In 2023, when this article is being written, the common knowledge about the tropical M69 is, well, widespread. Back in 2008, when the author was making his first steps in reenactment, no one really knew about this. Like, at all. Afghanka was considered as the only plausible wear for the events and the tropical open collar M69 tunics were thought to be defective temperate M69 - because of missing the collar hook.
Of course, tropical M69 turned out to be much more than that. It was, in fact, the most common uniform for the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. The branch of service did not matter - it was universally worn all across the Armed Forces. This article is part of a more extensive list - of all uniforms used by the Soviet Army in Afghanistan, which you can check out by clicking here.
History of Tropical Uniforms in the Soviet Army
The history of tropical uniforms in the Soviet Army started much earlier than the invasion of Afghanistan. The previous generation of uniforms - the result of the 1955 order- have added what was essentially an M43 gymnasterka with an open collar and sleeves. Along with it, in the 1960s there was another fantastic set - short sleeves shirt with straight trousers, which were to be worn with shoes instead of jackboots. But this uniform is a whole topic for its own research and a big article - we will get to it later when the work on The Soviet Soldier of the Atomic Age will start.
But if you go even deeper into history, the Soviet or rather Red Army used to have some special pieces of uniform for warmer areas of the country. We have touched that topic, slightly, in the big article about the Panama hats in the Soviet Army, so check it out.
The "modern" M69 tropical uniform is one that closely resembles the regular M69 set. This was done to have more unification in two sets - the combination between the two was used for different purposes.
Usage and variants of tropical M69 in the Soviet Army
As with the temperate M69, during the first couple of years after adoption, tropical M69 was made from the same fabric as gymnasterka. The shift to regular cotton art. 3303 and "glass" happened a bit later - in 1972 and 1977 respectively.
What is really interesting is that the early versions of open-collar tunics actually had a detachable collar liner. This luxury was discontinued by the end of 1972, but some tunics made from art.3303 cotton material did have these liners.
So, overall, there were three types of material used for the Tropical M69 uniform, with two out of three tunics produced both with the detachable collar liner and without one.
Now, as was mentioned before, the tropical M69 uniform was used for various combinations. The most classical type, for the proper sunny days, was the full-on tropical look - shoes instead of boots, straight-cut trousers, and an open collar tunic. This is the iconic look for Afghans, but it is not the only option. The second option was to have regular jackboots and trousers with the open collar tunic. In practice, the first setup was used for everyday studying and training, while the second was more for field work and exercises. Both ensembles were finished with panama hat - pilotka was extremely rare in warm regions of the Soviet Union.
But this is not all. The open-collar tunic was also used in the Soviet Airborne forces. Overall, Soviet VDV had a very unique look, compared to the rest of the Army - they had Blue Berets, a patch on the left sleeve, and the open collar tunic to show off the striped shirt underneath.
Hot weather M69 uniform in Afghanistan
And this is the part most of the readers are here for. Yes, the tropical M69 uniform was, by war, the most issued uniform during the whole Soviet campaign in Afghanistan. Whatever the period or unit you want to reenact - tropical M69 will do the job. It was the baseline uniform for everyone - from pipeline troops to super secret KGB GRU Spetsnaz.
For Afghan, bot setups are correct - with the straight-cut trousers and with the breeches and jackboots. The latter, however, was mainly used in winter, but not exclusively. And given how hard it is to find the uniform, the second setup actually gives some options for the reenactors. While the original tropical M69 is still far from being in the unobtainium category, it would be pretty cruel to use one during the reenactment event. Not to mention that the sizes are very limited for the original items, and the available ones tend to be on the smaller side. So, time for a cheaper approach. Allow me to introduce the instruction on how to make a replica tropical M69 uniform.
How to make a replica tropical M69 at home
First of all, you will need a regular, temperate M69 set. And some more material to match the tunic. We are talking breeches, in most cases. The most sensible thing to do will be to take your summer Afghanka jacket and bring it to a local tailor, along with the M69 jacket. You should say the keywords "I want the same collar on the M69 tunic as it is on Afghanka jacket"
If the tailor is good, he or she will know what and how to do it. This will not make a complete replica of the tropical M69 tunic, as the whole structure of the jacket is different, but it will be close enough, especially with the white collar underliner. What is important is to have the same color, so the newborn tunic does not look ugly. This means, that only 100% cotton fabric is good for such an operation, as "glass" uniforms have too many color variations.
The trousers are not as simple. Back in the day, there were plenty of Soviet-era workwear trousers available on flea markets - luckily they were from the same material as the M69 uniform. And it was not hard to make them look like tropical M69 straight-cut trousers - just add the "cuff" at the bottom and maybe slim them a little. Now, these are not so easy to find. So, the easy option would be to use a jackboots+breeches+tropical jacket, but that's not great for summertime. A good replica would do the job. From time to time some companies produce these, so keep an eye out for them, and eventually, you will get a set for yourself.