Conquerers Of The Elements: How Phenologists Helped To Win The War

Раненые бойцы эвакогоспиталя №2010 в здании Географического общества. Фото: Научный архив РГО
Раненые бойцы эвакогоспиталя №2010 в здании Географического общества

Without them, it would not have been possible to stop the German attack on Moscow, establish the smooth running of the airfields and even hold the first parade on Red Square. Every day they were unraveling the secrets of nature, so that the elements themselves could help to bring closer one of the most important events in our country - Victory Day. During the Great Patriotic War, the representatives of the Russian Geographical Society defended the state, among them were phenologists. Find out what exactly phenologists were doing during the war years, how they helped in the victory over the enemy, and whose names went down in history forever in our article.

Vladimir Ivanovich Dolgoshov (1901 -?) was doing  research that helped to conduct warfare. In his work, he was compiling the frequency tables of the ten-day snow depth, calendars of seasonal natural phenomena on European territory. He compiled a calendar of winter seasonal natural phenomena near Moscow, participated in the study of vegetation. His calendar covered 66 events over a period of 10 to 50 years each. About one and a half thousand primary weather dates of seasonal phenomena were processed to calculate this data.


Борис Борисович Полынов;

Professor Boris Borisovich Polynov (1877 - 1952) studied the features of the vegetation cover, seasonal color changes, phenological phenomena, the color of rocks and soils, as well as the snow cover - all this helped in disguising soldiers and military equipment.


Гавриил Дмитриевич Рихтер; На привале. Чуна-тундра, 1931 г. Из жур.: Живая Арктика. № 1, 2004

Gavriil Dmitrievich Richter (1899 - 1980) was engaged in the characterization of the snow cover, which was important for the functioning of winter roads and airfields. Thanks to his research, a calendar of winter seasonal phenomena was created for the troops operating near Moscow, as well as maps of the snow cover levels of airfields. Most of his work consisted of compiling a card index of literature on the geography and physics of snow cover; as well as of processing long-term data on snow cover in Moscow Oblast. He wrote a book that introduced the basic properties of snow cover, and published an article titled “Snow Cover Geography”.


Олег Измайлович Семёнов-Тян-Шанский;

Oleg Izmailovich Semenov-Tian-Shansky (1906 - 1990) worked at an army weather station and as a translator at headquarters; and served as a military aerologist in Middle and South Karelia. At the same time, he continued to keep a phenological diary, in which he recorded observations of flying flocks of cranes, swans, geese, brent geese and ducks. After the war, he published his observations, linking bird migration to the meteorological situation in different regions.

Alexander Ivanovich Baranov (1894 -?) also was describing winter weather conditions and their impact on combat operations. He compiled the data in tables by the degree of auspiciousness for combat operations both for infantry, and for motorized units and artillery.


Борис Владимирович Проскуряков;

An irreplaceable contribution to the victory was made by the employees of the State Hydrology Institute, including Boris Vladimirovich Proskuryakov (1901 - 1993) and Anatoly Petrovich Domanitsky (1903 -?). They developed methods for predicting trafficability for various types of troops. The institute also studied the water level of rivers depending on the season of the year (low during the summer period, high during the spring period); the openness of the water surface, the thickness of the ice cover - it determined the possibility of heavy military equipment crossing; watering and freezing of swamps. All this data was used to select operation directions, calculate the necessary resources for the construction of temporary dams, and the amount of funds for crossing.


Доманицкий Анатолий Петрович

Thanks to the constant work of phenologists, the "Road of Life" across Lake Ladoga was functioning. It saved the lives of several hundred thousand residents of Leningrad. When laying out the direction of the road, the forecasts of freezing and thawing of the lake were taken into account, measurements of the thickness of the ice cover were carried out. This data helped to use the ice road for as long as possible, and also enabled timely preparation of the necessary equipment and materials to ensure the smooth operation of the road in any conditions. The maps were compiled with an overview of the ice situation and a 2 to 10 days forecast of the development of ice phenomena.

The contribution of phenologists also helped:

- Conduct a parade on Red Square on November 7, 1941 due to bad weather;

- Carry out ice fracturing on the Moscow Canal by artificial flood, which turned it into a serious water barrier, that stopped the German advance north of Moscow;

- Use knowledge of the snow cover during the defense of Moscow and determine the timing of the start of the counteroffensive in November – December 1941;

- Plan operations during the crossing of the Dnieper in the summer and fall of 1943; and plan offensive operations of the Kalinin Front in the winter of 1942;

- Take into account the trafficability of tanks across the frozen swamps and ice cover of the rivers near Tikhvin, Rzhev, Vyazma, Tver in January – February 1942; and assign the counterattack for the expected, according to the forecast, weather improvement.

Дмитрий Кузнецов и Камила Симакова, 

Фенологический портал РГО