A report on attitudes of Russian soldiers (1917)

This report, dated February 1st 1917 and compiled by military censors attached to the 12th Army, summarises the moral and attitudes of Russian soldiers, based on the contents of their letters:

“Judging from the letters read and from the table here attached, it is clear that the morale of the army has become noticeably better of late, that is to say, since the end of last November. This change for the better may be explained by the improvement in the supply of warm clothing and linen, food, living quarters, organisation of soldiers’ stores, and entertainment for the lower ranks.

The most important reason for the change is undoubtedly the excellent and timely supply of warm clothing. This winter the lower ranks do not suffer at all from cold and frost as they did last winter. One seldom hears complaints on this subject. On the contrary, the letters show that the army is not freezing and that all units have more warm clothing than they need… One soldier writes that he is sending home his surplus warm linen.

In this manner, by having an abundance of warm clothing and by improving the food situation, were removed the two most important factors working on the morale of the army.

It is interesting that this improvement came about, as it were, in spite of numerous evil influences affecting the army. Among these are the long stay in the trenches, which came to an end only on January 5, alarming reports from home about the high cost of fiving and decline in the village economy, the misbehaviour of the wives at home, and live discussions about peace (seemingly in connection with the German peace proposals, Wilson’s speeches, etc.)

Notwithstanding these influences for evil, the spirit of the army is rising and since the first of the year (after the December fights) the number of cheerful letters has gone up two per cent. Among the interesting developments of the last-mentioned period should be noted :

Intense interest of the soldiers and officers in the political happenings in Russia and in the capital (the acts of the government, State Duma and German influence on certain circles) ;

Complaints about the high cost of living…

Soldiers complain of the impossibility of getting a furlough…

War prisoners, doing state work, are having a bad influence on our soldiers. Here is what one writes:

“In our district . . . work 2,000 Czechs building a military railway. Their influence on our soldiers is very bad. The Czechs boast openly that they are the only wise people on earth because they refused to fight from the very beginning. As a consequence, they are well dressed while others rot in the trenches. They call our fighting soldiers “asses”. Our men listen willingly to this kind of talk and conclude that the Czechs are really wise people.”

I would suggest that the necessary steps be taken to isolate completely the war prisoners…”

Colonel Sokolov