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Muscovite campaign against the Lithuanians, a painting by Sergei Ivanov (1903).

A Norwegian soldier on skis 1801.

Finnish ski troops in Northern Finland during the Winter War in January 1940.

German Gebirgsjäger with skis in 1942.

Ski warfare, the use of ski-equipped troops in war, is first recorded by the Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus in the 13th century. The speed and distance that ski troops are able to cover is comparable to that of light cavalry.

History[edit | edit source]

Napoleonic Wars[edit | edit source]

Denmark-Norway (though only Norwegian) ski troops were used against Sweden during the 1807–1814 Napoleonic Wars.

World War I[edit | edit source]

During WWI the Italian Army raised 88 Alpini Battalions. Their purpose was to fight summer and winter in the highest regions of the Alpine Arch. Most of the battalions were dissolved after WWI. Only nine Alpini regiments remain in service today, and only four still train every soldier in ski warfare: the 4th Alpini Parachutist Regiment, 5th Alpini Regiment, 6th Alpini Regiment and 7th Alpini Regiment.

World War II[edit | edit source]

Ski troops played a key role in the successes of the Finnish war effort against the Soviet Union during the Winter War in 1939. Forested, rural terrain with no roads was used by Finnish ski troops with great success against the advancing mechanized Soviet troops. Most notably, in Battle of Suomussalmi, two Soviet mechanized divisions (45,000 men) were annihilated by three Finnish regiments (11,000 men).

Perhaps learning from the Finns, the Soviet Union deployed several ski battalions during World War II, notably in their 1941 counterattack in the Battle of Moscow.

The most common transportation for Norwegian soldiers during the Norwegian Campaign in 1940 was skis and sleds, and in Operation Gunnerside, paradropped Norwegian commandos covered a large distance using skis in order to reach and destroy a heavy water plant Vemork at Rjukan in Telemark, Norway, which was being used by the Germans as part of their nuclear research programme.

Ski warfare even extended to the Middle East where the Australian Ski Corps were deployed against Vichy French forces in the mountains of Lebanon.[1] Photo.

Also during WWII, the United States Army 10th Mountain Division was established and trained for ski combat. They were deployed in Italy.

Today's situation[edit | edit source]

Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian defense forces use skis normally in cross country skiing but also by pulling squads of soldiers with tracked transport vehicles or snow mobiles. One or two ropes hang from the end of a tracked vehicle such as the famous Swedish Hägglunds Bandvagn 206 or the Finnish Sisu Nasu and troops hang on to the ropes with their hands and ski-poles.

Other information[edit | edit source]

The Norwegian military have held skiing competitions since the 1670s. The sport of Biathlon was developed from military skiing patrols.

The United States ski patrol plays a vital role in the plot to the book A Separate Peace.

Many nations train troops in skiing and winter warfare, including:

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Australia's first ski troops by Col. R.W. Savage in Australian Ski Yearbook, 1942. Reprinted in: Bill Beatty. The white roof of Australia. Cassell, 1958. pp. 77-80.

External links[edit | edit source]

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