to be surrounded with four layers of barbed wire and minefields, and set up machine-gun posts in every available window facing the square. In the early stages of the defense, Pavlov discovered that a PTRS-41 anti-tank rifle he had mounted on the roof was particularly effective when used to ambush unsuspecting German tanks; once the tanks had approached to within range of the building, their thin turret-roof armor became exposed to AT rifle fire from above, and were unable to elevate their weapons enough to retaliate.
For better internal communication, Pavlov's soldiers breached the walls in the basement and upper floors, and dug a communications trench to Soviet positions outside. Supplies were brought in via the trench or by boats crossing the river, defying German air raids and shelling. Nevertheless, food and especially water was in short supply. Lacking beds, the soldiers tried to sleep on insulation wool torn off pipes but were subjected to harassing fire every night in order to try to break their resistance.
The Germans attacked the building several times a day. Each time German infantry or tanks tried to cross the square and to close in on the house, Pavlov's men laid down a withering barrage of machine gun and AT rifle fire from the basement, the windows and from the roof top.
Eventually the defenders, as well as the Soviet civilians who kept living in the basement all that time, held out during intensive fighting from 27 September to 25 November 1942, when they were relieved by the counter-attacking Soviet forces.
Pavlov's House became a symbol of the incredibly stubborn and dogged resistance of the Russian forces during the Battle of Stalingrad, which eventually ended in a decisive victory for the Soviet forces after months of massive casualties on both sides. The inability of the German blitzkrieg to make headway against such grinding and self-sacrificial attrition warfare made the failure to capture Pavlov's House (despite numerous attempts) stand out as a symbol of resistance against a vastly superior force.
Vasily Chuikov, commanding general of the Soviet forces in Stalingrad, later joked that the Germans lost more men trying to take Pavlov's house than they did taking Paris.
Pavlov's "House" was rebuilt after the battle and is still used as an apartment building today. There is an attached memorial constructed from bricks picked up after the battle on the East side facing the Volga.
Pavlov was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union for his actions.