German Winter Morale

The problems of German troop morale during the harsh winters of the Eastern Front — translation of German Taschenbuch für den Winterkrieg, August 1942 from the U.S. wartime publication German Winter Warfare, Special Series, No. 18, Military Intelligence Division, U.S. War Department, December 1943.


a. General

The coming winter will again severely tax the spiritual stamina of the soldier. All suitable means commensurate with the situation and combat conditions will be employed to bolster his inner resilience. The example of the soldier, especially the officer who has proved himself in all situations, is a determining factor in maintaining the morale of the troops. Eagerness for action and good discipline must be maintained, especially behind the lines. Prerequisites in assuring morale are consideration for the welfare of troops, tolerable shelter, and adequate provisions. Winter equipment, lighting facilities, and fuel must be procured in advance or substitutes provided. Important! Stimulate the initiative of troops. Shows should be staged and soldiers encouraged to participate in them. Intelligent organization of spare time is the best means of preventing useless brooding, rumor-mongering, and disciplinary offenses.

The welfare of troops in the lines has priority. Morale-building supplies for the front must actually reach the front lines. There must be no pigeonholing in depots, railroad stations, headquarters, or orderly rooms. Checks against delay must be made continually. Commanders and headquarters must be in constant communication with field offices of the High Command of the Armed Forces.

b. Recreational Aids

(1) Reading material.–Do not leave newspapers lying around. Newspapers, bulletins, and magazines must reach the front fast. There the soldier is waiting for recent news. Papers of occupied territories should be sent forward because they do not have to be transported far. Front papers of field armies also serve the purpose of inculcating combat doctrine in troops.

Exchange of library kits between battalions and regiments should be encouraged. Field library kits of the Army Book Service (Heeresbücherei) are exclusively for front-line troops. Rear echelons and higher headquarters are normally equipped with Rosenberg libraries.

“Information for Troops” (Mitteilungen für die Truppe) continues to be distributed through the Army Postal Service (Feldpost) to divisions, two copies per unit. Report immediately any failure to receive copies. This also applies to “Information for the Officer Corps” (Mitteilungen für das Offizierkorps).

(2) Lectures.–Important lectures by speakers from the High Command of the Armed Forces are possible only under quiet conditions and after long preparation. Lectures by members of units on general cultural subjects (history, geography, travel, economics, engineering, fine arts) have been successful even in small units. The units themselves have good men for this purpose!

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Don’t Scare Replacements

From “Combat Lessons” No. 7 comes the following notes on leadership and replacement orientation:

Replacement Instruction—the Wrong Kind

A Lieutenant comments on his ominous introduction to front-line existence: “On my way to the front as an officer replacement, I met several individuals who had come back from the line. Invariably they recounted to me their hair-raising experiences—their outfits had been ‘wiped out,’ or ‘pinned down for days’; ‘officers didn’t have a dog’s chance of survival,’ etc. One platoon sergeant went statistical on me; he said his platoon had lost 16 officers in one 2-week period. I expected confidently that I would be blown to bits within 15 minutes after my arrival at the front.

Do Not Scare Replacements: WW2 Combat Lessons

Don't Scare Hell out of Replacements

“Later experience has shown me that enlisted men who come in as replacements are subjected to similar morale-breaking tales. I have tried to get my old men to give the new replacement a break by being careful not to exaggerate their battle experiences or in any way distort the picture of front-line existence. Give the new men a common-sense introduction to the combat zone and there will be fewer men going on sick call before an attack.”

Noncoms and privates of Company “K,” 11th Infantry, ETO, draw attention to the same problem: “Our replacements come to us filled with tenseness and dread caused by stories they have heard in the rear. Special instructors from the front should be used at replacement centers to talk the new men out of this unnecessary panic. Of course, the soundest remedy is to have the replacements occupy a defensive position for a time, but even then the kind of treatment they are given upon arrival at the front makes a big difference in the amount of good they will do their new outfit.”

Comment: Company commanders and platoon leaders should meet, orient, and indoctrinate all replacements so that they gain an authentic picture of current battle conditions. This should be done even though battle indoctrination has been started in replacement centers. Knowing what to expect, even when the expected is bad, is better than not knowing and consequently imagining the worst.