Liquor, tobacco and sweets. About specific contentment in the Red Army

Soldier’s shag (photo from Wikipedia)

In war, soldiers and commanders, first of all, must be armed and provided with ammunition, dressed, shod and, if possible, nourishingly fed. Nevertheless, in the stories about the supply of our heroic soldiers during the Great Patriotic War, the issues of providing them with things, perhaps not as useful as rich porridge or fresh bread, remain behind the scenes, but in a war, let’s be frank, often very, very popular.

The debate about the advisability of issuing the famous People’s Commissars’ hundred grams at the front has been going on for a long time and very intensively. For some, who are especially sophisticated in the carelessness of their participants, it comes to accusations of the country’s leadership and the army of soldering soldiers. What can you say here? It remains only to repeat for the hundredth time: it is not for us to judge. And there was no soldering in sight. Vodka appeared in the Red Army during the “winter war” with Finland at the suggestion of the then People’s Commissar of Defense Kliment Voroshilov, hence the “People’s Commissars”. The meaning of the vodka portion in the then situation was in the primitive “sugrev” and the prevention of colds.

Alcohol rations of the Great Patriotic War should rather be called “Stalinist”, since from the very beginning and until the end of the war, it was the Supreme Commander who kept this issue under personal control, and he signed the corresponding resolutions of the State Defense Committee. Throughout his life, Joseph Vissarionovich was tolerant of drinking, but at the same time he was a categorical opponent of drunkenness. And the vodka “policy” in the Red Army was structured accordingly. Initially, by the decree of the State Defense Committee of August 22, 1941, No. “On the introduction of vodka for supply in the active Red Army,” one hundred grams per day was due to everyone who was “in the units of the first line of the active army.” That is, exclusively at the forefront.

However, already in May of next year, a new regulatory document on the same topic was issued. Comrade Stalin mercilessly grinded the draft brought to him for signature with his beloved red pencil, while tightening it up considerably. From now on, only those who conducted offensive operations received the right to a daily cup. The initially proposed abstract “having success in combat” was struck out by the Supreme Commander, as well as the inscribed “double dose” of 200 grams. Everyone else, albeit at the front, was allowed to drink on public holidays and the anniversary of the formation of the unit. At the same time, the leader also removed the International Youth Day from the list, leaving, however, the All-Union Day of the Athlete in it. Well, the professional holiday of aviators, of course …

On the eve of the Battle of Stalingrad (November 1942), the “People’s Commissars” were again returned in full – for the “front end”. From now on, 50 grams per day were also given to soldiers of regimental and divisional reserves, a construction battalion performing work in the combat zone, and even to the wounded. If the doctors allow, of course. This continued until April 1943, when the daily delivery of vodka was again left only to the “offensive units.” Immediately after the Victory, in May 1945, the “People’s Commissars” were completely abolished.

It is worth noting that the “alcoholic contentment” was somewhat different in the branches of the army and even in different places. For example, on the Transcaucasian front, taking into account the local specifics, vodka was replaced by wine: 200 grams of fortified or 300 grams of dry. Dry wine was also included in the diet of the Red Navy submariners. At the same time, the sailors had an iron rule – either drink it yourself, or refuse, do not pass it on to another! Those who wished to observe sobriety were entitled to compensation of 10 rubles for a portion of alcohol. Not bad money for that time.

The supply of tobacco has not experienced such perturbations. From the beginning to the end of the Great Patriotic War, each fighter a day was entitled to 20 grams of makhorka per day. Also, seven “books of smoking paper” and three boxes of matches were issued for a month. Matches (especially in trench conditions) were categorically lacking, and therefore most of the smoking Red Army soldiers quickly acquired “Katyusha” – homemade lighters with krestal and tinder. These masterpieces of front-line folk craft were made, as a rule, from spent cartridges. There were also problems with paper, and therefore the press left over from political information was used.

They say that Krasnaya Zvezda was especially popular. Also good were the roll-ups of Hitler’s leaflets calling for surrender, fortunately the Fritzes threw them into our trenches more than generously. Just come across such a piece of paper in the eye of a particularly vigilant special officer – and the case could end with a penalty battalion, and not a smoke break. With tobacco, too, anything happened – and interruptions in the supply, and simply the absence in warehouses. “My grandmother’s mattress”, “Vyrviglaz”, “Light a fascist” – this is how the Red Army men, inexhaustible in humor, called “smoking mixtures” prepared from what came to hand. Especially telling is the name “berklen” – a mixture of birch and maple leaves.

Approximately at the level of herbal surrogates, our soldiers “appreciated” the captured German smoke: “Smelly, but no fortress”. But the American “Camel” received under Lend-Lease without a filter was praised even by inveterate lovers of terry. Those who tried it will understand why … As always, the supply of the pilots differed for the better – they were supposed to have 25 cigarettes or 25 grams of tobacco daily. “Belomor” was especially popular, “Kazbek” was considered chic for the command staff. Comrade Stalin smoked Herzegovina Flor, chopping it into his famous pipe.

In fact, the appearance of sweets in the Red Army is also connected with tobacco ration. Initially, our soldiers were not pampered with anything like that – the situation was not the same. I managed to get hold of sugar for tea – and that was for happiness. According to the norms, it was supposed to be 35 grams per day, but then according to the norms. Delicacies such as condensed milk or chocolate were available only to pilots, and even then in dry rations. But in August 1942, the People’s Commissariat of Defense made a wise decision: from now on, all women in the active army and did not want to poison themselves with makhorka, instead of it, could receive 200 grams of chocolate or 300 grams of sweets per month! The initiative in the troops, as you can see, was taken with a bang, since after three months this rule was extended to all fighters and commanders of the Red Army, regardless of gender. Don’t you smoke? Keep the above mentioned amount of sweets instead of tobacco! Well, or an extra 300 grams of sugar – that’s how lucky you are.

As follows from the memories of the front-line soldiers left to us, not all the soldiers used the “People’s Commissars”. As a rule, they drank during calm hours, after a hard battle, on holidays or in commemoration of their fallen comrades. Combat experience quickly proved the danger of “taking on the chest” before a fight with the enemy. Everyone had a choice. Someone walked to the Victory, puffing on a cigarette or a cigarette-roll with makhorka, someone – chewing on an “alternative” candy. The main thing is that we have reached it!

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