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V. A. Firsoff - Ski Track on the Battlefield
This book was written in the spring and summer of 1942. I reviewed chapters that were historically oriented and skipped chapters that were more technically oriented.
Chapter 1 - Skiing As It Began
p. 1: Skis are at least as old as the first plow. The author discusses evidence of ancient skiing in northern Europe and Asia. There were three main historical ski groups, each with characteristic ski designs: Southern (Ural Mountains, Central Russia, the Baltics, Southern Sweden), Arctic (Siberia), and Central Nordic (Fennoscandia). The Southern type evolved in forest regions where soft snow favored a wide, light ski with less emphasis on strength. The Central Nordic type was suited for crusty snow and hillier terrain and tended to be longer, narrower, and stronger. The Arctic ski was short and broad, often used for crossing half-frozen waters. Arctic skis, more often than not, were lined underneath with fur. "Some of the Arctic ski are simply a frame with a fur strung on it, thus providing a missing link between the ski proper and the Canadian snow-racket [snowshoe]." (p. 4)
p. 5: In the 18th century all three ski types appeared in Norway in a fair mixture, making a mess of tidy classifications. With no large ski factories, every locality had developed its own type. An article in 1883 said that there were two main types of ski in Norway: the Osterdal ski (with characteristics of the Central Nordic style) and the Valdres ski (shorter and broader, like the Southern style). The Osterdal ski were of unequal length, with the shorter right ski (the "andor") covered with a fur sole. The use of andors dates back at least to 1605 and was closely connected with military skiing. Dimensions of the Osterdal ski (from a 1762 book) are described on p. 6.
p. 7: The Telemark ski, which supplanted all other types in the late 1800s, are not mentioned at all in the Norwegian Military Archives. The author describes the Telemark ski, which he says is closely related to the Southern type. Its outstanding characteristic was its shape, with a narrow waist and pronounced camber, good for making turns.
p. 8: A Danish book published in 1748 includes an engraving of a Lapp skier using two short sticks. In Norway, the use of a single long stick persisted much later, and in countries where skiing spread from Norway, the single stick survived into the early 1900s (p. 24).
p. 9: The Lapp shoe (lappsko) has a toe which turns up sharply at the tip. Once it has been passed under the toe-strap, the upturned toe holds the foot on the ski. Modern skiing with turns was developed using bindings with an additional strap passed tightly around the heel.
p. 10: The author briefly discusses early skiing in the British Isles, Poland, Russia, and the Kraina province of Austria.
Chapter 2 - Early Development of Military Skiing
p. 13: The first fully documented military use of skis was the battle of Isen, near Oslo, on March 6, 1200. Gustaf Wasa, the founder of modern Sweden, organized ski corps in the 1500s. The annual "Wasalopp" race in Sweden commemorates an event in 1521. Around the same time, the Norwegians, imitating foreign ways, neglected skiing for horsemanship. The author describes several cycles of neglect and resurgence of military skiing in Sweden and Norway up to the 1800s. The first ski drill book was published in Norway (in German) in 1733 and translated into Norwegian in 1774 (p. 15). A special ski corps was established in 1747. By 1826 there were no ski troops in either Sweden or Norway. Norwegian skiing was revived in the 1860s. General Wergeland reorganized military skiing and published a modern ski drill book in 1863. Simultaneously, the villagers of the Telemark province developed the Telemark ski and new techniques of turning--the Telemark and Christiania swings.
p. 17: Skiing appeared in France in 1878 and in 1901 the first military skiing classes were organized there. In 1908 the first international patrol race with a marksmanship test was held, with French, Italian, Swiss, Norwegian and Swedish teams competing. The French, like most other military authorities, found that the period of military service was generally a little too short to train a non-skier to render good services in the army, but they persevered (p. 18).
p. 19: Colonel Bilgeri was the father of Austrian military skiing. He introduced skiing in the Tiroler Corps in 1894 and published a manual of military skiing in 1907. The author discusses briefly early military skiing in Russia, Switzerland, Germany and Italy (p. 20-21).
Chapter 3 - The Rise of Alpine Skiing, World War and After
p. 26: In the late 1800s, Mathias Zdarsky and others developed a new Alpine technique (the Lilienfeld technique) based on the snowplow and a single stick. Opposed to the Lilienfeld school was the so-called Norwegian school of thought, promoted by W. Paulcke, a German, and Vivian Caulfeild, an Englishman. Over time, the Lilienfeld technique and the pseudo-Norwegian technique were blended together, producing the stickless stem-turn and the stem-christiania. The war of 1914-18 provided the first experience of active Alpine operations on ski, but the author provides only a few specifics (p. 28-29).
Chapter 16 - War in Finland 1939-40
p. 125: The Russians hoped that early winter, when lakes were frozen but the snow was still shallow, would give them the best chance of easy success invading Finland. The Finnish defense of the Karelian Isthmus, which was largely conventional warfare along a fortified zone, was a testament to their military skills and determination.
p. 126: Public awareness of military skiing grew from the fighting between Lake Ladoga and Petsamo (north of the Karelian Isthmus). The author describes tactics used by the Finns, including "sausage-cutting" Russian columns on forest roads and trapping them on frozen lakes, sometimes breaking up the ice with howitzer shells. The author describes the battle of Suomussalmi, which destroyed two Russian divisions (p. 130), and other battles which followed a similar pattern. One effect of the war was that the German High Commmand underestimated the fighting strength of the Red Army, for with they later paid a high price (p. 134).
Chapter 17 - Norwegian Campaign
p. 136: On April 9, 1940, Germany attacked Norway's main ports. By June 7, Allied forces evacuated the Narvik front, after the Norwegians capitulated. This chapter seems to focus excessively on the role of skis in the Norwegian campaign. British forces at Narvik were generally unprepared for winter conditions (p. 138).
Chapter 18 - Fighting in the Balkans
p. 144: Skis were used little in the 1940-41 conflict in Albania between Italian and Greek forces, but the severe winter conditions were a serious factor.
Chapter 19 - Winter War in Russia
p. 146: The big German push into the U.S.S.R. depended on speed, but by November 16, 1941, when the Germans made their last frantic attempt to envelop Moscow, most of the fighting was already taking place under winter conditions. The author describes Russian ski tactics at Kalinin, Maklaky, Valdai and Leningrad. "The Russians have learned their Finnish lesson well, partly adopting, partly developing the tactics of their opponents, which in itself is a remarkable achievement." At the time this book was written, the fighting in Russia was still going on but the author writes that "the Germans have now learnt the belated lesson of their folly" (p. 149).
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