A February 1945 article from "The Stars and Stripes" shows how American soldiers in one infantry division adapted to winter combat conditions

In the Saturday, February 2, 1945 issue of the London edition of the Army's newspaper "The Stars and Stripes", an article was published in its supplemental "Warweek" section titled "These are the Frosty Lessons of Winter Warfare."

Although printed after the worst of the Winter storms had passed, the article provides incredible examples of how American soldiers, particularly those of the veteran 8th Infantry Division (the "Golden Arrow") adapted their weapons, equipment, and themselves, to the conditions of one of the worst European winters in history.

The article is accessible (with paid subscription) from the Stars and Stripes Archive, and is reproduced here.

These are the Frosty Lessons of Winter Warfare

INSIDE GERMANY, Feb. 2 [, 1945]

War-wise and weather-toughened doughboys of the Golden Arrow, 8th Infantry Division are too busy fighting to boast. Wiry foot-sloggers of this outfit could puff out their chests like pouter pigeons, in well earned pride, at punching two enemies at the same time. The hard winter warfare to which they are committed is a two fisted job. With one hand they beat back savage, fanatical Nazi attacks. With the other frosted hand they give winter the works. Both enemies are on the ropes from a combination of hunter-trader-trapper methods.

They are proud of their score against the Germans. They are a pale shade less proud of the way they have figured ways and means to make front-line living bearable under cruel conditions. In snow, rain, sleet, numbing cold, ice, mud or a mixture of these weather whims, they have fought efficiently and kept reasonably comfortable.

Automatic weapons men of the Eighth were quick to pick up the old hunter's trick of using lubricant slightly, or not at all, when the temperature skids below freezing. The very first day the mercury took a nose-dive below 32 degrees they learned that light oil freezes. The action locked tight. Spare the oil and keep the works working became a down-the-line slogan. And manually operating the arms a few times each day to keep the action loose became a commandment. When doctor's orders are: "Give 'em a dose of lead poisoning," the weapons fill the prescription automatically.

Their medics learned quickly, too. The nervy kids with the brassards found that by tucking morphine syrettes under the armpits—body hotboxes— they could keep them from freezing. Plasma is another critical item that froze. One bright medic, figured that by putting jars of plasma under the hood of a jeep the heat from the motor would I prevent freezing. The trick is now a medic SOP [Standard Operation Procedure].

It's in clothing that the widest use of dodges known to guides, hunters and trappers of the North Woods find the most fertile field. The gun-toters discovered after one day's use in bitter weather that the knit or leather-covered issue gloves must have been designed for use at Palm Beach. By cutting four oversize mitten patterns from discarded blankets and sewing them together they keep their fingers from becoming numbed, useless blue crabs. Some cut slits in the right palm. This makes a handy exit for the trigger-finger when the Kraut asks for quick fire-power his way. By tying the mittens on a long cord and draping them around the neck, like dog sled drivers do, the mittens don't go AWOL [Absent Without Leave].

Using the same principle, they have made muffs for their feet from old blankets. At night they take off soggy combat boots and socks, massage their feet, then pull these tootsie warmers on the bare feet. By pulling overshoes over the muffs they get extra protection to keep feet dry and warm while taking on some shuteye. Meanwhile, shoes and socks dry out. This kink, old stuff to outdoorsmen has cut trench foot considerably.

Pvt. John W. Pugh, Youngstown, O., a frontliner with the 121st Infantry Regiment of the Eighth, uses an old guide's trick to dry his shoes and socks.

When I find, a cellar to sleep in I get a can, fill it with pebbles and heat the can and pebbles over a fire. Just before I turn in for the night I dump the hot pebbles into the socks. Then I stuff the socks into my shoes. When I get up shoes and socks are dry and warm. This trick means more frequent dubbing, but offsetting that is the fact you'll not get laid up with trench foot.

Two Wool Shirts

Pugh offered another tip to wallop the weather.

I lined my field jacket with a piece of old blanket. Here's how to do it. Spread the blanket flat, open the jacket and lay it on the blanket. Cut a pattern around the outside of the jacket. Don't bother with sleeves. The lining can be pinned or sewed to the inside of the blouse.

Most of the hard-fighting, weather-bitten doughs of this crack outfit follow the old guide's theory that two wool shirts are the equal, less the weight and bulk, of one shirt and an overcoat. They switch shirts daily. When sleeping in a cellar for the night they take off the shirt next to the body. Perspiration oozes from the body even on the coldest day—makes the shirt next to the body cold and clammy.

Paper, they agree readily, is a good insulator. A few sheets of paper wrapped around the upper part of the body, between the shirts, is a buffer to keep the raw, biting wind from gnawing at the chest. A few sheets of paper slipped between blankets makes sack time sessions a lot warmer.

Paper stuffed between shoes and oversize arctics [overshoes], wiser lads knew from hunting experience, insulates the feet, keeping the body heat in and the numbing cold out, and anchors the misfit footgear together.

Heating and Cooking

Pvt. Donald E. Colt on, Coxsackie, N.Y.. a buddy of Pugh's, does some tricks with a flambeau worth passing along. For the benefit of reinforcements he explains how to make this lamp, which may also serve as a stove for heating food.

Take a bottle with a narrow neck. Fill it with gasoline to within three inches of the top. Make a wick from twisted rags and stick it in the bottle. It makes a good light for a cellar. In a pinch it can be used to heat rations. Make a grate by stacking rocks on cans alongside the flambeau. On this grate you can warm your rations. Even coffee made from the powder can be heated over a flambeau. I've heated the water in my canteen over a flambeau and tucked it in the blankets at my feet. It's surprising how quickly the rest of the body heats up when your feet are warm.

It didn't take an Act of Congress to make the doughs OK the woodsman's theory about oversize shoes or combat boots. They ask for footgear a size or two larger than they ordinarily wear. This gives enough room to wear two pairs of socks. They get a cushion effect that keeps the feet from getting sore, and the dead air space between the socks keeps the lads from getting a dose of purple foot.

Foxhole life is the toughest condition under which the doughs have had to lick Herr Jerry and Mr. Winter.

An Allentown, Pa., Joe, Pvt. Joe F. Ettl, of the 266th Field Artillery, advises newcomers to dig two-man foxholes. Here's his sound reason.

Me and my buddy dig a trench wide enough for two men to sleep in. By using a two-man hole we have ten blankets to keep us warm instead of five, which is the case if you sleep alone. We sleep on four and have six for covering up. Our shelter halves go on the bottom. Over straw, when we can get it, or over a mattress of fir boughs. We had no trouble getting boughs for back-to-nature mattresses in the Hurtgen Forest. This tip is for men who prefer blankets to the sleeping bag, which is hard to get out of when line is important.

Nothing new in that dodge. Every camper who has slept under a leanto has used balsam fir or pine boughs as mattress material. The tips of the boughs should point to the head end and the butts of the boughs toward the feet for maximum comfort.

Sgt. Gus Seftas, Charleroi, Pa., steelworker turned artilleryman, passes along these important do's and don'ts to newcomers to foxhole life.

When digging your foxhole, stay away from trees that have been riddled with tree bursts. We thought two of our guys were AWOL when they didn't show up for chow one morning. Later we found them—crushed by a shell-ripped tree that fell across their shallow foxhole during a high wind in the night.

His sound logic is:

A tree hit by shrapnel may look good on the outside. Inside, especially if it's a gummy evergreen, slivers alone may be holding the tree upright. A good puff of wind may blow it down.

Dig Holes Deep

Pfc Alvin MacKenzie, Brunswick, Maine, cut in with more advice.

"Dig the foxhole until you get dry earth—deep enough so that anything falling across it won't hurt you. On the inside border of the hole dig a shallow trench for drainage. Brace the sides with timber, if you are in a forest area, and put logs over the top for overhead cover. Remember to camouflage. It's easy to cover with snow. When there's no snow use anything that blends with the area."

There are many elaborate foxhole stoves in use among the foxhole citizens of the 8th. The one made by two privates, Stanley F. Horel, Bayside, N.Y., and Anthony Cappello, Lansdowne, Par, is a good pattern to follow.

They took a 155 howitzer case, punched a hole in the primer end for a stove pipe made from tin cans flanged in at each end so they could be nested together, and by battering the flange on the case cover had a good opening for draft.

Foxhole stoves should be set at the head end, they said. There the heat dries the ground and most of it is retained in the foxhole. The entrance end has more of a chance to dry by air.

They are help to the modern treatment of frostbite . . . rub the frozen feet, toes, or ears gently, to start circulation. The old way of rubbing frozen parts briskly with hands or snow damages tissue and opens the road to gangrene.

Medic Tips Off!

These Do's and Don'ts were suggested by Col. J. E. Gordon, of the Surgeon General's office:

DO wear loose clothing. One pair of loose gloves is warmer than two pairs of tight gloves.
DO eat. Anything will do—even a small piece of candy might make the difference between your being warm or cold.
DO sleep with as much insulation below your body as above.
DO wear your field jacket above your sweater. Cotton should always be worn on top of wool.
DON'T wear shoepacs or combat shoes for more than 24 solid hours. Remove them occasionally to massage your feet.
DON'T wear ski socks in combat boots. When wet they shrink and become too tight.
DON'T wear less than two pairs of socks in your shoepacs.
DON'T wear so much clothing that you perspire easily.

Keeping Hands Warm

Their method of keeping the hands warm that get cold in spite of mittens is worth passing on to others. Men of the Eighth poke their bare hands under the armpits, right next to the skin, where the heat of the body soon unlimbers cold-stiffened fingers.

When pinned in a foxhole by enemy artillery the men use the northwoods guide's trick of gripping the soles of the shoes with the toes, relaxing the toes and repeating about a dozen times. Done about every ten minutes this method keeps the blood circulating in the feet.

Lt. Gerald S. Parker, an artillery officer, offered a parting suggestion to reinforcements about sleeping warm.

Take a blanket, about eight feet of strong cord and a needle whittled from a piece of wood. Fold the blanket in the middle, sew along the open edge and bottom and you have an effective sleeping bag. Two such sacks, one inside the other, are nearly as warm as four blankets which are just rolled.

From the rawest replacement to top drawer brass, men of the Golden Arrow Eighth are walloping the Wehrmacht and the weather by using hunter-trader-trapper methods up at the front.


[1]  Michael Seaman, “These are the Frosty Lessons of Winter Warfare,” The Stars and Stripes, February 3, 1945, London edition, Warweek, iii, accessed February 2, 2021, https://starsandstripes.newspaperarchive.com/london-stars-and-stripes/1945-02-03/page-7