War in Winter

A Study of Conditions at the Battle Front

the Editor January 1 1915

War in Winter

A Study of Conditions at the Battle Front

the Editor January 1 1915

War in Winter

the Editor

A Study of Conditions at the Battle Front

A BITTER wind from the nor’-west, rising at time to such paroxysms of elemental fury that it drowns out the roar of the big guns and the staccato rattle of musketry; a long, shallow trench, partly filled with drifted snow and dotted with dark figures huddled beneath its frozen embankments for protection from the numbing blasts and the still more deadly hail that comes from the direction of the enemy; files of weary soldiers plodding along snowbanked roads, sleep-fagged and hungry, but obsessed with grim determination to reach the point where they are needed to carry out the plans of a general who plays a colossal game with a continent for a chess board and uses battalions as pawns; the darkness of night settling down over miles of frozen commons covered with sleeping soldiers, free for a time from the shrapnel fire of the enemy but subjected to ceaseless volleys from the artillery of Aeolus, the Storm King: Such are views from the kaleidoscopic screen of a winter campaign, which tell the grim story of privation and suffering. Sherman succeeded in telling more about war in three words than anyone else has ever done in three volumes. Soldiers at the front in the middle of winter, however, will be inclined to doubt the accuracy of his description. War in winter is not as much like hell as they would sometimes like it to be. With the mercury below zero and only Mother Earth for a couch, the soldier could stand a little heat, even if it were brought about through the proximity of his Satanic Majesty. When a nation goes to war, all considerations but one are temporarily forgotten—the necessity of success. Army after army is sent to the front, soldiers are sacrificed in battalions to win a tactical advantage, human lives are valued only for the powers of achievement they' represent or the gains they can make through death. It follows that Mars recks not of rain or frost, that campaigns are The writer Is Indebted to Dr., G. Sterling Ryerson, Toronto, for much information contained In above article.

ruthlessly carried through no matter what climatic conditions may be. Some of the scarlet pages of history are provided by the prosecution of warlike operations during the winter season.

The elements failed to check the rude soldiers of earlier days just as they do the tacticians of to-day; they fought through snowstorm and deluge just as fiercely as they did through heat and drought. That the sufferings of the soldier in bygone days were greater, through lack of proper equipment and measures to care for the wounded, goes without saying. Two winter campaigns stand out prominently from the pages of history, Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow and the Crimean War. They present a soul-rending picture of the horrors which result

when man’s own carelessness and lack of foresight are added to the ruthlessness of the elements. That the same conditions could arise to-day is quite impossible. All of the belligerent nations have made ample provision for clothing and feeding their armies and for attending to the wounded. Only the complete breakdown of the commissariat and hospital branches of the service could bring about the conditions which faced Napoleon and his retreating army. Napoleon, driven perhaps by a destiny that would not be gainsayed, certainly by an over-weening vanity that gave him

Following is the Equipment of the Canadian Soldier:

1 complete khaki suit; 1 suit of service clothing (a sort of drill cloth used for dirty work) ; 1 long great coat; 1 fur cap; 1 forage cap; 1 ordinary cap; 1 knitted Balaclava cap for sleeping ; 2 suits of winter underwear; 2 shirts—flannel; 2 pairs of winter socks; 2 pairs of boots; 1 pair of high overshoes ; 1 pair of canvas shoes; 1 pair of puttees; 1 pair of braces; 1 extra pair of bootlaces; 1 knitted sweater coat; 1 pair of mitts; 1 hair brush and comb; 1 shaving brush; 1 razor; 1 clothes brush; 1 knife and 1 fork and 1 spoon; 1 clasp knife with lanyard; 2 towels; 1 holdall; 3 blankets; 1 rubber sheet, for tent use. Where the item is only one—and not in duplicate—the soldier carries it with him, either on him or in his kit bag. This is general, but the rubber sheet which is used as protection for the soldier under canvas is carried with the transports and delivered to him when and where necessary. When provided with his full equipment the soldier is ready to brave the terrors of winter.

belief in his own invincibility, marched into the heart of Russia without providing a chain of depots of clothing and food supplies along his line of communication. Not expecting to have to retreat, he failed to provide for a safe return. Thus, when the necessity for retreat arose, there was little need for the Russians to harass the flanks and rear of the French army. Generals Janvier and Février by themselves were quite capable of encompassing the almost total extinction of the invaders. Of the 400,000 men who formed the great army which the Little Corporal took with him to force the subjugation of the sullen Bear, only ten thousand staggered into Königsberg at the close of the retreat through snowbound Russia. A graphic

pictuie of the conditions which resulted is found in the very complete volume of Baron Larrey, who, himself marched in the îanks from Moscow to Königsberg. “The cold had become very intense,” he writes. “Already the thermometer had fallen to ten below zero and the northeast winds were blowing with violence. This severe cold, supervening so suddenly, proved destructive to many of our younger soldiers who were frequently found together with animals on the edges of the road, lying dead in the snow. Those of our companions who were accustomed to marching and had preserved some sugar and coffee were less exposed to the dangers of their situation. Habitual exercise prevented numbness of the limbs and supported that calorification and play of the organs, whereas the cold seizing on the individuals carried on horses or in carriages, soon threw them into a state of stupor and paralytic stiffness. They were thus induced to approach the fires of the bivouacs more nearly in consequence of their not being sensible to the heat in the frozen parts. Gangrene was brought on. I had the good fortune to preserve myself from this affection by walking constantly and totally depriving myself of the enjoyment of fire. . . . The cold progressively increased until it reached 31 below zeio. The edges of the roads were strewn with soldiers who perished in the march. . . .We were, in short, in such a state of faintness and torpor that we could hardly recognize each other. Our march was conducted in sullen silence. The organ of vision and muscular power were, respectively, so much debilitated and reduced that it was difficult for an individual to pursue his way and preserve his equilibrium. The soldier was overpowered and fell at the feet of his companions, who did not

turn aside to behold him. On my arrival at Wilna my strength and courage were exhausted. I was near falling, doubtless to rise no more. . . . Three thousand men, consisting of the best soldiers of the guard, as well as cavalry, nearly all of whom were from the southern parts of France, were the only ones who had truly resisted the cruel reverses of the retreat.” This is an extreme picture—war in winter at its worst. But it was not war in the usual sense of the word, inasmuch as the i'rench were fighting the elements rather than the Russians. There was little actual fighting. MISMANAGEMENT IN THE CRIMEA. The Crimean War contributes many more dark pages to the lurid annals of winter warfare; and the conditions there were more analogous with the campaigns now being waged. The soldiers were not called upon to undergo the fatigue and hardship of long marches but for the most part were stationed in one section during the severest season. They had plenty of food and were afforded shelter. The distress which ensued arose for the most part out of the mismanagement and ignorance displayed in the handling of supplies. Instead of the methods of rigid efficiency which enabled Lord Kitchener to send a perfectly equipped expeditionary force of 70,000 men to France in two weeks’ time, we find cold-blooded indifference and a most astounding carelessness. The War Office was tied up in voluminous folds of red tape. The food sent out was not of the most nourishing kind, the clothing was not designed to fortify one against the rigors of a Crimean winter. Medical stores were scanty and inadequate. Some transport

ships sailed, in fact, without medical supplies of any kind.

As the inevitable consequence, the forces were drained by the inroads of disease. Dysentery, scurvy, even cholera appeared.' As many of the troops were without proper winter clothing and were compelled to fight in the trenches often for fifteen hours at a stretch in blinding snowstorm and drenching sleet, it was no wonder that bronchitis and pneumonia ravaged the camps. A staff sergeant, writing from Sebastopol, declared that many of the men were without shoes and had only one worn-out, mud-soaked blanket.

There was little of the glamor and glory of war for the poor fellows who braved the intense cold of southern Russia thus poorly equipped!


At the time of writing (November 27) the fighting in Northern France and in Poland is proceeding with unparalleled intensity and varying success. Nothing short of a total collapse of the German arms could bring about a sudden ending of the war. And there are no tangible evidences of this. The outlook is that the fighting will continue right through the winter on an almost equally active and gigantic scale. The conditions under which the warfare will be staged become, therefore, of intense interest.

Despite the fact that the campaign in the eastern theatre of war will be fought over the same ground that witnessed the tragic ending of the retreat from Moscow, the conditions will be entirely different. In the first place, the Russian and German troops are accustomed to hard winter weather and are, therefore, better fitted by nature to withstand the severe cold than were Napoleon’s forces from “Sunny France.” In the second place, they will be warmly clothed. In the third place —and this is perhaps the all important difference — they will be properly fed. The Germans are fighting with a net-work of railways behind them so that the problem of getting supplies to all parts of the extended battle front is not a serious one. It is also a strong point in the Russian plan of campaign that adequate supplies are carried for both man and beast. The Grand Duke Nicholas does not hold with the theory of Napoleon that an army can live off the country—a theory that was shattered by the Moscow campaign.

It was the failure of supplies that defeated Napoleon in Russia. After the burning of Moscow he could not provide food for his army and had to retreat. The saying that “an army travels on its stom-

ach” is of double significance in a winter campaign. Generals win battles, but the commissariat can win, or lose, wars.

Despite the fact that armies are now numbered in millions where they were once counted in tens of thousands, the problems of the commissariat have been reduced to a comparative minimum. The automobile has effected this wonderful advance in efficiency. Gasoline is the force which enables a general staff to maintain armies over a frontage of two hundred miles and to feed their men regularly. The motor car has revolutionized warfare; it has changed the order of conflict from pitched battles to continentwide clashes; it has made possible rapid advances and quick retreats. Had the rumored shortage of gasoline in Germany proven conect, the war would have come to a much quicker ending than even the most cheerful optimist now dares predict.

The importance of the commissariat is so fully recognized now that special at-

tention is paid to it at all times; during a winter campaign, however^ becomes of paramount importance. The troops can be kept in hardy condition only when plenty of warm food is supplied them. Disease would soon stalk the frozen trenches if the commissariat “fell down.” Accordingly, during the present winter campaien the British soldier will carry into action with him a special ration, which by the way is known in the service as the “iron” ration. This, he carries in a canvas receptacle. The system followed when the troops are engaged on the firing line and must be fed on the spot is for each man to carry between one and two days’ “iron” rations in his haversack while half a day’s rations are stored in the cook’s wagon and still another day’s rations in the train or supply column.

This provides at all times from 2Vf> to 3% days’ food and motor lorries are used to keep the supplies up.

An “emergency” ration for use when actively engaged and all other supplies fail, is carried in 6%-ounce tins. It consists of chocolate with plasmon or some other milk proteid added. It has been found that there is great strength in chocolate; in fact, the emergency ration is calculated to keep up a man’s strength for a day and a half if eaten or drunk in small quantities. These tins are never opened except by order of an officer or in case of extreme necessity.

The regular or “iron” ration consists of one pound of preserved meat, twelve ounces of biscuit, five-eighth-ounce of tea, two ounces of sugar, one-half-ounce of salt, three ounces of cheese and two cubes of meat extract.

The portable field kitchen, which is being used by all the armies, has done much to relieve the hardships of winter warfare. The British field kitchen—a twohorse, limbered vehicle— is designed to cook for 250 men, supplying two hundred quarts of hot food for each meal or ten quarts for every twelve men. The kitchens are equipped with fires, four cooking pots of huge size and a hot-water


In Northern France and Belgium the forces will not encounter the severe weather that has already been felt in Poland and East Prussia. Still, for a period of two months the climate has spells of extreme bitterness. What is worse still, the winter season is liable to bring in its wake fogs and raw, piercing winds. Much of this has already been experienced. The meagre news from the front which percolates through the sieve of the censor’s office tell of days spent in flooded trenches, of battles fought in chilling rains and of dense fogs which have compelled a cessation of hostilities. With the advance of the season, the hardships under which the men have been laboring will increase.


Perhaps the outstanding feature of Britain’s share in the war has been the machine-like precision and absolute competence of the war office. It is nothing new for British troops to perform with valor, to heroically advance to victory or stubbornly contest a strategic retirement. Mons, Charleroi and Ypres have merely upheld the traditions of Vittoria, Quatre Bras and Waterloo. But it is something new to find the forces well equipped and supplied and for the generals to be able to depend on reinforcements when needed. How the tattered veterans of the Peninsular War would gasp with astonish-

ment at the new-found efficiency of the department at home! And the change can be traced to the influence of one squarejawed, silent man who has never failed in anything he has yet attempted—and is not going to fail now.

The British troops at the front, therefore, will face the long winter campaign with everything in their favor. They are clothed warmly, they get the most nourishing food, the hospital service is well-nigh perfect.

It is probable that our troops will not find conditions particularly hard.

The human frame readily adapts itself to conditions; and a well-trained soldier, hard as nails and inured to exposure, can go through fire and flood and come through unscathed. To the person accustomed to steam-heated, weather-stripped comfort, the idea of sleeping in the open during winter weather seems almost too terrible to contemplate. With proper equipment, however, one can sleep quite comfortably with a snowbank for a mattress and the stars for a roof. The northern trapper can roll himself up in his sleeping bag and slumber comfortably through a night when the mercury gets to forty and fifty below zero.

And it must also be considered that the trenches which the troops are occupying in Northern France are in some places like regular hotels. The firing line is approached by winding trenches so that the soldiers can get to and from the front without being exposed to the enemy’s fire; and back of these serpentine approaches are sitting rooms, fitted up with card tables, bath-rooms with shower baths— in fact, nearly all the creature comforts.

So long as the line does not keep in

constant motion, the men can “dig themselves in” and enjoy shelter from the elements.

It has been proven by experience that the health of the troops is much better when they sleep continually in the open. The general practice has been, however, to find shelter for the men whenever possible with the result that, when they do have to sleep in the snow, they are not accustomed to it. Colds and sickness result inevitably.

The work of the medical corps is particularly important during a winter campaign. Unless closest attention is paid the deaths from exposure will exceed the casualities on the firing line.


Elsewhere in this article full details arç given of the winter equipment of the Canadian soldier. This is more complete perhaps than the supplies carried by the troops of other nations though practically identical with the equipment of the British soldier. Where one article only is listed, the soldier carries it with him. Where two articles of one kind are included, the second is carried in the first line of transports. The blankets in which he sleeps, are also carried on the first line of transports and are distributed to him each night. When the army is on the march—either forward or backward, but particularly in the latter case—the transports are often temporarily lost. In such a contingency, and it is not by any means a rare one, when the campaign is being furiously waged, Tommy Atkins has no course open but to wrap himself in his great coat and brave the elements as best he can.


The life in the trenches is a rigorous one. Passing over the danger from the constant rain of shrapnel as an incident of war, the soldier suffers great privations from'the climatic changes. When it rains, the trenches fill with water. Often the troops in France have fought for days in trenches waist-high in water. After the rains abate, the trenches are damp and muddy and the work of the soldier is proportionately hard. Mud is not an unmixed evil, however, for it results in the falling shrapnel shells imbedding themselves in the soft earth before exploding.

The length of time that the soldier spends in the trench is dependent largely upon the activity of the enemy. When hard pressed the men stay in the trenches day after day, snatching a few hours sleep here and there during breathing spells in the mad phantasma of strife. Ordinarily, however, from twelve to fifteen hours is the limit of daily service.

When on the march there is no such thing as day and night. Just as the seasons are ignored, so are considerations of light and darkness. Often forced marches extend through the night, to be followed perhaps by a day of heavy fighting and more marching the next night. When Von Kluck was attempting to outflank the allied left as the first step in the on-to-Paris programme, his troops fought all day and marched all night. Grim t ask-master that he was, Von Kluck drove his men forward and ever forward until they were literally worn out; and physical condition played a big part in the crushing defeat that the allies administered to the on rushing German forceé at the Marne. Another instance of what armies can do under press of necessity was the almost unprecedented advance of the Germans before Warsaw. Following on the heels of the fleeing enemy, the RusContinued on Page 110.

Continued from Page 8.

sians advanced at the rate of fourteen miles a day, fighting with the Germar rear-guard all the way and bringing theh artillery up with them. So rapid was tht advance that bodies of Cossack cavalry broke across the frontier and threatenec the German lines of communication a! Pieschen. This spectacular advance was effected in the face of severe wintei weather and heavy snowstorms.


The most fruitful source of speculation with regard to the winter campaign now opening is the probable scope of the opeiations possible during the hard weathei months. It seems altogether likely thaï hostilities will continue with almost unabated vigor on both battle fronts. There is too much hanging on the ultimate result of the war for the armies to wail until spring. The cost of maintaining the armies in the field is too great for any time to be lost. And certainly the strain on Germany is too severe for the Kaiser to permit a slackening of the operations except where the iron hand of winter absolutely prevents action. When every passing day improves the chances of the allies and carries Germany just twentyfour hours farther away from the possibility of victory, the Kaiser can be depended upon to force the fighting at every stage.

It will be impossible, however, to continue the war with the speed that has characterized operations so far. It is difficult to move artillery rapidly when snow is on the ground or the roads are soft and muddy; and the big guns are quite as essential to successful operations as the camera is to a moving-picture company. The approach of winter facilitated the campaign in Poland for it hardened the roads and enabled the Russians to advance and manoeuvre their artillery with greater ease than earlier in the campaign. This advantage will be lost, of course,; when the heavy snows come.

So far as the campaign in East Prussia is concerned, the advent of winter should quicken operations. The country is honeycombed with lakes and marshes which have made advances on the part of the; Russians a slow and circuitous movement

When winter '.'.as frozen over the lakes and established a firm surface on the marshes, the Russians will be able to strike boldly forward.


One result of the setting in of severe winter weather, may be to increase the uncertainty of the situation. The FrenchBritish line is to-day in closest communication all the way from Nieuport on the coast to the extreme right around Belfort. Riders are passing to and fro at all times, carrying infoi'mation from one section of the battlefront to others. When the roads are filled with drifted snow this service will be seriously hampered and the various corps will be more isolated. It is not drawing too far on the imagination to imagine either side secretly massing forces at a certain point and smashing the opposing lines before reinforcements could be hurried up—a contingency which the almost perfect organization at present writing has rendered practically impossible. With the certain breakdown in the cohesion of the extended battle line, the uncertainty of the situation becomes greater.

It is this very consideration that may lead the German general staff to order a retirement from the present line held from Ostend to the Aisne, to the stronger shelter of the Meuse or perhaps even beyond the Rhine. Fighting in hostile territory, with lines of communication through hate-seething countries to be maintained, the uncertainties of a winter campaign would weigh heaviest on the German forces. They would have to bring reinforcements and supplies up from a greater distance and the risk of delays would be greater. The experiences of Washington at Valley Forge would be tame compared to the dangers which would beset the western army of Germany if an effort were made to stand on their present ground through a winter campaign.

The counsels of earnest diplomats, the frenzied efforts of financiers, the dictates of a humanitarian distaste to the sacrifice of human life, all were unavailing to stop the belligerent nations from resorting to the arbitrament of arms. The floodgates of racial hate once opened, nothing can stem the tide until the score with the war lord has been settled. And so the mighty conflict will be waged through all seasons and the hardships of winter will be added to the horrors of war. The world now hardened to the wholesale murder of hundreds of thousands of young men, will find fresh cause for horror in the inevitable course that the winter campaign will take.


Such great flexibility of the ankle and so much movement of the muscles at this point are required by the modern dances that physicians have been frequently consulted in regard to a mysterious ailment which has finally been named the “tango foot.” The unaccustomed exercise of almost unused portions of the foot has put a constant strain on the extensor muscles.