Post-War Soviet Uniform Periods

Under the Red Star

In contrast to perceptions among many in the West that Soviet military uniforms were notable for their drab sameness; postwar Soviet uniforms were actually quite varied and often even spectacular (at least to a uniform fanatic like myself). Nor was Soviet uniform development ever stagnant. Changes were constant, although these usually impacted one section of the military at a time - generals, officers or soldier/NCOs. Periodically, however, across-the-board updates were issued or enough individual changes accumulated to justify a collective summation of uniform changes - as occurred in 1969 and 1989. Although somewhat simplistic, for the purposes of descriptions on this site, I will make reference to five major military time uniform periods. Please note: these periods only apply to "military" uniforms - not uniforms of other uniformed departments or ministries also found on this site.

1946-1954: Immediate postwar (modified M1943 uniforms)

1955-1957: M55 or "Zhukov" officer uniforms, M56 soldier uniforms

1958-1968: M58 uniforms

1969-1988: M69 "Modernized" uniforms

1989-1991: M89 "End of Empire" uniforms

A brief description of these periods will better allow the viewer to understand just how the caps I display on this site fit in to the overall Soviet uniform picture. Thumbnail images accompany each period description. Clicking on that thumbnail will bring up a larger, higher resolution image.

Overview of Uniform Periods: Uniform changes were relatively modest during the 1946 - 1954 period, with Soviet officers and soldiers throughout most of this era being little different in appearance from their late war counterparts. However, changes were introduced for armor and air force officers' uniforms in 1949. Major changes in generals' uniforms followed this in 1954 and a complete packet of post-war changes was codified in uniform regulations published in 1955. The clear centerpiece of these 1955 regulations was the introduction of new gray (and for the air force, blue) officer parade uniforms with a distinctly "Naval" look. This parade uniform was not long destined for greatness, however, and was withdrawn in favor of a more conservative officer uniform style in 1958. The M1958 officer uniforms remained in use with only minor modifications until 1970, when virtually every officer and enlisted uniform was "modernized". These M69 models are the uniforms most familiar to people in the West. Finally, in 1989, uniforms were further standardized using subsets of the 1969 uniforms, with a few new ones introduced for good measure. The M89 uniforms continued in service through the collapse of the Soviet Union and, with only small modifications, into the first few years of the new Russian Federation. Soviet naval uniforms were modernized and simplified over the Cold War period but changes were modest compared to the Army and Air Force. A naval officer of 1944 in his black uniform would fit right in with an officer from 1989, eliciting only a couple of comments about his "old" looking insignia and high-collared jacket.

Although the uniform periods discussed above are the ones I will refer to on this site, viewers should be aware that the 1955, 1958, 1969 and 1989 regulations were mostly codified summaries of scores of individual uniform changes announced over preceding years as changes to the previous set of regulations. Few things were ever accomplished overnight in the USSR! For example: the wave green officer's parade uniform was a key component of the 1969 regulations, but had actually made its trial debut to selected units under an addendum to the 1958 regulations as early as 1965. Likewise, keep in mind that Soviet uniform changes typically allowed for a "phase out" period during which both old and new uniforms could be worn (just as in the US military). I have seen references to these periods lasting up to two years.

1946 - 1954 Uniforms Described: Soviet uniforms of the early Cold War period were based on those developed under the 1943 regulations, which returned a distinctly Imperial Russian look to the Red Army and Navy. Although minor changes were implemented in the years following the war, Soviet officer uniforms remained virtually the same from 1945 until the 1955 regulations were promulgated, while enlisted uniforms stayed about the same all the way up to 1970. Indeed, the average Red Army soldier of 1954 was virtually indistinguishable from his 1945 counterpart. The only changes of significance during this period was the introduction of specialized parade and service uniforms for armor and air force officers, and open-necked jackets with tie for Naval officers. Although wear of these new uniforms was limited during this period, they provided much of the basis for the 1955 regulations.

Visor caps of this period were also very similar to those of 1944-45. The square billed (or spade-shaped in Russian terminology) visors typifying Soviet caps of the war (round visors existed during WWII, but in smaller numbers) were falling out of favor towards the end of the period, and were "officially" gone by 1954 - although some old stocks apparently continued to be used until around 1958. Cockades worn on these caps remained basically the same as during the war years, with most officers and enlisted men wearing the famous red star on both their service and parade caps. The red star cap badge was simplified in form, however, with the same one-piece style now used by all personnel (except generals). All visor caps had a black oilcloth chinstrap, except for gold or silver cords worn by generals and admirals. The basic shape of the cap retained the "teller" or plate style (as described by the Germans), with a crown only slightly larger in circumference than the band.

1955 - 1957 Uniforms Described: The short-lived 1955 regulations codified a series of officer uniform changes started in 1949 and defined a major redesign of Army, Air Force, Internal Troops, KGB, and Border Guard officer parade uniforms. Although these changes were significant as to the uniforms they affected, these regulations did not change the majority of uniforms in use at the time. The counterpart set of regulations for soldiers was published in 1956 but this made no major changes to those incrementally introduced since 1945. The centerpiece of the 1955 regulations was the adoption of a steel gray parade uniform for all Army, MVD and Border Guard officers, and a dark blue one for Air Force officers (actually first introduced in 1949). These uniforms are sometimes referred to as "Zhukov", after Marshal of the Soviet Union Zhukov who was Defense Minister at the time. In actuality, MSU Zhukov moved quickly to replace these uniforms which he found "unseemly." Nevertheless, the reference to "Zhukov uniforms" stuck. As previously mentioned, these parade uniforms were rather "naval" in appearance, with extra lapel, collar and visor cap ornamentation. Metal leaves introduced in 1949 for Army armor officers were added to the visors of all officers' parade caps, while a spray of metal leaves surrounded a new oval shaped officer's cockade (replacing the plain red star). Gold woven cords previously only worn on general and admiral caps replaced the black chinstrap on these parade caps. Visors on all visor caps were standardized on the rounded form that would remain in use with some modification to the end of the Soviet era. Once again, naval uniforms were not significantly affected by the 1955 regulations. Army, MVD, KGB and Air Force generals received summer dress uniforms and caps in light gray (border guards wore their normal green/dark blue cap with the light gray tunic). Generals' caps also had their round WWII-style cockade replaced with a new oval one similar to the officer's parade cockade, but done entirely in gilt (gold colored) metal and red enamel.

1958 - 1968 Uniforms Described: While soldier and NCO uniforms remained largely the same, 1958 regulations retreated from the unpopular gaudiness of the M55 officer parade uniforms, re-introducing a more traditional and simple "Soviet" style officer uniform. Tunics in dark khaki replaced the medium gray and dark blue "Zhukov" officer parade uniforms. General uniforms remained largely the same. While soldier and NCO uniforms remained largely the same, 1958 regulations retreated from the unpopular gaudiness of the M55 officer parade uniforms, returning to a more traditional and simple Soviet-style officer uniform. Tunics in dark khaki replaced the medium gray and dark blue "Zhukov" officer parade uniforms. The extra ornamentation was removed from both the parade officer uniform and cap, returning to the look of the 1940's. A different two-piece cockade was introduced for wear on this khaki parade uniform, consisting of the M55 cockade surrounded by a gilt wreath. This wreath was notably smaller than that used on the M55 parade cap - and eventually became the Air Force cockade in 1970. Gold officer cap cords were retained, but were still limited to the parade uniform. Caps likewise retained their traditional small crowned "teller" form. Napped wool material used for visor cap crowns was increasingly (but not totally) replaced by cotton-wool blends with a distinct diagonal weave. General and naval uniforms remained largely the same.

1969 - 1988 Uniforms Described: New uniform regulations were published in 1969 (effective 1970 - which is why they can be referred to as either M69 or M70). These regulations reflected the most significant changes to Soviet military uniforms since 1943. Virtually all 1958 era uniforms were replaced with more modern items. Army officers received parade uniforms in the same wave-green color used by generals since 1945, while Air Force officers again received dark blue ones. (Note: although codified as a whole in the 1969 regulations, these uniforms were being worn on a very limited trial basis as early as 1965). The "gymnasterka" shirt/blouse was replaced by a new field uniform - the first major change in field uniforms since the war. Enlisted troops also received new service and parade uniforms - their first makeover since 1943. Almost every uniform was cut different, as shirts and ties came into everyday and parade wear. As in previous uniform changes, naval personnel were affected least by these changes, retaining in large measure the overall appearance of their predecessors.

Visor caps underwent a significant change in shape at this time as well, as a larger, higher-crown "saddle" form replaced the smaller, lower-crown "teller" form of WWII fame. Soviet officers often referred to this more flamboyant form as "German". (Note: In the late 1980's, the "German" appellation was again applied to increasingly popular cap variants with even higher crowns). Wave green and dark blue parade caps were introduced for Army/MVD/KGB officers and Air Force officers respectively. A new parade cockade was introduced for wear on all caps, similar in style to that of 1955, but now in one piece. Initially, officer service caps retained their black chinstraps (increasingly made of plastic instead of oilcloth), but these were replaced by the same gold cords worn on the parade caps under a supplemental uniform change in 1975. In addition to enlarged crowns, enlisted personnel caps replaced their plain red star emblems with a red star within a wreath of leaves for both service and parade wear. Later during this period, generals' parade caps received a new chinstrap made of natural leather and metal thread embroidery, while generals' service caps received embroidered leaves on their bands. Generals' field caps also received colored piping.

Besides these changes, Soviet uniforms underwent a transition of branch colors reflected in visor piping and banding. All Army caps were now banded either in red or black with red piping or in crimson/magenta with matching piping. Soviet infantry (Rifle) troops lost their historical crimson and received red along with the appellation of Motorized Rifle, while the specialized band/piping color combinations of Soviet technical support branches all became black/red. Medical/Veterinary/Administration/Justice officers used crimson. MVD uniforms now also used only a single color - brick red (or "nettle" in Russian parlance) - for both cap banding and piping; instead of a combination of nettle and blue. The Air Force, Border Guard and KGB retained their traditional colors. As usual, the Navy was less affected by these changes, with only minor changes in the style and cut of their uniforms. Naval visor caps, however, did completely change over to the larger M69 form during this period, matching that of their sister services. The Naval cockade was also simplified at this time; with officers' becoming a single piece, instead of this piece's earlier 3 and 4-piece construction.

Other notable changes in the 1970's included the introduction of new honor guard cap badges and a new visored winter hat for Navy admirals and Captains First Rank.

1989 - 1991 Uniforms Described: 1989 regulations promulgated many interim uniform changes introduced after 1970, and continued in effect until completely new Russian military uniforms were introduced in 1994. Parade and service uniforms remained largely unchanged. Officer service caps now sported gold cords introduced in 1975 under a change to the 1969 regulations. Visors on officer and enlisted caps got larger, and were universally manufactured from plastic (or by special order and for generals - patent kid leather) instead of the painted cardboard/fiberboard used from 1917 into the 1970's.

Generals' caps were further standardized, with tank and artillery generals forced to trade in their black velvet banded ones for a "one fits all" red band (although lesser officers and enlisted retained their black bands). However, it does not appear this simplification of generals' caps was implemented before the collapse of the USSR. The 1980 uniform change that replaced the light gray dress cap with the regular wave-green parade cap was reiterated. Changes in naval uniform caps included the final elimination of the ornament color distinction between "line" and "service" officers with all cockades and buttons now standardized in gilt.

Although not specified in regulations, exaggerated saddle-form caps began to appear with even larger diameter crowns with higher front peaks. These seem to have appeared first within the Navy, and expanded thereafter throughout the Ministry of Defense and other non-military ministries. During this time as well, more and more officers (and even some enlisted personnel) purchased privately-made caps which were once the sole prerogative of generals and colonels expecting promotion to that rank. These custom made caps with their patent leather visors and superior linings are usually indistinguishable from general officer caps except for the ornamentation, cockades and buttons used.

One last note on uniforms. In my discussions, I have followed standard Soviet Army practice in breaking out the types of uniforms into Parade (two types), Service and Field - although this varied somewhat by uniform period. Winter and summer variations also existed for all these uniform types. The Navy further broke uniforms down with a numbering system not used by the rest of the Soviet military.

Parade- (In Formation and Walking Out) - Two versions of parade uniform worn either in or out-of-formation. Parade-In Formation uniforms apply to participants in actual parades or military ceremonies. Out of formation (walking-out) wear covers all other formal occasions, both military and civilian. The major difference between the two is that while in formation, belts, boots and breeches are typically worn, while shoes and straight trousers (no belts) are worn out-of-formation. The Navy had both white and black versions of this uniform (summer and winter respectively) while Army and Air Force generals had a special gray uniform for Walking Out or "gala" wear.

Service (Daily) - Normal everyday duty uniform. The Navy had both white and black versions of this uniform while the Army/Air Force used khaki as the basis of these uniforms. An Army white tunic/cap summer service combination did exist as well during the 1950's & 60's.

Field - Uniform worn for field training and exercises; always khaki until camouflage uniforms entered service in the late 1980s.