The Development of Military Epidemiology During the Great Patriotic War

  • Authors: Titov D.E.1, Kobzistaya M.V.1
  • Affiliations:
    1. Military Educational and Scientific Centre of the "Air Force N.E. Zhukovsky and Y.A. Gagarin Air Force Academy "(Voronezh)
  • Pages: 202-204
  • URL:

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The article is devoted to the feat of military epidemiologists during the Great Patriotic War. The experience of organizing anti-epidemic work during combat operations both in the troops and among the civilian population is shown

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From year to year, our multinational people of the country and republics formerly part of the USSR solemnly celebrate the Great Victory over fascism. This truly deserved Victory was given by great forces. A lot of blood was shed, countless people lost their fathers, husbands and sons, whose great courage is reflected by the names on memorials and monuments of modernity. Eternal Flame constantly emphasizes the importance of those feats and deeds that will never be forgotten in the memory and hearts of modern society.The combat power and ability of the Army and Navy to carry out their tasks were greatly affected by infectious diseases, which claimed so many lives from year to year that the losses from injuries against their background were significantly small.Taking into account this fact, the importance of the activities of medical workers, in particular the team of epidemiologists, of our country was appreciated. Fulfilling their duty to their country, the doctors did everything in their power, suppressed their fears as much as possible and, showing a model of courage and fulfillment of military duty, went through all the difficulties with the servicemen side by side in the conditions of combat operations. Thanks to the work of epidemiologists, even in the most difficult periods of the war, a critical level of morbidity was not reached, which could reduce the combat capability of the Army and Navy.Special attention was paid to the anti-epidemic problem, because it was precisely due to the manifestation of the negative consequences of the ongoing epidemic and the ability to transience the development of certain diseases affecting the combat ability of troops that it was impossible to ensure the scale and continuity of active warfare.At the beginning of the 20th century, K. V. Privat-associate professor of the Department of Hygiene of the Military Medical Academy. Karaffa-Korbutt, in his basic principles of anti-epidemic support for active troops, wrote: "The modern army, completed on the basis of universal conscription, represents its native country in miniature, reflecting all its characteristic features, positive and negative properties. Because of this, the sanitary condition of the army is determined by the sanitary condition of the whole country. If an epidemic is raging among the civilian population of a given area, then it is fatally transmitted to the troops located among it" [1]. According to the chief epidemiologist of the Red Army, T. E. Boldyrev, in 1942, approximately 66% of all infectious diseases registered in the front troops were brought from the rear. Karaff-Korbutt also repeatedly stressed that the release of infectious diseases outside the theater of military operations is undesirable, justifying the advantages of the principle of treating them on the spot.After some time, the State Defense Committee of the country on February 2, 1942 signed a special resolution "On measures to prevent epidemic diseases in the country and the Red Army". One of the tasks of this resolution was to organize a number of important measures to preserve sanitary and epidemic well-being in settlements, immunization of the population and separation of doctors in accordance with their specialization.The most common infectious diseases pronounced during the Great Patriotic War were typhus, tularemia, brucellosis. Each of them has its own symptoms, external manifestations and transmission features, therefore, the anti-epidemic service needed to collect detailed information, analyze and search for solutions as soon as possible to minimize losses among personnel due to illness and reduce the incidence of infectious diseases of civilians.Due to the continuous interaction of military medicine and civilian health authorities, it was possible to restrain the development of foci of epidemiological diseases. The local population, liberated from the German invaders, had a high infectious morbidity, and medical aid stations, in most cases, were looted and burned.It is worth noting that the medical service of the front at the time of the outbreak of the war did not produce proper sanitary and epidemiological intelligence and, of course, measures to localize the foci of the disease. The treatment of the sick was also not accepted, which led to a massive infection with typhus among the servicemen who participated in the release of prisoners.Often the Red Army troops resorted to short-term rest and overnight accommodation in villages where the foci of typhus were vividly developed. As a result, massive infectious diseases arose in the armies.Realizing the importance of the development of anti-epidemic services, a lot of work has been done to create a strict system of protection of troops and civilians during the Great Patriotic War from infectious diseases, as well as the fight against them.By order of the People's Commissar of Defense of the USSR on May 9, 1941, the Institute of Chief Epidemiologists of the fronts was established. Later, by order of the People's Commissar of the Navy on September 1, 1942, the Institute of Chief Epidemiologists of Fleets was established [2].The anti-epidemic service was tasked with constant monitoring of the sanitary condition of territories, troops and fleets, the population, as well as enemy servicemen.At the same time, the main thing was the collection, analysis and generalization of information about infectious diseases, followed by the development of new methods to counteract the epidemiological situation.Various stages of the Great Patriotic War provided for the corresponding features of anti-epidemic support. The initial period was associated with the development of infectious diseases due to mobilization replenishment from the rear of the country to the front. To solve this problem, a system of protective measures was developed and actively used, which also affected the processing of the entire echelon following the railway tracks.So in 1941, the "Instructions on anti-epidemic provision of military echelons" were issued. Subsequent periods of the war acquired an increase in infectious morbidity due to the contact of the Red Army troops with the civilian population and the terrain, as well as the conscription of persons liberated from the enemy territory.At the initial stage of the Great Patriotic War, measures to prevent disinteria were not so effective. In this regard, the destroyed city buildings, problems with food, a large concentration of the population and the absence of civilian health authorities during the Rzhev-Sychev operation (July 30 - August 23, 1942) contributed to the active spread of infectious diseases among civilians, and subsequently at the front. The number of people in some places reached 100%, and in the areas of operation of the armies of the Western Front in August 1942. 332 cases of typhus, 333 cases of dysentery and 52 cases of paratyphoid and typhoid fever were registered among local residents.During the Great Patriotic War, the fascist command quite often resorted to epidemiological crimes, deliberately throwing typhoid, infected patients across the front line.The final stage of the war was marked by a fairly high level of the anti-epidemic system of military medicine. For example, during the Prague offensive operation (May 6-11, 1945), each combined arms army had a sanitary and epidemiological detachment, a washing and disinfection company, 2-4 field bath detachments, 3-5 field laundry detachments, a sanitary control point. If cases of gastrointestinal diseases and typhus were actively spreading among local residents, then in the Red Army troops infectious morbidity was isolated cases. For example, on the 1st Ukrainian Front for the first five days of May 1945. there were 3 cases of typhus, 23 cases of typhoid fever and 13 cases of dysentery).Summing up, it can be noted that the Great Patriotic War became one of the most important stages in the formation and strengthening of an effective system of anti-epidemic provision of fronts. According to the multi-volume publication "The Experience of Soviet Medicine in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945", about 500 manuals, textbooks, monographs, articles and other medical literature on military hygiene and anti-epidemic protection of troops were published during the war. This gave the science of epidemiology a huge theoretical leap, supported by statistical data on the symptoms of the corresponding diseases, as well as the creation of new methods and principles for combating various infectious diseases previously unknown to society.Military doctors in the field of epidemiology insist that it is easier to prevent an epidemic than to eliminate it, so it is worth following the recommendations currently developed in the Armed Forces to prevent a decrease in the combat readiness of personnel due to infectious diseases.


About the authors

Daniil Evgenievich Titov

Military Educational and Scientific Centre of the "Air Force N.E. Zhukovsky and Y.A. Gagarin Air Force Academy "(Voronezh)



Russian Federation, 394064, Voronezh region, Voronezh, st. Old Bolsheviks, d. 54 a.

Marina Valerievna Kobzistaya

Military Educational and Scientific Centre of the "Air Force N.E. Zhukovsky and Y.A. Gagarin Air Force Academy "(Voronezh)

Author for correspondence.
ORCID iD: 0000-0003-1343-1777
SPIN-code: 6101-3172

PhD in Political Sciences, Senior Lecturer, chair of Humanitarian and socio-economic disciplines

Russian Federation, 394064, Voronezh region, Voronezh, st. Old Bolsheviks, d. 54 a.


  1. Кнопов, М. Ш. Основные направления совершенствования санитарно-гигиенического и противоэпидемического обеспечения войск в годы Великой Отечественной войны (1941-1945) / М. Ш. Кнопов, В. К. Тарануха. - Текст: непосредственный // Бюллетень Национального научно-исследовательского института общественного здоровья имени Н.А. Семашко. – 2017. – № S. – С. 88-89.
  2. Кнопов, М.Ш. Военная эпидемиология в годы Великой Отечественной войны / М.Ш. Кнопов - М.:Медицина, 2005 - 320с.-Текст:непосредственный.

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