Operation In Cold Weather
SUBJECT AREA Operations
Author Major Knut Karlsen, USMC
1. The paper will, through an overview over problems in
cold weather operations and special precautions, answer the
question if there is a need to earmark units. The area
picked for cold weather operations is Norway and the
prestocking of equipment for one MAB size unit is
2. History has shown through the failure of Napoleon in
Russia in 1812, the suffering of the Russians in the
Russian-Finnish War in 1939-40 and the Germans in 1941-
1942, that forces which fight in cold weather and are
neither trained nor equipped for such operations, will lose
against the winter.
3. Cold weather has a great impact on the individual and
the unit. Every operation takes 2-4 times longer and
maintenance takes longer and requires more.
4. The threat the USMC will face in Norway, besides the
weather, is the Soviet Union. Her forces are trained and
equipped for cold weather operations. But the USMC will
not fight alone. Together with forces from Great Britain,
Canada, the Netherlands and Norway, which are all trained
and equipped for cold weather operations, it is possible to
fight and win.
5. In order to do so it is necessary to train under winter
conditions and Norwegian terrain (reverse slope).
6. The equipment must also be adequate, even if each
nation will differ in choice. Much attention should be
paid to logistics in regard to nutrition, heating and
cover, and the impact on personnel. A very special
attention must be paid to medical care.
7. Since the USMC has a world wide commitment, I have
concluded that the best solution to pick and prepare units
for cold weather operations is not to earmark but to
increase training and the number of units which do cold
weather training. This is based on two assumptions: A
standing MAB headquarters is responsible for all planning
and the necessary funds are provided.
OPERATIONS IN COLD WEATHER
"A Need for Earmarked Units"
(United States Marine Corps)
1. The purpose of this study is:
a. To give an overview of the problems which are
specific for cold weather operations.
b. To describe possible countermeasures to prepare or
improve a unit's ability to fight in cold weather.
c. To discuss if there is a need to earmark units for
cold weather operations.
Assumptions and Limitations
2. a. The area picked for cold weather operations is
NATO's northern flank - Norway.
b. The prestocking of United States Marine Corps
equipment in Norway is completed according to the
c. The units are restricted to "known units" which
will participate in the defense of Norway.
d. The study is written from a viewpoint of a
3. The following factors will be discussed:
b. What is cold weather?
c. The threat.
d. Own forces.
e. Training and readiness.
k. Conclusions and recommendations.
4. a. History has shown that units which have the
ability to survive in cold weather also have a
dual effect. They have inflicted great losses
upon their enemy, an enemy which lacked such
b. History also shows that units which were neither
equipped nor prepared for operations in cold
weather had severe losses. In Norway in 1718,1
General Armfeldt lost more than 3000 Swedish
soldiers in the Tydal mountains.
In 1939-40 Finnish-Russian war,2 the Finnish,
though outnumbered, destroyed two Russian
divisions (44th and 163rd) and killed several
thousand (163rd had more than 5000 killed). In
the Aleutians in 1943,3 the American 7th Infantry
Divisions had, by 30 May, lost 3829 for which the
weather counted for 56%. Also the Napoleon
campaign in Russia in 1812 and the Germans in
order to fight.
What is cold weater/Environment/Terrain
5. a. Briefly, cold weather consists of the following
environmental conditions: Darkness, frozen ground
without snow and severe cold to thaw with lots of
snow and rain, wind and tranquilty, and with a
strong impact on the human mind.
b. Norway lies in the subartic/artic zone from
Troendelag in the south, while the rest of Norway
lies in the tempered zone. This figure
illustrates the highest and lowest average
temperature in November/February in three
different places in Norway.4
Click here to view image
The weather, especially the temperature, varies a
lot in northern Norway. The wind can at some
places reach storm/hurricane force and the wind
chill factor can be down between -50oC to -60oC.
This figure illustrates frost, snow and the
average snow depth.4
Click here to view image
c. The darkness and the midnight sun are illustrated
Click here to view image
d. The challenge5 in cold weather operations is to
maintain the readiness of the unit. This requires
equipment and clothing, but above all "training"
and the will to survive. This can only be taught
"outside". My rule is: One hour in classroom is
100 hours outside in the cold and snow. The fear
of winter increases in cold weather. The soldier
will fear snow, cold, wind, darkness, and the fear
of frostbite. All these can be seen in the
individual being apathetic, lack of interest in
himself and his unit, unwillingness to carry out
orders or simply tries to leave his unit. The
only way to overcome the fear is training;
training under winter conditions.
But winter also has advantages. The snow offers
protection against the cold and effect of enemy
fire, increased mobility for tracked vehicles on
marshy ground. But winter also has disadvantages.
The snow can reduce mobility and dispersal, the
temperature and wind can change rapidly and lead
to extreme conditions, snow makes navigation more
difficult, the frozen ground and lakes may create
new avenues of approach, the frozen ground makes
it much more difficult to make fortifications,
maintenance of the individual, equipment, vehicles
and weapons requires the utmost.
But with realistic and careful training, every
individual and unit can make winter an ally,
e. The Norwegian terrain is mountainous and the
country is divided into valleys, separated from
each other by mountains up to 3000 - 5000 feet.
Travel is mostly limited to the roads or the
fjords, because to traverse the hillsides is
mostly very difficult and requires time.
Helicopter transportation is therefore very
suitable and flexible, but requires warning and
protection against enemy attack and warning
against sudden changes in the weather. Operations
in large formations are therefore difficult, and
most units will therefore need to deploy in
brigades or lower levels.
6. a. Why is Norway threatened? Kola penensula is the
simple answer. Kola is the largest naval complex
in the world, and the homeport of the major Soviet
nuclear second strike capability. The Kola
peninsula (or the close vicinity) is also the
homeport of the northern fleet, and together with
the Baltic fleet, these two fleets are the main
threat to the sea lines of communication across
The need for the Soviet Union to give the fleet
aircover and to prevent NATO strike fleet to enter
the North and the Norwegian Sea is clearly shown
in her exercise pattern since the 1960's.6 The
main defense line is the GIUK gap. The only way
the Soviet Union can extend in aircover or
disperse the fleet is to seize Norway or parts of
b. For northern Norway that means Leningrad Military
District (LMD) with the 6th Army.7 The 6th Army
has two standing motorized rifle divisions (Cat
A), combat support an combat service support
units co-located. In addition, two-three
mobilization divisions. Air support is obtained
from at least one helicopter attack regiment and
an airarmy from the district.
c. At Kola there are 16 operational airfields8 with
hardened facilities and prestocked equipment, and
with a capability to operate more than 350
airplanes. In Pskov, south of Leningrad, one
airborne division (Cat A) is located.
d. At sea, an attack can be supported by two naval
brigades, one standing and one mobilized, and one
e. From LMD, at least one Spetsnaz brigade can be
attached to 6th Army.
f. All these units are equipment and trained in cold
weather operations. The equipment is not as
modern and good as "NATO equipment", but good
enough from the russian soldier. To conclude, I
think we should realize that we will meet a highly
trained and equipped enemy for cold weather
operations. It should also be added that his
tactics have improved due to lessons learned in
7. a. Norway,9 of course, plays a major role in the
defense of northern Norway. Several brigades out
of thirteen are committed to the defense of
northern Norway, in addition, local forces and
Home Guard units. Most of the Navy and Airforce
are also committed to northern Norway. All
Norwegian forces are equipped and trained in cold
b. But as a NATO member, Norway is not left alone.
Four other NATO countries, besides those
participating in AMF, play a part in the defense
c. Great Britain10 has played and is still playing a
part in the defense of Norway. Since the early
1960's, the Royal Marines have trained in Norway
every year and have become as good as the
Norwegians (or better) in cold weather operation.
Together with units from the Netherlands Marines,
Great Britain has earmarked one commando brigade
trained and equipped for cold weather operations.
Every year, from January to March, the brigade
trains in Norway. The equipment is designed for
winter operations (BV 202/206, skies, snowshoes,
clothing, heaters and tent). Some of the
equipment is prestocked in Norway, but most of it
is shipped to Norway every year.
d. The Canadians11 have committed one brigade and one
air element to Norway (CAST brigade - Canadian Air
and Sea Transported Brigade). The brigade and its
air element are earmarked for Norway. The brigade
is specialized and equipped for cold weather
operations. The brigade trains in cold weather
several months every year in Canada, and
participates as a brigade or sends a battalion
size unit to Norway every year. Some of the
equipment is prestocked in Norway.
e. The United States12 has a bilateral treaty with
Norway to participate in the defense of Norway
with a brigade size unit from the United States
Marine Corps.13 This unit will have some of its
equipment and supplies prestocked in Norway
(finished in 1989). The size of the unit is
determined, but no unit has been earmarked. A
standing headquarters (4th MAB) is responsible for
all planning for Norway. Participating units in
exercises in Norway come all from FMF Atlantic.
FMF Atlantic also sends units to the Mediterranean
and Okinawa (MAU) on a permanent basis and also
units to other parts in Europe, the Middle East,
Central America/Carribbean Ocean. FMF Atlantic is
also responsible for planning of a MPS
configurate MAB (6th MAB).
All these deployments mean the unit (MAB) which is
going to Norway is task-organized prior to the
deployment from available ready forces and sent to
winter training at training bases in CONUS for 4-6
weeks before they leave for Norway.
Training and Readiness14
8. a. The training for operations in cold weather must
apply for everyone from general to private, for
infantry and combat service support. The training
should aim at why, what, how to dress, eat, how to
stay warm and how to avoid frostbite/snow
blindness, and how to tackle the darkness and the
cold and moisture. The training should be carried
out under the most realistic conditions - training
should be done in Norway. The individual
training, including ski and basic winter training,
should last for 4-6 weeks, and should be
terminated with a survival exercise in small tents
for 6-8 days.
b. The second part of the training, small unit
training (team/section/platoon), is very important
in order to get "the job done". The training
should aim at leadership, survival and the
execution of small unit tactics. Live firing,
movement in the snow, ambush, patrolling and
fortification should be emphasized. The training
should apply to all units, not only infantry
units. This training should last 2-4 weeks, based
on previous experience, and in which 4 days every
week should be in tents.
c. The third part of the training should include
exercises at company/battalion and brigade level.
Available time and money will decide the length of
the training. The training, however, should
include tactical movement with helicopter
(day/night) together with cross country movement,
and the use and implementation of tactical air
support and naval gunfire.
Every commander will soon realize that everything
in winter demands detailed control and the
execution will take 2-4 times longer.
d. Readiness is a combination of cold winter
training, equipment usable in cold weather, and
physical and psychological fitness. Expect for
the training, equipment can be bought and stored
everywhere, physical and psychological fitness can
be trained and taught almost everywhere. But in
order to be ready for combat in cold weather, the
training for cold weather must be done in cold
weather with cold weather equipment.
9. a. Without attacking the enemy, you will lose. This
is the essential tactics in cold weather
operations. The Norwegian terrain and climate
must be utilized to the utmost. That means the
reverse slope tactics, defensive positions must be
defended at the flanks and the rear, and an
attacking enemy must be destroyed at all times
with spoiling attacks. This will force the enemy
out from his vehicles and into the cold and snow.
b. In a defensive position, some one-third to one-
half of the force (combat power) should be in the
offense (move). This tactics requires excellent
winter survival techniques and equipment, but is
the way to exhaust an enemy, which is mechanized
and operates as an air-ground task force.
c. Units, which are to operate in Norway, must
immediately adopt that tactic when they deploy to
10. a. Leadership in cold weather is often called "small
units leadership". I agree, but it is important
to recognized that without a knowledgeable and
experienced cold weather leader "at the top" you
could probably beat the enemy but not the cold,
and as a consequence, you will lose.
Leadership in cold weather starts with the
training.16 A leader must know himself, the cold
weather, and the impact on himself and his unit.
More than ever, the leader in cold weather must be
willing to take command and action, and to
exercise controls to the smallest detail.17 He must
possess the morale, courage to correct mistakes,
and a real will and care for his men. Simply:
Men, weapons, equipment and the leader himself are
the succession to exercise leadership.
b. Many will say, the leader has to be an experienced
skier. This is not so. He must have the ability
to "get the unit with him", to create
possibilities, to take precautions beforehand to
keep the men warm and the equipment ready. This
can only be done through training in cold weather.
In the training, the leaders must be shown
confidence, encouragement, and responsibility.
Cold winter training is control of details, but
the control of details must be kept at the right
level. Let the battalion commander control his
company commanders and not the squad leader.
That is the platoon commander's job and
responsibility, success and failure.
11. a. Among the units which are earmarked (committed)
for Norway, there will be a mixture of specialized
Government (industrial) policy in each country
requires that most of the equipment should be
produced and purchased in the country, or traded
in exchange for "whatever" equipment.
b. An examination of Norwegian,19 English, and Canadian
equipment shows that cold weather operations
requires special equipment for the individual
unit. Such equipment could be (examples) boots,
bootcovers, underwear, gloves, hoods, sleeping
bags, tents (sleeping and maintenance), snow
moving, ice breaking, camouflage nets, skis, and
over snow vehicles (BV 202/206). These items and
many mire must be designed both for wet and dry
cold. Some of the equipment also demands an
adjustment of tactics and training. To train with
the equipment every year is a must.
c. I think it is realistic to see different designs
of equipment among the participating nations in
the defense of Norway due to national policy and
the availability of money. But if units are
committed to operate in cold weather, the above
mentioned are examples of "a must" not wanted.
Along with the "must" is the training and use of
d. To conclude the discussion on equipment, I think
it is right to say: "If you don't possess, or if
it is not provided by the host nation support, it
will very soon hamper your effort to win the first
battle - survival." Equipment in cold weather is
a part of the battle.
12. a. To elaborate on all logistics in cold weather
operations is of course impossible. Let me focus
on some major factors.
b. Nutrition.20 An individual will, during a winter
operation, need at east 7000 calories and
approximately 10 liters of water to operate, keep
warm, and avoid dehydration. This is far more
than normal rations. At least two meals should
also be served warm to prevent the body from using
calories for heating food. Special attention
should therefore be paid to cooking, feeding and
to drinking water.
c. To stay warm is essential. In order to do that a
soldier must have clean socks, clothes and good
boots and a good personal hygiene. Good heated
facilities are essential, and a leader must also
realize that this will require more time than
normal (2-3 times longer).
d. POL will exceed normal combat rations compared
with other seasons. The amount of POL will
increase, and special POL is required for cold
e. Cold weather21 will also require more ammunition due
to the reduced effect caused by the snow/ice. To
give exact figures is impossible, but my personal
experience with explosives indicated several more
f. Batteries for radios, vehicles, and lights are
vulnerable, and the amount will greatly exceed
normal use. Special attention must also be taken
in severe cold, otherwise radios will not work and
vehicles will not start.
g. To fight over "periods of time" will have a great
impact on the individual. The cold weather will
affect all personnel (infantry, CS, CSS and
aviation) and I think that it would be wise to
reduce a normal combat rate at 100 to 50. In cold
weather you have to change sentries more often (in
very cold weather every 10 minutes - 1 hour),
vehicles have to be started regularly, heaters
have to be looked after, maintenance of
airplaned/helicopters will take 2-3 more times.
All these together will result in tired and
exhausted personnel after 2-3 days, and relief of
units. Food, sleep and heat will make them
recover in 1-2 days.
h. Another great impact on personnel and morale is
medical treatment.22 Without emergency treatment
and heat the injured or wounded will "freeze to
death" (shock) after a few minutes. This also
requires more personnel for medical care and
Logistics in cold weather operations will require
more from the commanding officer and the leaders
than ever before. If this is neglected, an
experienced and trained unit could turn into "a
medical case" in a few days.
13. a. I see three possible solutions.
(1) The USMC earmark one MAB for Norway.
(2) The USMC intensify and extend the cold
weather training from 4-6 weeks to 8-12 weeks
and increase the number of units which will
(3) The USMC keep the system of today.
Common for all solutions is that one MAB
headquarters is responsible for all planning for
b. To earmark a MAB for Norway will greatly benefit
Norway and the ability for that unit to survive in
cold weather. All personnel will be trained
annually in cold weather, they will be familiar
with the environment and terrain, be familiar with
the special equipment, possible adjustments in
training and tactics could be made easily. All
this will create a strong feeling of success and
will eliminate the natural fear for cold weather.
To earmark will break tradition in the USMC. The
USMC has world-wide commitments, and to earmark
will hamper the flexibility of training and
interchange of personnel. To earmark one MAB for
cold weather could decrease interest in other
units for cold weather training. And it must be
remembered that there are more areas in the world
which require winter-trained and equipped units
(Korea and the Aleutians). In the long run
earmarking could lead to an army assignment which
could be in conflict with the army interests in
c. My opinion is that if you can survive and fight in
cold weather, you could fight in most places in
the world (except desert and jungle). Many of the
commitments held by the USMC should justify that
the USMC extend their cold weather training both
in length and in number of units. This will
create more flexibility, more marines will be
prepared to fight in the cold, and you will obtain
the same advantages as to earmark.
This will probably require more equipment, more
fundings for training, which could create problems
or delays in other areas.
d. To keep up the systems of today with task
organization prior to training and deployment will
meet USMC policy. It is flexible and will not
hamper any career to an officer or enlisted.
But it should be realized that many marines will
have little or no cold winter training in case of
rapid deployment, with little or no time for
training. A lot of the special equipment and the
skill to use it will be unfamiliar. This can lead
to consequences both for the individual and the
unit as history has shown.
e. In comparison of the solutions, three main factors
are essential: Training for cold weather, the use
of special winter equipment, and flexibility.
An earmarked unit will meet the first two main
factors, but is dependent on one assumption - a
possibility for an increase of funding for
training and more winter equipment.
To keep up the system of today will meet
flexibility, but would be uncertain in regard to
winter training and the use of winter equipment.
Conclusions and Recommendations
14 a. The best solution is to intensify and extend cold
winter training both in time and in number of
units (No 2). Decisive factors have been training
The second best solution is what the USMC has
The least preferred solution is to earmark a unit,
because it will break with flexibility and could
lead to a lack of cold winter training in other
b. The United States Marines Corps should therefore:
(1) Assign a headquarters for planning purposes
(2) Intensify and extend cold weather training
both in time and in number of units.
(3) Allocate necessary funds to sustain the
(4) Increase the periods of training in Norway.
1. Thoughts about winter operations. Lieutenant
Colonel J. A. Poulsson NMT 5/67.
2. Tactics readings at Norwegian Military Academy.
The fighting at Suomussalmi and Raate.
3. The Aleutian Campaign. Major A. I. Waldrum CSC
4. Winter conditions. Shooting and Warfare School of
the Infantry in Norway (MS 6-120-1 November 1984).
5. a.) Background readings picked from Winterservice
6. The Threat and Defense. Lecture by Secretary of
Defense in Oslo, 7 January 1985.
7. Soviet front level threat to northern Norway.
John Berg, January Defense Weekly, 2 February 1985.
8. Royal Norwegian Armed Forces Journal, Edition
25/26 1986, Edition 1/87 and Edition 3/87.
9. The Strategic Position and Defense Challenges of
Norway, CHOD Norway, 21 January 1986; and Main Guidelines
and the Defense Establishment During the period 1984-1988;
and "The Study of the Norwegian Defense," 1985,
10. Interview with Major J. Gordon, RM, CSC 1986-87.
11. Interview with Major R. Dick, Canada CSC 1986-87.
12. Interview with Lieutenant Colonel J. Adinolfi, US,
13. Facts Royal Ministry of Defense, December 1987,
14. Personal Experiences. See also note 5.
15. Norwegian Infantry Battalion, FR 6-1 series.
16. Leadership in the Cold. Colonel J.A. Poulsson.
See also note 5.
17. Personal Experience.
18. See note 5.
19. Use and Maintenance of equipment during winter.
RNOA/SVI. MS 6-120-7 December 1984.
20. RNOA/SVI MS 6-120-3. December 1984. Nutrition.
21. RNOA/SVI MS 6-120-8. Fortifications in winter.
22. a.) See note 5.
b.) Cold Weather Injuries. Brigadier General I.
G. Naerup, RNOA.
c.) Cold Weather Casualties and Treatment. Rear
Admiral W. I. Mills, Jr.
d.) Medical/Safety Aspects of Preparing Marines
for Cold Weather Operations. Captain R. O. Chaney, USN.
23. Background readings also include: a.) OH8-5 Cold
Weather Operations Handbook. b.) Conference on Cold Weather
Combat Operations. USMC/Norway, March 1982.
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