Along with drinking a lot of Vodka, cold weather is one of the most persistent stereotypes about Russian life. And, when you look at the facts, it’s pretty easy to see why: it’s really fucking cold.
Now, when I say cold, I don’t mean you walk outside one day without a coat and you shiver a little.
I mean temperatures between -20°F and -40°F, constant winds whipping up nature’s version of a smoke grenade, and up-to-your-crotch snow that makes it near impossible to walk anywhere. In fact, the BBC actually states the conditions during the Russian winter are comparable to those in Antarctica, the coldest place on the planet.
It’d be hard for one person to make a journey through Russia, but an army? How about an army that relies on overwhelming speed to achieve its objectives (like say, Hitler or Napoleon)? Basically, when your thermometer’s readings go from “instant frostbite” to “Hell freezing over,” you’re screwed either way.
In fact, you’re so completely screwed, military commanders have actually personified the force of nature that does the screwing:
That’s right: Russia is allied with Mother Nature herself, and together, they will make you their bitch.
As if having connections like that aren’t enough, consider the fact that when armies invaded Russia, they were often led by pompous assholes who thought they could take over the largest country in the world before winter set in. This is a dangerous assumption to make. Because when the assumption is wrong, as it tends to be, then you have large groups of these…
Fighting against large groups of these…
…in Arctic conditions. You can guess who usually wins.
Before history had made it completely clear never to attack Russia, Napoleon invaded at the head of a 600,000-strong army. He lost over half his men following a Russian retreat, and by the time he reached an abandoned and useless Moscow, a particularly early and severe winter had set in. Now hundreds of miles into enemy territory, temperatures plummeting, and short on supplies, Napoleon’s army had to retreat the way they came, being harassed by the winter and Russian troops the whole way home. By the time they were in France, there were slightly over 20,000 soldiers remaining.
Over 100 years later, Hitler decided to give it a gamble and try to take over Russia. As expected, his plans didn’t quite grow to fruition, and because he was so confident in a quick victory and didn’t even prepare for winter warfare, his army was tremendously underequipped to handle the weather. Over 700,000 Germans had already died in the first 5 months of the invasion, and in the end of November, 1941, the Quartermaster General of the German army reported, “We are at the end of our resources in both personnel and materiel. We are about to be confronted with the dangers of deep winter.” Translated, “General Winter is about to make us his bitch.”
A few months later, the German army could proudly claim 100,000 frostbitten soldiers, 14,000 of whom needed amputations. Far more importantly, they never again were quite as close to Russia’s doorstep as they’d been before that winter, proving once and for all that no matter how many weapons you have, Mother Nature will always be able to kick you in the balls until you can’t breathe.