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MG position in the snow Winter Warfare
When the cruel cloak of winter fell across the Russian Front the fighting did not stop. Even as its tendrils of ice and snow made their way insidiously into the trenches and bunkers of the Germans and Russians, the war went on.

Every major Soviet offensive from late 1941 until early 1943 was conducted during winter, where the Soviets knew their superior numbers and readiness for the harsh realities of the freezing cold put them in good stead.
Winter was the time the German supply and communications were put under the most strain, and their best weapon, mobility, was severely restricted.

Major Soviet Winter Offensives

Battle of Moscow, Lake Seliger-Rzhev Offensive, Donets-Izyum Offensive

Operation Uranus, Operation Mars, Operation Saturn

Continued Operation Saturn, 3rd Battle of Kharkov

Mortar position in the snow
Ski Trooper
Limitations of Winter Warfare

Cold weather was hard on the equipment: gun oil froze, engines wouldn’t start, and the freezing conditions also took their toll on the human body. Hypothermia, exposure and frostbite were all daily threats to the soldiers at the front, with frostbite easily taking hold only after a single night of exposure. Night-time temperatures could fall as low as -45°C.

Snow limited movement for man, horse, truck and tracked vehicles alike. Movement on foot and horse was slow, with snow above 40cm considered by the Germans to be impassable for pack animals. German recommendations restricted motorised vehicles to operating only in temperatures above -15°C, and in low temperatures fuel consumption was estimated to go up by 500%.
Motorcycles were considered useless in snow, and half-tracks could only travel successfully when the snow was less than 30cm deep; anything above 30cm required snow clearing equipment. Tanks were only hindered when the snow was above the underside of the tank hull.

Soviet LMG position
Infantry Gun Motor vehicles proved particularly troublesome, with a variety of measures taken to over-come the difficulties of winter. Soviet drivers would set fires under the engines of their trucks in the morning, to warm the engine before start-up. Germans would park vehicles radiator to radiator to retain warmth and stop the water freezing. Hungarian tankers found they had to keep the motors of the T-38 (Panzer 38(t)) running if they were to be ready for counter-attack. Unfortunately, fuel was not always available for such measures.
Weapon performance was often limited in cold temperatures, with the initial shots from cold weapons often falling short. Germans also found that ammunition expenditure went up during bad visibility (storms, fog etc) with the range often being over-estimated. During the winter of 1944-45, US riflemen often found that gun oil froze, locking up their weapons. And minefields were rendered useless by thick layers of snow. Advancing in the snow
At the ready Tactics

Such conditions also affected tactics. Assembly areas were much closer to the enemy, with deployment into battle formation often left until contact was made with the enemy. German attacks tended to have more limited objectives; they almost always used combined frontal and flanking attacks to achieve them. In addition the Germans often decentralised control of heavy weapons, so that attacking units had immediate support on hand. Special ski troops became particulary important for speed, mobility and surprise.
On the defence, obstacles and prepared positions were of vital importance, strongholds being made from local materials and even from the stuff of winter itself. Snow and ice offered protection from bullets: 120cm of loose snow, 80cm of packed snow, 60cm of snow with an ice crust, and 28cm of ice were all seen by the Germans as sufficient to stop small arms fire. Frozen earth was even more effective, giving protection at 15-20cm. Command of the high ground become especially important, given the often poor visibility during winter.
Dug-in AT Rifle 
Soviet infantry look over the battlefield Fighting Winter Battles in Flames Of War

More than any Soviet leader, General Winter was responsible for halting the German advance at the end of 1941.

The snow and ice of that terrible winter proved as dangerous as any enemy to the invading Germans. The Red Army took advantage of following winters to launch major offensives, relying on the snow and ice to immobilise the Germans, thereby allowing the Russians less technological forces free rein on the battlefield.
In winter, the entire battlefield is covered in snow, often in deep drifts hiding all manner of obstacles.

Snow turns all Cross-country terrain into Difficult Going and all Roads into Easy Going Cross-country Terrain.

Soviet infantry marching in the snow
Soviet Gun Streams, rivers, lakes, and marshes freeze solid, making crossing possible but risky. Frozen streams are only Difficult Going instead of the usual Very Difficult Going. Rivers, lakes and swamps ice over, becoming Difficult Going as well. However, armoured vehicles face an additional risk. They must add 3 to their Bogging Roll and compare the result with their Front armour rating. If the result is less than their Front armour rating, the tank breaks through the ice and disappears into the water below. On a higher result, the ice holds.

Download a PDF of the Winter Terrain Chart...

Last Updated On Friday, September 7, 2012 by Blake at Battlefront