Spring thaw and huge puddles in Komi Republic, March 2015

Rasputitsa (from Russian: распу́тица [rɐsˈputʲɪtsə]; literally "season of bad roads"[1]), also called bezdorizhzhia (from Ukrainian: бездорі́жжя; pronunciation),[2] is the mud season that occurs in various rural areas of Eastern Europe,[2] when the rapid snowmelt or thawing of frozen ground combined with wet weather in spring, or heavy rains in autumn,[1][3] lead to muddy conditions that make travel on unpaved roads problematic and even treacherous.[1][3]

Rasputitsa has repeatedly affected wars by causing military vehicles and artillery pieces to become mired in the mud, and has been credited, alongside the general conditions of winter, with encumbering the military campaigns of France in 1812 Germany during Operation Barbarossa, as well as all belligerents in the 2022 Russo-Ukrainian war.[3]

Etymology

Thick snow cover and waterlogged soil in Sokol, Russia, October 2012

The Russian term rasputitsa is derived from the root: путь (put, [putʼ]), meaning "road" or "way" or "travel"; + рас- (ras, [ras]), a word prefix meaning "discrepancy" or "divergence"; + -иц (-its, [it͡s]), a diminutive suffix; + а ([a]), a feminine noun ending.

The Ukrainian term бездоріжжя, bezdorizhzhia, '"roadlessness"' (pronunciation) usually refers to spring, and occasionally to autumn, when rain and/or melting snow on unpaved roads, tracks, paths, or any poorly-drained off-road area turns the route into impassable deep mud.[4]

Swedish menföre "bad going" and Finnish kelirikko "broken state of roads" (lit. "weather-break") also apply to when water is too iced over for boats but not strong enough to cross on foot or in other vehicles. Finnish eastern dialects also have the Russian loanword rospuutto (IPA: [ˈrospuːtːo]), which has the same usage as rasputitsa.[5]

In countries of the former Soviet Union, the concept is applied to two periods during the year – spring and autumn – and also refers to impassable road conditions during such a period,[6] specifically the heavy rains of October and the thaw of the frozen steppe in March.[7]

Effects

Village street in Moscow oblast, November 1941
Horses and cart in stuck in mud (near Kursk), March 1942

These conditions in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine are caused by high moisture storage capacity of black clay soils but not limited solely to the area of chernozem found in the region. Roads are subject to weight limitations and closures during the period in certain districts. The phenomenon was a notable hindrance in the early 20th century, since 40% of rural villages in the erstwhile Soviet Union were not served by paved roads.[6] The problem is less pronounced in elevated areas than in lowlands.

Roads that run through wetlands are particularly susceptible to damage. This phenomenon not only effects motorists but also pedestrians, mining, logging and agricultural companies creating deep ruts and furrows. During the time of rasputitsa, some farm products cannot be delivered to the city (i.e. to market) and must be destroyed.[8]

Autumn thawing occurs when the average daily air temperature drops to +5°C, which reduces the evaporation of moisture, and the frequency of rains saturating the upper soil layer increases.[9] In Canada there is definitely a rasputitsa period, though it does not occur everywhere or necessarily in the fall, and it is not considered a rasputitsa by name.[10]

Climate change in Russia and warmer winters in the Russian Arctic are a big disadvantage: Rasputitsa lasted previously for 2–3 weeks, and now it reaches two months.[11]

Armed conflict

Russian tank in Kharkiv Oblast of Ukraine, March 2022

The rasputitsa seasons are well-known as a defensive advantage in wartime.[12][13] Spring thaw was a factor that helped prevent Novgorod from being overrun during the Mongol invasion of Kievan Rus' in the 13th century.[14] The 'season of bad roads' also proved to be a great hindrance in and after the Battle of Krasnoi, when many horses, carriages and cannon were stuck in the snow or mud and left behind during the French retreat from Russia.[12][13] Rasputitsa reduced the mobility of both armies but it seem to be more favorable to the defender.

Already on 29/30 June 1812 (five days after crossing the Russian border on their march towards Vilna) "Marshal Mud" played a significant role, when a violent thunderstorm struck Lithuania during the night and continued for a day. Ca 15 or 18,000 horses were lost; they sank to their knees on the primitively constructed roads through mostly swampy areas near Trakai. The Grande Armée lost 50,000 men in two days due to fatigue and want.[15][16]

"General Mud" is a nickname (sometimes) used in the Western Front in the Battles of Ypres in December 1916.[17][18]

During World War II, the months-long muddy period slowed the German advance into the Soviet Union during the Operation Typhoon on the Eastern Front, and may have helped save Moscow from falling under a German military occupation.[19] The advent of Blitzkrieg had the disadvantage that while tanks could operate effectively in summer or in winter, they proved less useful in spring and autumn,[20] when the functioning of an efficient railway system came into its own.[21]

Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, some analysts identified the logistical challenges of the mud season as a likely hindrance to any large-scale invasion in spring.[22] When Russia crossed the border, many of its mobile units found themselves stranded in fields and limited to major roads, where resistance and logistical issues significantly slowed the advance toward Kyiv and elsewhere.[23][24][25][26]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c Dunlop, Storm (January 2008). "Rasputitsa". Oxford Dictionary of Weather (2 ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199541447. Retrieved 11 September 2023.
  2. ^ a b "Amid the Slog of Mud Season, the Ukrainian Military Keeps Advancing". New York Times.
  3. ^ a b c "Ukraine thaw could slow Russian advance in mud". France24.
  4. ^ Hambling, David (2022-04-12). "Mud season in Ukraine leaves Russian tanks stuck in more". The Guardian.
  5. ^ Joki, Leena (June 2011). "Mihin asti ilmoja piisaa?". Kielikuulumisia (in Finnish). No. 3/2011. Institute for the Languages of Finland. Archived from the original on 28 November 2021. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  6. ^ a b Siegelbaum, Lewis H. (2011). Cars for Comrades: The Life of the Soviet Automobile. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. pp. 128–29. ISBN 9780801461484.
  7. ^ Jones, Seth G.; Wasielewski, Philip G. (13 January 2022). "Russia's Possible Invasion of Ukraine".
  8. ^ Julia Olsen, Marina Nenasheva & Grete K. Hovelsrud (2021) ‘Road of life’: changing navigation seasons and the adaptation of island communities in the Russian Arctic, Polar Geography, 44:1, 1-19, DOI: 10.1080/1088937X.2020.1826593
  9. ^ Распутица
  10. ^ Do Siberia and Canada have a rasputitsa?
  11. ^ Julia Olsen, Marina Nenasheva & Grete K. Hovelsrud (2021) ‘Road of life’: changing navigation seasons and the adaptation of island communities in the Russian Arctic, Polar Geography, 44:1, 1-19, DOI: 10.1080/1088937X.2020.1826593
  12. ^ a b FAQ regarding what made Napoleon fail in invading Russia, Napoleon -series website
  13. ^ a b Thiers, M. Adolphe (1864). History of the Consulate and the Empire of France under Napoleon. Vol. IV. Translated by D. Forbes Campbell; H. W. Herbert. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co. p. 243. whilst it was almost impossible to drag the gun-carriages through the half-frozen mud (regarding November 20, 1812)
  14. ^ May, Timothy Michael, ed. (2016). The Mongol Empire: A Historical Encyclopedia. Empires of the World. Vol. 1. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. p. 65. ISBN 9781610693400. During the Mongol invasion of the Rus' principalities in 1238–1240, Novgorod escaped destruction by the Mongols due to an early spring, which transformed the routes to Novgorod into a muddy bog.
  15. ^ Bourgogne 1899, p. 2.
  16. ^ Boisminart, Willem Pieter D'Auzon de (May 18, 1824). "Herinneringen uit den veldtogt van Rusland, in den jare 1812". Gebroeders van Cleef. Archived from the original on January 15, 2023. Retrieved May 20, 2022 – via Google Books.
  17. ^ Natural hardships: The campaign against “General Mud” on the British Western Front
  18. ^ Burns, E.L.M. (1970) General Mud. Memoirs of Two World Wars
  19. ^ Overy, Richard (1997). Russia's War. London: Penguin. pp. 113–114. ISBN 1-57500-051-2. Both sides now struggled in the autumn mud. On October 6 [1941] the first snow had fallen, unusually early. It soon melted, turning the whole landscape into its habitual trackless state – the rasputitsa, literally the 'time without roads'.... It is commonplace to attribute the German failure to take Moscow to the sudden change in the weather. While it is certainly true that German progress slowed, it had already been slowing because of the fanatical resistance of Soviet forces and the problem of moving supplies over the long distances through occupied territory. The mud slowed the Soviet build-up also, and hampered the rapid deployment of men and machines.
  20. ^ Pinkus, Oscar (2005). "Death of Barbarossa". The War Aims and Strategies of Adolf Hitler. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. p. 241. ISBN 9780786420544. By the time the Germans approached their major objectives such as Rostov, Moscow, or Leningrad the campaigning season was over and Barbarossa was off his horse. [...] [Hitler] had not planned to fight in Russia during the fall and winter. He had stated in his Directive No. 21 that this was to be a 'lightning campaign' to be won in two to four months maximum. [...] the cause of failure was the proposition that the Soviet Union could and would be defeated in a blitzkrieg.
  21. ^ Willmott, H. P. (1989). The Great Crusade: A New Complete History of the Second World War (revised ed.). Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, Inc. (published 2008). p. 153. ISBN 9781597971911. While the Germans were to blame many factors, and particularly the rasputitsa, for the failure of Operation Taifun, the fact was that logistically the German attack on Moscow was in difficulty before it even began. German rail and road facilities were not sufficient to sustain the offensive beyond Smolensk [...].
  22. ^ "Will Ukraine's muddy ground halt Russian tanks?". The Economist. 7 February 2022. Retrieved 5 March 2022.
  23. ^ Roza, David (2 March 2022). "'Tanks and mud are not friends' – Ukraine's terrain is proving to be a problem for Russian armor". Task & Purpose. Retrieved 5 March 2022.
  24. ^ "Ukraine: Why has Russia's 64km convoy near Kyiv stopped moving?". BBC News. 4 March 2022. Retrieved 5 March 2022.
  25. ^ Hambling, David (2022-04-12). "Mud season in Ukraine leaves Russian tanks stuck in more". The Guardian.
  26. ^ “General Mud” Has Usually Been on Russia’s Side in War. Not This Time

Sources