On 27 December 1935, three weeks after the decree establishing a new uniform class for the RKKA, the M35 uniform class was introduced to provide a new image for the newly enlarged and empowered NKVD under Yagoda. Sometimes M35 NKVD tunics are referred to as M36. This is due to the fact that although the decree was issued on 27 December 1935 no actual uniform items appeared until well into 1936. However, uniform classes are named for the year of the decree governing them and so the proper term in M35. M35 NKVD uniforms were similar to M35 RKKA uniforms with the exception of different rank insignia on collars and sleeve cuffs. This was due to Yagoda's desire to emphasize the NKVD's distinctiveness and importance.
In fact, in 1935 the NKVD state security directorate (NKVD-GUGB) began using a unique rank system which differed from the regular ranks used by the RKKA and NKVD interior troops (NKVD-GUVV). State security ranks all included "of State Security" in the official rank and were the equivalent of much higher ranks than their namesake in the RKKA or interior troops indicated. Thus for example, a Senior Lieutenant of State Security was the equivalent of a Major, a Captain of State Security was the equivalent of a Colonel, and a Major of State Security was the equivalent of a Kombrig (brigade commander or major-general). This special system of ranks lasted until 1943 after which the ranks corresponded exactly to RKKA ranks but retained the designation "of State Security". This is confusing since a Senior Lieutenant of State Security in 1942 and a Major of State Security in 1943 are really the same rank.
M35 tunics include a dark blue open-necked tuzhurka (worn with a white or sky-blue shirt and a black or grey tie), dark blue and olive closed-neck kitels and olive and white gymnastiorka pull-overs. Interestingly, all types of tunics were piped at collar and cuff with silver or gold embroidery instead of the more usual coloured piping seen on every other previous state security or RKKA uniform. Silver embroidery was used for all NKVD GUGB officer uniforms (including the Sergeant of State Security which was really an officer rank). Gold embroidery was used on "general equivalents". Gold and silver embroidery were in truth thin gold or silver coloured cloth tape and not wire embroidery as seen on other uniforms. Button colour appears to match embroidery colour. Breeches were either dark blue with raspberry piping or non-piped olive.
M35 NKVD insignia are unique and confusing. Collar tabs were maroon with silver or gold embroidered piping. They had a lateral centre stripe in either silver for officers and gold for "generals" or raspberry for enlisted. A pattern of rank insignia, metal stars for officers and embroidered stars for "generals" and upside down arrows for enlisted, appears on the collar tabs.
The ranks insignia for officers and "generals" are very confusing. Officers have metal silver stars which straddle the silver centre stripe on the collar tabs while "generals" have gold embroidered stars on the gold centre stripe. On the sleeves the cloth stars are the same except officers have silver piping and "generals" have gold. This makes tellinh officers and "generals" apart very difficult.
The rank insignia pattern is replicated, in red cloth, on both forearms. NKVD interior troops personnel are distinguished by a large yellow metal triangle in the lower corner of the collar tabs. NKVD-GUGB personnel are distinguished by the special oval embroidered sword and shield patch on the upper left sleeve.
In addition, some new uniform items were introduced including a grey gabardine raincoat (the plashch-raglan) which could be fitted with a button-in padded liner and fur collar, and a fur hat (the finka) which was similar to the shapka-ushanka introduced into the RKKA in 1940 but did not have ear flaps.
M35 Captain of State Security Service Uniform. This uniform consists of the royal blue and maroon peaked cap, gymnastiorka service pull-over, & "sam-browne" belt with Tokarev pistol holster. The tunic has silver embroidered piping around the collar and cuffs and maroon collar tabs with a silver centre stripe and three metal stars. There is an oval state security sleeve patch on the left sleeve indicating that this is an officer of the state security directorate (NKVD-GUGB) and not an officer of the NKVD troops (NKVD-GUVV). The three stars straddling the collar tabs indicate the rank of Captain of State Security. This rank, unique to the NKVD, is the equivalent of a Colonel in the RKKA.
A close up of the M35 NKVD GUGB pull-over gymnastiroka described above. Note the dark red collar tabs with silver thread centre stripe and three silver metal stars. The collar is also piped in silver thread. Note the regular small brass button which has replaced earlier black buttons.
A close up of the sleeve of the M35 NKVD GUGB officer's pull-over gymnastiroka. Note the special oval state security (GUGB) sleeve patch introduced for the M35 uniforms and used for the M37 uniforms and the silver piped red cloth rank stars which only appeared on M35 GUGB uniforms.
Detail showing the special oval state security sleeve patch introduced for state security personnel (NKVD-GUGB) in 1935. Note that embroidery is in two colour (silver and gold) thread although many examples are tarnished to the point where they all appear one colour. While this patch is on a background of red cloth, maroon cloth was more common. (The DA Drabik Collection.)
A new class of uniform, the M37, was introduced on 10 July 1937 for NKVD personnel. This was done by the new NKVD head Yezhov to rid the organization of the traces of his disgraced predecessor Yagoda who had been responsible for the introduction of the unique M35 uniform class. The M37 uniform class was not parallelled by any similar class for the RKKA who continued to use their M35 class until the M43 was introduced. The M37 uniform class was very similar to the NKVD's M35 uniform class. The main distinguishing features of the M37 uniform class were the elimination of the special collar and sleeve rank insignia unique to the NKVD, the reintroduction of standardized rank insignia matching those in use in the RKKA and the addition of the special oval state security sleeve patch to the right sleeve (now used on both sleeves) instead of just the left on the M35.
The M37 class of uniforms retained the same three branch division as the M35 class – state security personnel, interior troops and border guards. State security personnel (intelligence and counter-intelligence personnel) used raspberry piping, maroon collar tabs piped in raspberry and special oval state security sleeve patches on both sleeves. Interior troops used raspberry piping, maroon collar tabs piped in gold (black for political officers) and red and gold rank chevrons on the lower sleeves. Border guards had green piping, green collar tabs piped in gold (black for political officers) and gold and red rank insignia on the lower sleeves.
M37 NKVD Officer's Parade Uniform
This uniform consisted of a peaked cap, a button up tunic (kitel), and breeches. The royal blue and maroon peaked hat had a black leather cap cord and a red star cap badge. The tunic was similar to earlier M24, M29, and M35 versions in cut. It had a closed neck with turned down collar and was fastened by 6 brass buttons. It had two external breast pockets with small brass buttons. The tunic was piped on the collar and cuffs and had collar tabs and sleeve patches sewn on. Dark blue breeches were worn with black boots. The breeches were piped on their outside seams.
M37 NKVD Officer's Service Uniform
This uniform was similar to the parade uniform but substituted a pull-over tunic (gymnastiorka). The pull-over could unbutton about 1/3 of the way down. It was fastened with three small brass buttons which were often, but not always, concealed by a cloth seam as well as a hook-&-eye at the top. The pull-over had the same type of turned down collar and collar tabs and the same two pockets. The same hat and breeches were used and the tunic was piped and fitted out with the same insignia as the parade tunic.
M37 NKVD Internal Troops Major's Service Gymnastiorka pull-over. This gold embroidered piping around the maroon collar tabs indicate a NKVD interior troops officers (an interior troops political commissar would have black piping and a state security employee (GUGB) raspberry piping. The single rectangle indicates the rank of major and the crossed target collar devices indicate the Interior Troops (NKVD-GUVV) branch. The left-sleeve chevrons also indicate the rank of major. Note that there are no sword-&-shield sleeve patches on this pull-over as it is for an NKVD troops officer and not a state security officer. (IA Trades of California.)
M37 Major of State Security Service Uniform. This uniform consists of the royal blue and maroon peaked cap, gymnastiorka service pull-over, & "sam-browne" belt with Tokarev pistol holster. The tunic has raspberry piping around the collar and cuffs and maroon collar tabs like all non-border guard NKVD officers. However, the raspberry piping around the collar tabs (instead of gold or black), the two special oval state security sleeve patches, and the lack of rank chevrons on the lower sleeves show that this is an officer of the state security directorate (NKVD-GUGB) and not an officer of the NKVD troops (NKVD-GUVV). The three dark red enamel rectangles on the collar tabs indicate the rank of Major of State Security. On an NKVD troops uniform or a RKKA uniform they would indicate a Colonel. However, state security personnel of the NKVD-GUGB continued to use the special ranks introduced in 1935 – a Major of State Security thus equated to a Kombrig (brigade commander or major-general) equivalent in the NKVD-GUVV and RKKA. A screw-back "Distinguished NKVD Employee" badge (B.1.1. Type 1) appears on the left breast.
Close-up of the above uniform with one collar turned back to reveal the steel screw-nuts which fasten the brass and enamel rank insignia. The raspberry piping and maroon collar tabs can clearly be seen.
M37 Senior Major of State Security grey service uniform. This gymnastiorka pull-over is very similar to the regular olive Major of State Security's service pull-over shown above except for the material. Instead of a dark olive wool this pull-over is made from a high quality grey cotton twill. The cut, pockets, raspberry collar and cuff piping, collar tabs and sleeve patches are identical. This pull-over is for a Senior Major of State Security, as can be seen by the single diamond pip on the collar tab. This is the equivalent of a Komdiv (divisional commander of lieutenant-general) in the NKVD-GUVV or RKKA. This grey summer pull-over was likely only available to senior officers.
A photo of Commissar of State Security 2nd class (equivalent rank to a Colonel-General) Sudoplatov wearing a special summer parade kitel tunic. This white cotton tunic has the same raspberry piped maroon collar tabs as other M37 state security tunics. Sudoplatov, former head of the NKVD's Directorate for Special Tasks, wears two screw-back Orders of the Red Banner, an Order of the Red Star, and a "Distinguished NKVD Employee" badge on his left breast.
This odd tunic is a M37 NKVD junior sergeant's parade tunic. The collar tabs are dark red and there is raspberry piping on the collar, cuffs and down the middle of the collar tabs.
In 1940 official generals' ranks were finally reintroduced into the Soviet military. On 7 May 1940 a new M40 uniform class was introduced for generals. The main features of the M40 uniform class was the wider collar, different shaped pocket flaps and new diamond-shaped collar tabs in branch colour cloth with gold embroidered trim on the upper edge. M40 uniforms for interior troop generals were identical to those of regular army general's uniforms with the exception of the use of royal blue collar tabs and trim. Since an M40 general's uniform with green collar tabs and trim has yet to be seen it is likely that NKVD border guard generals either used the royal blue trimmed M40 of interior troop generals or retained use of their M37 uniform like state security branch "generals".
An NKVD interior troop lieutenant-general's M40 service tunic. This example has 2 early screw-back Orders of the Red Banner, a medal, and a Distinguished NKVD Employee badge on the left breast. (The DA Drabik Collection.)
An astrakhan wool papakha winter hat of an NKVD interior troop general. The top of the papakha is made of royal blue cloth with a gold braid cross. (The DA Drabik Collection.)
While the M40 uniform class was introduced for NKVD interior troop generals and border guard generals, "generals" of the state security branch NKVD-GUGB retained their Commissar of State Security designations and M37 insignia. Nevertheless, some examples exist of with M37 state security "generals" collar tabs used on M40 cut tunics.
This white summer tunic is a M40 cut (wide collar tabs and pointed pocket flaps) but is worn with M37 NKVD GUGB "general's" (Komdiv) collar tabs. An Order of the Red Star and a Distinguished NKVD Employee badge are visible on the left breast.
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