I have often come across references to men sleeping under coats or cloaks and been a little bit puzzled. Even a long coat must be shorter than the man that wears it so how do you sleep under it without your feet sticking out? This weekend I came across an account of how the Soviet soldier achieved this. In true communist fashion it involved some teamwork! Note that the Soviet greatcoat had a half belt at the back that gathered some of the coat’s width in. When used for sleeping this belt was undone on one side so that the coat covered a larger area.
Here is how the Soviet Infantrymen did it:
Blankets, which were brown, although issued in garrison environments were not issued for field use. Soldiers were expected to make do with greatcoats. Here is an example: “On cold nights I shared a greatcoat with quite a few of my wartime comrades in the fighting lines. Many of them have since fallen.
There is no brotherhood that binds people closer than the one that’s born in the lines, and a shared greatcoat is one of its symbols. You feel warm and secure with a friend close by. Actually, there are two greatcoats for two. A shared greatcoat is just a figure of speech. So what happens to the second? Duffel bags or lambskin mittens (with two fingers so it’s easier to shoot) are used for pillows. The individual tents that double up as cloaks are used as mattresses and the greatcoats are the blankets. The shabbier one covers the feet and legs and the newer one the upper part of the bodies. Both men settle down on the same side. If there is the blessed chance of taking off your boots, the feet are tucked into the sleeves of the greatcoat – a pair of feet to a sleeve. The upper greatcoat is pulled over the shoulder, the shoulder of one fits into the right sleeve, the shoulder of the other into the left. The result is a kind of sleeping bag, warm and cosy. If it gets inordinately cold, the greatcoat is pulled over the heads – one head in one sleeve, the other in the other. When one side goes numb and the other freezes stiff, both men turn over simultaneously and the fitful sleep of the soldier continues.”
I have updated Friday’s blog with a link to this account.