Updated: Jul 31
As we are filling out the list of the uniforms used by the Soviet Army during its campaign in Afghanistan, we will start with the most common and known uniform. This is, of course, the temperate weather M69. You might wonder, why we specifically mention that it is a temperate weather uniform. Well, because the absolute majority of uniforms which were present in Afghanistan were, in fact, hot weather, or "tropical" M69 sets. And we will soon release an article on that as well.
The adoption of the M69 uniform
So the first question one might ask is what was the reason behind adopting a new uniform? After all, Soviet Army was running around in gymnasterkas for half of the century and the Russian Imperial Army was having a similar tunic.
The novelty was dictated by what is depicted in the upcoming (as of 16th of July 2023!) Christopher Nolan's movie. The threat of nuclear warfare. The idea was, that if the soldiers were to experience a nuclear bomb exploding at a further distance, they had to remove their clothes as soon as possible to avoid contaminated dust. In this case, gymnasterka was a real problem - the soldier couldn't just rip it off, but actually had to take it off through the head, like a pullover. The new M69 tunic could be just ripped off with the buttons flying across the place.
Anyway, the story you just read in the previous paragraph has a number of flaws. The situation with boots and trousers would not change - the design remained almost identical for both and taking them off quickly was not an option. Then, it is kind of strange, that it took the Soviets almost 25 years since the first practical nuclear explosion to adopt a new uniform. While the NBC protection techniques and technologies were in the earlier stages of their development, this is still a really long time. So overall, this whole explanation might be just a myth.
The real reasons behind the new uniform adoption are unclear. The likely explanation can be the simplest one - Army officials wanted something new, just as well as they wanted to bring all the smaller changes done throughout the Atomic Age into one complete set of regulations. The 1969 reform was probably the biggest change ever made in the Soviet Army and it covered all types of uniforms, parade dresses, and workwear.
The use of temperate M69 in the Soviet Army
The new uniform was along with the new regulations by the order of the Minister of Defence on 26th of July 1969. The production started even before that, so the new wave of recruits, who were conscripted in the autumn of 1969 were largely issued with the new M69 uniform. Yet, since the Soviet Army was pretty massive, some units were still using old-fashioned sets of M43 until the early 70s.
The uniform was well received by both soldiers and officers. After all, it was not that much different from the previous M43 tunic - the same number of pockets, but now it was a bit more comfortable to take off and put on. The overall appearance of the uniform stayed similar - officers had darker versions of wool while soldiers had tunics made from cotton. However, to improve the appearance of the uniform, the Soviet Army, once again, returned to colorful shoulder boards and golden buttons for conscripted soldiers. While in theory this was supposed to be the case only for the everyday wearing of the uniform, this was also practiced in the field, as no one could be bothered to change the boards and buttons for a two-day exercise.
The uniform stayed around for a long time. It was pretty much the only everyday and field dress in the Soviet Army throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and in many cases, it was also used in the 90s and even in the 2000s, although, usually as workwear in the new millennia. There are plenty of photos from post-Soviet Armies capturing this fact.
Types of temperate M69 uniform
As M69 was issued on a massive scale, it was supplied to almost all ground and air units and to the Border Guards, Railroad Security, and special mechanized police later in the 80s. Moreover, based on the M69 uniforms some other sets were designed - such as chemical defense OKZK suits and M76 Border Guards uniform sets.
Anyway, discussing all these uniform sets, most of which had some significant differences from the classical M69 uniform will make this article ten times longer, which is unacceptable. Over time we will have separate articles (or better yet, books!) covering these topics.
For this article, we will just mention that there were two different cuts of M69 uniforms - the one for conscripts and the one for officers and other regular personnel. The officer M69 uniform is generally similar to soldiers, but it does not have cuffs on the sleeves. This cut was always made in half-wool material, so the officer uniform looked much darker than most of the soldiers' sets, which were generally made from natural cotton.
The situation with the conscripts' uniform is not as straightforward. In the first years of production, the industry used leftovers from the M43 gymnasterka textiles. In historical photos, these sets can usually be identified by empty shoulder boards. The "CA" letters were added to 1973 regulations, and by that time the new cotton material (index 3303) was used. Apart from that, there were two more textile materials used for this uniform - half-wool and so-called "glass"
The half-wool uniform was made from a similar, yet thinner material than standard officers' M69 sets. It was intended for the units located in DDR, in the Moscow garrison, and those located in the far north. It was made in the same cut as the regular M69, but the lower part of the breeches was made from robust cotton, instead of wool. Nowadays these sets are pretty rare and if you desperately need one you better find a good tailor to transform an officer's dress into soldiers by making cuffs on sleeves.
The "glass" material was introduced in the late 1970s and was more modern and expensive than classical cotton. It was a mixture of cotton with synthetic material. This uniform was supposed to last much longer than the regular 3303 cotton set - the color and material itself were prone to washing out. However, this type of uniform was not very loved by the forces and this might be why it is so common on the market now - it was never used on a large scale. What is also interesting is the color pallet of the "glass" M69 uniform - they can be found in a huge variety of shades, from light green to dark brown.
Then we have the Airborne M69. It could be in either natural cotton or glass material and the difference is only in the tunic, specifically in its collar. They have so-called "open collars" instead of regular "closed collars". These tunics are identical to tropical M69 tunics and they are a bit different in construction, lacking hooks and having a small top button. The idea to issue those to paratroopers was so that the striped shirt will always be visible.
One last thing to say about this uniform is that officers were also sometimes issued cotton or "glass" sets - mainly for the summer field exercises. These were not different in cut to soldiers' sets (although some tend to say, that a tunic with one internal pocket instead of two means that it was designed for officers). The real difference was in buttons and collar tabs - the officers' set would have plastic green buttons and subdued tabs from the factory.
Using temperate weather M69 for Soviet-Afghanistan War reenactment
Now, the part that most of the readers are actually here for. The regular, temperate weather M69 uniform is gazillion times easier to find than a tropical one, which would be the best fit for the Afghan war. While this is the correct assumption, temperate weather M69 was also used by the 40th Army and quite on a large scale, actually.
First of all, the initial invasion was done in winter, meaning that the majority of units were actually wearing regular M69, or at least breeches with open-collar tunic, which had to be closed on the top button anyway. Secondly, during the whole war, soldiers of almost all units wore jackboots during winter seasons, meaning they had to wear them with breeches. The tunics could be different - both tropical and regular. It was also not unusual to see paratroopers wearing closed-collar regular M69 tunics in Afghanistan, instead of open-collar airborne/tropical ones, which they were supposed to get issued disregard the climate they were stationed in.
So, overall, using the temperate M69 uniform for the reenactment of the Soviet-Afghan war is OK, but you have to know when to use it. That will be colder months of the year and the set has to be worn with jackboots - wearing breeches with regular boots just does not make it.
If you want to see more potential setups and uniform combinations for the Soviet-Afghan War we strongly recommend checking out our book - the Soviet Airborne in Afghanistan.