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Soviet Army winter uniform

Updated: Apr 5

Quick overview of all the main Soviet Army winter uniform sets, which you might find and use for both Soviet-Afghan war and for the 1970-1980s Cold War impressions or collections.

Please note, that in this article we will primarily talk about the upped part of the winter uniform - the coat. It may sounds unusual, but wearing winter trousers was uncommon in the Soviet Army, even thou most winter uniform sets were supplied with both - jacket and trousers. The reasons behind are mostly practical, as soviet army winter trousers were usually incredibly bulky and heavy, so it was hard to walk in them. They were rarely used in Soviet peacetime army, and in Afghanistan they were used mainly as sleeping clothes.

However, keep in mind, that while on sentry duty, especially at night, many soldiers would still wear winter trousers, as the temperatures in the open can get quite low.

Soviet Army greatcoat a.k.a. "Shinel"

The greatcoat is a type of heavy, long overcoat that was commonly worn by soldiers and officers in the Soviet Army. The history of the shinel goes all the way back into XVIII century, when the Russian Imperial Army adopted it to keep up with European fashion.

It was typically made of wool or other heavy materials and was designed to provide warmth and protection in harsh weather conditions.

Soviet Winter uniform
Group of soviet infantrymen in greatcoats

The greatcoat was an important part of the Soviet Army uniform and was often worn over other clothing and equipment. It typically had large buttons, epaulettes, and a high collar that could be turned up to protect against the cold.

Until the end of the Soviet Union, shinel was the most worn part of the winter uniform, for both soldiers and officers. Apart from being used on everyday bases and on parades, it was often used during tactical field exercises, especially during demonstrative ones. Soviet generals really likes seeing their soldiers well dressed.

Soviet Winter uniform
Soldiers in their field uniform are checked up by the officers. Both wearing greatcoats - but of different cuts

Of course, by the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, shinel was completely outdated as the real field uniform. As soldiers used to say at the time - "The shinel is a magical piece of equipment. It is too cold to be worn in winter and too hot to be worn in summer".

Until this day, the greatcoat remains a symbol of Soviet military culture and is still worn by soldiers in some modern post-Soviet military units as a ceremonial or dress uniform.

"The shinel is a magical piece of equipment. It is too cold to be worn in winter and too hot to be worn in summer"

Quilted jacket - "Vatnik"

It is a type of military jacket that was commonly worn by soldiers and officers in the Soviet Army during both WW2 and then the Cold War era. The jacket is also known as a "telogreika" in Russian, which translates to "body warmer."

The Soviet Army quilted jacket was designed to provide warmth and protection in cold weather conditions. It was typically made of cotton and was lined with a layer of batting for insulation. The jacket was often olive green or khaki in color and had a distinctive quilted pattern.

Soviet Winter uniform
Vatnik in Afghanistan

The jacket had a simple, utilitarian design with a button-up front, two large front pockets, and sometimes a hood. It was often worn as an outer layer over other clothing and equipment. The quilted jacket was a popular piece of military surplus after the fall of the Soviet Union and remains a popular item among collectors and outdoor enthusiasts today.

The initial idea was to provide a better winter clothing for the Red Army soldiers fighting in WW2. The vatnik jacket and trousers were supposed to be worn under the shinel, and together they did pretty good job at keeping soldier warm. After the Second World War these were quickly phased out by the M41 jacket and later by M69 set. However, quilted winter clothing was still used in big numbers as work wear and would even make it to Afghanistan, thought it only rarely appears on photos.

Soviet Winter uniform
Paratroopers of 345 PDP wearing quilted jackets

M69 pea coat - "Bushlat"

M69 Bushlat is the most common and iconic soviet winter jacket of the Cold War. It is perfect in it simplicity and, in my opinion, is actually better than it's descendants. Overall, you can describe this jacket as a slightly improved quilted uniform. However, the new M69 jacket was much smarter in appearance - it actually did look good. Well, at least in soviet standards of fashion. As my friend once said, after showing me photos of his relatives serving in the 1950s - "this literally looks like a screenshot from Skyrim"

Soviet Winter uniform
Motor Rifle soldiers with their BMP driver

Interesting fact is that the name M69 is really a made up one. It is true that the jacket first appeared in 1969 regulations, however, it can be spotted on photos as early as 1966-1967. It was also made from a different material at the time - instead of 3303 cotton which everyone is used to, it was actually made from gymnasterka type of cotton.

The M69 coats were produced in two different cuts - for soldiers and for officers. The main difference was the fur collar on the officer version. On top of that, officer M69 jackets were made from moisture-proof fabric, which was a much better version in winter, in comparison to regular soldiers' M69.

Soviet Winter uniform
Soviet junior officer wearing M68 Bushlat on top of his everyday uniform

Bushlats were used throughout the second half of the Cold War - all the way into early 2000s, when they were still in service in post-Soviet countries, though primarily as work wear.

M88 winter coat - "Afghanka"

The famous Afghanka jacket. The iconic jacket of 1990s, which is strongly associated with the might of the Soviet Army in the West. Ironically, in the post-Soviet world it is mostly associated with poverty and hard times, as these jackets were common on the street - usually in bad condition. They were used by many of those who had to work outside in the cold. Overtime, they even become associated with homeless people.

Soviet Winter uniform
Early 90s RusFed soldiers and officer wearing M88 Afghanka

Regarding the Soviet Army, this uniform, alongside with summer Afghanka was officially introduced with the 1988 regulations. Yet, just like with the M69 jacket, the Afghanka was quite common in the forces by the end of the decade. It's first appearances are tracked all the way back in the 70s, prior to Afghan war. Not much known about the early winter Afghanka, but we do know that it was lacking the pocket on the right hand sleeve and the pockets were of different construction.

The uniform became widely known during the Soviet-Afghan war, as it was one of the first military districts which started to receive the new uniform. It was generally loved by the soldiers - thanks to many pockets and overall "smart" look. Both trousers and the jacket consist of two parts - inner warm liner and outer shelter. On operations, soldiers would take the inner liner out, to keep it dry and to use for sleeping later on.

Soviet Winter uniform
Soviet soldier during the withdrawal wearing M88 Afghanka

Afghanka uniform was very progressive for the Soviet standards, mainly because now there was no difference between the officer and soldier version of the set. Based on the design, many more versions were produced later on, for both civilian market and military supply. The M88 Afghanka was produced in different camouflage combinations until the late 2010s, depending on the country.

Soviet Winter uniform
"In Bruges" star Clémence Poésy wearing what looks like a winter Afghanka jacket. It is, however, chemical protection OKZD-D jacket, which is similar in design to M88 Afghanka

Of course, theare are more winter uniform sets, which were used in the Soviet Army. I am talking about what Navy had to wear, airborne jumpsuits and PV jackets - which were different in cut to the Army ones. But these are all subject to their own articles, in order to not overcomplicate this one.

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