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M88 Afghanka - final uniform of the Soviet state

The M88 Afghanka is, by far, the most advance field uniform ever designed in the Soviet Union. While it might sound obvious, given that it was the last one, Soviet equipment has its ups and downs, like pre-WW2 and post-WW2 webbings. But Afghanka turned up to be an excellent field and everyday uniform - it was used for decades. In this article we will mainly cover its use during the Afghan War, as this article is part of the list of all uniforms and other clothing used by the Soviet Army.

M88 Afghanka
Two ways of wearing M88 Afghanka. Picture from the web

The development of the M88 Afghanka

The historical roots of this uniform are disputed till this day. Which is not surprising, as there was such a big leap forward from WW1 concept uniform called Model1969 to a very modern and comfortable Afghanka.

There are two schools of thought on the matter. First states that M88 Afghanka was developed based on other Warsaw Pact armies uniforms. This makes sense - while Soviet soldiers and officers had to cope in outdated M69, their European colleagues had way better options. However, post-WW2 Soviets are not known for copying uniform or personal bits of equipment. The Soviet Army had its own, unique way of looking at these things. So, personally, I do not believe that this was the case. At best, the uniform designers might have kept it in mind.

M88 Afghanka
Warsaw pact soldiers. Easy to note that Soviet Uniform was the most retro out of all

Second version is that the M88 Afghanka comes from the special clothing which was supposed to be used in case of the nuclear war. To be precise, we are talking about the airborne version of the costume, known as OKZK-D. Now, this uniform does closely resemble the Afghanka - it has similar cut, pockets are in the familiar places and the overall shape. However, it is not all that simple. It is well known that an experimental model of Afghanka existed - and it was used in Afghanistan. This one, while, again, being quite similar to both Afghanka and OKZK-D had one significant difference from both - the arm pocket was present only on one sleeve. This is confusing to say the least. Chances are, all three costumes were designed by different people who were told to bear in mind the fact of existence of each other and try to produce uniforms which looks generally the same.

M88 Afghanka
OKZK-D in the field

The dates of adoption of these uniforms are also quite unclear. It is believed, that OKZK-D was the first one, designed in 1969 and implemented in the early 70s. However, known period photos are all takin in 1980s. The experimental Afghanka was most likely designed in very late 1970s, as it is seen in Afghanistan from early years of the conflict. The standard Afghanka which we all know and love entered service roughly in 1983 and was issued on scale to units stationed in Afghanistan from 1984 onwards.

Where did the name "Afghanka" came from?

Well, the name in question is obvious. The M88 was primarily supplied to the 40th Army, stationed in Afghanistan, hence it got this nickname. However, this was not the only one. At the time and even after the war, many called it "Experimentalka" and "Warshavianka". Both names come from the different versions of the uniform development history (or, rather, assumptions). "Experimentalka" means "experimental" and this was an obvious nickname for some uniform that came from outside of regulations (as it was before 1988). "Warshavianka" loosely means "made in Warsaw", implying that it came from the Warsaw Pact. This was explained in the previous paragraph.

M88 Afghanka
M88 Afghanka not in Afghan

Use in Afghan

M88 "Afghanka" became a true symbol of the Soviet campaign in Afghan - it is well associated with the conflict. It is used in most movies, by reenactors, depicted on post-war art and represented in monuments.

M88 Afghanka
Monument to fallen soldiers in Odesa, Ukraine

It is hard to track the very first appearance of the regular, not experimental, Afghanka. But it is safe to say, that in late 1983, but mostly in 1984, many units started to receive these costumes in big numbers. It does not look like there were any preferences in terms of priority between the units - the new uniform was issued more or less randomly. As everything in the Soviet Army, it did not take long to issue new uniforms - by 1985, M88 "Afghanka" was already the most common type of uniform in Afghanistan.

M88 Afghanka
Me in Afghanka on a reenactment event in 2009

The views on the new clothing was generally positive in the Soviet Army. Both trousers and especially jacket had a lot of pockets - unheard luxury. A winter version was warmer than its predecessor and soldiers liked the look of the fake fur collar. But most importantly - it looked very modern. Army fashion was a big thing in the Soviet Armed Forces.

However, one thing is important to know, especially for reenactment purposes. The M88 "Afghanka" did not shift out the M69 uniform - they were used simultaneously. And this was not some sort of "per unit" division - both uniforms can be seen in the same company or even in the same platoon. This mix is also seen on the very last photos of the Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan - during the withdrawal phase of the conflict.

Post-Afghan use of M88 Afghanka

The uniform turned out to be a really comfortable and handy piece of equipment. It was universally loved throughout the Soviet Army, and later by civilians. It was issued and used in almost every branch of the military, spare the Navy, as well as in most post-Soviet armies, that emerged after the end of the Soviet Union.

Afghanka became very common in the Soviet Armed Forces by the end of 1980s. In theory, it was supposed to be a field only uniform - Soviet Union was planning to stay intact and become rich enough to supply its soldiers with more than one set of clothing. But this has never played out - Afghanka was used as an all purpose uniform. Sometimes it was even used for parades, especially in the 1990s.

M88 Afghanka
Artillery conscripts of Ukrainian Army, 1994

It seems that the general idea of the Soviet supplies was to start supplying the army with camouflaged versions of M88 Afghanka. This, in fact, did happen, but only after collapse. Russian army primarily used VSR-93 "Watermelon" camouflage, Ukrainian had Butan, which was later modified into Dubok and other post-Soviet states usually chose their own, new camouflage.

Versions of M88 Afghanka

The basic original M88 Afghanka existed in two versions - summer suit and winter set. We will probably have a separate article for the winter set, though it is partially described in another article - Soviet winter uniform.

But by the early 90s, Afghanka producers moved far away from God. Apart from official camouflaged sets, a lot of different, usually weird versions were produced. They could have been made in different colors, cuts and sometimes being in between winter and summer version.

M88 Afghanka
Afghanka came in different versions

If you are looking for an Afghanka that fits Soviet-Afghan conflict, you need exactly one option - the very regular set with 4 frontal pockets, of regular sand color and made from 3303 cotton material. Everything else does not cut it.

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