Friday, December 30, 2022

Winter War

Russia’s New Winter War Could Putin Go the Way of Napoleon and Hitler? ............. One of Russia’s greatest military victories came with the coldest European winter in 500 years. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Tsar Peter the Great struggled to repel the formidable forces of Charles XII of Sweden, advancing on Moscow. Then came the Great Frost of 1708–9. Birds were said to have frozen in midflight and dropped dead to the ground. ....... a succession of powerful militaries have succumbed to inadequate equipment, deficient supply lines, and poor preparation. But as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine enters the harshest months of the year, there are many indications that this time it may be Russia, rather than its adversary, that suffers the worst consequences. .......... Europe’s best-known winter defeat in Russia came in 1812—just over a century after the Battle of Poltava—when Napoleon’s Grande Armée retreated from Moscow. Russia’s scorched-earth tactics, which left the French with no food or shelter along the line of withdrawal, made the effect even more deadly. Yet the greatest casualties had occurred earlier. ......... The Grande Armée had been almost half a million strong when it crossed the River Neman, the frontier between Prussia and Russia, in June 1812. But it soon lost a third of its strength from summer heat, disease, hunger, and exhaustion as the emperor forced his men on toward Moscow. .......... Napoleon wasted five weeks in Moscow expecting the tsar to come to terms. ......... By early December, Napoleon feared a coup d’état during his absence, and, abandoning his army, headed for Paris before his frozen men could reach safety. By this point, his forces had suffered nearly 400,000 casualties, and he had lost his reputation for invincibility on the battlefield. ......... This lack of interest in soldiers’ well-being—and the casual attitude to massive losses through so-called meat-grinder tactics—are apparent in Putin’s army in Ukraine today. ........ One officer wrote that trains at some Siberian stations were unloading hundreds of bodies of people who had died from cold and disease. “These bodies were stacked up at the stations like so much cordwood,” another officer wrote. “Those who remained alive never talked, never thought of anything save how they might escape death and get farther and farther away from the Bolsheviks.” ......... drops in temperature of more than 30 degrees Celsius in less than an hour. In February 1920, General Dmitry Pavlov’s cavalry divisions were caught in the open by a sudden blizzard. Pavlov “lost half of his horses which froze in the steppe” ........ “We left behind in the steppe thousands of men frozen to death, and the blizzard buried them” .......... During the rapid military mechanization between the two world wars, the Soviet Union had created the largest tank force in the world. The Red Army at least learned that guns and engines needed special lubricants in extreme conditions. Such measures proved key in Stalin’s ability to block Hitler’s armies in front of Moscow in December 1941. Both the German army and the Luftwaffe were unprepared. They had to light fires under their vehicles and aircraft engines to defrost them. .......... Russian military historians have attributed the comparatively low rate of frostbite and trench foot among Soviet forces to their old military practice of using layered linen foot bandages instead of socks. German soldiers also suffered more rapidly because their jackboots had steel studs that drained any warmth. ......... Stalin’s commanders did not let him down. “Our tanks move faster than the trains to Berlin,” boasted the ebullient Colonel Iosif Gusakovsky. He had not bothered to wait for bridging equipment to reach the frontlines before attempting to cross the River Pilica. He simply ordered his leading tanks to smash the ice with gunfire, then to drive straight across the riverbed. The tanks, acting like icebreakers, pushed the ice aside “with a terrible thundering noise,” a terrifying experience for the poor drivers. The German eastern front in Poland collapsed under the armored onslaught, once again because the Soviet T-34’s broad tracks could cope with the ice and snow far better than any German panzer. ......... Then, during the economic collapse in the 1990s, Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s government often proved unable to pay officers and soldiers alike and corruption became institutionalized. Conscripts were frequently on the edge of starvation because their rations were sold off; theft, bullying, and ill discipline became rampant. Spare parts from vehicles, as well as anything from fuel to light bulbs, boots, and especially any cold weather kit, disappeared onto the black market. ............. Corruption became even worse following Russia’s chaotic invasion of Georgia in 2008. Putin began throwing money at the armed forces. The waste on prestige projects encouraged contractors and generals alike to pad their bank accounts. ........... The Russian idea of urban warfare had still not evolved from World War II, with their artillery, the “god of war,” smashing everything to rubble. This approach would continue during Russian intervention in the Syrian civil war from 2015. ............. In February 2022, eight years later, Putin launched his “special military operation” in Ukraine. At the time, the vanguard was told to bring their parade uniforms ready to celebrate victory—one of the greatest examples of military hubris in history. ............. While Russian troops curse their shortages and lack of hot food, Ukrainian troops are now benefiting from supplies of insulated camouflage suits, tents with stoves, and sleeping bags provided by Canada and the Nordic nations. Putin seems to be in denial about the state of his army and the way that General Winter will favor his opponents. .

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