Winter Clothing German Army before Moscow 1941

One of the often-repeated misconceptions about this campaign goes that because the Germans planned and counted on the war in the east being a short one, they didn’t take steps soon enough to begin the manufacture of needed winter uniforms and gear. Yet anyone who’s spent a winter anywhere in Europe north of the Alps knows an army doesn’t have to go to Russia to experience a need for seasonal equipment and clothing. That equipment and clothing in fact existed, and in the needed amounts, but they existed in the wrong places at depots in Germany far from the front.

The transportation infrastructure east of the Soviet-German border was less developed than that west of it, and the destruction caused by the invasion did nothing to improve capacity. One official of the German Railway Authority noted gloomily in a report to Berlin in August 1941 that, no matter how often commanders made the point to combat troops about the desirability of capturing Soviet rolling stock intact, there seemed nothing the soldiers enjoyed more than shooting up trains.

At first the decrease in carrying capacity eastward could be made up by directly trucking (and hauling in horse-drawn wagons) the materiel from the depots to the front. The Luftwaffe could also be counted on to keep key spearhead units in supply via air drops. But as the distance from the border to the front increased beyond the 300-400 kilometer mark, the efficiency of those stopgaps rapidly fell.

The situation can be likened to an individual’s blood flow on a cold winter day. In the abdomen, close to the heart itself, the blood-carrying arteries are many and thick; but the farther one goes toward the extremities, the scarcer and finer the transport arteries become. The result is the fingertips and toes get cold.

On a vastly larger scale, that was what was happening to the German army in the east by late October, as they got ready to carry out their final offensives around Leningrad, Moscow and Rostov. By then they were far enough from the Reich’s logistical heart to be down to mere capillary carrying capacity. In terms of movable tonnages, the Germans were faced with the choice of shunting forward enough of all kinds of supply to sustain their forces for less demanding defensive operations, or bringing up enough ammunition and POL (petroleum, oil, lubricants) supplies, at the cost of everything else, to allow for continuation of the attack. The decision, made in the well heated rooms of high command headquarters, seemed obvious.

Even under such constraints, though, one of the radio-telephone conversations between Hitler and Gen. Heinz Guderian in late December is instructive in showing how a good army can make one kind of supply serve another purpose. Guderian was complaining to Hitler about having trouble stopping the Soviets’ T-34-led breakthroughs. The Führer asked why he didn’t use the 88mm Flak guns to destroy them as in previous encounters. The general explained the ground was now frozen so hard he needed to save his artillery rounds to blast holes for the infantry to sleep in at night. Experience had already shown if he didn’t get his Landser below ground level they’d freeze to death.

The panzer men also proved masters of innovation during the winter crisis. They got by the necessity of painfully starting each tanks’ cold engine from scratch by designing a ”cold water exchanger,” which pumped warmed coolant from one engine to another. They also devised track extenders, called “east chains,” which increased their narrow-treaded machines’ mobility across snow and ice (though even the best east chains failed to bring the panzers up to the T-34’s fabled cross-country mobility standards).

Taken on its own, then, the Russian climate was important, but probably not decisive, in bringing about the German failure.

One of the often-repeated misconceptions about this campaign goes that because the Germans planned and counted on the war in the east being a short one, they didn’t take steps soon enough to begin the manufacture of needed winter uniforms and gear. Yet anyone who’s spent a winter anywhere in Europe north of the Alps knows an army doesn’t have to go to Russia to experience a need for seasonal equipment and clothing. That equipment and clothing in fact existed, and in the needed amounts, but they existed in the wrong places at depots in Germany far from the front.

The transportation infrastructure east of the Soviet-German border was less developed than that west of it, and the destruction caused by the invasion did nothing to improve capacity. One official of the German Railway Authority noted gloomily in a report to Berlin in August 1941 that, no matter how often commanders made the point to combat troops about the desirability of capturing Soviet rolling stock intact, there seemed nothing the soldiers enjoyed more than shooting up trains.

At first the decrease in carrying capacity eastward could be made up by directly trucking (and hauling in horse-drawn wagons) the materiel from the depots to the front. The Luftwaffe could also be counted on to keep key spearhead units in supply via air drops. But as the distance from the border to the front increased beyond the 300-400 kilometer mark, the efficiency of those stopgaps rapidly fell.

The situation can be likened to an individual’s blood flow on a cold winter day. In the abdomen, close to the heart itself, the blood-carrying arteries are many and thick; but the farther one goes toward the extremities, the scarcer and finer the transport arteries become. The result is the fingertips and toes get cold.

On a vastly larger scale, that was what was happening to the German army in the east by late October, as they got ready to carry out their final offensives around Leningrad, Moscow and Rostov. By then they were far enough from the Reich’s logistical heart to be down to mere capillary carrying capacity. In terms of movable tonnages, the Germans were faced with the choice of shunting forward enough of all kinds of supply to sustain their forces for less demanding defensive operations, or bringing up enough ammunition and POL (petroleum, oil, lubricants) supplies, at the cost of everything else, to allow for continuation of the attack. The decision, made in the well heated rooms of high command headquarters, seemed obvious.

Even under such constraints, though, one of the radio-telephone conversations between Hitler and Gen. Heinz Guderian in late December is instructive in showing how a good army can make one kind of supply serve another purpose. Guderian was complaining to Hitler about having trouble stopping the Soviets’ T-34-led breakthroughs. The Führer asked why he didn’t use the 88mm Flak guns to destroy them as in previous encounters. The general explained the ground was now frozen so hard he needed to save his artillery rounds to blast holes for the infantry to sleep in at night. Experience had already shown if he didn’t get his Landser below ground level they’d freeze to death.

The panzer men also proved masters of innovation during the winter crisis. They got by the necessity of painfully starting each tanks’ cold engine from scratch by designing a ”cold water exchanger,” which pumped warmed coolant from one engine to another. They also devised track extenders, called “east chains,” which increased their narrow-treaded machines’ mobility across snow and ice (though even the best east chains failed to bring the panzers up to the T-34’s fabled cross-country mobility standards).

Taken on its own, then, the Russian climate was important, but probably not decisive, in bringing about the German failure.

Rußland – bei Targowi Sawod
Vormarsch unserer Truppen durch die Winterlandschaft vor Moskau. Die Wege sind gefroren und trotz der Kälte geht es leicht vorwärts.
Kriegsberichter Cusian
21.11.41
10322-41

The German army, so often portrayed as centred on armoured formations, had even more horses in the Second World War than the British army had in the Great War. The horse was the ‘basic means of transport in the Germany Army.’ German rearmament in the 1930s involved mass purchase of horses such that by 1939 the army had 590,000, leaving 3 million others in the rest of the country. Each infantry division needed around 5,000 horses to move itself. For the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, 625,000 horses were assembled. As the war progressed the German horse army got ever larger as the Wehrmacht pillaged the agricultural horses of the nations it conquered. At the beginning of 1945 it had 1.2 million horses; the total loss of horses in the war is estimated at 1.5 million. Could it be that the Great War and the Second World War saw more horses in battle than any previous war? Could it be that the draught horse-to-soldier ratio also increased, despite the use of other forms of transport? Certainly the Wehrmacht embarked on its march to Moscow with many times more horses than Napoleon’s Grand Armee. Indeed, it took longer to get there.

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