Did Hitler Refuse to Order Winter Uniforms for German Troops in Russia? A Myth Refuted

I read a lot about the Eastern Front as you can probably tell. The Germans attacked the Soviet Union on 21 June 1941. Their plan was to knock the Soviets out the war within a few months. (And they came very close.)

I often read that Hitler refused to allow the German army to order winter uniforms. His reasoning: that would be an admission that neither he nor the army believed the Germans could knock the Soviets out of the war before the Russian winter came.

When you think about it, this argument is sort of stupid and hard to believe for the simple reason that winter is cold in Germany. Even if they hadn’t invaded the Soviet Union, German soldiers would still have had winter uniforms. And regular German Army troops from the 100,000 man Reichswehr had winter uniforms as did the soldiers who became part of the army as it expanded in the mid to late 30s. They just didn’t bring them along when they invaded Russia.

So the German Army had winter uniforms. All the specifications and wool content and number of buttons, etc had all been established decades before the war with the Soviets.

The following is from At Hitler’s Side: the Memoirs of Hitler’s Luftwaffe Adjutant 1937-1945 by Nicolaus von Below (4 Stars).

On 1 November (1941), at OKH, an exhibition of Army winter uniforms was put on display. The Quartermaster General, Wagner, assured Hitler that work on winter clothing was in hand and that sufficient quantities would be made available to men in the field. Hitler took note of this report and appeared satisfied.

OKH is the abbreviation of Oberkommando das Heer, which translates as ‘German Army High Command.’ When reading German military history it is useful to keep in mind that OKH (German Army High Command) and OKW (German Armed Forces High Command) were completely separate entities. OKW functioned as Hitler’s military secretariat and ran the war in the West. OKH was the home of the German General Staff and they ran the war in the East. Most of the plots to kill Hitler came from this group.

The number one historian of military logistics in the world, Martin Van Creveld, has this to say in his fascinating book (4 stars): Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton.

Anyone who has studied the documents (that is, the records of OKH) cannot fail to be impressed by the hundreds upon hundreds of orders, directives, and circulars concerning winter supplies that began to emanate from OKH from early August onward, covering every detail, from the reconnoitring of suitable shelters to the provision of freeze proof POL (petroleum, oil, and lubricants) from winter clothing to veterinarian care for horses.

It’s worth noting that required veterinary care for horses was a massive task because less than 20% of the German Army was motorized. 80% of German Army transport from moving the wounded to hauling cannon was done with horses. When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, their invasion force had three and half million men and more than a million horses.

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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