The Russian winter arrives on the Eastern Front

The German Army Group Centre had been able to resume their advance in winter conditions but much worse was to come.

In mid November the German offensive on Moscow had resumed when the ground had hardened sufficiently for Army Group Centre to move again. For just over a week they continued to advance against ever worsening conditions.

Most units were seriously under strength, weakened by casualties and disease, especially dysentery. Individually men were at a low ebb, physically exhausted by the long campaign. They were in a poor state to cope with the Russian winter and now the temperature began to plummet:

The Russians had a real advantage over us, because they had warm felt boots and quilted uniforms, and we had only our thin overcoats, which did not offer much protection from the cold. The only reason we were ever given for not receiving winter clothing was that we were moving too fast. The reasons given for failure always sound plausible.

Some of our soldiers took felt boots from dead Russian soldiers, but we did not dare risk wearing their heavier quilted jackets for fear of being shot for a Russian. Fortunately, we could pull the flaps of our field caps down to keep our ears from freezing. The men wrapped their blankets about themselves, over their overcoats and caps, and cursed those responsible for not providing us with winter clothing.

The snow blew almost horizontally in blizzards that sometimes lasted all day long, with the wind piercing our faces with a thousand needles. The cold numbed and deadened the human body from the feet up until the whole body was an aching mass of misery. To keep warm, we had to wear every piece of clothing we owned to achieve a layered effect. Each man fought the cold alone, pitting his determination and will against the bitter winter.

We reduced sentry duty to one hour, then to thirty minutes, and finally to fifteen minutes. The cold was, quite simply, a killer; we were all in danger of freezing to death.

See Siegfried Knappe: Soldat – Reflections of a German Soldier, 1936-1949

The Wehrmacht had to improvise whatever winter kit they could, the severe cold dramatically reduced the survival rate for any casualty.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: