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Why Soviet soldiers used shiny buckles in Afghanistan?

Updated: Feb 25, 2023

This is one of the most common questions asked by the newcomers. And even being in the topic for some time, most people still have no idea about the reasons behind.

It feels very counterintuitive for a modern person. A modern military nerd knows more about camouflage and concealment, than a regular Soviet soldier back in 1980s. So the question is only natural, especially given the fact, that Soviets always had other options for their belt buckles - subdued and matt grey.


First of all, let's identify what was the initial purpose of each buckle.


1) Shiny gold brass buckle

russian spetsnaz in afghanistan
Soldiers of 154 ooSPN wearing Mabuta uniforms and golden buckles

The golden buckle was the most common in the Soviet Armed forces. It was issued to a recruit from day one and was proudly worn until the soldier was demobilized. By regulation and by the unwritten rules, the buckle had to be shiny at all times. For that reason each soldier would have a piece of wool fabric (most often - small patch from the greycoat) with him, which he would use to polish his belt buckle whenever he had a spare minute.

From that you can already see, that the shiny belt buckle was almost a fetish thing. Usually it is really hard to get rid of something like that even when you try. And no one tried to introduce wider use of other buckles in Afghanistan.


2) Matt grey buckle

soviet army working uniform
1973 uniform regulations

These buckles are mentioned in the 1973 uniform regulations, and were supposed to be used with the work uniform specifically for construction troops. This is exactly what is said in the description - that soldiers and sergeants not from the construction troops are using regular brass buckles. What makes this belt set up better than the regular leather/fake leather+brass buckle is the canvas belt itself. Being quite thick and olive in color, it would be a really good set up for the time. However, since these were mainly used in construction troops, it is almost impossible to find photos of them being used in Afghanistan.


3) Subdued green buckle

soviet subdued belt buckle
1973 uniform regulations

Ironically, the green belt buckle is also present in the uniform regulations. And it is intended to be used for the field exercises. So, in theory, these should have been used in Afghanistan. However, finding photo with this belt buckle during the Soviet-Afghan war is a challenge on its own.

The secret behind is the fact that this regulation of issuing green belt buckles for the field exercises was never enforced in the Soviet Army. During tactical trainings soldiers would just put some pouches on their regular everyday belts. The reason was typical for the Soviet Army - those in charge of the equipment were afraid that soldiers would loose extra belts at an exercise. On the other hand, losing personal belt would be soldier's own problem which he would deal with himself.

The reason for these green buckles to be so common on the modern market is that they were also supposed to be worn in case of a big war. So they were produced and stored in millions and almost never issued. Then again, it is highly unlikely that the regular troops would have time to be issued with the subdued buckles in case the war broke out. It is far more possible, that these would be issued to mobilized troops.

And on top of all that, despite the fact that these subdued buckles were present in the 1969 Uniform regulations, they were not supplied to the Army until 1982. The grey buckles were used as the field ones until then.


Summary

So basically, you can draw conclusions from the given information. To summarize everything said above with one sentence: Soviet soldiers used shiny brass buckles because they were not issued anything else. And this did not depend neither on time period, not on the unit. Some POG in Kabul would wear exact same belt and buckle as member of a spetsnaz unit high up in the mountains on a two-week long operation.

The green subdued buckles, which would be very useful in the given situation, were not issued and therefore were not used. However, for a modern reenactor they are essential for any "Cold War got hot" situation. Because in that case these would become standard production/standard issue.




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