March 10, 1917 - James Buchanan Barnes is born, and we were all officially fucked.
July 4, 1918 - Steven Grant Rogers is born, and somewhere in Brooklyn Bucky's mother wept . . .
June, 1924 - Steve's mother is bedridden from illness associated with Tuberculosis.
September, 1930 - 12-year old Steve and 13-year old Bucky meet for the first time in Hell's Kitchen, where Bucky scares off bullies trying to steal Steve's money. What were they doing in Hell's Kitchen? No one knows. Steve tells Bucky he's been living in the orphanage 'on 8th' since his mother's death. Which is odd since Bucky was apparently at her funeral when they're both legal adults in a flashback scene from the Winter Soldier. For the purpose of this timeline, info from the movies will take precedent over info from the various tie-ins. Meaning Sarah Rogers is basically Schrodinger's Ma for the next 6 years.
1936 - Shrodinger's Ma finally actually dies fo sho of Tuberculosis. Bucky breaks everyone and their mother's heart with his 'til the end of the line' line. (Also, per MCU canon, Bucky's 'folks' are still alive . . . and own a car.)
February ish, 1940 - Colonel Phillips first approaches Howard Stark, in Los Angeles, about working for the SSR. (Stark Industries was formed in 1939, and 'a year later' Howard is at a nightclub in West Hollywood called Ciro's, demonstrating the properties of Vibranium. Ciro's opened in January of 1940. So keeping in line with the MCU canon and with real world history, as you do, January 1940 is the absolute earliest that Howard could have been recruited.) They're pursued and Stark deploys rockets from the ass-end of his car to escape them because Howard Stark. Agent Margaret "Peggy" Carter, aka Agent 13 is already in deep cover working for Schmidt as a maid in his personal mansion.
November, 1940 - Peggy rescues Dr. Erskine from Schmidt's mansion two days after Johann Schmidt forces him to inject the experimental serum, proving that we all could have saved a lot of time if Peggy had done that three fucking days earlier, Jesus.
May 25, 1941 - Steve goes to the Dodgers-Phillies game at Ebbets Field. Was Bucky with him? We don't fucking know. It was a Sunday, so maybe. It’s not like Steve knew other people . . .
December 7, 1941 - Steve and Bucky are in an art class - like . . . how can anyone write these two as dirt poor when they're fucking around on their Sundays at baseball games and art classes? And two Irish-Catholics skipping church? tsk tsk - when the class is informed by a runner that Pearl Harbor has been attacked. Okay real talk here, for a second. The draft officially started in 1940, pulling men 21 years of age and older. In 1940, Bucky was 23. He was single, no kids. He absolutely could not have given conscientious objector status as a way to avoid it because if he had, when he was drafted later on he never would have seen combat. He should have been drafted in '40 or '41. The only reasons he wouldn't have been was if he was a student, or if both his parents and/or his siblings were considered his dependents. Since some sources say both Bucky and Steve were orphans, then it is entirely plausible that both Bucky's parents died close to the time Bucky turned 19 or 20, in which case he could have become the legal guardian of his younger siblings.
PS: Bucky is not an orphan in the MCU:
So either Bucky was working like a damn dog supporting his family, in which case the fuck are you doing in an art class, kiddo? Or he was actually a student at a college or university. He could also have, during the years the US was gearing up in case they were forced into the conflict, held a job that was considered vital to the coming war effort. This sort of deferment was limited to jobs in war production, and jobs that involved national 'health, safety, or interest'. Literally the only job I can think of that Bucky could have been in where he would have been skipped the first few times but taken in '42, is if he had been a police officer. That would fit very well with his ability with a gun, plus explain why he made sergeant so fucking fast, with prior training other inductees would not have had. Considering what a golden child Bucky was in Brooklyn, all three of those scenarios would be a perfectly valid reason for Bucky to have avoided the first several waves of conscription. Just thought that was interesting.
Anyway! Steve wants to enlist right away, so Bucky (a three-time YMCA welterweight boxing champion, suck it) trains him for two whole weeks because Bucky is apparently of the opinion that Steve is an idiot who won't get in anyway so why fucking bother going hard.
*at the time, under the regulations of the New York State Athletic Commission, welterweight was a weight class of 147 to >160 pounds. Meaning post-war Bucky gained about 30 pounds of pure muscle after getting the serum....dude.
December 24, 1941 - Bucky is right and Steve's first attempt to enlist fails so hard. Go to Midnight Mass, Steven.
March, 1942 - Red Skull fucks shit up in Tønsberg, Norway and finds the Tesseract.
September 21, 1942 - Bucky takes his draft card to an intake facility and enlists in the US Army. The following dates are literally nowhere in canon, but I have research to back up what is essentially pure speculation on my part. His serial number is 32557038. There is a real world counterpart who actually had this particular serial number, and he was enlisted on this date. So, in order for Bucky to have gotten to the number before this guy, Bucky probably woke up early Monday morning to get shit done.
Desperate Historian's Note: I always assumed that since he was a Sergeant when he first shipped out, Bucky had been in service for at least a year and a half, which is still pushing it within the constraints of the timeline. Most NCO's at the start of US involvement in the War, Corporals and Sergeants, already had years of Army service under their belts. But no. 9 months. So. Bucky basically kicked ass and took names to become a Sergeant in 9 months of non-combat training (which took place at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin btw). That, or every NCO in his regiment came down with a sudden case of the Deads and he got promoted.....Bucky would have needed a special recommendation from the company commander - TWICE in 9 months - to reach that rank. Jesus. It is canon fact that Bucky was indeed an absolutely phenomenal soldier (and leader) . . .
He would have been sent to basic training and been gone for ten weeks, meaning it would have been over by the 1st of December, 1942, or thereabouts.
December 1, 1942 - Give or take a week or two, maybe, depending on how quickly he was whisked away after enlistment, Bucky would have been given a week's furlough after training at Camp McCoy ended.
December 8, 1942 - Since he is a designated marksman (not a sniper, the US Army didn't have those in WWII. A designated marksman was just a guy in a regiment who was an excellent shot and stuck with their regiment at all times and was used situationally, never went off alone to shoot people in the head and stuff), he absolutely would not have been sent to any sort of sniper training because, again, the US did not have those in WWII. He wouldn't have stayed in NYC, though. He would have been on an Army base somewhere, with the occasional week-long furlough to return home. So, before Bucky leaves for war, he and Steve wouldn't have seen a whole lot of each other for the year before that, either.
June 7, 1943 - Bucky probably arrives in NYC on a final week's furlough before being sent to War. With the way Steve looks at him when he sees the uniform later on, and Bucky's cocky little head tilt, it's probably safe to say Bucky received his sergeant's chevrons not long before this furlough.
June 14, 1943 - Steve's fifth attempt to enlist fails spectacularly because he had to claim to be from New Jersey. He then goes to get the shit kicked out of him in an alley behind a movie theater, that's what you get for saying you're from Jersey, Steven. He and Bucky attend the Stark Expo that evening, where Steve ghosts like an asshole - even though for all he knows this is literally the last time he will ever see Bucky alive!! - and is chosen by Dr. Erskine as a candidate for Project: Rebirth.
June 15, 1943 - Bucky and the 107th ship out for 'England'. Now, the troop transport Queen Mary left NYC on June 1, 1943, heading for Gourock, Scotland and carrying the 1077th Signal Company Service Group. It took 5 days; they arrived on June 6, 1943. On July 16, 1943, the Edmund B. Alexander carried 5,000 replacement troops to Liverpool, England. That journey took ten days; they made land on July 26, 1943. Maybe. The records are full of literal question marks, so I dunno. That's the closest thing I can find to Bucky's stated journey. Most of the troops leaving from NYC at this period were actually heading for Africa, landing in Casablanca, Morocco. I know Bucky says he's shipping out for England in the morning, but it makes so much more sense that the 107th would have been sent to Africa and then swept up into Italy in the next four months of fighting, where Steve finds them later. It would be easy to deal with this by either saying Bucky's an idiot, or (my recommendation) that Bucky knew exactly where he was heading and he just wasn't telling Steve that he was being sent into the heart of the brutal African and Italian campaigns rather than a nice balmy Liverpool in the summer. The journey from NYC to Casablanca, Morocco would have been anywhere from 11-15 days.
June 20-25, 1943 - Bucky would have hit Liverpool, England right around this time, if that's the way he was sent.
June 25-30, 1943 - Bucky would have docked in Casablanca, Morocco, if this is the way it went instead. So I guess you could safely say he made landfall in the European Theater on June 25, 1943?
August, 1943 - Steve is selected to receive the super-soldier serum, right Steven?
October, 1943 - The Battle of Azzano results in Hydra declaring war on anything that moves, including Nazis, and takes prisoners from various different regiments that historically were either still in training or in the Pacific Theater at this point, but that's fine. Prisoners are taken over 120 km away to a Hydra weapons factory in Kreischberg, Austria, where their Hydra captors separate the men into cages according to their nationality and other factors. The purpose of this is for the bickering hodgepodge of Allied soldiers to keep each other busy with in-fighting so the Hydra guards can forget to train and get beat up by Captain America in a month or so.
Dum Dum Dugan almost immediately makes a joke while Cage Team Howling Commando is introducing themselves, and a brawl breaks out. As you do.
In Bucky's cage are the following:
Jacques "Frenchie" Dernier, French Resistance, born January 2, 1911 (32). The fuck was your French ass doing in northwestern Italy, son? To my knowledge the French Resistance kind of worked mainly . . . in France. The Italian Resistance was very active in this period, so they could have been collaborating, but that's not what the Resistance did, mostly. So the only logical conclusion we can come to with Frenchie is that he was captured somewhere in France by Hydra and transported to the factory as labor. He lived in Marseilles before the War, and likely would have stayed close to it.
Major James Montgomery "Monty" Falsworth, born January 2, 1914 (29), of the British 3rd Independent Parachute Brigade, which historically first saw action in June of 1944, ha. Anyway, Monty was known in the comics as Union Jack, and the pin on his beret is a nod to that. Teeeechnically? Monty outranks Steve, but since they're not even part of the same Army, that's kind of a moot point.
Private Gabe Jones, born August 14, 1918 (25), was 92nd Infantry Division, a segregated unit that historically first saw action in September of 1944, haha. Gabe handled the radios, was fluent in French and German, and boned Peggy Carter in the comics.
Corporal Timothy 'Dum Dum' Dugan, born April 11, 1912 (31), was a member of the 69th Infantry Regiment, which is also known as the 165th or Fighting Irish, recruited solely from NYC, who were making landfall in the Pacific right about now. Frustrated historian's note: Had he been a real boy, Bucky Barnes would have been enlisted into the 69th Infantry as well, just like Dugan. Canon-wise it makes sense that Bucky and Dugan were from the same unit, even though canon thinks they weren't because canon made up the WWII-era 107th? Anyway, the fact that both Dugan and Bucky were in the same foxhole when the Hydra tank hits in the cut scene from First Avenger is all fucked up because you don't put your NCOs where they can be blown up together, okay. It's bad strategy. Add to that the fact that Dugan calls him Bucky like they've been buddies for a while, but the tie-in comic is still on 'Jimmy' and also states that Dugan and Barnes were in the same company after all, that cut scene is frustrating. Or I guess the comic is frustrating? Something's frustrating, anyway. I think the best way to deal with this is just to say that the 107th IS the Fighting Irish regiment because fuck it. Dugan will eventually take over leading the team when Steve goes splat, leading the Howling Commandos and being involved with SHIELD, and Nick Fury personally, well into the Cold War.
Private Jim Morita, born October 20, 1919 (24) - also, Happy Birthday here's a Hydra weapon NOW ASSEMBLE IT - wasn't in the same cage as the others, but he served in the US Army's Nisei Squadron as a Ranger, aka the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Their real fight in the European Theater began in June of 1944, so who the fuck knows how his ass wound up in Austria. And since the whole unit was made up of men of Japanese descent, it's safe to assume there's a 50/50 chance Morita was given the choice between enlisting and an internment camp. A lot of fics write Morita as the team medic, but I'm not entirely sure why. In WWII, medics held a rank of Private, Private First Class, or Technical Sergeant. So, the medic would either have needed to be Morita or Gabe Jones in keeping with this. But there is literally no canon mention of him being any better at triage than any of the others, and he is definitely not a medic by trade. The more likely scenario here, because none of them wear the insignia of a combat medic, is that all of the team were equally trained and capable at the most basic of field triage, but the team itself probably flew without a safety net and used the medics from whatever regiment they were shadowing at the time.
Sergeant James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes (26) - who you will notice is literally the fourth James in a team of 7 men - contracted what can only be assumed to be walking pneumonia on the battlefield of Azzano, and as his condition gets progressively worse in captivity, hastened by the hard labor of the weapons facility, he eventually becomes so weak that he drops several components in front of the officer in charge of the Facility, identified only as Colonel Lohmer. Lohmer beats Bucky like a rented mule, and when he's deposited back in his cage, the other four realize that if he's made to work again the next day, he'll die. They devise a plan to kill Lohmer, which would put one of the kinder Nazi assholes in charge who would allow Bucky to remain in the cages until he was able to recover. Their plan works, crushing Lohmer under a ton of machinery and symbolism and signifying the first time the soon-to-be Howling Commandos had worked together successfully. The soldiers return everyone to their cages after the accident to keep order, and Dugan tells Bucky that he's safe from Lohmer now, with the only punishment being a reduction of the POWs food rations for a week since there was no one specific to punish. Bucky is an ungrateful dick and not only asks Dugan to stop calling him "Jimmy", but graces him with the nickname Dum Dum in the process. Bucky is saved from dying on the manufacturing floor only to be singled out by Arnim Zola and taken to the 'examination rooms'. And we all know what happens there.
August to Early November, 1943 - Steve Rogers sings and dances his way through over 200 shows and makes several badly conceived films while his best friend is slogging his way through Italy.
November 3, 1943 - Steve disappears behind enemy lines to go find his Bucky.
November 8, 1943 - The Man With A Plan dramatically re-enters the Allied base camp where Colonel Phillips is fixin' to tear Peggy Carter a new one for losing Captain America over enemy territory. If the Battle of Azzano happened on a goddamn Earth map at the real Azzano in the Province of Udine, and assuming the Allied camp was somewhat close to that area, the march from the factory back to the Allied base camp would have been well over 120 kilometers as the crow flies. Those prisoners were metal af. I'm getting that date from the assumption that walking over 120 km back to (supposedly because in reality they'd have needed to walk to goddamn Naples) Allied territory with 400 sick and wounded men would take a few fucking days. An American unit in Sicily in WWII (30th Infantry Division) marched 54 miles in 33 hours across country. But it's safe to assume that the company Steve rescues from Kreischberg would not be moving at top speed, but rather a steady pace that would keep them moving, but not fucking kill them. Say 5 km/hour since that's an average human's comfortable walking pace.
The closest thing I can get to this incident is in July of 1944, when the German armies began a forced march of POWs across Germany to delay their liberation by the approaching Red Armies. Groups of 250 to 300 men marched over bombed out roads in a meandering route because they were forced to skirt around various battles, kind of like what our POWs would have to do in enemy territory. The groups would march between 20 to 40 kilometers a day, with very little food, clothing, shelter or medical care to speak of. Using 30 km/day as our benchmark, that's at least 4 days that it would have taken to get back to the Allied encampment. If the Hydra factory went boom on the night of November 3rd, and Steve flounced into camp in daylight, November 8th is a very safe bet.
November 15, 1943 - Steve pinpoints the Hydra facilities on the map in the SSR bunker in London (which was located in the Cabinet War Rooms in Whitehall) and is given permission to form his own elite special ops unit. Sidenote, the Howling Commandos were never called the Howling Commandos until after the War ended, they were merely called the 107th Tactical Team. Another nickname bandied about in 'non-canon because it contradicts the movie ahahahahahah' was The Invaders, which is probably what other soldiers would have known them as when encountering them. Neither Steve nor Bucky would know what the fuck a Howling Commando even is until they read up on history, and even then neither of them would likely ever think of himself as a Howling Commando. Now, in trying to find this date, my inner frustrated historian has begun to weep, because I just cannot find a base in Italy that makes sense for any of these damn movements to have been based out of. The Allies hadn't even gotten through the Gustav Line at this point, which ran across the boot and through the town of Cassino, south of Rome. For them to be in Northern Italy close to the Austrian border, dude. WTF were they doing there? And how did they get in and out?? I mean was anyone really surprised when their straying asses got pounded by enemy forces deep in enemy territory??
I have no idea how to judge how long it would have taken for the future Commandos to get to London and drink in a pub because there is literally no rational logic to pinpoint their starting location, and therefore no way to guess what modes of transport were even available to them so close to enemy territory. The easiest way to find this date would have been to find out what date Captain America was awarded his Medal of Honor, but . . . even I'm not that good, apparently, 'cause I can't dig up shit. The Medal of Honor ceremony that happens at the same time as this scene would have been at least a week and probably more from the action on the night of November 3rd simply because it took that long for the paperwork to travel back to Washington. It was usually months before soldiers received their Purple Hearts, for instance. But let's assume this was fast-tracked because it's Captain goddamn America. Let's also assume they didn't have Howard Stark fly them back to London in his plane and tell the other 400 POWs to go make like a leaf and fuck a tree or something. So the trip back to London probably took at least 7-10 days. We also need enough time to have passed that they expected Steve to get from the front lines all the way back to DC for the ceremony. My first instinct is to say up to a month could have passed when this scene comes around, but a month just seems way too long when looking at the context of the scenes, from the celebratory pub crawl of the POWs to the fact that Steve is being debriefed here, which would have been literally the first concern of an agency whose job is gathering intelligence.
TL:DR version, this could be anywhere from a week to a month later, idfk.
It's safe to assume this is also the night of the pub when Bucky reveals how heterosexual he is not by asking if Steve is going to keep his stage suit for no apparent good reason.
Mostly I'm putting this date here because it is the day the Allied Expeditionary Force for the invasion of Europe is officially formed. Having the SSR gearing up for - or as a result of - that meeting seems to make a lot of sense.
November 15, 1943 to March 4, 1945 - Steve and the Invaders, often along with other military forces, plow through HYDRA factories like an enraged ex with a John Deere tractor and a bottle of Jim Beam, and also join the larger battle against the Axis Powers on the Western Front. Essentially this period is Band of Broooos: Howling Commandos Edition. This period is where you can really have your fic fun, because canon doesn't tell us fuck all about it. All in all, Bucky and Steve have 16 months of battle side-by-side. Bucky would have had 20 months total of combat service in the War.
I'm going to list some real events from the War during this time that the team might have been involved with or nearby for, and some things they would definitely have at least talked about. You can skip these if you like, just scroll down to the next bolded bit. I am copying and pasting these because I can:
December 2, 1943: The Germans conduct a highly successful Air Raid on Bari, Italy. One of the German bombs hits an Allied cargo ship carrying mustard gas, releasing the chemical which killed 83 Allied soldiers. Over 1000 other soldiers died in the raid.
January 17, 1944: The first Battle of Monte Cassino begins when the British X Corps attacks along the Garigliano river at the western end of the German Gustav Line.
January 20, 1944: The U.S. Army 36th Infantry Division, in Italy, attempts to cross the Gari River but suffers heavy losses.
January 22, 1944: Allies begin Operation Shingle, the landing at Anzio, Italy. The Allies hope to break the stalemate in south Italy, but they are unable to break out of the beachhead and the line holds until late May.
February 15, 1944: The second Battle of Monte Cassino begins with the destruction of the historic Benedictine monastery on Monte Cassino by Allied bombing. The Allies believed the grounds were used as an observation post by the Germans
February 16, 1944: Germans launch a major counter-attack at Anzio, threatening the American beachhead.
March 15, 1944: The third Battle of Monte Cassino begins. The small town of Cassino is destroyed by Allied bombers.
April 27, 1944: The Slapton Sands tragedy: American soldiers are killed in a training exercise in preparation for D-Day at Slapton in Devon.
May 8, 1944: D-Day for Operation Overlord set for June 5.
May 11, 1944: The fourth battle of Monte Cassino begins led by general Anders of the 2nd Polish Corps.
May 18, 1944: The Battle of Monte Cassino ends in Allied victory. Polish troops of the 2nd Polish Corps led by general Władysław Anders capture Monte Cassino. German troops in west Italy have withdrawn to the Hitler Line.
June 4, 1944: Allies enter Rome, one day after the Germans declared it an open city. German troops fall back to the Trasimene Line. Meanwhile, Operation Overlord is postponed 24 hours due to high seas.
June 5, 1944: Operation Overlord commences when more than 1,000 British bombers drop 5,000 tons of bombs on German gun batteries on the Normandy coast in preparation for D-Day. And the first Allied troops land in Normandy; paratroopers are scattered from Caen southward.
June 6, 1944: D-Day begins with the landing of 155,000 Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy in France. The Allied soldiers quickly break through the Atlantic Wall and push inland in the largest amphibious military operation in history.
June 10, 1944: At Oradour-sur-Glane (a town near Limoges), France, 642 men, women, and children are killed in a German response to local Resistance activities.
June 13, 1944: Germany launches a V1 Flying Bomb attack on England, in retaliation for the invasion. The V-1 attacks will continue through June.
July 3, 1944: The Allies find themselves in the "battle of the hedgerows", as they are stymied by the agricultural hedges in Western France which intelligence had not properly evaluated.
July 24, 1944: Operation Cobra is now in full swing: the breakout at St. Lo in Normandy with American troops taking Coutances.
August 15, 1944: Operation Dragoon begins, marked by amphibious Allied landings in southern France. Elsewhere, the Allies reach the "Gothic Line", the last German strategic position in North Italy.
August 19, 1944: The French Resistance begins an uprising in Paris, partly inspired by the Allied approach to the Seine River.
August 25, 1944: Paris is liberated. The German military disobeys Hitler's orders to burn the city.
September 2, 1944: Allied troops enter Belgium.
September 6, 1944: The "blackout" is diminished to a "dim-out" as threat of invasion and further bombing seems an unlikely possibility.
September 9, 1944: The first V-2 rocket lands on London.
September 17, 1944: Operation Market Garden, the attempted liberation of Arnhem and turning of the German flank begins.
October 18, 1944: Hitler orders a call-up of all men from 16 to 60 for Home Guard duties.
November 1, 1944: "Operation Infatuate", an Allied attempt to free the approaches to Antwerp begins; amphibious landings take place on Walcheren Island. It would become a major supply port for the Allies by the end of the month.
November 20, 1944: Hitler leaves his wartime headquarters at Rastenberg, East Prussia, never to return; he goes to Berlin, where he will soon establish himself at the bunker.
December 16, 1944: The Battle of the Bulge begins as German forces attempt a breakthrough in the Ardennes region. The main object of Hitler's plan is the retaking of Antwerp.
January, 1945 - The only mission the MCU gives real details about comes from the Smithsonian Exhibit's interview with Peggy Carter (which you can watch in its entirety btw). The 'difficult winter, 1945' has to be January, and they were outside Stalingrad, Russia. During - or possibly in the aftermath of - a blizzard, Steve (and presumably the Commandos but fuck those guys amirite Agent Carter?) fight their way through a Hydra blockade that had been there 'for months', and saved half the battalion, over 1,000 men, who'd been penned down behind German lines. That's literally all we've got for mission details.
February 1945 - Bucky falls from a goddamn train in the Alps. There is no resource to tell us how much time passes between Bucky's fall and Steve's supposed death in the Valkyrie. So let me get my history on for a second. On February 17, 1945, the British Special Air Service executed Operation Cold Comfort, a parachute drop raid near Verona, Italy with the objective of blocking the main rail lines through the Brenner Pass by landslide. The Brenner Pass is a mountain pass through the Alps which forms the border between Italy and Austria. Sounds familiar, right? (It's also featured on one of the Captain America covers, Captain America No. 33, 1943). The operation would ultimately be a failure, but since Schmidt wouldn't have known that, hearing rumors of this operation or even word that it had begun, this could have been the inciting incident behind why he had Zola hauling his evil ass along that railway at a speed described as 'moving like the devil'. So we can safely put Bucky's fall between February 15 and February 19th. You could also stretch and say it was February 14th, if you are the reborn incarnation of Satan.
Now, by the end of February, the Red Army was sweeping through the northern regions of Poland toward the German border, moving north and west. It's a Russian soldier who finds Bucky in the Alps, so either that patrol was way the hell out of their lane, or . . . Bucky laid there for a while, folks. Seriously, the Red Army didn't even sniff the border of Austria until March 31, 1945 with the Upper Silesian Offensive. Which leads one to postulate that, a. the Russians who found Bucky were lost as fuuuuuck, b. the Russians who found Bucky were a rogue group who defected to Hydra after Hydra declared itself a separate entity from the Axis forces, or c. neither Steve nor any of the rest of the team ever actually looked for Bucky's body, even after Steve went down in the Valkyrie, and he laid there for weeks. I honestly choose to believe one of the former, since the latter is just . . . I can't.
[June 14, 2017 addition.]
It's always bothered me that they might never have looked for Bucky's body, y'know?
I always assumed the arm got ripped off when he hit the side of the ravine. Like maybe he grabbed for or hit a ledge and the speed/height of his fall was just too great and it got ripped off. Because it's not crushed like it would be if he'd landed on it, it's a traumatic amputation. It almost had to have happened during the fall. Which could mean he'd have landed close to the edge, or maybe like hit higher up and tumbled until he was at the bottom instead of freefalling the whole way?
In his flashback, you can see he's still bleeding as the soldiers are carrying him. Bleeding a lot. If he'd been in the water or motionless in the snow for any amount of time, the bleeding would have at least become sluggish. He'd be hypothermic; his body would route blood away from his extremities to protect his vital organs, plus the blood vessels in the wound would be constricting due to the cold. But, if he'd been moving under his own power trying to get to help, it would explain why he's still bleeding; his movement kept the blood circulating where it would otherwise have clotted up.
In this gif, it looks almost like the blood trail starts just a few meters away. If we take a leap and assume that when they started moving him it jogged him awake, then this scene shows where the Russians found him. Those are trees, aren't they? Meaning he moved under his own power after he landed. Meaning he got the fuck up after falling off that train, and walked through that ravine toward help. What a fucking badass, jfc.
Two things I think we can say with certainty; one, the Russians were definitely searching for someone. He's on a stretcher, which wasn't something a normal patrol would've been carrying, especially over rough terrain. They had it with them for a reason. And two, the Russians weren't there because of Zola. Between Bucky falling and Gabe taking the control room, he had very little time to get off a communication with sitrep and location. And even if he was able to, it would have been to Hydra troops, who would have shown up wearing Hydra gear. And Russians are almost certainly not part of Hydra at that stage in the War.
Those Russian soldiers were probably an Allied search party that was sent out to find Bucky. That would tick off a lot of problem boxes, wouldn't it? It would mean someone - the SSR, the Army - did order a rescue/recovery for a damned war hero like a fallen Howling Commando, and Allied Russian troops were closest or something. It would explain why Russian soldiers were in such a remote area, with a stretcher, when they had zero other reason to be there! It would explain why Bucky is listed as KIA instead of MIA even though they obviously never found his body. It would also explain why Bucky didn't struggle as they were carrying him off; he thought they were on his side, rescuing him.
My theory after writing all this up? He lost the arm in an impact with the side of the ravine, but contacting the ravine walls also slowed his landing and put him on dry ground. He then got up like a BAMF and moved, either until he found shelter under some trees, or he simply collapsed from shock or trauma or exposure or all of the above. An Allied rescue/recovery party found him, but they were Russian, and they reported him KIA and kept him because they knew he must be enhanced to have survived that sort of fall, cold, and blood loss, and they wanted their own Captain Comrade.
March 4, 1945 - The SSR and other forces raid the secret Hydra bunker and Steve Rogers boards the Valkyrie on his way to getting fridged, literally haha, so Peggy Carter can become a hero . . .
March 15-24, 1945 - The Commandos assist in Operation Undertone, which was part of the Allied invasion of Germany by the U.S. Seventh and French 1st Armies of the U.S. Sixth Army Group. It was a very real operation, so info is easy to find about it if your heart is still in your chest after watching both our boys plummet to their supposed deaths.
Some time in April probably?? 1945 - Dugan and Morita head to the last known HYDRA facility, known simply as the Fortress, located some the fuck where in Austria, with Peggy Carter. They capture HYDRA General Werner Reinhardt and take possession of the first known classified 084, the Obelisk. We don't see the Obelisk again until Agents of SHIELD.
May 8th, 1945 - VE-Day. The remaining five members of the team gather in a pub to toast 'the Captain', suggesting that they did indeed just leave 'the Sergeant's' body rotting in the Alps somewhere, fuck that guy. (It is notable that one of the tie-in books for the movie states explicitly that they toast to both 'the Captain' and 'the Sergeant', so it's probable that they gave each man his own, individual farewell. We just didn't see it.)