Rasputitsa

Battle of Moscow

The rasputitsa refers to the biannual mud seasons when unpaved roads become difficult to traverse in parts of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. The word may be translated as the ‘quagmire season’ because during this period the large flatlands become extremely muddy and marshy, as do most unpaved roads. The rasputitsa occurs more strongly in the spring due to the melting snow but it usually recurs in the fall due to frequent heavy rains. The rasputitsa seasons of Russia are well known as a great defensive advantage in wartime. Napoleon found the mud in Russia to be a very great hindrance in 1812.

During the Second World War the month-long muddy period slowed down the German advance during the Battle of Moscow, and may have helped save the Soviet capital, as well as the presence of ‘General Winter,’ that followed the autumn rasputitsa period – this sort of wintertime hindrance to German military motor vehicle transport on the Eastern Front partly inspired the design and mass production of a unique fully tracked artillery tractor for such conditions.

The corresponding term in Finnish is ‘rospuutto,’ denoting ‘roadlessness.’ Most non-paved roads in Finland turn into mud. In olden days, this would make them virtually unusable; modern unpaved roads can be used but are dangerously slippery. In the Archipelago the period is known as ‘kelirikko’ (literally ‘weather break’), implying the ice is too thin to bear the weight of people or vehicles, but is still too hard to be passed through by seagoing vessels not equipped with icebreaker bows. The only practicable vehicles during the kelirikko are hovercraft, hydrocopters or aircraft such as helicopters. Unlike in Russia where both the spring and fall seasons are affected, the Finnish rospuutto and kelirikko occur mainly in the spring when the snow melts and the spring rains begin.

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