Supply and Transportation
in the Arctic
Most of the supply and transportation problems in the arctic were caused by terrain difficulties, by the virtual absence of routes of communication, by the arctic winter weather with its abundance of snow and ice, and finally by the fact that all sea traffic from Germany to northern Finland was dependent on the navigability of the Baltic. From this arose the need for numerous improvisations.
In the absence of roads that could be used as traffic arteries, the transportation problem could be solved only by the use of very narrow conveyances which could move across open country, through swamps of little depth, and through snow. The ideal means of transportation was the Finnish cart, a narrow twowheeled vehicle drawn by a small horse. In addition the Germans used self-sprung drag sleds formed of tree forks, which the Finns called purillas, pack animals, and human pack bearers. Reindeer served as draft animals during the winter. These reindeer were purchased with the assistance of local experts and given some time to get accustomed to the German soldiers who were to be their new handlers. With its highly developed sense of smell the reindeer does not take to strangers and is likely to run away. For the transitional period of adjustment it was therefore decided to hire the Lapps who had hitherto handled the reindeer. The next step was to train the troops in the handling and care of these animals. In summer the reindeer roam on the open range like any other wild game and can only be classified as such, whereas in winter they become domesticated animals. Even the methods of harnessing and driving reindeer are unusual and must be learned. Each division received one reindeer transport column with fifty reindeer for the primary purpose of facilitating the supply of raiding detachments and reconnaissance patrols. Partly because of foreign exchange considerations the Germans employed relatively few reindeer whereas the Russians organized an entire reindeer division and committed it in midwinter after executing a major enveloping maneuver on the southern flank of the German arctic front. In this operation the Russian troops and all their equipment were transported on reindeer sleds.
During the unusually severe winter of 1941-42 the Baltic Sea was frozen over for several months and it was not until several weeks afterward that freight traffic was partly restored. Out-
side the icebound Finnish ports supplies were transshipped to lighters for which a narrow traffic lane could be kept open by a light ice breaker. At times these lighters were unable to come alongside the freighters. In such instances supplies had to be transferred to the lighters over boardwalks laid across the ice. This additional handling had to be taken into account in the packing of supplies at their points of origin.
Supply by airlift was an emergency measure to be employed only when all other means had failed. Under the terrain conditions encountered in the arctic, landings in winter could be made on the frozen surface of lakes, whereas in summer the use of medium and larger-sized land-based aircraft was altogether out of the question. Special crews therefore had to be trained for dropping supplies by parachute. Airlift operations also proved extremely valuable for speeding up the evacuation of wounded from the arctic wilderness.
page created 4 September 2002
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