Winter is coming. This means snow, ice and temps so low that Punxsutawney Phil has already started his heart pump. And to close out 2019, here is a reading list about war in the snow or other frigid conditions. We’re talking Charles XII style, marching his 11,000-man Swedish army through a blizzard to relieve the city of Narva on 30 November 1700, routing 37,000 Russians for good measure.

So sit back, relax by the fire with your favourite libation and consider my recommended baker’s dozen. We’ve avoided obvious WW2 topics such as Stalingrad (and the eastern front at large) and the Bulge, simply because they’ve been done to death.

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Lake Peipus 1242: the Battle of the Ice (2005)

Author: David Nicole PhD
Pages: 96
Available from: Amazon

The hardcopy edition is actually Praeger’s republication of Osprey Publishing’s paperback product. As such it has everything you might expect in one of its campaign series books, to include maps, orders of battle and so on.

However, Nicole is an academically credentialed, highly respected, so this makes his writing more formal, detail and just a cut above other Osprey contributors. Also of interest is the classic and haunting movie on the battle, 1938’s Alexander Nevsky by Russian director Sergei Eisenstein.

Great Northern War Compendium (2015)

Author: Stephen L Kling Jr et al
Pages: 652
Available from: Amazon

Features 42 other authors from 11 countries! OK, no I am not nuts. Yes, I took my meds. And no, I don’t have room on the shelf, which is why I’ve gone Kindle. But if you get this set you will never, ever have to buy another tome on the subject again.

It’s a collection of 70 + articles by internationally respected authors covering every campaign and battle, large or small, all the armies and everything esoteric, from the Ottoman’s participation to chaplains and pastoral care in the Swedish army. Maps, uniform plates, and other illustrations are full color and top notch in every respect. Which is why, after seeing a friend’s copy, I just bought it.

Prussia’s Glory: Rossbach and Leuthen 1757 (2003)

Author: Christopher Duffy
Pages: 208 
Available from: Amazon

Duffy is one of the acknowledged experts on the era of Frederick the Great and a solid wargamer as well. This shows in his careful but detailed research and comfortable writing style.

Maps are excellent, particularly as regards positioning of individual units between the combatants, to include the 5 December battle of Leuthen fought in snow covered Silesia. This was Old Fritz’s greatest triumph, fought on the same date as Napoleon’s greatest triumph at Austerlitz, except 48 years later. Must be something in the water.

Victory or Death: the Battles of Trenton and Princeton December 25, 1776 – January 3, 1777 (2018)

Author: Mark Maloy
Pages: 192
Available from: Amazon

The author is a historian for the National Park Service, and it shows. The book is well written in a format that is both scholarly and informal, with details such as an order of battle plus maps of the campaign both then and now with a suggested driving tour. Of particular interest is his coverage of the second battle of Trenton, the British counterattack along the Assunpink Creek.

1805: Austerlitz, Napoleon and the Destruction of the Third Coalition (2005)

Author: Robert Goetz
Pages: 368
Available from: Amazon

This book won the 2005 Grand Prize from the Foundation Napoleon and is a highly detailed, almost unit by unit, retelling of the battle. The author’s writing style makes the book a difficult read, and his emphasis on the Russian perspective elicited calls of Francophobia.

This, however, is what makes the book valuable. It looks at this December clash from the point of view from people other than those who worship the Corsican.

For hardcore folks only, Bowden’s Napoleon and Austerlitz may be more definitive, but out of print, expensive and difficult to find.

Crisis in the Snows: Russia Confronts Napoleon, the Eylau Campaign 1806 – 1807 (2007)

Author: James R Arnold and Ralph Reinertsen
Pages: 470
Available from: Amazon

Arnold has written several books on the Napoleonic Wars, all to critical acclaim, specifically noting his meticulous research and friendly writing style.

This book is no different but improved with 40 excellent (if small) maps and a set of exceptional appendices.

Not only are there detailed orders of battle, but a special section on conflicting maps and how Napoleon used his bulletins to prove he was victorious.

On Desperate Ground: the Epic Story of the Chosin Reservoir, the Greatest Battle of the Korean War (2018)

Author: Hampton Sides
Pages: 432
Available from: Amazon 

This book is an example of narrative history of which Sides is a master. This means personal accounts of the participants to produce a tome that reads more like a novel than non-fiction and thus, the book suffers from a catalogue of good maps. Also, Side’s focus is on the Marines, sidestepping the efforts of other units such as the US Army’s 31st Regimental Combat Team.

In fact, the author is decidedly unkind to the GIs, though Communist Chinese documentation and the Marine’s own research gained the unit a Navy Presidential Unit Citation in 2001. Regardless, this more personal touch is excellent historical methodology for a confusing and desperate battle such as Chosin, and Sides executes same with flair and passion.

The Battle of the Berezina: Napoleon’s Great Escape (2010)

Author: Alexander Mikaberidze PhD
Pages: 288
Available from: Amazon

The author is a professor at Mississippi State University, but previously a member of the Georgian Republic’s Foreign Ministry in Tbilisi. Like his other works on the Napoleonic era, his books are academically sound, well researched, and yet a comfortable read. And while he depends on Russian sources as his primary background material, his emphasis on a more Tsarist perspective does not affect his narrative objectivity.

The book does not have a good order of battle and the maps included need improvement IMHO, but there are few books on this specific battle in English, so Dr Mikaberidze’s work is a welcome addition.

The Fall of Napoleon: the Allied Invasion of France 1813 – 1814 (2014)

Author: Michael V. Leggiere
Pages: 706
Available from: Amazon

This book covers Napoleon’s final campaign from after his defeat at Leipzig until the end of January 1814, covering operations in Holland, Belgium, even Switzerland as well as France. As such it looks at even the smallest engagement in excruciating detail. Analysis is very thorough, and the wealth of data provided is extensive and simply not available under a single cover anywhere else.

It’s also a very tough read, certainly not for the casual student. It also stops before the most interesting parts of a winter campaign that arguably showed Napoleon at his most brilliant. Fortunately, a second volume is under preparation.

Battle of Stones River: the Forgotten Conflict between the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the Union Army of the Cumberland (2012)

Author: Larry J. Daniel
Pages: 342
Available from: Amazon

The strength of this book is twofold. First, the author does an excellent job of weaving personal accounts of the battle to hammer home the fear and confusion of the participants, from private to brigadier. Second, the author provides exceptional descriptions of key points in the battle as they appear on the ground today.

This seems to be a growing trend among historians looking at battles inside the US, perhaps because the way the National Park Service maintains these sites so visitors can tread the footsteps of Johnny Reb and Billy Yank. This would include the frozen ground near Murfreesboro 31st December 1862 – 2nd January 1863.

The Somme 1870 – 71: the Winter Campaign in Picardy (2015)

Author: Quinten Barry
Pages: 296 pages
Available from: Amazon

After the battle of Sedan, Bismarck expected the French to do what any self-respecting, defeated foe would do. They would surrender. Not.

Instead the newly created Government of National Defense attacked and gave the Schnitzel eaters unvarnished Hell all winter. It’s not that the French were ever even marginally successful, they simply wouldn’t quit. Barry, who has done several other books on the so called “hyphenated wars”, does history a favor by investigating this second half of the Franco-Prussian War, the rarely covered Republican Campaign.

This is a well-researched easy read with lots of drawings, good maps, and extensive orders of battle. It’s likely the best account in English on the subject available.

Caporetto and the Isonzo Campaign: the Italian Front 1915 – 1918 (2015)

Authors: Željko Cimprić and John MacDonald
Pages: 208 
Available from: Amazon

Most books on this subject are exceptionally long and detailed, so these authors have gone against the grain and provided a shorter, but no less competent, overview of a multi-year campaign fought entirely during the winter, even in July. This was because the fighting occurred totally within the rugged terrain of the Austro-Italian Alps.

The terrain analysis is excellent, and knowing that in July an Italian soldier could march from a village in the valley where the temperature was 30 degrees C and enter his trench on the mountain that afternoon where the temp was – 10 degrees C was . . . wow, simply, wow.

War of the White Death, Finland against the Soviet Union 1939 – 40 (2012)

Author: Bair Irincheev
Pages: 256
Available from: Amazon

This book uses both Finnish and Russian archival sources to produce a volume meant specifically for the military historian. Those looking for a more general account that includes such things as diplomacy or the air and naval campaigns should look elsewhere.

It contains an enormous amount of data, to include soldier’s diaries, but these are almost exclusively concerned with the tactical level of combat. There is an abundance of maps (and these are actual military issue maps), but again, mostly concerned with battles or parts of battles. Nevertheless, it’s likely the most carefully researched, information heavy and purely objective work on this David and Goliath contest ever done.

Also of interest is the gritty Finnish film on the conflict – complete with authentic 1939 tanks and aircraft – 2000’s Winter War (Talvisota). This uncut version is 195 minutes long and in Finnish with English and Korean subtitles.

Do you have any favourite books covering wars or battles fought in Winter? Let us know in the comments!