Technical Training for Arctic Conditions
The improvisation of arctic clothing, equipment, and weapons had to be complemented by special training. The most important objective in this technical training was to make an indefatigable and accomplished skier of every soldier, regardless of where he might be employed. The German training methods deviated from the Finnish since the Finns stressed cross-country skiing. Accustomed to the use of skis as a means of locomotion from their early childhood, the Finns were capable of covering distances of twenty-five to thirty miles a day even during heavy snowstorms. The German skiing technique always emphasized downhill runs. The type of bindings used by the two nations fully expressed the difference between their skiing techniques. Finnish skis merely had a loop to hold the pointed boot whereas the Germans used a regular binding like the Kandahar and mountain boots with toe plates and grooved heels. The Finnish binding did not permit the execution of speed turns while the German binding which had a tight hold on the foot made it impossible to discard the skis instantaneously whenever the tactical situation required it. Although the Finnish method had great advantages in the arctic, where the downhill technique is of little use and where one can easily dispense with speed turns, German skiing instruction continued to follow the Alpine method. The training program included certain theoretical courses such as those on the proper treatment of skis, on the best way to dress in arctic temperatures, and on protecting oneself from frostbite. Special instruction in the handling and firing of weapons by troops on skis played an important part. The training program was standardized throughout the entire theater; it culminated in a field exercise under combat conditions continuing several days and in winter sports competition.
Every replacement assigned to the Kandalaksha front first had to undergo a two-month special training course at Kairala in order to adjust himself to the living and combat conditions of the arctic. The local command had issued explicit directives for this orientation course, including examples of the proper tactics to be employed in the wilderness north of the Arctic Circle. These directives were brought up to date by the inclusion of the most recent tactical lessons, above all in small unit actions. Thus, for instance, studies were issued on the subject of long-distance marches, march security, combat and reconnaissance patrols, outposts, strong points, guard duty,
combat intelligence, movement of supply through enemy-infested areas, and operations in snow and ice as well as in primeval forests and swamps.
This type of training was designed to adjust a newcomer to his environment and its peculiar climatic features. Moreover it was to stimulate and further the soldier's natural affinity to primeval forests and vast spaces and to assist him in orienting himself, tracking down the enemy, avoiding ambush, and interpreting footprints and ski tracks. In fact, it was a kind of "Cowboys-and-Indians" training course. Proper attention was devoted to everyday problems such as passing the night in the open in the arctic winter, constructing a brushwood shelter or an igloo, building a reflecting fire out of split logs, finding food in the wilderness, and applying first aid in case of accident or battle injury. A newcomer had to acquire a great deal of knowledge on such subjects before he was qualified to be assigned to a combat unit without jeopardizing himself and his comrades. The numerous field exercises often lasted several days and took place at great distances from the training center. They were conducted under the continuous threat of enemy raids and, almost without noticing it, the novices to arctic warfare became adjusted to the peculiarities of fighting and living in the extreme north. Whenever the combat troops were transferred to quiet sectors, they continued to receive supplementary training which ranged from improving their skiing technique to the proper care of weapons, equipment, clothing, and rations, and included protective measures against frostbite. Courses in the proper treatment of reindeer had to be repeated over and over again in order to prevent the loss of any of these animals which were so difficult to replace. Thus even the experienced combat soldiers in the far north could always acquire additional knowledge.
page created 4 September 2002
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