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One of my friends claimed that Russians used alcohol heavily in WW2 to manipulate their troops into being less cautious and to increase their aggression. This was supposed to be especially true in cases with Russian "rush" tactics where they used lots of poorly trained and equipped soldiers to swarm German troops. Alcohol should have helped with actually making Russian soldiers willingly perform this tactics. His argument was that Russian alcohol was relatively cheap, so that Russians could afford it and that death thread by Russian officers were not enough for soldiers to attack German troops while being poorly equipped.

I'm highly skeptical of his claims, because I think that alcohol was considered luxury in WW2, especially among soldiers. And that producing it just to manipulate soldiers would be too expensive. But I would agree it could be used as a reward to boost morale.

Is there any truth about his claims?

  • IT probably depends on what you mean by "heavily". Giving soldiers a drink of spirits before an important battle was not that unusual, from tsarist times to WW2. – P_S Dec 26 '14 at 19:01
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    @P_S By heavily I mean enough to influence their decision making or behavior. – Euphoric Dec 26 '14 at 19:31
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    Do you have any notable example of this claim or is it just a vodka-fuelled speculation from your friend? – Oddthinking Dec 26 '14 at 23:58
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    Related: the British Navy gave a daily rum ration to sailors until 1970, the New Zealand navy only gave it up in 1990. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rum_ration – A E Dec 27 '14 at 23:11
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    The only reason I didn't vote to close for lack of notability is it already had an answer. – Oddthinking Dec 28 '14 at 3:26
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I can't find anything that proves they gave away alcohol "heavily" to influence their behavior but they apparently gave 100g Vodka to every soldier.

Die Zeit, a german newspaper claims:

In the second world war soldiers received their daily 100 gram ration, which should strengthen the fighting spirit and put some into dependence. (own translation)

Original:

Im Zweiten Weltkrieg bekamen die Soldaten ihre tägliche Hundert-Gramm-Ration, die den Kampfgeist stärken sollte und manchen in die Abhängigkeit führte.

Additionally the site wodkablog.de claims:

To keep the soldiers happy in the second world war, they received 100 gram vodka per day. But it is a fact that in many battles there were simply too less new supplies and they could not fulfill the official requirements. Anyway even nowadays many vodka manufacturers refer to this fact and they claim Vodka to have played a big role in the triumph over the fascism. (own translation)

Original:

Um die Soldaten im Zweiten Weltkrieg bei Laune zu halten, wurde ihnen pro Tag 100 Gramm Wodka zugeteilt. Fakt ist jedoch, dass in vielen Schlachten schlichtweg der Nachschub an Proviant fehlte und die amtliche Vorgabe daher nur selten eingehalten werden konnte. Trotzdem berufen sich noch heute etliche russische Wodkahersteller auf diese Tatsache und schreiben „dem Wässerchen“ sogar große Anteile am Sieg über den Faschismus zu.

And another source:

Russian writer Victor Erofeyev describes the effect of vodka on the Russian people in a 2002 letter from Moscow: ‘It seems to punch a hole directly into the subconscious, setting off a range of odd gestures and facial expressions. Some people wring their hands; some grin idiotically or snap their fingers; others sink into sullen silence. But no one, high or low, is left indifferent. More than by any political system, we are all held hostage by vodka.’

He goes on to argue that the daily ration of vodka given to Russian soldiers during the Second World War was ‘as important as Katyusha rocket launchers in the victory over Nazism’. Were the fierce Red Army soldiers so fearless because they were tanked up on strong vodka?

In the Winter War, there were several reports of attacking Russians being drunk. The daily ration (100g) was not much, but if you were to save your daily rations for a special occasion you would certainly feel the effect. Not that one would have to resort to scrimping and saving later during the Second World War, when the ration was upped and the distribution of vodka – among Red Air Force pilots too – was liberal and largely encouraged.

http://www.military-history.org/articles/war-culture-military-drinking.htm

  • Hmm. Do you have any information about reasons why the alcohol was given out? It it because of morale or to make troops actually drunk? – Euphoric Dec 26 '14 at 21:28
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    I don't think you will be able to find specific trustable information about this. But to repeat the above to "strengthen the fighting spirit and put some into dependence" and "To keep the soldiers happy" – idmean Dec 26 '14 at 21:34
  • The original stated reason was to help keep the soldiers warm during the Soviet-Finnish war - see my answer. – vpekar Jan 7 '17 at 12:10
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    It is very telling (about today's western anti Russian propaganda) that these randomly picked citations from anti Russian "sources", in effect smearing the soldiers of the Soviet army, was marked as "correct" and got a higher score than the answer which contained actual historical sources. – John Donn Oct 21 '17 at 21:17
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Here is a Wikipedia article in Russian on the subject.

Basically, each soldier started to receive 100g of vodka during the Soviet-Finnish War (in 1940):

Ещё в январе 1940 года во время Советско-финской войны народный комиссар обороны К. Е. Ворошилов обратился к И. В. Сталину с просьбой выдавать бойцам и командирам РККА по 100 граммов водки и 50 граммов сала в день ввиду тяжёлых погодных условий (морозы на Карельском перешейке доходили той зимой почти до −40 °C).

Translation:

Already in January 1940, during the Soviet-Finnish war, People's Defense Commissary K.E. Voroshilov submitted a request to I.V. Stalin to include into the ration of RRKA soldiers and officers 100 g of vodka and 50 of lard, in view of extreme weather conditions (temperature on the Karelia isthmus reached -40C).

This changed in WW2:

25 августа 1941 года заместителем наркома обороны генерал-лейтенантом интендантской службы А. В. Хрулёвым был подписан уточняющий постановление ГКО приказ № 0320 «О выдаче военнослужащим передовой линии действующей армии водки по 100 граммов в день».

Translation:

On 25th August 1941, the deputy defense commissary General-Lt A.V.Khrulev signed an amended order No 0320 "On daily rationing of 100g of vodka to soldiers serving on the front-line".

In 1942, because of difficulties with supplies, vodka was given only to units participating in offensive operations and on national holidays:

И. В. Сталин собственноручно внёс поправки в этот проект, сохранив «наркомовские» только для тех частей передовой линии, военнослужащие которых ведут наступательные операции. Остальным же военнослужащим передовой линии 100 граммов водки полагалось лишь по праздникам.

Translation:

Stalin himself made changes to the draft [of the order], allowing the "people's commissary's 100g" only for those units who conduct offensive operations. All other units on the front line were to receive vodka only on national holidays.

There is no explicit mention of the vodka rations being intended to "increase aggressiveness" of soldiers.

At the end of the article, there is a section from soldiers' memoires. They witnessed cases when vodka caused soldiers to die and some made a point never to drink while on the front line.

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