MOO Reports:
Weather at War

by Andrew Worley

Weather has affected man's activities throughout history, not more so than in war.

Napoleon and the weather are perhaps the best known meteorological duo in history. He decided to invade Russia in 1812. The invasion was a fiasco - the snow hindered advance and the bitter cold caused frost bite and death to the weary French soldiers. In fact the rifles got so cold they snapped when used. This when coupled with attacks by Cossack cavalry and pillage by local peasants secured defeat for the French.

At Waterloo (battle of) the weather was wet and overcast. This made cavalry charges useless - imagine the Grand National being run in a marsh. Wellington, the British Commander (famous for his boots!), used the weather to his advantage. Cannon fire churned up the ground even more. French riflemen had to contend with damp powder, and woolen uniforms, which began to itch. The British had cotton undergarments which did not itch. It was a very wet June and to Napoleon it must have thought that somebody up there did not like him. This led to his exile on St. Helena, where he died. Even his failed invasion of the UK in 1805 was a meteorological blunder. The Royal Navy preferred rain as it meant that the French could not move their gunpowder off the decks (it was here that the bouncing bomb was first invented).

In the First World War, prior to the Third Battle of Ypres, the weather had been the wettest for years. Four-and-a-half million shells were fired, and so the ground was churned into a "sea" of liquid mud. Many people, literally, drowned, when they fell off planks leading to the front line. However, the soldiers were told not to help a fellow soldier if they were drowning in the mud, in case they fell in too. Three-hundred-and-twenty-four-thousand casualties were produced in the battle. The front line only advanced four miles. The stench of corpses could be smelt miles away.

The Germans were initially successful when they launched their last-gasp offensive, in the Ardennes. A significant factor was the weather. All of the Mark-8 Spitfires were all grounded.

Despite all the technology of modern warfare, weather still plays a key part. For example, the foggy weather over Kosovo meant even the modern, laser-guided "Smart Weapons" could not be used. Perhaps the military should take more notice of weather. After all, if it wasn't for weather, history would be very different.

 

 

. 1999-2003 Justin Taylor / John Dray

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