05.05.2017

100 grams from the people's commissar

In 2016 the Russian Federation and the countries of the former USSR will celebrate the 71st anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War.

We decided not to stay aside and dig into the issue: what people drank at those times and how they cooked it.

We believe there is no such a man who doesn't know that 100 grams of alcohol from the People's Commissar were allocated to every soldier at the front line before the battle to boost their fighting spirit, to disinfect the body and, in most cases, instead of food!

The idea to supply not only necessary ammunition, food and uniform but also strong alcoholic beverages to the army was expressed by People's Commissar of Defense, the First Marshal of the Soviet Union, Kliment Yefremovich Voroshilov in January 1940 during "Talvisota" - the Finnish Winter War. That time by the initiative of the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR, 100 grams of vodka were given to the terrestrial troops crews taking part in the warfare while pilots were supposed to receive the same portion of cognac.

This was done due to severe frosts at the Karelian Isthmus where the warfare with Finland took place. It was often a problem to supply the army with warm clothes and hot meals, that's why, the best solution against frost action was considered to be vodka supply. This is the history of the "People's Commissar" or "Voroshilov" 100 grams of alcohol! The Finnish campaign experience was used once again soon.

Soon after the breaking out of the Great Patriotic War on August 22, 1941, the State Defense Committee of the USSR adopted a ruling No. 562 "On Giving Vodka of the 40 degree strength to the Red Army Soldiers and the Senior Officers of the Front Line Troops of the Existing Army in the amount of 100 grams per a person since the 1st of September, 1941".

This is the starting point of the front line alcohol history in the Great Patriotic War.

There is no a single opinion among the witnesses and historians in terms of "vodka supply" to the Red Army during the Great Patriotic War. Some believe that alcohol boosted the fighting spirit of soldiers and officers, and it would be impossible to win without such spirit, the other seriously blame vodka for the fact that, being used to daily intake of alcohol in general (and vodka in particular) at the front line, these soldiers and officers took to drinking after their return, became heavy drinkers and descended to animal existence.

Even veterans tell different things about these 100 grams. There is no a uniform point of view in these memories. Some veterans say they didn't even smell vodka at the front line, others boast they drank lots of liters of vodka.

As an accompaniment to this portion, the soldiers must have received 110 grams of smoked sausage that most Red Army soldiers had never seen in their usual peaceful life. Despite the fact the documents stipulated to deliver vodka with sausage, in reality, the soldiers received their front line alcohol portions before the battle but without any accompaniment. Indeed, the soldiers often didn't get the food daily. As the people who were at the war remember, the alcohol was taken mostly by newcomers who tried to get ready for their first fight. For most soldiers this was the last battle as these 100 grams of alcohol taken without food could knock down even the strongest men and, certainly, it did as we're speaking about hungry soldiers exhausted by constant fighting. The "old fellows" kept their vodka and drank it only after the battle.

Of course, alcohol supply was strictly managed but that didn't make the situation better: the casualties in the divisions carrying out an attack were so enormous in their number that, for example, morning soldering for 100 people was divided between 50 soldiers at best.

Of course, the tendency made the People's Commissariat worried, that is why in July 1942 an order was issued in compliance with which vodka was given by the Chief of the Main Red Army Food Supply Authority via the Chiefs of Front Line and Army Food Supply Authorities and Departments basing upon the guidance of the Chief of Support Services concerning the terms of alcohol allocation and the units of manpower allowed to receive alcohol.

The same time a monthly limit for vodka consumption was fixed which was defined as 5,691,000 liters for all front lines except for the Transcaucasian Front. The Transcaucasian Front was monthly allocated one million two hundred thousand liters of wine!

Consequently, such a great amount must have been transported and delivered to the front. The key problem was the following: what container should be chosen to deliver vodka to the front line? Chairman of the Clothing Supply of the Workers' and Peasants' Red Army Anastas Mikoyan, found three options: in barrels (made of oak) with the volume of 250-400 liters, in tin milk cans and in standards wine and vodka bottles.

To produce such bottles, all the glass making plants in the USSR were re-equipped!

Speaking about alcohol during the war time, we must pay attention to the plants manufacturing alcohol. As it happened, at the beginning of the war a large part of distillery plants was destroyed while the other was partially brought out of operation or situated in the occupied territories. To compensate for such a great loss of productive capacities in the food industry, 28 new plants were built in the Eastern parts of the country for production of rectified alcohol.

Many efforts were made to restore vodka producing plants located in the near-front area and in the regions freed from the enemies. For example, the People's Commissariat of the Iron and Steel Industry supplied approximately 200 tons of plate, structural and roofing iron to provide proper roofs for the freed alcohol-producing plants together with 240 tons of box nails to make boxes.

However, during the wartime some enterprises had to work in the midst of the warfare. One of such facilities was Saint Petersburg Liqueurs and Spirits Plant "LIVIZ" that didn't stop working even for a single minute during the Great Patriotic War: here bottles with incendiary fuel, food yeasts and vitamins made of fir needles were produced.

However, LIVIZ was dramatically affected by the war as well: when Leningrad was in Siege, virtually all the production lines were disassembled. Only a small workshop kept working where alcohol reflux and vodka production took place. At the same time, apart from vodka the plant produced a so-called "pine water" - a medicine curing Barlow disease invented by the Leningrad scientists; this substance contained a large amount of vitamin C and literally saved the lives of thousands of the Leningrad residents. Alcohol and the "pine water" were supplied in 3- and 5-liter bottles to blocked and starving Leningrad directly from the plant.

One more liquor enterprise also continued its work despite bombardments. The Moscow plant "Kristall" used to be called as “Moscow Government Wine Warehouse No.1" during the war mastered military specialities. Apart from traditional products, its workshops produced dry alcohol while incendiary fuel was filled into wine and vodka bottles. When a month passed from the day the Great Patriotic War broke out on July 22, 1941, the bomb crashed down on the plant virtually destroying the main enterprise block. However, incendiary fuel production didn't stop even for a day.

At last, we want to stress that no matter what our contemporaries think about these 100 grams from the People's Commissar, one shall remember that such "saving anesthetic" that, above all, was also a good disinfection substance, helped thousands of people to live through the frights of one of the most terrible wars in the modern history. Lest we forget the people. Lest we forget the deeds.