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/

3 thoughts on “Did Hitler Refuse to Order Winter Uniforms for German Troops in Russia? A Myth Refuted”

  1. yes it really is the least known part of the Ost Krieg. It actually amounted to the de-modernization of the German Army. In the end they were stuck with foot soldiers using WW I rifles and marching everywhere and carrying supplies by horseback and even camel.

  2. the drive to collect warm clothing for the troops was a typical Nazi propaganda ploy and a successful one. Most of the clothing they collected wasn’t of any use to the soldiers and could not be sent to them anyway because of the inadequate German Army logistic effort. There was no place to store the clothing which was collected so most of it was burned. Winter Relief was a different program which actually began under the Weimar Republic. Money collected was to be used to help families through the cold winter months with fuel, clothing, etc. It was a big deal with everyone from Hitler on down showing up for kick off drives. There was intense pressure to donate to Winter Relief although on a WW Two forum I read a post from a German who later lived and worked in the US in a large corporation who said the pressure to give to the United Way was greater than that to give to Winter Relief! I don’t know if that is the case although when I was with Shearson Lehman Brothers and it was owned by American Express, the chairman and CEO of American was the National Chairman one of those years and my manager came into my office, gave me my United Way pledge card and said, “at least 1%, sign it now and give it to me. No arguments. This comes from the top.”

    There has never been, to my knowledge, a systematic study of where all the Winter Relief money went. A lot of it was simply stolen by local Nazi Party officials, the government probably took the rest but no one seems to know.

  3. Two more quick comments: In reading Kershaw’s history of Nazi Germany, he goes into some detail about how politically important the annual “Winter Relief” campaigns, the annual “donation” drives to help outfit German troops with winter clothes, were to the Nazi hierarchy. Much propaganda was churned out about how such luminaries as Goebbels enthusiastically “donated” money and warm clothing for the relief effort.

    Finally, I’ve long wanted to find something looking at the logistical side of combat — it’s probably the most overlooked significant contribution to the successful prosecution of WWII still waiting for historical exploration. Now I’ve found a starting point with the Van Crevald book. Anyone know of a good book dealing with the USN’s Pacific Fleet Service Squadrons? Keeping the SoPac forces so well supplied is another amazing story in need of historical coverage.

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