THE CLIMATIC CONDITIONS IN THE BATTLE FOR MOSCOW
The German soldier who crossed into Russian territory felt that he entered a different world, where he was opposed not only by the forces of the enemy but also by the forces of nature. Nature is the ally of the Russian Army, and the struggle against this alliance was a severe test 101' the Wehrmacht, exacting great sacrifices. To conquer the raging elements of nature was the more difficult because their fury and effect were not fully recognized by the Germnns, who were neither trained nor equipped to withstand them. The German command had been under the impression that the Red Army could be destroyed west of the Dnepr, and tbat there would be no need for conducting operations in cold, snow, and mud.
The period of clear Weather which follows the autumn muddy season lasts at most one month, too short a time for extensive military operations. Cold, ice, and snow may hinder operations as early as December, especially in the northern parts of the country. Snowfllll varies greatly in European Russia. It is greater in the northern and central regions than in the south. Along the lower Don and Donets, in the winter of 1942-43, the first snow fell in midDecember and did not affect mobility during the entire winter. The same winter saw more than eighteen inches of snow on the middle course of theSe rivers and in the Kharkov area. Snow depths of three to four feet are common in the north, where whoolod vehicles can move only on cleared roads, and huge snowdrifts build up in valleys and holiows. Here horse-mounted and dismounted troops move with difficulty except on roads, and trail breakers must be used for crosscountry marches. In deep -snow country even tanks and other tracked vehicles are restricted to plowed roads. In the Baltic and Leningmd regions the snow cover varies greatly from year to year. Leningrad and its vicinity, for example, may have as much as twenty-eight inches of snow in severe winters, while in mild winters there may be less than two inches. Water courses to the south of Leningrad often freeze over by mid-November, and temperatures fell as low as - 400 F, Even during mild winters the mercury will drop to - 200 F. In central European Russia, the Smolensk-Vitebsk area has noon temneratures below freezing even during average winters. The Pripyat Marshes usually freeze over the winter, and only during exceptionally mild winters, or in case of an early snow cover, will large patches of the Pripyat remain unfrozen and impassable.
Cold reduces the efficiency of men and weapons. At the beginning of December 1941, 6th Panzer Division was but 9 miles from Moscow and 15 miles from the Kremlin when a sudden drop in temperature - 300 F., coupled with a surprise attack by Siberian troops, smashed ts drive on the capital. Paralyzed by cold, the German troops could not aim their rifle fire, and bolt mechanisms jammed or strikers shattered in the bitter winter weather. Machine guns became encrusted with ice, recoil liquid froze in guns, ammunition supply failed. Mortar shells detonated in deep snow with a hollow, harmless thud, and mines were no longer reliable. Only one German tank in ten had survived the autumn muddy season, and those still available could not move through the snow because of their narrow tracks. At first the Russian attack was slowed with hand grenades, but after a few days the German prepared positions in villages and farmhouses were surrounded or penetrated. The Germans held out to the northwest of Moscow until 5 Dec and on the next day the first retreat order of the war was given.
In the months of the offensive, German battalions and companies had dwindled to a handful of men. The Russian mud llnd winter had wrought havoc upon their weapons and equipment. Leadership and bmvery could not compensate for the lowered fire power of the german Divisions.The numerical superiority of the Russilms, aided by climatic conditions, saved Moscow and turned the tide of battle. Hitler neither expected nor planned for a winter war