The KGB State Security (not Border Guard) sleeve patch for enlisted personnel. This patch is made of cloth-backed felt with yellow rubber "paint". It shows the KGB's branch of service insignia, the wreathed star, which is the same as that used by the Motor Rifles, MVD Troops and Border Guards. The KGB use the distinctive royal blue.
Soviet state security organs were militarized organizations. Most of their employees held military rank, ranging from Private to Army General, and were issued military style uniforms. The vast majority of state security personnel wore their uniforms on a daily basis. This is particularly true of personnel belonging to Border Guard, Guard and Troop directorates [for example members of the KGB's 8th (Guards) and 15th (Bunkers) Directorates or the NKVD's GUVV (Internal Troops) and GULAG (Prison Guards) Directorates]. However, some state security personnel often wore plain clothes during normal duty though they wore their uniforms for special actions including training and ceremonial occasions. Uniforms were worn by students at state security schools, for I.D. and pass photos as well as for official photos, and during award ceremonies. Even personnel of the foreign intelligence directorate had uniforms and wore them on some occasions.
During most of the Soviet era, state security uniforms followed the same general guidelines as military uniforms (as outlined in People's Commissariat/Ministry of Defence uniform regulations). It must be emphasized that the People's Commissariat/Ministry of Defence uniform regulations did not apply to the state security organs, which instead had their own regulations. Unfortunately, the uniform regulations of the Soviet state security organs (with the exception of some police uniform regulations) have not, to my knowledge, ever been released. However, from close observation of state security uniforms and photos and from anecdotal evidence it is clear that state security uniform regulations were almost identical to those of the military and that almost all regulations were the same.
FAMILIES OF STATE SECURITY UNIFORMS
There are several major divisions, or families, of uniforms within the Soviet state security organs corresponding to some of the major branches of service within these organs. These divisions date from the earliest days of the Soviet state security organs.
- True State Security personnel, those responsible for internal security and foreign espionage (whether GPU, OGPU, NKVD-GUGB, NKGB, MGB, or KGB), had what can be described as the basic state security uniform.
- The Border Guards (whether GPU, OGPU, NKVD, MGB, MVD or KGB) have always had uniforms that are distinct from those of other branches.
- The Prison Guards and Convoy Escort Troops (whether GPU, OGPU, or NKVD-GULAG) had distinct uniforms until they were finally incorporated into the general MVD troops in 1953.
- The Militsia (Police) (whether NKVD-GUM or MGB) had distinct uniforms, a tradition which they carried on when they were finally incorporated into the MVD in 1953.
In addition, state security personnel serving in a military counter-intelligence role (the NKVD's Chief Directorate of Military Counter-Intelligence, its wartime SMERSH incarnation and the KGB's 3rd Chief Directorate) served in "special sections" within armed forces units and wore the uniforms of the military unit in which they worked, though they carried state security I.D.
Some specialists within the state security organs also wore regular military uniforms. For example, although NKVD signals troops wore regular NKVD uniforms with signals branch insignia, it appears that KGB signals personnel may have worn army uniforms. A picture in a 1989 Soviet publication "The KGB Must Abide by the Interests of the People" shows a class of officer cadets wearing uniforms of army signal troops with the caption: "Future officers for security services are being trained at the Higher School of the USSR KGB". These are presumably KGB Communications Troops.
SOME BASIC FACTS ABOUT SOVIET UNIFORMS
Soviet uniforms are divided into types based on the rank grouping and the uniforms class. For uniform purposes there are three basic rank groupings: Enlisted, Officer, & General. All other rank groupings (such as warrant officers and officer cadets) use one of the previous three uniform groupings, although with minor modifications in some cases. There are also three major uniform classes: Field, Service, & Parade. While there are several other minor uniform classes (such as work, summer parade, or parade-walking out) these are not different uniforms but are instead defined by minor variations of the other three classes (i.e. they may represent differences in use of belts, boots vs. shoes, trousers vs. breeches, etc.). The three rank groupings and three uniform classes thus combine to give nine basic uniform types. Examples include: Enlisted Parade, Officer's Field, & General's Service. In addition, some uniform articles (hats and coats) change according to season with summer and winter versions.
Soviet uniform designs changed frequently. There were major changes, often involving new cuts and styles, and minor changes, usually involving only minor variations to uniform insignia. Major uniform changes yielded the different uniform classes. Each uniform class will be discussed separately. Minor changes occurring after the introduction of a new class will be discussed within that section. It is important to note that not all major changes affected all rank groupings or uniform classes. For example, there is no Enlisted Field or Service uniform in the 1955 or 1958 uniform class. The Enlisted Service uniform from the 1943 family remained in use, with minor variations, until 1969! (The uniform classes for the Soviet state security organs are: M22, M24, M35, M37, M40, M43, M45, M55, M58, & M69.)
Uniform types also differ according to arm and branch of service. In the late Soviet era (1970s-80s) there were 9 main arms for the armed forces: 5 for the Ministry of Defence (Strategic Rocket Forces, Ground Forces, Air Defence Forces, Air Force, & Navy); 2 for the MVD (Yroops & Militsia); and 2 for the KGB (State Security & Border Guards). Within each of these arms of service were several different branches. Uniform differences between the various arms and branches of service varied in scope. Some, like the navy, differed greatly form any other branch, while others did not. For example, the only difference between the M69 service uniforms of an artillery captain and an engineering captain was the brass collar tab device, the uniforms were identical for all other purposes. Some arms and branches did not have unique uniforms. For example, the Strategic Rocket Forces, Air Defence Forces and Military Intelligence Service (GRU) all lacked a distinct uniform or insignia, they used uniforms associated with other arms and branches.
In order to distinguish and discuss Soviet uniforms it is necessary to define several terms:
- Cut: refers to the cut or shape of the uniform article. It is generally used with tunics and includes such distinctions as pull-over vs. tunic, single-breasted vs. double-breasted, open-neck vs. closed-neck, turned-down collar vs. standing or high-collar, etc.
- Uniform Colour: is the colour of the uniform fabric or body. Examples include: khaki, olive, "wave" green, white, dark blue, steel grey, light grey, or a camouflage pattern.
- Branch Colour: is the colour associated with the arm or branch of service. It generally appears on the uniform as "trim" - hat bands, hat & uniform piping, shoulder board piping +/or stripes, collar tabs & sleeve patch background colour, etc. For example, the traditional colour long associated with the Border Guards is Forest Green. The colour associated with KGB State Security personnel is Royal Blue though before the KGB era both Royal Blue and Magenta were associated with state security personnel. (For more on this see the KGB Organization & Symbology page.)
- Branch of Service Insignia: generally refers to the small brass or aluminium devices found on collar tabs or shoulder boards. However, in some cases it includes special sleeve patches.
- Rank Insignia: includes a variety of insignia indicating rank such as shoulder board stripes and stars, collar tabs bars and sleeve devices (cloth shapes, chevrons and cuff spools).
In addition we have already defined several terms.
- Rank Grouping: Enlisted, Officer, & General.
- Uniform Class: Field, Service, & Parade.
Finally, it should be pointed out that many uniform items are shared by many or all arms and branches of service. Thus it is usually impossible to speak of such items as NKVD or KGB boots, belts, shirts, ties, gloves, field breeches, etc. The identical item was often used in all arms and branches. Unique state security uniform items are thus limited to items with some clearly identifying branch colour or insignia such as headgear, tunics, pants and breeches, coats, and shoulder boards, collar tabs and sleeve insignia and not even all of these items are always unique to state security organs. Collectors must be wary of material that is simply labelled NKVD or KGB. This website contains enough information to assist any collector in making a true identification.
A fake KGB sleeve patch made by an American company. This cloth and embroidery badge shows a fake version of the "Excellent KGB Employee" badge.
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EARLY STATE SECURITY UNIFORMS:
M35 & M37 UNIFORMS: