Springtime on the Eastern Front

Soldiers from an unidentified anti-tank unit wade through mud somewhere on the Eastern Front, March 1942. The dreaded rasputitsa is caused by rains in the autumn and the spring thaw, and as most roads in the USSR were unpaved, this caused all sorts of trouble for the invading German Army. Vehicles bogged down, mud clogged up the wheels and tracks of tanks, and men and horses had to exert a lot of energy to advance a few kilometers a day. It was hard to bring forward much-needed supplies, and the German advance stalled. For the Soviet defenders, this was a great asset, as it bought them time to reorganize their defenses. “General Mud” was, together with “General Winter”, one of the USSR’s most important allies.


“Never get involved in a land war in Asia.”

A Zündapp KS750 motorcycle and sidecar combination makes its way through the slush and mud of a dismal Russian road, probably in late winter/early spring of 1943. The motorbike rider is interestingly enough wearing a Soviet tanker’s padded crash helmet, instead of the regular steel helmet. It provides better protection and more warmth than the helmet and “Oma”, the tube-shaped, knitted head covering issued with the winter uniform.

The road is marked with poles, which helped vehicles to stay on course in the deep snows and blizzards of winter. The horses and infantry further up the road probably enjoyed the road even less than the MC rider. The German way of warfare relied on good roads and short distances, which made the campaigns in Europe a success. In the USSR, the poor roads and great distances, combined with the harsh winters and mud seasons, made the German Army lose momentum.

Muddling forward

An Sd.Kfz. 8 schwerer Zugkraftwagen 12 t artillery tractor forges forward through the infamous rasputitsa mud. During the rains in the fall and the thaw in the spring, unpaved roads throughout the western part of the Soviet Union turned into seas of mud, slowing German troop movements to a crawl. Cars, motorcycles and trucks got stuck, and soldiers on foot and horses had to exert themselves heavily in order to trudge through the mire. Tracked vehicles fared a little better, but fuel consumption was affected. In 1941, the German advance suffered enough from the mud that the strategic objectives weren’t reached. When the weather turned colder, the ground became more firm again, but then the severe Russian winter hit…