Thursday, July 15, 2010

Russian war allies: General Winter & General Hunger

I read a Russian story once that was used as a metaphor concerning Russian history. The war with France, to be exact.
The story spoke of General Hunger and General Winter, who met and spoke, and realized that although both had great power and control over the people of the land, neither could survive or have any effect without the other. I was wondering if you knew of this story? If you can, could you please tell me the name of it and the meaning of the story?

Asked by

Darryl Tonks, UK
Dear Darrel, I don't know the story you are talking about as there are several ones. Frankly, I am not sure they are Russian invention. These metaphoric heroes are often mentioned when one is talking about the war on Russian territory. However, even though they seem to be pure epic invention there had some historical base.


The victory in the Patriotic War of 1812 (Invasion of Napoleon's army in Russia) became the subject of many Russian poems, opera's and novels created in XIX century (remember War & Peace of Mr. Tolstoy for example))))

Indeed Russians were proud of their victory over Napoleon's army but it was Denis Davydov (the hero of this war) who for the first time claimed that this victory was much helped by The General Moroz (the General Winter) . Some modern historians object the cold weather axiom of 1812, but this myth was so attractive…

But historians have no live evidence when the supporters of the Russian winter horror story have a plenty of it.
Taking over burned to ashes Moscow in September Napoleon Army has faced sabotage of few local people who has not fled Russian capital. Army catering & logistics soon began having food delivery problems as many peasants converted into partisans and fled their villages together with the domestic animals.

Those regimens who were in French Army avant-guard often burned down unruly villages on its way, thus leaving the rest of the Army without provisions. The situation has worsened as the winter approached.


Soon as is mentioned in military studies, the main body of Napoleon's Grande Armée, initially at least 378,000 strong, "diminished by half during the first eight weeks of his invasion, before the major battle of the campaign. This decrease was partly due to garrisoning supply centers, but disease, desertions, and casualties sustained in various minor actions caused thousands of losses.

It was a humiliation for French Grande Armee to admit that their strategy was not adopted to Russia. Distance, people, traditions were all against them.
The sequels were Napoleon's uncontested and self-defeating occupation of Moscow and his humiliating retreat, which began on 19 October, before the first severe frosts later that month and the first snow on 5 November 1812"

“Almost entire cavalry marches on foot, less than 1/5 of the initial regiment and 100 of horses”, wrote unknown ex-Russian front French soldier in his memories.“Frenchmen perished more from hunger than exhaustion, disorder, robberies and loss of any discipline ”, testifies General Kreyts.

Hunger suddenly became catastrophic. Soon even horse meat was a luxury. This horrible period was described in the memories of Russian General Kreyts who in Moscow suburbs, marching with his regiment, reported hearing weird noises in the forest. After exploring the forest, his people saw French soldiers cutting & eating human meat.

Commander-in-chief of Russian Army General Mikhail Kutuzov wrote to his wife on October 28, 1812:Yesterday we found in the forest two French soldiers, who fried and eat their third comrade”.


So would it be correct to say that General Hunger was much stronger then General Winter? Finally, one or both rapidly helped to destroy French army of 1812.

Was it a good lesson for war strategy class?...Apparently not, 130 years later in Stalingrad another strong European army tried to test loyal Russian Army Allies: general Winter & General Hunger.

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