Russian Winter, General Winter, General Frost, or General Snow refers to the harsh winter climate of Russia as a contributing factor to the military failures of several invasions of Russia. A contributing factor that impairs military maneuvering is "General Mud" (" rasputitsa "), a phenomenon that occurs with autumnal rains and spring thaws in Russia, whereby transport over unimproved roads is made difficult by muddy conditions.
The climate of Russia is formed under the European peninsula. The enormous size of the country and the remoteness of many areas from the sea result in the dominance of the continental climate, which is prevalent in European and Asian Russia except for the tundra and the best extreme southeast. Mountains in the south obstructing the flow of cold air masses from the Arctic Ocean and the plain of the south and north makes the country open to Pacific and Atlantic influences.
Russia, officially the Russian Federation, is a transcontinental country in Eastern Europe and North Asia. At 17,125,200 square kilometres (6,612,100 sq mi), Russia is by a considerable margin the largest country in the world by area, covering more than one-eighth of the Earth's inhabited land area, and the ninth most populous, with about 146.77 million people as of 2019, including Crimea. About 77% of the population live in the western, European part of the country. Russia's capital, Moscow, is one of the largest cities in the world and the second largest city in Europe; other major cities include Saint Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg and Nizhny Novgorod. Extending across the entirety of Northern Asia and much of Eastern Europe, Russia spans eleven time zones and incorporates a wide range of environments and landforms. From northwest to southeast, Russia shares land borders with Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and North Korea. It shares maritime borders with Japan by the Sea of Okhotsk and the U.S. state of Alaska across the Bering Strait. However, Russia recognises two more countries that border it, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both of which are internationally recognized as parts of Georgia.
Rasputitsa is a Russian language term for two periods of the year when travel on unpaved roads becomes difficult, owing to muddy conditions from rain or thawing snow. That is, it is applied to both spring and autumn. The word "rasputitsa" is also used to refer to the condition of roads during both periods.
In his study of winter warfare in Russia, author Allen F. Chew concludes that "General Winter" was a 'substantial contributing factor'—not a decisive one—in the military failures of both Napoleon's and Hitler's invasions of Russia. He notes that Napoleon's army was already suffering significant attrition before winter, owing to lack of supplies, disease, desertions and casualties of war. Likewise, Hitler's Wehrmacht had already suffered 734,000 in casualties and was running low on supplies in November 1941, before the arrival of winter.
Napoléon Bonaparte was a French statesman and military leader of Italian descent who rose to prominence during the French Revolution and led several successful campaigns during the French Revolutionary Wars. He was Emperor of the French as Napoleon I from 1804 until 1814 and again briefly in 1815 during the Hundred Days. Napoleon dominated European and global affairs for more than a decade while leading France against a series of coalitions in the Napoleonic Wars. He won most of these wars and the vast majority of his battles, building a large empire that ruled over much of continental Europe before its final collapse in 1815. He is considered one of the greatest commanders in history, and his wars and campaigns are studied at military schools worldwide. Napoleon's political and cultural legacy has endured as one of the most celebrated and controversial leaders in human history.
The Wehrmacht was the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer (army), the Kriegsmarine (navy) and the Luftwaffe. The designation "Wehrmacht" replaced the previously used term Reichswehr, and was the manifestation of the Nazi regime's efforts to rearm Germany to a greater extent than the Treaty of Versailles permitted.
In the Great Northern War, Charles XII of Sweden invaded Russia in 1707. The Russians retreated, adopting a scorched-earth policy. This winter was the most brutal of the 18th century, so severe that the seaport of Venice froze during the Great Frost of 1709. Charles' 35,000 troops were crippled, and by spring only 19,000 were left. The Battle of Poltava in late June 1709 sealed the end of the Swedish Empire.
The Great Northern War (1700–1721) was a conflict in which a coalition led by the Tsardom of Russia successfully contested the supremacy of the Swedish Empire in Northern, Central and Eastern Europe. The initial leaders of the anti-Swedish alliance were Peter I of Russia, Frederick IV of Denmark–Norway and Augustus II the Strong of Saxony–Poland–Lithuania. Frederick IV and Augustus II were defeated by Sweden, under Charles XII, and forced out of the alliance in 1700 and 1706 respectively, but rejoined it in 1709 after the defeat of Charles XII at the Battle of Poltava. George I of Great Britain and of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Hanover) joined the coalition in 1714 for Hanover and in 1717 for Britain, and Frederick William I of Brandenburg-Prussia joined it in 1715.
Charles XII, sometimes Carl or Latinized to Carolus Rex, was the King of Sweden from 1697 to 1718. He belonged to the House of Palatinate-Zweibrücken, a branch line of the House of Wittelsbach. Charles was the only surviving son of Charles XI and Ulrika Eleonora the Elder. He assumed power, after a seven-month caretaker government, at the age of fifteen.
Sweden, formal name: the Kingdom of Sweden, is a Scandinavian Nordic country in Northern Europe. It borders Norway to the west and north and Finland to the east, and is connected to Denmark in the southwest by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund, a strait at the Swedish-Danish border. At 450,295 square kilometres (173,860 sq mi), Sweden is the largest country in Northern Europe, the third-largest country in the European Union and the fifth largest country in Europe by area. Sweden has a total population of 10.2 million of which 2.5 million have a foreign background. It has a low population density of 22 inhabitants per square kilometre (57/sq mi). The highest concentration is in the southern half of the country.
Napoleon's Grande Armée of 610,000 men invaded Russia, heading towards Moscow, in the beginning of summer on 24 June 1812. The Russian army retreated before the French and again burnt their crops and villages, denying the enemy their use. Napoleon's army was ultimately reduced to 100,000. His army suffered further, even more disastrous losses on the retreat from Moscow, which started in October. Multiple sources concur that winter and its aftermath was only a contributing factor to Napoleon's defeat and retreat.
The French invasion of Russia, known in Russia as the Patriotic War of 1812 and in France as the Russian Campaign, began on 24 June 1812 when Napoleon's Grande Armée crossed the Neman River in an attempt to engage and defeat the Russian army. Napoleon hoped to compel Emperor of All Russia Alexander I to cease trading with British merchants through proxies in an effort to pressure the United Kingdom to sue for peace. The official political aim of the campaign was to liberate Poland from the threat of Russia. Napoleon named the campaign the Second Polish War to gain favor with the Poles and provide a political pretext for his actions.
Moscow is the capital and most populous city of Russia, with 13.2 million residents within the city limits, 17 million within the urban area and 20 million within the metropolitan area. Moscow is one of Russia's federal cities.
The Imperial Russian Army was the land armed force of the Russian Empire, active from around 1721 to the Russian Revolution of 1917. In the early 1850s, the Russian army consisted of more than 900,000 regular soldiers and nearly 250,000 irregulars.
To counter claims that the French defeat resulted from winter weather, Denis Davydov published a military historical analysis, titled "Was it Frost that Devastated the French Army in 1812?", wherein he demonstrated that the French suffered casualties in battles during relatively mild weather and outlined multiple causes for their defeat. He drew on both his direct observations and on those of foreign commentators, including French authors.
Denis Vasilyevich Davydov was a Russian soldier-poet of the Napoleonic Wars who invented the genre of hussar poetry, characterised by hedonism and bravado. He used events from his own life to illustrate such poetry.
According to Chew in 1981, the main body of Napoleon's Grande Armée, initially at least 378,000 strong, "diminished by half during the first eight weeks of his invasion, before the major battle of the campaign. This decrease was partly due to garrisoning supply centres, but disease, desertions, and casualties sustained in various minor actions caused thousands of losses. At the Battle of Borodino on 7 September 1812—the only major engagement fought in Russia—Napoleon could muster no more than 135,000 troops and he lost at least 30,000 of them to gain a narrow and pyrrhic victory almost 600 miles inside hostile territory. The sequels were his uncontested and self-defeating occupation of Moscow and his humiliating retreat, which began on 19 October, before the first severe frosts later that month and the first snow on 5 November."Lieven cites the difficulty of finding food for troops and forage for horses in winter as an important contributing factor.
The Battle of Borodino was a battle fought on 7 September 1812 in the Napoleonic Wars during the French invasion of Russia.
A Pyrrhic victory is a victory that inflicts such a devastating toll on the victor that it is tantamount to defeat. Someone who wins a Pyrrhic victory has also taken a heavy toll that negates any true sense of achievement.
During the Northern Russian Expedition of the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War, both sides, the Allied forces and the Bolshevik Red Army knew or quickly learned the principles of winter warfare and applied them whenever possible. However both sides had their resources strained and at times one side or other suffered the severe consequences of underpreparedness, but Chew concluded that winter did not provide a decisive advantage to any of the combatants.
During World War II, the Wehrmacht lacked necessary supplies, such as winter uniforms, due to the many delays in the German army's movements. At the same time, Hitler's plans for Operation Barbarossa actually miscarried before the onset of severe winter weather: he was so confident of a quick victory that he did not prepare for even the possibility of winter warfare in Russia. In fact his eastern army suffered more than 734,000 casualties (about 23% of its average strength of 3,200,000) during the first five months of the invasion before the winter started.On 27 November 1941, Eduard Wagner, the Quartermaster General of the German Army, reported that "We are at the end of our resources in both personnel and material. We are about to be confronted with the dangers of deep winter." Also of note is the fact that the unusually early winter of 1941 cut short the rasputitsa season, improving logistics in early November, with the weather still being only mildly cold.
In his 1981 paper, Fighting the Russians in Winter: Three Case Studies, Chew draws on experiences from the Allied-Soviet War in Northern Russia during the Winter of 1918–19, the destruction of the Soviet 44th Motorized Rifle Division, and German–Soviet War during World War II to derive winter warfare factors pertaining to military tactics, materiel and personnel:
Sandy Woodward, Royal Navy task force commander during the Falklands War, which was fought before the oncoming South Atlantic winter, remarked in his memoirs, "I thought then, for the first time, about the arrival of General Winter. If he had been here ten days ago, he would not have been much help to the Args [ Argentines], dug in on the heights with no chance of their High Command getting their air forces into the skies. But I think he would’ve finished us."
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The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) were a series of major conflicts pitting the French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon I, against a fluctuating array of European powers formed into various coalitions, financed and usually led by the United Kingdom. The wars stemmed from the unresolved disputes associated with the French Revolution and its resultant conflict. The wars are often categorised into five conflicts, each termed after the coalition that fought Napoleon: the Third Coalition (1805), the Fourth (1806–07), the Fifth (1809), the Sixth (1813), and the Seventh (1815).
Pyotr Bagration was a Russian general and prince of Georgian origin, prominent during the Napoleonic Wars.
In the War of the Sixth Coalition, sometimes known in Germany as the War of Liberation, a coalition of Austria, Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Sweden, Spain and a number of German States defeated France and drove Napoleon into exile on Elba. After the disastrous French invasion of Russia of 1812, the continental powers joined Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal and the rebels in Spain who were already at war with France.
The Russo-Turkish War (1806–1812) between the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire was one of the Russo-Turkish Wars.
The Battle of Smolensk was the first major battle of the French invasion of Russia. It took place on 16–18 August 1812 and involved 45,000–50,000 men and 84 guns of the Grande Armée under Emperor Napoleon I against 30,000–35,000 Russian troops and 108 guns under General Barclay de Tolly. Napoleon attacked Smolensk, occupied by Prince Pyotr Bagration's Second Army and captured two of the suburbs. During the night the Russians evacuated the burning city.
The Battle of Maloyaroslavets took place on 24 October 1812, between the Russians, under Marshal Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov, and part of the corps of Eugène de Beauharnais, Napoleon's stepson, under General Alexis Joseph Delzons which numbered about 20,000 strong.
Cold-weather warfare, also known as Arctic warfare or winter warfare, encompasses military operations affected by snow, ice, thawing conditions or cold, both on land and at sea. Cold-weather conditions occur year-round at high elevation or at high latitudes, and elsewhere materialise seasonally during the winter period. Mountain warfare often takes place in cold weather or on terrain that is affected by ice and snow, such as the Alps and the Himalayas. Historically, most such operations have been during winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Some have occurred above the Arctic Circle where snow, ice and cold may occur throughout the year. At times, cold or its aftermath—thaw—has been a decisive factor in the failure of a campaign, as with Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812 and the German invasion of Russia during World War II.
The Battle of Berezina took place from 26 to 29 November 1812, between the French army of Napoleon, retreating after his invasion of Russia and crossing the Berezina, and the Russian armies under Mikhail Kutuzov, Peter Wittgenstein and Admiral Pavel Chichagov. The battle ended with a mixed outcome. The French suffered very heavy losses but managed to cross the river and avoid being trapped. Since then "Bérézina" has been used in French as a synonym for "disaster."
The Battle of Krasnoi (Krasny) was a series of skirmishes fought in the final stage of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow. The Russians under General Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov inflicted heavy losses on the remnants of the Grande Armée. Lacking sufficient artillery, cavalry and supplies to wage battle, Napoleon's objective at Krasnoi was to collect his scattered troops and to resume his retreat. Despite the vast superiority of his forces, Kutuzov refrained from launching a full-scale offensive during the four days of fighting.
The Battle of Tarutino was a part of Napoleon's invasion of Russia. The battle is sometimes called the Battle of Vinkovo or the Battle of Chernishnya after the local river. Many historians claim that the latter name is more fitting because the village of Tarutino was 8 km from the described events. In the battle Russian troops under the command of Bennigsen defeated French troops under the command of Joachim Murat.
The Second Battle of Polotsk took place during Napoleon's invasion of Russia. In this encounter the Russians under General Peter Wittgenstein attacked and defeated a Franco-Bavarian force under Laurent Gouvion Saint-Cyr. In the aftermath of this success, the Russians took Polotsk and dismantled Napoleon's operations in Belarus. Wittgenstein's victory set the stage for the Battle of Berezina in November, in which three Russian armies converged on Napoleon from separate directions.
The Battle of Chashniki, sometimes called the Battle of Czasniki, was fought during Napoleon's invasion of Russia, on 31 October 1812, between Russian forces under General Wittgenstein, and the French army, commanded by Marshal Victor. This battle was a failed effort by the French to reestablish their northern "Dvina Line", which had crumbled as a result of Wittgenstein's victory at the Second battle of Polotsk just two weeks earlier.
The Battle of Vyazma occurred at the beginning of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow. In this encounter, the rear guard of the Grande Armée was defeated by the Russians commanded by General Mikhail Andreyevich Miloradovich. Although the French repelled Miloradovich's attempt to encircle and destroy the corps of Louis Nicolas Davout, they withdrew in a partial state of disorder after suffering heavy casualties from continued Russian attacks.
The Battle of Saltanovka, also known as the Battle of Mogilev, was a battle during the early stages of the 1812 French invasion of Russia.
The III Corps of the Grande Armée was the designation of a few military units during the Napoleonic Wars. The III Corps came to prominence between 1805 and 1809 under the command of Marshal Louis-Nicolas Davout, when it repeatedly scored impressive victories single-handedly or in conjunction with other French forces. Napoleon called it "My tenth legion", in reference to Julius Caesar's finest unit, the X Equestris. Then troops from that Corps took part in many battles in Poland (1807) e.g. Czarnowo, Pultusk, Golymin, Eylau, in Bavaria at Teugen-Hausen, Eckmuhl and in Austria 1809 at Wagram. These troops later were reorganized as I Corps and included French, German/Polish units. It also included the 127th to 129th "régiment d'infanterie de ligne" from the north German countries of Oldenburg, Bremen and Hamburg that were annexed shortly before and thus counted as French.
The IV Corps of the Grande Armée was a military unit during the Napoleonic Wars. It consisted several different units and commanders.