Uniforms of the Red Army in World War II.
Different types of uniforms and for airborne troops, NKVD, and Political Commissars. Insignia and badges of ranks for the period from 1940-1943 and 1943-1945.
Table of Contents
One of the basic principles of the original Soviet philosophy was the elimination of the classes and privileges that had played such an important role in public life in tsarists Russia.
However, the Red Army, founded in the turmoil of the bitter Russian civil war, had to learn immediately that it could not exist without discipline, let alone win a war.
The only way to maintain discipline was to appoint commanders with the authority to ensure that every order was carried out quickly and efficiently. And for this the authority of the commander had to be strengthened again, by giving him a special uniform with special badges, which were the visible symbols of his position.
Stalin struggled with this problem throughout the 1920s and 1930s and was gradually forced to return to traditional military values.
Officers were reluctant to assume responsibilities that could eventually lead to their deaths, especially if these dangerous appointments were not accompanied by prestige and privileges. They fought for military ranks and titles, elegant new uniforms and awards that Russian officers had traditionally enjoyed.
The typical soldier of the Red Army still lived a life full of boredom and hardship with little comfort, bad food and even worse clothes. Nevertheless, the average soldier was still better off than the industrial worker or collective farmer.
The upgrading of the uniforms of the Red Army did not begin until the end of 1935, when the uniform shown on the right was introduced in December. In winter, a silver-gray cloak was worn in a tsarists cut. At the same time the traditional rank titles Lieutenant, Captain, Major and Colonel were reintroduced. New uniforms in steel gray for tank crews and blue for air force officers completed the first major redesign of Red Army uniforms.
By decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the Soviet Union of 7 May 1940, the rank of General was awarded to those General Officers who had the good fortune to survive the purges of 1937 and 1938.
In field service, all ranks of the Red Army wore the same uniform. In summer, it consisted of the peaked cap fourashka or Pilotka side cap and a Rubaha shirt with a stand-up collar worn above matching breeches and high black leather boots. However, a lack of leather led many men to wear bootees and gaiters.
The winter uniform in the field was the same, but contained a pointed, gray, padded cloth helmet Schlem, or from 1940 a gray cloth cap with gray fleece front and neck and ear flaps. The coat was in two rows and consisted of a stiff, coarse gray-brown cloth. It was tightened with hooks and eyelets on the right side and could be used as a blanket. Other types of winter coats were made of either sheepskin, usually worn by tank crews or cavalrymen, or khaki cotton.
Most typical and unmistakable for all Russian winter clothing were the jacket and trousers made of khaki, padded with cotton wool sewn into stripes. This incredibly warm quilted outfit was known as Telogreika. The Russian felt boots or Valenki were also ideal shoes in the snow.
Two patterns of steel helmets were commonly used. The first, introduced in 1936, was replaced in 1940 by a new model, which was also used in the post-war Soviet army with minor changes.
Special field uniforms were issued to the crews of armored combat vehicles, motorcyclists, parachutists, snipers and assault engineers.
The crews of armored vehicles before the war had an expensive leather helmet with a ribbed structure and a two-row black leather jacket. During the war this leather helmet was replaced by one made of gray, khaki or black cotton duck and the most common form of protective clothing was the one-piece overall made of khaki or black cotton duck (see picture top of the page).
Parachute troops first wore a gray cotton duck helmet and an overall over their field uniforms, but during the war they wore standard field uniform and headgear and received the one-piece camouflage suit, which was also worn by snipers and assault engineers.
Since the shoulder board was considered a symbol of tsarists oppression, the Red Army developed a new system of rank badges consisting of geometric forms of red enamel mounted on colored collar badges. There were triangles for non-commissioned officers, squares for company officers, rectangles for field officers and diamonds for general officers.
Inverted angle badges for wearing on both cuffs were introduced for officers in 1935. The traditional military titles were missing in the Red Army and the officers were appointed and were known under the general title ‘Commander’, so that a man with this designation could be, for example, a non-commissioned platoon commander as well as a general as army commander.
With the reintroduction of the rank titles for general officers on 13 July 1940, five-pointed, gold-plated metal stars became their rank insignia. On 26 July 1940, all former military titles were revived and new badges of rank were introduced.
Badge of rank Red Army and Air Force 1940-1943:
First row from left to right: Cap band for air force officers, army generals and army officers (here artillery).
Second (shirt or coat badge) and third (arm badge) row from left to right: Marshal of the Soviet Union, General of the Army, Colonel General of the Air Force, Lieutenant General of Artillery, Major General of Cavalry, Colonel of the Air Force, Lieutenant Colonel of Infantry, Major of Cavalry, Captain of Tanks.
Fourth (coat badge), fifth (collar badge) and sixth (arm badge) row from left to right: Senior Lieutenant of the Air Force, Lieutenant of the Engineers, Junior Lieutenant of the Artillery, Sergeant Major of the Infantry, Senior Sergeant of the Cavalry, Sergeant of the Tanks, Lance-Sergeant (Mladshiy serzhant) of the Engineers, Corporal (Yefreytor) of the Air Force, Sleeve Badge of the Air Force.
Shoulder rank badge Red Army and Air Force 1943-1945:
First row (for field uniforms) from left to right: Marshal of the Soviet Union (Pattern February 4, 1943), Senior Marshal of Artillery (Pattern October 27, 1943), Marshal of the Air Force (Pattern October 27, 1943), Colonel of the Air Force, Lieutenant Colonel of the Infantry, Major of the Cavalry, Captain of the Tanks, Senior Lieutenant of the Air Force, Lieutenant of the Engineers, Junior Lieutenant of the Artillery.
Second row (for parade uniforms) from left to right: Marshal of the Soviet Union (Pattern January 15, 1943), General of the Army, Colonel General, Lieutenant General, Major General, Colonel of the Air Force, Lieutenant Colonel of the Infantry, Major of the Cavalry, Captain of the Tanks, Senior Lieutenant of the Air Force, Lieutenant of the Engineers, Junior Lieutenant of the Artillery.
Third row (field uniform and parade uniform next to each other) from left to right: Sergeant-Major of Infantry, Senior Sergeant of Cavalry, Sergeant of Tanks, Junior Sergeant of Pioneers, Corporal Air Force, Private Artillery.
The prewar uniform of the paratroopers of the Red Army was that of the Red Air Force with sky-blue cap bands and collar badges.
The field service uniform consisted of a blue-gray padded canvas flying helmet and a one-piece cover, on which the sky-blue collar pieces, on which the rank badges were to be seen, were attached. A cover was worn over the standard khaki field uniform. All other components, the footwear and the personal equipment corresponded to the usual pattern.
During the war, the blue-gray cover was replaced by a khaki-colored one with a camouflage pattern printed in black as it was used by snipers and assault engineers.
German observers reported that the Red Parachute troops ‘represented the best kind of Soviet infantry’, but did not wear standard uniforms, but various items of clothing from the army and air force, as well as pilot suits and leather jackets. This was probably due to the fact that parachutists came from both army and airborne units and continued to wear their previous uniforms during the period when everything was lacking.
Many of the airborne operations were also conducted in support of partisans in the Axis-occupied territories, and a variety of clothing was useful in concealing the arrival of reinforcements by regular troops.
Different categories and classes of badges were worn by qualified parachutists on the left breast of the tunic, shirt and sometimes even jump cover.
Uniforms of NKVD
Members of the NKVD – the Soviet internal security service – who served in military units wore Red Army uniforms. The characteristic colors of the NKVD were light blue and purple-red, which could be seen on the peaked cap with light blue lace and carmine piping and ribbon, and light blue with carmine piping on the collar pieces.
Border troops, which came under the jurisdiction of the State Ministry of the Interior, were also formed in military units and equipped with infantry weapons. Their characteristic color was a bright green, which appeared on the peaked cap (green top, dark blue ribbon and crimson piping) and on the collar pieces, which were green with crimson piping.
Uniforms of Political Commissars
Commissars wore the standard uniform of the Red Army with insignia of rank on the collars, but to distinguish them from troop officers, they did not have gold or silver edging, but black piping.
Where troop officers had insignia of rank in the form of inverted angles on the cuffs, political officers wore a hand-embroidered red cloth with a pentagonal star instead.
With the introduction of the shoulder boards in February 1943, Political officers began to wear the same rank badges as troop officers and the red star badge was abolished.
References and literature
The Armed Forces of World War II (Andrew Mollo)
The Red Army of the Great Patriotic War 1941-45 (Steven J. Zaloga)
Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Red Army