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Old August 30th, 2011, 05:42 AM   #1

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How often did soldiers go into battle drunk?


This can refer to any time period and any location. You hear often stories of soldiers getting their hands on wine in cellars, finding beer, drinking before a battle, etc. but how often did this happen? Was it better to be drunk and feel more relaxed in battle, or to have your wits about you to increase your chances of survival? This part of the memoirs of Baron de Marbot brought my attention to the issue.

Book 2, Chapter 30

"Meanwhile the column of Russian infantry which we had just perceived was mounting the hill; they were grenadiers wearing mitre-shaped caps with metal ornaments. Soaked with spirits, and in vastly superior numbers, these men hurled themselves furiously on the feeble remains of the unfortunate 14th."

" This man, having been attacked and wounded by several of the enemy, fell under Lisette's belly, and was seizing my leg to pull himself up, when a Russian grenadier, too drunk to stand steady, wishing to finish him by a thrust in the breast, lost his balance, and the point of his bayonet went astray into my cloak, which at that moment was puffed out by the wind. "

Russians drunk on spirits....
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Old August 30th, 2011, 05:49 AM   #2

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can't see any good being drunk would do to you in battle yet a lot of men have been given a shot of spirits to raise their own spirits before an attack, i think it was a common policy on the western front of WW1 that british soldiers before going over the top would each be given a measure of whisky.

i can definitely imagine men getting drunk before an attack just to drown out their fear
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Old August 30th, 2011, 05:56 AM   #3

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If you're in the Air Force or working in some kind of technical job I could see drinking being a very bad idea.

It's hard to deny that soldiers drink all the time, but what I'm interested in is drinking right before, and during a battle. I read that before the Spring Offensive was launched, the German soldiers going out to attack drank all that they had left around.
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Old August 30th, 2011, 05:59 AM   #4

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I read somewhere that in World War 2, immediately prior to an attack, Russian soldiers would often be given vodka (presumably to make them less fearful).
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Old August 30th, 2011, 06:22 AM   #5

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Before attacking on the Somme, British soldiers where given a rum ration, to help them get over their fear of going over the top. Some soldiers felt that if it hadn't been for that rum they would never have gone over the top. Of course some soldiers abused it and their were a few cases of men getting so paraletic that they couldn't get out of their trenches (lucky)

Their was a near riot in one platoon when their tea totalling captain poured the rum ration down a drain.

Amazon.com: FIRST DAY ON THE SOMME, THE (9781844154654): Martin Middlebrook
Amazon.com: FIRST DAY ON THE SOMME, THE (9781844154654): Martin Middlebrook

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Old August 30th, 2011, 06:34 AM   #6

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Quote:
Originally Posted by lawnmowerman View Post
their was a near riot in one platoon when their tea totalling captain poured the rum ration down a drain.
Not the rum!
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Old August 30th, 2011, 06:49 AM   #7
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The rum ration was common in the RN and British Army during WW1, some would save the ration up for a later binge. I have read reports of trench distilled alcohol and my dad used to make marrow alcohol in the barracks.

Finding booze during an assault and getting drunk during or immediately after a battle was a constant problem for troops during the peninsular war. Or should I say for the commanders. Discipline was kept by some harsh and brutal methods after all as Wellington said, His British Army was 'the scum of the earth'.
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Old August 30th, 2011, 06:51 AM   #8

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I could imagine with requisitioning soldiers could get lot's of alcohol. Of course, the British paid civilians back, the French just took it.
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Old August 30th, 2011, 07:19 AM   #9

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Leccy View Post
, His British Army was 'the scum of the earth'.
'But what fine fellows we make them' or something like that.
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Old August 30th, 2011, 07:28 AM   #10

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There was a fine line between drinking enough to settle the nerves and being too pissed to be effective. I suppose back in the day when you charged at the enemy swinging a sword or an axe being drunk was not such a great issue, but trying to load a musket or a cannon would be a different story. To answer the OP, probably quite a lot.
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