Fresh Wehrmacht troops encounter the ‘rasputitsa’

German troops struggle with the mud on the Eastern front.

German troops struggle with the mud on the Eastern front.

The ‘Rasputitsa’ – the season without roads – was a feature of the Russian climate in both spring and autumn. It had confounded the German’s during their 1941 advance on Moscow. Now it continued to cause difficulties for both sides as the Eastern front went through a period of transition, with the Germans trying to straighten out their line and the Red Army tried to exploit the situation.

In a position much further south than the Rzhev region Hans Roth was now a veteran of the Russian seasons. He watched as fresh new troops arrived at the front, knowing what they would have to endure:

The muddy season! Bright sunshine follows snow and hailstorms which have swept across the steppe. The thaw starts to settle in after three sunny days. On the fourth day it is so warm that the water mixes with the soil and dissolves everything into layers of mud and dirt.

Last weekend the melt water reached up to our knees and filled up the creeks and gardens. The surrounding landscape is a giant lake. Our vehicles are stuck. It takes us three to four days to move a single vehicle which before took only an hour.

We are lucky that our boots arrived on time, which has at least provided us with minimum protection against the icy water. Everybody is preparing to live like an amphibian. Proven medicines against common illnesses are dispensed, just like the previous year. The weather is horrible; in addition we are under severe attacks day and night.

Something wonderful happens during these days. A battalion of young soldiers with fresh faces and new equipment arrives. Their boots are shining and their pots and pans have never been used on a Russian
stove, though we noticed this much later.

The wonderful thing is that they were marching in rows of three and were singing! We step out of the heavily shelled huts and bunkers which have been our home and are unable to comprehend such a miracle. We stand there silently in our camouflage, caked with dirt, and we touch our stubbly faces in disbelief. They march along a series of small grave mounds with crosses on top and I get the impression that their voices tremble for a moment.

We lower our heads in silence and look down on our wet, clay encrusted boots. Somebody cracks a joke, a cruel joke under these circumstances: “They will stop singing pretty soon.” But nobody laughs, nobody agrees with the joker.

We all know that these young comrades from the homeland will march the final two or three kilometers to their positions in rows or single file. Each will hold his rifle in his hands to avoid banging it against their cooking utensils.

For a moment they will be astonished when they get instructions to empty their pants and coat pockets and place everything in their breast pockets. And they will shiver to the bone when they understand the purpose of this order. The same happened to us when we jumped into the trenches.

The icy water reached up to our waist and flooded our boots; our pants clung to our thighs. But they will endure it, just like we did. They will enjoy the blessing of the bunker stove; its heat expels the water in our pants and socks into milky rivulets.

And when their uniform has the proper clay crust, nobody will be able to distinguish them from us anymore.

See Hans Roth: Eastern Inferno

Somewhere on the Eastern front 1943.

Somewhere on the Eastern front 1943.

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