Russian Winter

Russian Winter

The Russian (or Soviet) Winter is a common excuse for military failures of invaders in Russia. Common nicknames for the notion are General Winter and General Snow. Yet another one was "General Mud", see "rasputitsa".


The average and minimal temperatures in Russian regions differ. In Yakutia the winter is most severe, with the lowest temperature around –55 to –60 °C (around –70 °F). In the European regions of Russia (west to Ural mountains), the average winter temperature rarely falls below –15 °C; however, sometimes it is much colder: for example, the winter 2005/2006 showed temperature around –25 to –30 °C in Moscow in January, during the whole month. In Russia this period of the year is called the Epiphany frosts and has been known for its low temperatures for centuries. One of the factors for these temperatures is the climate, that is continental. The other factor is Russia's geography: it is as northerly as Canada, but with little open water inside to store the sun's energy. For example, in the Altai region in August the day temperature is higher than 20 °C, but at night it can fall down to 0 to -5 °C.

Effects on warfare

The severity of Russian winter is often linked with Russian military victories. In the Great Northern War, Charles XII of Sweden invaded the Russia of Peter the Great. The Russians retreated, adopting a scorched-earth policy. This particular winter happened to be the most brutal winter of the 18th century, so severe that the salt water port of Venice froze. Charles' 35,000 troops were crippled, and only 19,000 were left after that winter. The Battle of Poltava in 1709 sealed the end of the Swedish Empire.

Napoleon's Grande Armée of 610,000 men invaded Russia, heading towards Moscow, in 1812. The Russian army retreated before the French and again burnt their crops and villages, denying the enemy their use. Napoleon's army was ultimately reduced to 100,000. His army suffered further, even more disastrous losses on the retreat from Moscow. According to an American military study, the main body of Napoleon's Grande Armée, initially at least 378,000 strong, "diminished by half during the first eight weeks of his invasion, before the major battle of the campaign. This decrease was partly due to garrisoning supply centres, but disease, desertions, and casualties sustained in various minor actions caused thousands of losses. At Borodino on 7 September 1812—the only major engagement fought in Russia—Napoleon could muster no more than 135,000 troops and he lost at least 30,000 of them to gain a narrow and Pyrrhic victory almost 600 miles inside hostile territory. The sequels were his uncontested and self-defeating occupation of Moscow and his humiliating retreat, which began on 19 October, before the first severe frosts later that month and the first snow on 5 November."ref|CSI

The argument of the Russian winter may be mythologized. Failed invaders liked to exaggerate the significance of weather conditions in their failures. According to the meteorological records, the 1812-1813 winter was milder than usual. During WWII the only cold winter was in 1941-1942, and the Wehrmacht lacked necessary supplies, such as winter uniforms, due to the many delays in the German army's movements. Hitler's plans also miscarried before the onset of severe winter weather: he was so confident of a lightning victory that he did not prepare for even the possibility of winter warfare in Russia. Yet his eastern army suffered more than 734,000 casualties (about 23 percent of its average strength of 3,200,000 troops) during the first five months of the invasion, and on 27 November 1941, General Eduard Wagner, the Quartermaster General of the German Army, reported that

"We are at the end of our resources in both personnel and materiel. We are about to be confronted with the dangers of deep winter."

ee also

*Winter warfare


# Chew, Allen F. (1981), "Fighting the Russians in Winter: Three Case Studies" Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. cite web | title=CSI | url= | accessdate=2006-05-04

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