Etymologically the Russian word Razputitsa deconstructs as ‘separation parting or tearing of a road or route’. It is conventionally used to describe periods of the year when the roads turn into an impassable sea of mud, whether on account of rain turning the summer dust into a quagmire in the autumn, or as a result of the thaw of ice and snow in the spring.
The word is now being routinely used in the press to describe the conditions on the battlefield in Ukraine and we have seen pictures showing people and armaments wallowing in mud. Of course these difficult conditions make life more difficult in particular for those who are attacking and moving forward. The supply of provisions and manpower become much more challenging, and Russia is apparently at an added disadvantage due to the fact its tanks are lower on the ground than western models.
Razputitsy have a distinguished past in military history. Napoleon complained of the ‘Polish mud’ while crossing Europe, and it is thought that mud slowed Hitler’s advance on Moscow to such a degree that it prevented him from occupying the city. It seems Putin may have learned from these examples from the past; U.S intelligence has claimed that he held back his invasion in February 2022 to allow the ground to freeze.
The same caution was not exercised by the Emperor Nicholas 1, although of course he was not blessed with modern day weather forecasting. As I learned when researching my current work in progress, Fortune’s Price (working title), when Russian troops marched into Poland in the winter of 1830-31 the expected winter freeze failed to materialize and what was intended to be a rapid advance on Warsaw were literally ‘bogged down.’ As Lieutenant (later General) Filipson, then serving in the Duke of Wurttemberg Grenadiers, writes in his memoirs:
‘Diebitsch’s* plan was brave and promised a quick victory but was upset by unexpected circumstances. It was assumed that there would be ice but spring came early. The wagons and artillery got stuck in the mud. The army moved in three columns into Poland but there was little communication between them and it was hard for each to know what the other was doing as they converged on Warsaw.’
*Hans Karl von Diebitsch, the Russian Commander in Chief.
Mud also features in my talk about Russian Roads, an illustration from which can be seen below!