USSR

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The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)

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The Soviet Army (Советская Армия) had been experimenting with the concept of camouflage for individual troops as early as 1937, the first issue uniform being a solid white oversuit for winter wear. By 1938, the first Soviet-designed camouflage pattern was being fielded by specialized personnel such as paratroops, combat engineers, and snipers. Additional camouflage designs, such as a printed pattern that mimicked leafs and twigs, and a unique disruptive design utilizing large geometrical shapes with a "stair step" edging, had entered Soviet service by the end of the Second World War. Virtually all of the wartime patterns were mass-produced in huge quantities and continued in service with the Soviet Armed Forces for decades, whilst large stocks of certain uniforms were also given to other socialist nations such as Albania and Romania.

During the immediate postwar period, Soviet military designers continued to work with existing concepts (such as the disruptive "stair step" design) to create more practical camouflaged combat clothing for specialized troops. The early Soviet uniforms were lightweight, cheaply-produced and not very hardy, but in 1981 a much more durable combat uniform was introduced that incorporated many of the features of American and NATO field uniforms. The six-pocket khaki airborne uniform, widely distributed to Soviet personnel operating in Afghanistan, was soon manufactured in a newly-designed three-color camouflage pattern (nicknamed "woodland," although having no relationship to the US pattern of the same name) and initially distributed to Soviet airborne and special forces personnel. The six-pocket combat uniform in a tricolor camouflage pattern would eventually become the standard combat uniform of the Soviet Union and the postwar republics, remaining essentially unchanged until the early years of the 21st century. Soviet camouflage designs, although not terribly sophisticated, were nevertheless effective for their time and have been reproduced in a multitude of variations by most countries of the former USSR. They have seen service with numerous Marxist and pro-Soviet insurgent movements, particularly in Africa, and constitute an important chapter in the history of camouflage development.

In December of 1991, following a failed military coup d'etat, the USSR was dissolved into 15 independent states, including Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Georgia, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.

Soviet Camouflage Patterns

  • The first mass-produced Soviet camouflage uniform was the makirovochnyi kamuflirovannyi kostium or MKK, printed with large reddish-brown amoeba shapes on a light green or khaki background. Introduced in 1938, the MKK (also issued as a one-pieced coverall or makirovochnyi kombinezon - MK) was in service with engineers, snipers, airborne forces, forward artillery observers and reconnaissance units throughout the Second World War. Coloration of the pattern varied depending on the factory that produced it, and there is sufficient evidence to suggest that specific color variants were produced for particular seasons or types of climate. Uniforms in this pattern continued in service sporadically for the next couple of decades, and even longer with reservists and cadets. [1] This camouflage design is often called Soviet "amoeba" pattern, and a derivative pattern was produced in East Germany a few years after the war.

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  • In 1941 a different type of camouflage design was introduced, utilizing a printed pattern of dark leaves & twigs on a khaki-colored field. Referred to in some period literature as letniy kamuflyazh (summer camouflage), surviving examples suggest the colored overprint was likely produced in at least two variations (green or grey/brown) for wear during different seasons. Some of these uniforms were, in fact, reversible from a green to a brown-dominant design. The issue uniform was the same MKK/MK type, and saw service well into the 1960s with some Soviet units. Following the Second World War, large stocks were given to Romania, where it became the only camouflage uniform in use until the 1990s. Not to be confused with ERDL-derivative patterns, this style of camouflage is also often called "leaf pattern," for obvious reasons.

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  • Entering service later in the war (1944) was the tritsvetnyi makirovochnyi kamuflirovannyi kostium or TTsMKK uniform, printed in a unique three-color disruptive camouflage. The overlapping pattern of dark green and foliage green on a yellow-tan base incorporated a "stair step" concept that would classify many Soviet designs for years to come. As with the earlier uniforms, the same MKK/MK style uniforms were issued in this pattern, generally reserved for reconaissance, sniper & border units during the war and into the 1950s. This pattern was later exported to Albania where it served with their elite units into the 1990s. Contemporary variations have also been worn by Russian military forces in the 2000s.

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  • Toward the end of the Second World War, a short-lived camouflage design emerged that combined "stair step" features of the TTsMKK with those of the original "amoeba" pattern. It was essentially the standard TTsMKK design with an overprint of brown amoeba shapes in the same style as the 1938 pattern. Several types of uniform in this pattern have been documented, and it apparently saw service between 1945 and 1950, although does not seem to be documented beyond that point. However, modern versions of the pattern have been documented in use by Russian military forces in the 2000s.

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  • A variation on the "leaf" theme introduced with the letniy kamuflyazh appeared in the postwar period and is seen here. Very little information has appeared thus far concerning the production period, but it seems likely this design did not remain in production for a long period. This design may have been termed listopad kamuflyazh (falling leaves camouflage).

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  • Circa 1948 a reversible camouflage pattern was introduced, printed on a one-piece lightweight coverall (MK). The design featured tan leaf shapes on a bright green background, and reversed to a grid-like pattern reputedly intended to render early night vision equipment less effective. There is little evidence to suggest this was much more than a trial pattern. Among collectors this pattern is often called "Type II leaf" to differentiate it from the wartime Soviet leaf pattern.

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  • Soviet camouflage design did not make much progress during the 1950s, and it was only in the following decade that some new styles of uniform entered into service with the Soviet Army. The "splatter" or "splotch" design, incorporating large irregular greyish blotches on a grass green field, emerged in 1960, and was printed on the reverse side with the same grid pattern that was introduced alongside the 1948 leaf print. Worn as a one-piece lightweight hooded coverall with face mask called the kamuflirovannyi letnyi maskirovochnyi kombinezon or KLMK, and issued primarily to airborne, reconnaissance and GRU spetsnaz units, this pattern began to gradually die out of service in the 1970s.

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  • A revisitation of the original Soviet "stair step" design nicknamed solnechnye zaychiki (sunshine rays) was also issued as a reversible KLMK uniform beginning in 1968, with the same grid pattern on the opposite side. The pattern of jagged tan shapes on a grass green field would later be fielded on a variety of two-piece camouflage uniforms (kamuflirovannyi komplekt), which included accessories such as a beret, field cap and sun hat. This stair step design, referred to in some sources as "sun bunnies" pattern, would continue to be used (with only slight changes) by Soviet and ex-Soviet republics well into the present era. Mild variations of the printed design are documented, some having a lighter or darker shade of green, imperfect or "blurred" printing, or more of the grid pattern showing through on the opposite side.

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  • One of the more unusual Soviet camouflage designs to come out of the 1970s era was the pustinoi maskirovochnyi kombinezon or desert camouflage coveralls pattern.[2] The design consists of khaki or reddish brown "stair step" patches on a tan background, with an overprint of moss green leaf-type designs. Few examples of this pattern have come to light, and it may have been a very short-lived or experimental design for special forces.

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  • First being issued in 1975, the Kostium zashchitnoi seti or KZS uniform was also printed in variations of the "stair step" or "sun-ray" camouflage pattern. The KZS was designed with a limited life-expectancy, being fabricated from loose-weave cotton fabric often likened to burlap, and designed to be worn over a normal combat uniform. The KZS suits saw extensive service with Soviet engineers and reconnaissance personnel in Afghanistan, but would later be utilized by airmobile units and the like. A wide number of color variations have been documented, resulting most likely from poor quality control and a large number of different manufacturers. There is some speculation, however, that lighter colors might have been intended for arid or beach environments.

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  • A variation of "stair-step" pattern again emerged in 1981 and is often called spetsodezhda (special purpose) pattern due to its association with special units of the KGB Border Guard units, MVD spetsnaz (special forces) units and Internal Troops. Featuring yellowish-green or bright yellow stairstep shapes on an olive green field, this was one of the first designs to be issued as a durable six-pocket combat uniform rather than as a lightweight item. Several additional types of uniform were also issued in this print, including various types of hat. Sometimes nicknamed "computer pattern," the inference is actually erroneous as there is no evidence suggesting the design was in fact designed by a computer. Uniforms in this pattern have continued in service well into the present era.

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  • Entering service in 1981, the Soviet tritsvetnaia kamuflirovannaia odezhda (TTsKO) or three-color camouflage uniform (pattern) became one of the most ubiquitous designs in the USSR and the ex-Soviet republics. The colloquial name for this pattern is Бутан or butan (butane), which was the original project name for the camouflage development program. Initially produced as a six-pocket combat uniform for airborne and spetsnaz personnel, the pattern eventually saw production on insulated winter uniforms, aviation uniforms, and special one-piece jumpsuits. The number of intentionally produced color and drawing variations is manifold, with many ex-Soviet republics adopting one or more derivative patterns of their own following the breakup of the Soviet Union. This is probably the most varied of any Soviet-designed camouflage pattern, although sadly its use even in ex-Soviet republics is gradually drawing to a close. Although the main color variants can be divided into green- and -brown dominant, a number of sub-variants have been documented, including pink, tan, oxblood, green/blue, a bi-color variant, and a special muted pattern reputedly issued to reconnaissance personnel. Seen below are a handful of Russian-made variants, with an appropriate descriptive term applied to each.

Ussr13.jpg TTsKO green (forest) coloration

Ussr10.jpg TTsKO brown (mountain) coloration

Ussr11.jpg TTsKO pink (airborne) coloration

Ussr12.jpg TTsKO brown/oxblood coloration

Ussr9.jpg TTsKO green/red brown coloration

  • A variant of the standard TTsKO is seen here, produced in Russia and found in Africa. This version incorporates different drawings to the ordinary Russian versions, as well as a tan/brown color combination similar to - but not the same as - that found in the Moldova patterns.

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  • Another variation is seen below, possibly dating to the Soviet era.

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  • The short-lived bicolor or two-color variation of the TTsKO woodland consists of sparse dark green shapes on a light olive/khaki background. This pattern seems to have seen very limited production from 1990 to 1991, although its usage does seem to have extended into the post-Soviet era.

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  • Late pattern KLMK solnechnye zaychiki (sunshine rays) pattern suits (circa late 1980s and early 1990s) were produced without the reversible "grid" pattern on one side. Although retaining essentially the same coloration as the earlier "standard" version, it can be noted that the pattern does appear different up close due to the fact that the grid design does not show through the material as it did on the early model uniforms. These uniforms continued to be popular with spetsnaz units, airborne personnel, and the like long after the dismantling of the USSR.

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Additional Camouflage Patterns Worn by Soviet Forces

In many cases where the USSR sent military advisors to foreign nations, Soviet personnel wore the indigenous military uniform instead of their own. Opinions differ as to the reasoning behind this, but it may in part have been an attempt to conceal the identity of the advisors in the event they were observed by non-allied personnel. Listed here are just a few of the countries where it has been documented that Soviet personnel wore the local camouflage uniform when serving in an advisory role.

  • Russian advisors to Angola wore the Cuban-designed grey lizard pattern seen here.

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  • Advisors to Mozambique in the 1980s wore a copy of the Portuguese m64 pattern vertical lizard design, which had remained in service with Mozambique forces well into the 1990s.

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Notes

  1. Dennis Desmond: Camouflage Uniforms of the Soviet Union and Russia (Schiffer Military History, Atglen, PA) p. 23
  2. Dennis Desmond: Camouflage Uniforms of the Soviet Union and Russia (Schiffer Military History, Atglen, PA) p. 91