Winter Warfare

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"I remember thinking about those comrades, struggling through the cold and the snow, facing death at every turn. And I was ashamed, for I was happy that I was not with them"
Lt. Romanov, World in Conflict: Soviet Assault

Wars are already messy, but if you're unlucky you'll have to fight two enemies: the opposing force... and the weather.

Come wintertime, you better hope you're not in a place known for constant blizzards. Winter or arctic warfare is one of the most notorious kinds there is. Freezing temperatures, heavy snow, ice. This can play havoc with vehicles, which have to be kept running all the time or at least started up a lot. This, naturally burns fuel. Infantry have it the worst. They will need warm clothing, blankets, something to generate heat, extra food, and shelter. Lacking any of these can mean trouble.

During times like these you can expect to see specially trained soldiers starting to come out of the woodwork. Men and women who are hardened for the cold and can be relied on in these situations. They may often employ skis, or snowmobiles.

If you're really unlucky, you may find yourself in a winter battle that takes place in a city or on a mountain. Urban Warfare is just as notorious and has its own trope. Combat in the mountains is just as bad because of the terrain. Better hope you're not fighting in a city, on a mountain, in the snow. This is why nobody invades Switzerland.

In fiction, winter battles can be used a lot because it can really drive home just how hard the heroes' fight really is. If it's a work based on a Real Life event, then a winter combat scene will show up simply by virtue of whatever unit they are following being part of some kind of winter offensive. Video games will often incorporate it because it gives them a chance to whip out some cool winter gear, like snowmobiles.

Sister trope to Urban Warfare. Compare Weather of War, which is a more generalized version of this; Hostile Weather, which is also a generalized version that covers non-military settings; and Battle in the Rain, where instead of a snowy winter you have a rainstorm. Contrast Battle Amongst the Flames . An Ass-Kicking Christmas might overlap here if it revolves around Christmastime. Contrast with Jungle Warfare, where it's the heat and the humidity (aside from the jungle itself) that can kill.


Examples

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     Anime & Manga 
  • In Axis Powers Hetalia, Russia is constantly tormented by General Winter (see Real Life, below.) This makes him miserable, but the guy is just so good at defeating invasions.
  • During the semifinal match against Pravda in Girls und Panzer, the Ooarai girls found the going slow on the snowy ground. They nearly lost heart while huddled under blankets in the abandoned church, but resourceful Team Hippo was able to utilize the snowy roads to ambush Pravda's flag tank.

    Comic Books 
  • Judge Dredd: During the Apocalypse War, Mega-City One's Weather Control Machines malfunctioned after suffering damage, creating snowy conditions in many parts of the city. The defending Judges made use of the sudden winter climate for hit-and-run tactics against the East Meg invasion forces.

    Film — Live Action 
  • The 1938 Soviet film Alexander Nevsky, directed by Sergei Eisenstein, recreates the 1242 Battle on the Ice (or Battle on Lake Peipus or on Lake Chudskoe) between the Russian army led by the eponymous ruler and the Teutonic Knights.
  • The 1989 Finnish film The Winter War depicts in harsh detail the eponymous 1939-40 conflict between Finland and the USSR.
  • Battle of the Bulge. Oddly, there is not as much snow shown in the movie as there was in Real Life. But it is a fictionalized account.
    • The 1948 film Battleground, which also deals with the Battle of the Bulge, is a more realistic depiction featuring plenty of snow and then some.
  • Star Wars has some good examples.
    • Revenge of the Sith briefly shows us the snowy planet of Mygeeto, where Jedi Master Ki Adi Mundi is trying to lead his troops in a fierce battle in the middle of a wartorn city, with snow falling all around. Unfortunately, this is when the evil Palpatine has activated Order 66 (kill the Jedi) for the Clone Army. The unsuspecting Mundi is murdered by his own troops.
    • The Empire Strikes Back
      • The Rebels have relocated their main headquarters to Hoth, an icy, snow-covered planet. When the Imperials come knocking, it brings us one of the most iconic battles in the series.
      • And as if freezing temperatures, blizzards, and an Imperial attack force weren't bad enough, there are also the Wampas. Luke found out the hard way just how mean these things are.
    • Star Wars: The Force Awakens gives us more winter combat. Starkiller Base, the First Order's solar system destroying new super weapon is a massive complex built right into a snow covered planet. In the air, Resistance starfighters breach past enemy space defenses and attack from above, in an attempt to destroy the base. On the ground, Han, Chewie, and Finn attempt to infiltrate the base to sabatoge it's power source and rescue Rey. Eventually there is even a lightsaber fight with Rey and Finn vs. Kylo Ren amongst the falling snow.
  • Patton. Eventually the movie comes to Patton's famous charge towards Bastogne to relieve the 101st Airborne Division during the Battle of the Bulge. Patton at one point stands looking as a column of his troops pass through and saying how proud he is of his men for fighting so hard despite the harsh conditions.
  • Red Dawn (1984). The final part of the movie takes place during the winter. The heroes have now switched to winter camo. Unfortunately, this is when the Russians start to crack down hard on the resistance.
  • Stalingrad (1993): The film covers the Battle of Stalingrad up to the surrender of the German garrison. By the time that winter arrives the Germans start to resort to cannibalism of Soviet POWs, and the front lines eventually evaporate completely. The last two characters end up freezing to death together.
  • In Twilight Breaking Dawn (book and second film) they fight in the snow on the baseball field just outside of Forks.
  • The setting of the third dream level in Inception, where the team has to fight off baddies in a winterly high mountain environment.
  • Film adaptations of War and Peace show the 1812 retreat from Moscow, indeed both the King Vidor and the Sergei Bondarchuk version end with it and leave out Leo Tolstoy's epilogue.

    Literature 
  • The English Beowulf legend mentions an even earlier use of this strategy. The battle on the ice of lake Vänern happened in winter between Swedish and Danish Vikings.
    • Swedish and Geatish Vikings, actually. The battle was between king Adils of Götaland and king Onela of Svealand.
  • Midst Toil and Tribulation opens with an ambush in the middle of a very cold winter in the aptly-named Glacierheart provence. It also includes a number of additional war scenes in the same winter.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Since conditions in the North are almost always winter-like, most battles up there count. This is especially true around and beyond the Wall, where its even colder and harsher. Most notably, Stannis Baratheon's march to battle the Boltons for Winterfell takes place during a heavy snowstorm. He loses tons of men and supplies to the cold before he even reaches the castle walls.
  • In the Worldwar series, a group of Race military units end up having to serve in Siberia in the dead of winter. This would be bad enough for human soldiers, but the Race's physiology is keyed toward hot weather, and the combined stress from battle and the cold end up causing a mutiny.
  • 1636: The Saxon Uprising climaxes in a battle to break the siege of the city of Dresden by General Banér, with Mike Stearns' 3rd Division being compared with the besieging forces in terms of equipment and morale, the former having much better of both thanks to the attention to gear to keep warm in the winter and a paymaster that didn't stint on supplies or soldier pay.
  • The novel Colonel Chabert by Honoré de Balzac is the story of a cavalry officer who goes missing during the great charge in the battle of Eylau (see Real Life), is believed to have died, and encounters many problems when he eventually returns to France.
  • Tolstoy's novel War and Peace includes chapters relating the 1812 retreat from Moscow, largely through the eyes of Pierre Bezukhov, who is forced by the French to go with them.

    Live Action TV 
  • Band of Brothers. Episodes 6,7, and 8 show Easy Company's actions in the Battle of the Bulge and the operations that took place right after. Episode 6 shows their stand in Bastogne with the rest of the 101st Airborne Division. 7 takes place afterwards with an assault on Foy. And 8 takes place in February as the Allies approach the German border.
  • The producers of Hogan's Heroes decided to have the show set in perpetual winter to maintain a sense of continuity for episodes being aired out of order, and to avoid having to switch out wardrobe and set dressing for changes of seasons. Because of this, every episode has patches of snow on the ground and roofs, frosted window pains, and the characters' uniforms consisting of jackets and caps. Unfortunately, because of California Doubling, the surrounding trees were full and green, and the actors are occasionally seen sweating.
  • M*A*S*H has many episodes set in the dead of winter during the Korean War as the staff tries to stave off freezing to death as well as save lives. Of course since the show was shot in Malibu, California there's still lush greenery in the background and the actors bundled up are sweating profusely.
  • Merlin1998: Merlin comes to Uther's army with news that King Vortigan intends to attack them during the winter, which they initially dismiss since warfare is for the summer. The winter is for resting. Once they confirm it for themselves ("What a fool to fight in winter!") they meet Vortigan's army on a frozen river.
  • On Turn Benjamin Tallmadge and Caleb Brewster are part of George Washington's army as it crosses the Delaware on Dec. 25, 1776. Tallmadge ends up jumping into the icy water trying to save some guns from sinking and quickly succumbs to hypothermia. He almost dies and Brewster spends the next few days nursing him back to health. As a result, both men end up the missing the Battle of Trenton.
  • The made-for-television movie World War III revolves around a Soviet assault force landing in Alaska, aiming for the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline. The Soviet officers travel in the comfort of a caterpillar personnel carrier while the siege troops march through the snow. They are resisted by a small but determined group of Army Rangers who assemble and man a makeshift perimeter around a pumping station. During blizzard conditions, the two forces almost have to bump into each other to be detected.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Arctic Scavengers takes place in a post-apocalyptic world with endless winter. Multiple tribes of survivors are fighting constant skirmishes over the dwindling resources and the tribes have to constantly balance the need to hunt for food and scavenge for weapons or tools with the need to keep a large force to fight the next battle.
  • Axis And Allies has a variant rule for the Soviets called "Russian Winter" that gives them a defense bonus.

    Video Games 
  • Advance Wars: Olaf's power causes heavy snow to fall, greatly reducing the enemy's movement while leaving his own unhindered.
  • ARMA 2. Some custom maps have winter environments. And there is at least one mod that adds in winter camo.
  • Battlefield: Bad Company 2
    • The prologue mission is in a cold environment, possibly Siberia or Alaska.
    • Later on, one chapter of the singleplayer campaign takes place in the Andes Mountains. One mission even involves Marlowe trying to find his squadmates after getting separated in a blizzard. Marlowe must keep himself warm by either seeking shelter in buildings or standing near fires caused by explosions. Staying too long out in the blizzard will eventually cause a game over.
  • The original Command & Conquer: Tiberian Dawn had a few maps with snow around the edges, but it wasn't until Command & Conquer: Red Alert that there were maps that were completely white. Its two sequels also featured such winter maps.
  • Dawn of War: Winter Assault: As the name implies, the game takes place on an ice planet. The Imperial Guard made its debut as a faction here, with little touches like soldiers rubbing themselves to keep warm or their breath showing up.
  • Several of the missions in Freedom Fighters take place during freezing winters in New York.
  • Lost Planet takes place on a planet in the middle of an ice age, and so cold that your character will freeze to death if he stays outside too long without enough thermal energy.
  • Medal of Honor: Allied Assault has the first part of the second level, which takes place all the way in Norway, and the fifth level, set in the Hurtgen Forest along the Siegfried Line. The Spearhead expansion, meanwhile, has the entire second level, set during the Battle of the Bulge near Bastogne.
  • Modern Warfare 2. The mission "Cliffhanger" takes place on a Russian military base high in some snowy mountains. Soap and Roach have to do some ice climbing to reach the base, use the blizzard and low visibility to hide themselves from the guards, and escape on snowmobiles.
  • In Star Wars: Battlefront and its sequel, the ice planet Hoth is one of the maps featured as is one other ice world.
  • For another example from the same franchise.....Star Wars: The Old Republic features the planets Hoth and Ilum. Not only are the Republic and Sith Empire shooting at each other, but on both these worlds we have a third faction that wants in on the action. The White Maw Pirates for Hoth, and Darth Malgus' splinter faction for Ilum.
    • Several multiplayer maps take place in Alaska and other cold places.
  • Half of Second Sight takes place during a military excursion to Siberia, and consequently features combat amidst freezing cold and heavy snow.
  • World in Conflict
    • The game has a bunch of missions like this. The most notable one takes place in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. The Americans attempt to fend off a Soviet attack on a military base that houses the secrets of the Star Wars missile defense technology. The battle comes to a head in a town not far from the base. So we have a case of winter warfare, combined with Urban Warfare, combined with mountain warfare. So it's probably no surprise that a tactical nuclear weapon is deployed during the battle. Luckily the mountain terrain is played down, but the comments from the characters make clear that it's no picnic.
    • There are also missions that take place in Russia during a NATO raid on a Soviet naval Base.
    • The Soviet Assault expansion pack adds some Soviet winter missions to the fun. One that takes place in Norway against the cold weather experienced Norwegian Army. And a mission where the Russians race back from Norway to fight off the NATO raid mentioned above in Russia. Oddly enough, the Soviet battalion that the game follows does not participate in the Cascades battle, with Romanov commenting that he was happy not to be part of that operation, and was ashamed of it.
  • World of Warcraft
    • The Wrath of the Lich King expansion has several campaigns, not the least of which was the siege of Icecrown Citadel itself, taking place among the snowy, icy regions of Northrend.
    • The classic battleground "Alterac Valley", which is a battle between the dwarven Stormpike Guard and the orcish Frostwolf Clan taking place among snowy mountains.
  • Company of Heroes 2 features the battles on the Eastern Front, and as expected, winter is a vital factor. If a squad is out in the open for two long, they will freeze to death, no matter if they're German or Russian.

    Western Animation 
  • G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.
    • The Joes have several soldiers who are specialists in winter combat, including Snow Job and Frostbite. Alpine might count as one simply because he is the Joes' mountain expert, and mountains often have snow depending on how high up they are.
      • Of course, the Joes in general (being an elite unit) need to be able to fight in any condition, blizzards included.
    • A number of episodes have battles with COBRA that take place in winter or artic conditions. One episode featured a three-way fight between the Joes, COBRA, and the Russian Oktober Guard (their version of G.I. Joe) in Alaska. Another one had the Joes and the Oktober Guard join forces in Russia to protect Ivan the Terrible's tomb from COBRA, who were trying to steal DNA from the world's greatest military leaders and bloodiest tyrants to create Serpentor.
    • Speaking of the Oktober Guard. They themselves are cold weather experts simply because they're Russian. The above mentioned battle at Ivan the Terrible's tomb took place in the midst of a fierce blizzard. Snow Job, one of the Joes that specializes in winter warfare, admits that Russian blizzards are pushing it even for him. He then complements his Russian allies on their ability to withstand it.

    Real Life 
  • The Battle of Attu, often called the Forgotten Battle, was the only major land battle to take place in North America during World War II, and the only one in the Pacific Theatre to take place in winter/arctic conditions. Imperial Japan had seized the Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska in 1942 as a distraction from the upcoming Battle of Midway (the distraction didn't work). The weather was so bad it forced the U.S. to wait over a year before taking back the islands. At one point American troops had to drag equipment through the snow because their vehicles couldn't get through the tough mountain terrain.
  • The Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, was the single deadliest battle for the U.S. Army in the European Theatre of World War II. And it was even worse for the 101st Airborne Division assigned to defend the vital town of Bastogne, Belgium. They were completely surrounded until George S. Patton's Third Army arrived to relieve them.
  • Russia
    • As a region, it has become synonymous with winter combat. The Russians themselves often say their greatest commander is "General Winter". Shoot, Russian winter combat (and by that measure the Russian Winter itself) probably deserves it's own separate trope.
    • Sweden was among the first major powers to try and fail a full-scale invasion of Russia, led by Charles XII during the winter of 1708-09. Russia's decisive victory was however in Poltava, during the following summer, and made Russia a full-fledged empire.
    • Interestingly, Napoleon's 1812 invasion of Russia is actually a subversion despite what many people think. Most of the fighting happened before the winter properly began, although e. g. the battle of Krasnyi and the crossing of the Berezina were straight examples. However, most of the losses sustained by the Grande Armée actually occurred in the summer and were not caused by combat. Because of heat, poor hygiene, typhus and dysentery the army had already lost half its strength before the first major battle (in August).
    • An earlier Russian example: in April 1242, Prince Aleksandr Nevsky defeated an invading army of Teutonic knights by luring them onto an icy lake. The lightly-armed and armoured Russians were able to retreat to safety, but the heavily armoured and mounted German knights regretted their impetuous charge - they went right through the ice and drowned or froze. The defeat ended the war and the Germans learnt a lesson they'd forgotten seven hundred years later - never fight Russians in winter.
    • The Germans in World War II very much knew about the perils of the Russian winter. However, they put off issuing deep-subzero gear so their troops could keep fighting. When the snows fell in earnest by the time they were advancing on Moscow, most frontline German soldiers were dressed in a hodgepodge of clothes and shoes stolen from civilians and they had no deep-subzero equipment or POL (petrol, oil, lubricants) of any kind for their vehicles or equipment or weapons. The German government later called on citizens to donate winter clothing for the army as part of a face-saving moved in which they lied about being blindsided by an unprecedentedly severe winter.
  • The Soviet-German War had four Winter campaigns, in which no fewer than two million combatants died. Most famous is probably the first Winter Counter-Offensive of 1941-2, in which the Red Army tried and failed to destroy Army Group Center at the cost of a million lives for fewer than 200,000 German ones. Most important are undoubtedly the Korsun-Cherkassy encirclements of February-April 1944, in which most of Germany's panzer forces (800 operational tanks and more than 200,000 troops) and two infantry armies (more than 200,000 troops) were encircled west of the Dnepr river and forced to break out during the Rasputitsa or Spring Thaw of 1944 - escaping with most of their troops, but fewer than 50 tanks and almost no artillery pieces or trucks. Allied offensives in Belarus, Poland, the Baltic, Romania, and Normandy that Summer would then capitalise on this temporary material weakness by depriving Germany of her experienced infantry and panzer troops. Germany actually had more panzers, artillery pieces, and trucks by December 1944 than she'd had in December 1943, but allied success in the Summer meant that the bulk of the people around to use them were children and old men.
  • Perhaps ten million Soviet civilians also died during the winters of the Soviet-German War due to measures taken by the Germans. That said, most of these civilians were elderly or young children who probably would have died anyway and so these are not usually counted.
    • In the winter of 1941-2 civilian winter-time deaths resulted primarily from German 'requisitioning' of clothing and shelter needed for their survival, as well as the need to clear the siege-lines at Leningrad of civilians. Similarly, all civilians were evicted from the Rzhev-Vyazma salient by the winter of 1942-3 to prevent them from passing on information about German defensive positions or aiding in Soviet attacks.
    • In the winter of 1943-4 civilian winter-time deaths resulted primarily from the destruction of all structures capable of sheltering civilians in Staraya Russiya/Novgorod, eastern Belarus, and central-western Ukraine. This was done to burden the Soviets with ensuring their survival, facilitating German retreats. Successful implementations included the entire city of Novgorod, pre-war population 200,000. Do note that this process was incomplete in many areas, as the number of structures to be destroyed could be very large and the areas to be covered vast. Consequently, only structures near roads and rail lines were consistently treated in accordance with orders.
  • The Battle of Towton, the bloodiest battle fought on English soil, was fought during a huge blizzard, making it difficult for the truly massive late medieval armies to coordinate. Also, because of the severe winds, the Lancastrian archers undershot most of their targets, putting them at an immediate tactical disadvantage.
  • The Battle of Trenton, in which George Washington's troops crossed the Delaware during the very cold night of Dec. 25-26, 1776, and attacked the Hessian garrison in the town during a storm that included snow and sleet and a driving wind. At least two Patriot soldiers are believed to have died of hypothermia that night.
  • The Winter War, where Russia went up against another country just as used to the cold (Finland). Though they took 4 times as many casualties as the Finns (half a thousand of those thanks to the best Cold Sniper in history), they eventually came out with a slightly bigger territory. The Red Army joked that they had won "just enough land to bury their dead."
  • Another forgotten World War II campaign involved Spitzbergen, Norway's farthest northern possession, all of it above the Arctic Circle. The Germans needed the island for weather stations, the Allies needed to stop them. So horrendous were the conditions that truces were regularly called so that both sides could work together to build shelters, shift supplies, treat frostbite victims, etc.
  • The Battle of Preußisch Eylau (now Bagrationovsk in the Kaliningrad oblast) on February 7 and 8, 1807, was one of the most horrifying battles of The Napoleonic Wars. Because part of it was fought in the middle of a snowstorm, Augereau's French corps lost its way during its advance and suddenly found itself right in front of a huge Russian artillery battery which blasted it to pieces. The French ultimately (barely) were left in possession of the field, but eventually left a few days later. When the Russians then returned, they were amazingly still able to recover a few of their wounded alive who apparently had not been found by the French.
  • The campaign in France in 1814 was also to a large extent a winter campaign, and one in which the Russians sustained very heavy losses.
  • The Battle of Stones River (known to the South as the Second Battle of Murfreesboro), which was fought from December 31, 1862, to January 2, 1863, is the scariest instance of a winter battle in the American Civil War. It was also one of the bloodiest battles of the entire war, even though, as a battle in the Western theater commanded by not terribly famous generals, it is largely forgotten except among Civil War buffs and Tenneseeans. In the end it was a narrow Union victory, but both Confederate general Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee (losing 11,700 out of 35,000) and Union general William S. Rosecrans' Army of the Cumberland (13,000 out of 43,500) suffered terribly.
  • In the feudal era, this trope had an actual basis in policy. The busiest times for farmers (i.e. most people in that era) were spring and autumn (planting and harvest time, respectively); nobles were often forbidden (explicitly or implicitly) from levying troops during or just before each, since drawing farmers away from their crops could cause famine. Therefore, most troops were levied in summer or winter, with the aim of being back before the end of the season. Recruiting in the beginning of winter, just after the harvest season, had the advantage that a levied soldier on the march isn't consuming the precious winter stores of the village back home. Professional soldiers (i.e. mercenaries) could be recruited at any time, since they didn't generally do much farming (and tended to be volunteers rather than levies anyway).

Alternative Title(s): Battle On The Ice

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WinterWarfare