There is a kind of mythological component when people talk about invading Russia in the winter. A lot of people imagine Hitler, rashly deciding to invade the northern country during the coldest time of year, just as Napoleon had, and their asses getting handed to them by both the terrible cold and the Russians who seemed to thrive in it. This idea of “General Winter” defeating the invaders has been shared time and time again. There are elements of truth to this narrative, but it is a gross oversimplifications with some base misunderstandings on how things worked.

Dr. Allen F. Chew, of the Combat Studies Institute in the U.S. Army, wrote a paper labeled “Fighting the Russians in Winter: Three Case Studies.” In it, he rejects these myths.

The Russian winter defeated Napoleon, as every Frenchman knows. It also defeated Hitler, as most Germans know. Many Americans share that “knowledge” — which is false in both cases! Those popular myths illustrate the uncritical acceptance and perpetuation of rationalizations designed to obscure the fact that those ‘invincible’ Western military paragons were humbled by the ‘inferior’ Russians.”

What is Chew getting at? Well, partly that: of course there is no way the inferior Russians could ever defeat the powerful Germans in combat, so it must have been the winter. Whether solely blaming the winter was a political campaign aimed at saving face or just a social justification for the loss, Chew does not say. Either way, it seems that many were unwilling to admit their other shortcomings, coupled with the fact that the Russian military itself was a force to be reckoned with, winter or not.