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Origins of State Security Uniforms

As was the case with most Red Army (RKKA) personnel, distinct uniforms for Soviet state security personnel were not introduced until 1919. The first Soviet "uniform" was introduced in February 1917 after the Russian Republic was formed under Alexander Kerenskiy. Although the Bolsheviks were not prepared for the February events and did not seize power, Bolshevik supporters adopted a unique insignia a red cloth stripe worn diagonally usually on the front of hats or on the left sleeve. This insignia was worn by Bolshevik supporters, including the Red Guards, and could be seen on civilian clothes and hats as well as the M07 and M13 Tsarist military uniforms. During the chaotic days after the Bolsheviks seized power in October/November 1917 the red stripe continued to be worn.

M19 Uniforms

The first new Soviet uniforms, the M19 class, were issued in 1919 after government decrees of 16 January and 8 April. While personnel of the state security organ, the Cheka, did not have distinctive uniforms at this time, two units which would soon be incorporated into the ranks of the state security organs did. The uniforms of the Interior Troops and the Border Guards followed the same pattern as the RKKA uniform with the exception of branch colour. The Interior Troops used dark red cloth insignia, the Border Guards used green.

M22 Uniforms

On 31 January1922, a new class of uniform, the M22, was introduced for personnel of the RKKA and the Republic Convoy Guards (KSR = Konvoinoi Strazhi Respubliki), the forerunner of the Convoy and Guards Troops and GULAG Troops who would soon be placed under OGPU control. The M22 uniform was extended to personnel of the state security organ, the GPU (soon changed in 1923 to OGPU), by a government decree of 24 July 1922. This represented the first uniform for the state security personnel themselves (as opposed to interior and border troops).

M22 uniforms for both the KSR and GPU/OGPU followed the model of the RKKA uniforms in all respects except for the unique branch of service colours. On M22 uniforms the branch of service colour appears on the cloth star of the "budenniy" pointed cloth cap and on collar tabs, cloth chest straps (razgovory) and sleeve "rank" insignia on tunics and coats. (The Soviet military and state security organs abolished the concept of rank after the revolution and it was not reintroduced until 1935 for officers and enlisted personnel and 1940 for generals. However, personnel in both the military and state security organs had a "position" and their uniforms had "position" insignia. For clarity I refer to these as "ranks" and "rank" insignia.)

GPU/OGPU state security personnel had black cloth insignia with white or silver piping, GPU/OGPU border guard personnel had green cloth with red piping and KSR personnel had royal blue cloth insignia with red piping. (Note that the royal blue used by the KSR was the same as that used by the RKKA's cavalry troops. However, the RKKA cavalry had black piping while the KSR had red.)

The M22 summer gymnastiorka pull-over tunic was worn by all "ranks". It was khaki for the RKKA, KSR and Border Guards and dark blue for the GPU/OGPU. The gymnastiorka had a closed-neck turned-down collar which fastened at the neck with one or two metal hooks. The gymnastiorka had piped cloth collar tabs on which were fastened metal branch insignia for specialist branches and/or metal numbers for unit designation. GPU state security personnel had "GPU" on their collar tabs, GPU troops had unit designations such as "15P" for 15th regiment (polk) or "K4P" for Kiev 4th Regiment and the KSR had "KSR". The gymnastiorka was fastened with three buttons which were hidden under three coloured cloth strips (razgovory) which fastened at the end with metal hooks. A large patch in branch of service coloured cloth was worn on the left forearm. It had "rank" insignia in red cloth for combat personnel, blue cloth for support personnel and white cloth for the central directorates of the GPU/OGPU. A cloth and embroidered wire branch of service sleeve patch was worn on the upper left arm by some branches.

The M22 gymnastiorka was worn with cloth breeches - dark blue for the GPU/OGPU and dark grey for the KSR. Breeches of "officer" (unit commander) "ranks" were piped in red - green for the border guards. Non-piped grey or khaki summer breeches could be worn by all "ranks".

In winter, GPU/OGPU personnel used the longer cavalry cut of greatcoat instead of the shorter cut used by other ground forces including the KSR. The KSR used the RKKA's standard M19 winter "budenniy" pointed cloth cap made of grey wool with a dark blue cloth star and the RKKA metal cap badge. The GPU/OGPU used a similar hat made of dark blue wool with black or green cloth star and RKKA cap badge.

In 1923 the branch colour for the KSR was changed to grey, with raspberry piping, perhaps to distinguish it from the RKKA cavalry. Also in 1923 a summer shelm a pointed cotton cap similar to the "budenniy" cap but lacking ear flaps was introduced for RKKA and OGPU personnel. Made of khaki cloth it had a large coth star black velvet with white piping for OGPU state security, green for the border guards and grey with raspberry piping for the KSR and the RKKA metal cap badge.

M22 uniform of a KSR cavalry squad leader. The khaki gymnastiorka pull-over has the royal blue with red piping branch colour of the KSR (Republic Convoy Troops). The metal "2" on the collar tabs, which otherwise lack the "KSR" devices, signifies a unit, likely the 2nd regiment. The rank insignia on the left forearm show one triangle for a squad leader (junior sergeant equivalent). On the upper left sleeve is a cloth cavalry branch insignia indicating that this KSR unit is a mounted one. The tunic was only used for one year as the KSR's branch colour was changed in 1923 to grey with raspberry piping. The summer shelm hat shown, though an original M23, is for the infantry branch as indicated by the faded red cloth star and not for the KSR.

A close up of the above M22 gymnastiorka pull-over. The collar tab and sleeve patch details described above can be seen.

M24 Uniforms

A new class of uniform was introduced for OGPU personnel on 14 August 1924. M24 uniforms had been introduced for RKKA personnel shortly before. The main distinctive changes of the M24 uniforms class were the removal of the chest straps (razgovory), sleeve "rank" insignia and sleeve branch insignia, the addition of metal and enamel rank insignia on the collar tabs and the introduction of a peaked cap to replace the short lived shelm pointed cloth cap. Uniforms cuts were otherwise little changed.

Branch of service colours stabilized with two variations dark red with raspberry piping for OGPU state security and interior troops (including the newly integrated convoy troops of the former KSR) and green with raspberry piping for the border guards.

M24 tunics include the olive wool button-up kitel tunic and the khaki cotton gymnastiorka pull-over for summer. The tunics appear much simpler. They retain the collar tabs in appropriate branch colours with the addition of metal and enamel pips for "rank" insignia, but have no other branch or "rank" insignia. Breeches were dark blue with raspberry piping (green for border guards) for officer "ranks" and non-piped khaki for summer.

An M24 kitel tunic for an OGPU "general". While true generals' ranks were not introduced in the Soviet Union until 1940, the rank shown here, "deputy head of an OGPU directorate" or "head of a provincial OGPU department" was the equivalent to a Komdiv - divisional commander or lieutenant general. This tunic is stamped 1929. A 1927, 10th anniversary of the Cheka-OGPU badge can just be seen on the left breast. This example is the two-piece sterling silver badge reserved for senior officials of the OGPU.

A close up of the above M24 kitel tunic. The neck is closed tightly with a hook-and-eye. The dark red collar tabs with raspberry piping and the two rank stars described above can be seen. Note the black tunic buttons used on OGPU and early Red Army uniforms.

The M24 uniforms class saw the introduction of peaked hats for all personnel, although in practice most enlisted conscripts were never issued a peaked hat. The hats for OGPU personnel came in two distinct types. Border guards had green hat body (not olive like most RKKA hats but the true forest green of the border guards branch colour) with a dark blue band. This distinctive design has survived until the present time and is still worn by modern Russian border guards although the band has been closer to black since the 1950s.

The OGPU state security and interior troops were issued a unique hat made of dark red material with a dark blue band. This dark red hat was only in use for a few months as it was changed on 30 December 1924 to the better known design of royal blue material with a dark red band and raspberry piping which was made famous by the NKVD and was used by state security organs until 1954. The OGPU hat design was changed from a dark red material to a royal blue material due to the introduction, in early December 1924, of a special peaked hat for the RKKA's Kommendant's Service. The Kommendant's Service of the Red Army, responsible for military administrative affairs in railway stations and ports, were issued a hat made of red material with a black band in order to be easily distinguishable. The OGPU, considered the elite sword and shield of the revolution, did not want to be confused with "lowly army railway station masters" and so reversed their design. In 1927 a black leather chin strap was added to all peaked hats.

In 1932 a white summer-issue gymnastiorka pull-over and peaked hat (or hat cover) were introduced for interior troop officers and state security employees.