At War with Winter

Effects of Cold on Morale: Cold produces lethargy. apathy, and slow and clumsy reactions which are accentuated by bulky clothing.  Depression and discouragement, and a firm conviction that they are doing more than their share of the necessarily heavy work, are present in the minds of many individuals. Operations in Snow and Extreme Cold (FM 70-15, 1944)

I have to admit, this strikes a chord with me! As we face the highs and lows of winter in Colorado, a set of War Department documents from DPL's government documents collection shows an earlier generation coping when the work was heavier and clothes bulkier.

Two field manuals from the nineteen-forties, Operations in Snow and Extreme Cold (FM 70-15, 1944) and Mountain Operations (FM 70-10, 1947) were published to instruct soldiers on military life in frigid conditions. There is information on building snow shelters, loading pack animals, traversing difficult terrain, skiing and snow-shoeing. FM 70-15 advises soldiers that "Falling causes fatigue, injury, and loss of time. It is imperative, therefore, that the soldier eventually learn to ski without falling often," and explains how to drill and salute on skis (pole strap off the wrist if possible). Both volumes are generously illustrated. Online versions can be seen here and here.

The Army Air Corps published a two-volume Arctic Manual in 1940 that was written by explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson, although he is not credited in this edition. (The book is sprinkled with digs at rival explorer Robert Peary.) Here we learn that polar bear meat is almost unbearably stringy, how to build a snowhouse, and why it should not be called an igloo. The manual is an interesting overview of knowledge at the time, mixing practical tips, stories of survival and exploration, and information about natural history, weather, and terrain. A much condensed version, probably more practical for the pocket of a uniform, was published as Technical Manual 1-240. The Air Corp volumes can be seen here and here.

The Cold Weather Test Detachment (informally known as the "cold-nose boys") was an Army Air Corps unit that operated in the 1940s, testing aviation equipment and supplies in extreme conditions and collecting first-hand reports of the experience of cold-weather aviators. We have their 1942-1943 report, which, in addition to flight-test reports, includes some grisly pictures of frostbite damage and analysis of the performance of rations and clothing. Down, alpaca, and even electrically-heated suits for pilots and technicians were evaluated and photographed. Sleeping bags were also tested, and one poor man had to sleep in a bag filled with milkweed fluff--it was reported not satisfactory. There doesn't seem to be an electronic version of the report, but the National Park Service has a history of Ladd Air Force Base with information about the group.

The Reference Services Department at the Central Library can help you access these and many other government documents and could be great resources for students of wilderness survival, mountaineering and military history.

Written by bwhalen on January 13, 2014

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