How Did Red Army Soldiers Survive in -40 °C, Sleeping in the Snow?

According to books and films, we have a general idea of how the battles of the Great Patriotic War took place. As far as this, of course, can be imagined by a modern person who did not experience these horrors.

But this is not shown in films, and therefore we know even less about how the soldier’s life was arranged. Field kitchen, mobile or makeshift baths, infirmary, it all seems to be clear. But how did the soldiers sleep?

So, if it’s summer or it’s the southern part of the front, then this, in general, is not such a problem. When it is dry and warm, you can sleep anywhere, having previously set sentries.

The guys got quite comfortable. Even from the rain, if anything, it’s possible to hide. But on the front line in the trenches it’s not possible to sleep so freely and comfortably.

It was even worse when it started to get cold.

And if there is still bad roads and mud from the rain or just a swampy area, then it becomes much more difficult to organise an overnight stay.

A shovel during war is life! Dig yourself a trench and lie still. Bullets are whistling, shells are exploding, their fragments are flying, you don’t care about anything. You’re protected by a thick layer of earth… But the trench is a treacherous thing. During the rain, water accumulated at the bottom, reaching up to the waist, and even higher. During the shelling in such a trench they had to sit for hours. To get out of it is to perish. And they sat, it is impossible to do otherwise – if you want to live, so endure.

From the memoirs of V. I. Belyaev.

But the worst thing is, of course, frost and snow.

The following photo was taken in Stalingrad. Historians report that in November-December 1942, the temperature there often dropped to -20-30°C, and in the second half of January and February 1943, it sometimes reached -40-45°C.

How did the soldiers escape from such a fierce frost?

Although, as you know, war is war, and the fire and smoke from it are an excellent target for aircraft, so fires could not always be made and not just everywhere.

The stoves also helped out a little. The simplest was made from a metal bucket.

…They raked the snow around the ‘Panter’, hoping to block its steel side from possible shelling on at least one side. It was impossible to dig the ground, the meadow was swampy. The shelter came out low – snow walls and a canvas raincoat tent on top instead of a roof. It saved only from the wind. We put the wooden lids of the shell boxes under our sides. Then they all lay down side by side. So they slept, turning all at once, on command. In the centre, our joy puffed – a bucket stove, red-hot, not so much warming us as supporting us morally. However, it was possible to press your feet in wet felt boots against it – then the tent began to smell thickly of burnt carrion. It’s hard to think of anything more cozy!

From the memoirs of N. N. Nikulin

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The driver sleeps in his seat. The radio operator is also nearby in his chair. Loader and gunner on the firing pad. And I’m small in stature – I raise the gun, put the covers from the firing pad on the breech of the gun, lie down, something under my head and feet in the recess of the tower.

From the memoirs of K. N. Shipov

Often the fighters built fortified bunkers and dugouts. It was hard physical labour, and the logs were often stacked in three rolls, but the shelter was warm and relatively safe.

Here is how a fighter of the Leningrad Front I. G. Melnikov describes it:

As soon as we arrived at the place, we immediately dug into the ground, built a good dugout. An opening leads underground, then earthen steps, a cloak-tent on the doors, a passage inside, and bunks covered with straw on the sides.

However, as you understand, the first and most fortified dugout was built for the command. The superiors were engaged in the strongest and warmest houses and huts, if the unit was located in a locality.

Such a luxurious life was extremely rare for ordinary soldiers. Especially in the first years of the war.

However, when our troops were already liberating Europe, the overnight stay could have been like this:

What else helped the Red Army to survive in such severe frost? Well, of course, winter uniforms. Here is how I. G. Melnikov described his accoutrements:

We were given long johns, a shirt, a cloth tunic, a padded jacket and cotton pants, felt boots, a hat with earflaps, mittens.

V. I. Belyaev recalls:

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…We were given new greatcoats. These were not greatcoats, but simply luxury, as it seemed to us. The soldier’s greatcoat is the most shaggy…The greatcoat was very important in front-line life. It served as a bed, a blanket, and a pillow… In cold weather, you lie down on your greatcoat, pull your legs up to your chin, and cover yourself with the left half and tuck it in from all sides. At first it’s cold – you lie down and shiver, and then the breath becomes warm. Or almost warm. You get up after sleep – the greatcoat is frozen to the ground. With a shovel, you cut down the layer of earth and lift the whole overcoat together with the earth. Then the earth itself will fall off.

And, of course, within the framework of this article, it is impossible not to mention the great importance of hot food.

Of course, not always and not everywhere was there the possibility of using a field kitchen. It happened that the Red Army had to starve. Especially at the beginning of the war.

The situation was quite different near Moscow in the winter of 1941-1942, when there was 40-degree frost. There was no question of any dinner at the time. We then advanced, then retreated, regrouped forces, and as such there was no positional war, which means that it was impossible even to somehow arrange life. Usually, once a day, the foreman brought a thermos of thin broth, which was simply called ‘food’. They cooked what they had enough food for, somewhere nearby, so that the enemy could not see the kitchen smoke. A loaf of bread was cut with a two-handed saw, because in the cold it turned into ice. The soldiers hid their ‘rations’ under their overcoats to warm them up a little.

From the memoirs of M. F. Zavorotny

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And yet, gradually, the supply of food to the front was normalised. And judging by these photos, even on the front line, risking their lives, food was delivered regularly.


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