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Brief overview of Soviet body armor in Afghanistan. Part 1

This post will be dedicated solely to ground troops body protection systems. The jackets used by helicopter crews, even thought they were used by ground troops on occasion, will be covered in a separate post.

But first, as always, some history behind Soviet body armor development. During WW2, Red Army has used SN-42 steel body armor plates in limited numbers. These were reasonably light, very uncomfortable, yet they did provide some protection against pistol sized rounds, which were very common in close quarter fights at the time.

Red Army soldiers with SN-42 and PPSH-41 submachine guns.

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 1950s, after the end of the Korean War.

The early version of the famously rare 6B1 body armor. Note the pouches used on this picture: early 5-cell AK magazine pouch and old RGD-33 grenade pouch.

Even thought the US Army and Marine corps did not have body armors in big quantities, Soviets felt like they have to come up with their own version. By mid 1950s, such 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 is somewhere around 5000. Anyhow, most of them were put in storage with the idea to be mass produced in case of an actual war.

It took more than 20 years for the 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 the Afghanistan with no body armor whatsoever. However, I do have a memory of now deceased paratrooper, who served in 7th Airborne Division. He claimed that "some green body armor jackets were stored in their unit".

After it became rather obvious that issuing body armors to the troops now performing battle missions in Afghan, the 6b1s which stored somewhere in Moscow were urgently shipped to 40th Army.

Officers of 177th SPN group, 1982. Note that the 6b1 on the right has two self made magazine pouches sewn on it.

As with other new things (notably, BMP-2), they weren't all issued to one unit, but instead spread in small numbers across those stationed in Afghanistan. So far we were able to identify at least three major units, which received them - 860 MSP (infantry), 350 PDP (airborne) and 177 SPN (Special forces). Here are some reference photos.

Summer 1980 in 350 PDP vibes

860 MSP somehow kept their 6b1 intact at least until summer 1983

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. And given that it was made from outdated materials used in 1950s, which were no longer in production, a new solution was required.

At the beginning of this article I mentioned, that the Ministry of Defense was not investing into body armor development before the invasion to Afghanistan. While this statement is correct, it is worth noting that other ministries did work in this direction. The Ministry of Internal Affairs (police) has been receiving ZhZT-71 body armor sets throughout 1970s. And even thought these aren't related to 6B2, even with visual resemblance, some technologies used to make ZhZT-71 were essential for 6B2.

The whole story behind 6B2 is interesting yet unknown to many familiar with the topic and it will be covered in the future article.

For now lets just focus on its performance in Afghanistan. The body armor turned out to be incredibly light - between 4 and 5kg, depending on the size. This was achieved by using very modern materials for the time. Soviet industry also managed to produce them in tens of thousands, spreading newly made armor sets to the units stationed in Afghanistan. This was also done in quick manner, so that in summer 1980 some forward operating units already had 6B2s in their possession.

6B2 became the most popular and widespread body armor used by the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. It was used from 1980 until the very withdrawal. Chances are, if you are looking at a photo from the Afghanistan, it will feature a 6B2 body armor. For this reason I will just show one here.

Cool colored photo of the officers of 345PDP at the end of 1980

Ok, just one more. You can clearly see the difference in shape between Size 2 (on the left) and Size 1 (on the right) of 6B2. Looks like these guys should have swapped!

This will be it for part one. In the next half of the article we will look into the further development of 6B series body armors, which were issued in Afghanistan

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