Updated: Nov 20
The 6b1 body armor vest is somewhat of a magical item to those who are into collecting Soviet military equipment. It is incredibly rare, but it has real-life use cases which makes it very desirable for those invested in the topic. Because of all that, the prices of the 6b1 body armor vest can go through the roof.
This article is part of a huge list of Soviet Army equipment used during the Soviet-Afghan war. Check it out for more information!
If you want to learn more on Soviet equipment in Afghanistan, check out our book on that - Uniforms and history of the Soviet Airborne in Afghanistan. And in case you are really into Soviet weapons, we have something else to offer - Soviet Infantry Weapons of the Afghan War.
History of Soviet body vest and armor protection
But first, as always, some history behind Soviet body armor development. During WW2, the Red Army used SN-42 steel body armor plates in limited numbers. These were reasonably light and very uncomfortable, yet they did provide some protection against pistol-sized rounds, which were very common in close-quarter fights at the time.
However, the experience of using this steel-plated armor has not received much attention from the army command. The very last modification called SN-46 was never produced in any meaningful numbers. The armed forces got back to this idea in the 1950s, after the end of the Korean War.
Even though the US Army and Marine Corps did not have body armor in big quantities, the Soviets felt like they had to come up with their version. By the mid-1950s, such a version was designed and presented to the Armed Forces. This new body armor, which got an index name of 6B1 was adopted in 1957. In the next two years at least 1500 of these armored jackets were produced, however, some argue that the actual number was around 5000. Anyhow, most of them were put in storage with the idea to be mass-produced in case of an actual war.
6b1 body armor vest in Afghanistan
It took more than 20 years for the actual war to start. There are no documents proving that any work was done on personal body protection systems in the 1960s and 1970s. And this might be the case, given that the Soviet Army entered Afghanistan with no body armor whatsoever.
However, I do have a memory of now deceased paratrooper, who served in the 7th Airborne Division at the end of the 1970s. He claimed that "some green body armor jackets were stored in their unit". Unfortunately, he could not recall any features of these vests, so this information is leading to a dead end.
Very soon it became obvious that issuing body armor to the troops now performing battle missions in Afghanistan would have a significant impact on survivability. The 6b1s which were stored somewhere in Moscow were urgently shipped to the 40th Army.
As with other new things (notably, BMP-2), these vests were not issued to one unit but instead spread in small numbers across the troops stationed in Afghanistan. So far we have been able to identify at least three major units, which received them - 860 MSP (infantry), 350 PDP (airborne), and 177 SpN (Special forces).
The appearance of the 6b1 body armor vest in the Special Forces unit is especially unusual. Commander of the SpN group, Lieutenant Aleksey Rozhkov entered the history of the Soviet Special Forces by wearing a bulletproof vest on operations. He has also demanded this from his subordinates. The rest of the Spetsnaz officers in Afghanistan did not use personal armor protection, except in episodic cases of hostilities in the early 80s, sentries at posts, and drivers of an automobile company in a convoy on the march.
The protective capabilities of the 6b1 body armor vest were not great, but they were better than nothing. There is an episode from the memoir book of Afghan war veteran A. Tumaha, where he is talking about the body armor vest which has saved his life.
... Finishing the patrol, I was about to give the command to unload the weapons.
Then, from the "green zone" on the left - all I can here is some bangs... "tra-ta-ta ..."
- Pe... Pe... Sha... (PPSh-41)
These were the only three letters that went through my mind... not to "damn shite ...", and not other untranslatable words and "slang", but only PPSh ...
- Pe... Pe... Sha...
Two bullets ricocheted from the vehicle hatch, but "God loves a trinity" - the third one got stuck in me ... in the armor plate of my vest, leaving only a huge bruise on my chest ...
The 6B1 was not a bad body armor for the local standard at the time, there just weren't many of them to be issued. The majority of vests available were used out by the early 80s, with just single examples making it later into the war. The 6b1 body armor vest could not be effectively produced once again. The reasons would include the overall complexity of the vest as well as the outdated materials, which were no longer produced since the 1950s when the body armor was initially designed. The Army was now engaged in a conflict and a new effective solution was required. Such a solution was just around the corner - the 6b2 vest.
The unique photographs of the inside of the 6b1 body armor vest
It is well known that 6b1 body armor vests are rare collectible items. Before recently, it was impossible to force an owner of such a gem to cut it to see what is inside. Luckily for the community, a man had to post his 6b1 body armor vest to another country, and the customs required him to cut the armor plates out of it. He has shared the photographs. While the vest itself is not too hard to reproduce - even the original materials are widely available, the armored plates turned out to be of a very sophisticated design. It would take some skill in metalworks to copy them.