50 shadows (and cuts!) of Butan - the famous Soviet TTsKo camouflage
This article is basically a translation of a study which was compiled about a decade ago. Yet, it was a really thorough and did not loose its actuality in 2023. The article is quite long, so prepare yourself.
Considering the camouflage of the Soviet Army of the 80s VSR-84 (“Butan”) in terms of colors and shades, the times “before 1991” and “after 1991” should be divided. It is this division that allows a clearer look at the situation with the colors of the uniform in the context of the uniform samples themselves.
TTsKo Butan before the collapse of the Soviet Union
Quick rundown of the main upgrades of the uniform cut
Work on the creation of a new uniform in the USSR was dictated by the requirement to bring the uniforms of the Soviet army closer to the modern standards of Warsaw Pact countries and the world. All in all, M69 uniform was basically a WW1 concept and was both morally and physically outdated.
The beginning of the war in Afghanistan forced the Ministry of Defense to start another decisive round in terms of instructions to accelerate the development and implementation of new items of this uniform, taking into account combat experience. So in 1982, a fundamentally new set of summer field clothes of a single sample (TU-17-08-172-82) appeared. In everyday life, the name "Afghanka" was permanently attached to this form of clothing.
For the most part, the prototype of the suit closely resembles protective suit for the Airborne Forces, OKZK-D, developed a dozen years earlier. In addition to borrowing the basic elements of the cut from OKZK-D, the development takes into account the main directions in the development of field clothing of the Warsaw Pact countries. Two years later, in 1984, on the basis of the summer one, a winter version of a uniform field clothing set (TU-17-08-194-84) appeared. Both sets from the first days of their appearance were sent into the real combat conditions of Afghanistan. In the second half of the 80s new uniform started to appear in GSVG and other military districts of the Soviet Union.
In Afghanistan, the term "experimental" was firmly attached to the new set of uniform. In parallel with this, work was underway to create new field clothing for specific ground military branches - the Airborne Forces and the Marine Corps. Work was also underway to modernize special clothing for the Air Force.
The development history of the camouflage pattern
In the mid-70s research began on new samples of deforming coloring and the selection of appropriate fabrics for it. It took quite a long time to choose the optimal type and background of the picture. The work was carried out by taking into account the background of the potential war theater terrain and subsequent changes in the color of the fabric due to fading and washing. The result of these studies was the emergence of a new camouflage pattern called VSR-84 or "Butan.
The analysis of uniform items allows us to note that the drawings themselves were of two types. In order to make it more convenient to talk about them further in the text, let's introduce two terms characterizing the camouflage pattern - “Butan-A” and “Butan-B” (see Fig.). This very analysis allows us to conclude, firstly, that the “Butan-A” pattern appeared earlier than the “Butan-B” pattern, and, secondly, that both types of pattern were used in parallel by different sewing and production associations, specializing in a certain type of uniform.
So the type of pattern "Butan-A" was used mainly in clothing for the Airborne and the Marines, although sometimes there is clothing for the Marines with the type of pattern "Butan-B". Clothing for the Airborne Forces of the period of 1983-1991 also occurs with the type of pattern "Butan-A" and "Butan-B". Although the later colors of the early 90s are found precisely with the type of pattern "Butan-B".
The production of a pattern on a dyed fabric was carried out by successive rolling with one drum, first of one texture, then with another drum of another. Due to the possible shifts of the drums, some small shifts of one color relative to another could be obtained. In general, the general character of the camouflage pattern remained unchanged.
In 1984, for the needs of the Air Force, deliveries of special flight suits in camouflage colors VSR-84 (TU-17-01-7598-84) started to arrive to Afghanistan. In addition to the basic version, the new suit had an option for areas with a hot climate. Fundamentally, these suits are no different from their predecessors in dark blue and sandy colors for areas with a hot climate. Deliveries of a demi-season flight suit in a similar camouflage color (TU-17-08-140-81) have also started around the same time.
The cut of the new demi-season suit is also completely identical to the cut of the demi-season flight suit in dark blue. The appearance of camouflage among the flight personnel of the Air Force is primarily due to the concern of the command about the ejected pilots in the green zone of Afghanistan. It is this version that is often found in discussions about the introduction of camouflage clothing initially in the Air Force.
A year earlier, in 1983, a new uniform summer field suit for the Airborne Forces (TU-17-08-189-83) was released. The development was based on the combined arms complex protective suit for the Airborne Forces - OKZK-D. There are so many common cut elements that at first glance one can say that we are dealing with suits of a single cut, only in different colors. In 1984, a variant of a uniform winter field suit for the Airborne Forces (TU-17-08-193-84) appeared.
A parallel developed set of winter field clothes of a single sample was taken as a base, but with minor modifications borrowed from the OKZK-D winter suit (TU-17-08-224-84), developed in the same 1984 year. Namely, a natural fur collar and back pockets on the trousers. The cut-in pockets on the sleeves and the liner for the jacket and trousers are not made of batting, but with the use of lining napped cloth and baize.
The beginning of the appearance of camouflage uniforms in the GSVG and the countries of the Warsaw Pact immediately assigns to it the new colloquial name - "Varshavka".
On the footage of the documentary chronicle of the Afghan war, summer and winter suits of the same type for the Airborne Forces appear episodically. From 1985 until the very end of the war, most of the costumes appears in the possession senior officers of the airborne formations of the 40th Army. Moreover, if at the army or divisional level the presence of a suit was a normal phenomenon for most officers, then at the regiment level, only the commander often had a camouflage suit, who used it only to distinguish himself from his subordinates. The fact that far from all officers were provided with suits suggests that, as such, there were no supplies of suits of a single pattern of "Butan" coloring to Afghanistan by clothing services. Camouflage clothing was basically obtained using the personal efforts of officers. Moreover, sometimes these personal efforts led to the fact that the officer got a camouflage suit of the Marines cut.
From 1984-1985, deliveries of summer and winter suits for the Marines in camouflage began to be delivered to the Marine Corps. In terms of cut, the suit completely copies the Afghanka in a regular protective khaki color. With the beginning of the 90s, this suit, originally developed in the interests of the Marines, began to be actively used in the Airborne Forces, and later in all branches of the military.
Camouflage field suits for the Airborne Forces and Marines infantry are reflected in the Uniform Regulations of 1988. Interestingly, according to these rules, it turns out that camouflage clothing was not allowed for senior officers.
In 1987, a sample of a suit for units of the Navy (in particular for the Marines) appeared in areas with a hot climate in camouflage colors (GOST 27527-87). The costume consisted of a lightweight open jacket with short sleeves, trousers and a camouflage panama. The Butan panama was identical to the panama for a lightweight summer suit for soldiers in areas with a hot climate.
Also in the mid-80s, a number of regulatory documents appeared allowing the production of certain types of special clothing made from camouflage fabric VSR-84. Namely, summer (GOST 24913-81 corr. for 1985 (9)) and winter ( 26707-85 corr. for 1989) special suits for armored vehicle crews, as well as a summer working suit. But until 1992, things did not go beyond the release of documentation.
Couple of facts regarding camouflage clothing from the pre-1991 period. Firstly, the dye on the fabric was very resistant to washing and sunlight. It happened that even after a couple of dozen washes, the fabric still retained the shades of the pattern once applied to it.
On this account, there is a version that a similar fact took place due to the use of CMEA dyes and Egyptian cotton in the production of fabric, and also that some of the costumes were sewn in Czechoslovakia and the GDR. That is why the camouflage uniform, along with the “Warshavka”, was also called the “Czech”. Although, if we recall the appearance of the 6B2 body armor in the army, we will see a similar picture. The new bulletproof vest had "velcro" and it is made of "synthetics" - so probably "foreign and import", in the mind of Soviet people. So most likely they had to be produced in the Warsaw pact country, therefore, probably, "Czech".
In the second half of the 80s, they began to paint with our dyes and shades immediately went. Domestic dyes were not able to provide such a quality of color that even after hundreds of washes, “butanes” remain “like new”. Undoubtedly, the appearance of shades was influenced by the fact that the fabric was first produced at several production associations, and therefore on different equipment from different materials. Even strict compliance with GOSTs and OSTs in this case is not able to provide "reference" color coefficients at the output of the production.
The second indisputable fact is that looking at samples of camouflage uniforms, you involuntarily notice that at the junctions of cut elements, the boundaries of the textures of the pattern are rarely violated. This suggests that the weaver would very carefully cut out the details of clothing, tracking the details of the camouflage pattern. Which we usually cannot be said about clothing samples produced after 1991.
In 1990, a number of additional colors were introduced in addition to the main color. Production tolerances due to the technical capabilities of the manufacturer, as well as a noticeable relaxation of production control compared to the 80s, lead to the appearance of additional shades. A very large variation in the shades of the VSR-84 camouflage in uniforms dating back to the time after 1990, as well as the still not removed "Top Secret" stamp from the documentation for the VSR-84 make it very difficult not only to identify the base colors by shade, but even to identify the base colors themselves.
The results of such an analysis are approximate and often subjective at the level of assumptions. There is an opinion that in connection with the emergence of trends in the policy of the USSR associated with the choice of direction for the end of the Cold War, and consequently the change of the main theater of operations from the European direction to possible local conflicts, it was decided to change the color scheme of camouflage.
Moreover, the Afghan war has already ended at this point. And by the old Soviet tradition, the military was preparing for the “past war”. Therefore, there was only one additional color, a sandy-steppe shade (KM-P).
Fabric manufacturers, against the backdrop of a general loosening of the control system throughout the country, immediately began to give "color forks" like brown or pink suits. And Western collectors, who are resistant to their versions, still consider these shades to be color options for different theaters of operations and military branches. They are unaware that in our factories during Perestroika it was common to produce batches of uniforms of completely different colors. Therefore, sometimes you never cease to be surprised when you receive a “complete” suit according to tag, but with a jacket of one shade and trousers of another. This is especially often observed in camouflage uniforms for military personnel and less so with the civilian market militia.
Clothing items made of VSR-84 fabric "Butan" (1983-1991)
Field suits for the Marine Corps
Summer field set: jacket, trousers, cap TU-17-08-172-82 "Summer field suit"
Field insulated set: insulated jacket with lining, insulated trousers with lining TU-17-08-194-84 "Insulated field suit"
Summer field lightweight set for Marines: short sleeve jacket, trousers, panama hat. GOST 27527-87 "Costumes for the military personnel of the Navy in areas with a hot climate"
Field suits for the Airborne Forces
Summer field set: jacket, trousers, cap TU 17-08-189-83 "Summer landing suit"
Field insulated set: insulated jacket with lining, insulated trousers with lining TU-17-08-193-84 "Winter landing suit"
Special suits for Air Force flight personnel
Special summer set: jacket, pants with suspenders TU-17-01-7598-84 "HB suit for flight personnel" The version for hot climates has mesh in the crotch of the trousers and in the armpits of the jacket
Special insulated set: insulated jacket, insulated trousers TU-17-08-140-81 "HB demi-season suit for Air Force flight personnel with a fur collar and windproof padding"
TTsKo Butan before after collapse of the Soviet Union
The time "after 1991" is beyond the time frame of the existence of the Soviet army. Yet, Butan and its variations were used for many years after the collapse. So, this section has the right to exist.
The stage of formation of the new state opened up new horizons for creativity and experimentation, as well as the "thrifty economy" and the gradual destruction of quality control systems in production. In terms of new experiments on the colors of the VSR-84 camouflage, a number of colors that have not been seen before appear. We will find the results of these experiments for a long time to come, without ceasing to be surprised. After all, each manufacturer had the authority for such one-time experiments. With all this, in parallel, fabric with pre-collapse colors also continues to be produced.
In most cases following uniforms were produced from the pre-1991 Butan camouflage - a special summer suit for armored vehicle crews, as well as a working summer suits. Also, the production of flight insulated suits in the colors of VSR-84 was done episodically. In parallel, some items of equipment appear in the colors of the VSR-84. As an example, a water bottle cover and a 6b5 body armor.
By 1993-1994 the Butan camouflage was almost completely replaced by a newer development - camouflage VSR-93 ("vertical", "Barviha", "Watermelon"). Butan was still used in small number by Airborne Forces and Marines in comparison with all other land formations. By the end of the decade, the leftovers of the Butan camouflage suits were worn out by the troops, making clothing items made of camouflage fabric VSR-84 “Butan” a real rarity today.
Camouflage VSR-84 was actively used throughout the 90s in Ukraine. Initially, it had the “Butane-A” pattern type with a color deviation towards greener and light green shades and had the colloquial name “Ukrainian Butan”. Later, in 1996-1997, the pattern has changed. It got its own name - "Oak".
In modern post Soviet countries, VSR-84 camouflage is still used in the Air Force. This is a tradition which still exists.
New items of clothing and elements of equipment from the fabric VSR-84 "Butan" (1991-1994)
Special insulated suit with fur for Air Force pilots: insulated jacket with fur, insulated trousers with fur TU-17-03-7962-84 "Fur jacket and trousers with cotton top for flight personnel"
Special summer suit for armored vehicle crews: jacket and pants GOST 24870-81 GOST 24870-91 "Special summer suit for military personnel"
Suit working summer: jacket, pants GOST 24871-81 "Special suits for military personnel"
Cover for flask (850ml)
Cover for body armor 6B5