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M43 NKVD, MGB, & KGB UNIFORMS

On 15 January 1943 the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet instituted Order #25 on new uniforms and insignia. An NKVD decree followed on 9 February 1943. This major revision affected all classes of uniform for all rank groups and branches of service. It is often credited with the reintroduction of many aspects of traditional Russian uniforms from the Tsarist era and was seen as a reward for the military's recent successes in the Stalingrad counter-offensive. The uniform styles introduced in 1943 lasted for many years: general's uniforms and officer's dress uniforms did not change until 1954-55, officer's service uniforms did not change until 1958, and enlisted uniforms did not change until 1969. The uniform styles introduced in 1943 by Order #25 are known as the M43 uniform class.

The 1943 to 1953 period is one of the most confusing for state security structure and duties. In April 1943 the NKVD's Chief Directorate for State Security, the GUGB, was split from the NKVD and transformed into a separate People's Commissariat, the NKGB. While NKVD-GUGB uniforms had differed slightly from other NKVD uniforms during the 1935 to 1942 period (see previous web page) much confusion exists over how, if at all, NKGB uniforms differed from NKVD uniforms during the 1943-1945 period, and MGB uniforms differed from MVD uniforms during the 1945 to 1953 period. The fact that many branches of the MVD (internal troops, border guards, and even militsiia) were transferred from the MVD to the MGB in the late 1940's adds to the confusion. The distinctions became clear again only following the KGB/MVD split in March 1954.

It is important to note that the use of M43 uniforms spanned the NKVD, NKGB, MGB, MVD, and KGB eras! For many of these items NKVD should be taken to read all of the above organs. Some items, such as the royal blue and maroon NKVD had a slightly more limited era of use to 1954 and were thus only used by NKVD, NKGB, MGB and MVD and not by the KGB. Other items, such as the M43 officer service kitel were used later to 1958 and were thus used by all services. Exact dating of items, which are rarely date stamped, is often impossible and even dating to broad periods, such as wartime, post-war 1940s and 1950s is difficult.

M43 UNIFORMS

The new M43 uniform class were based on a 30 September 1941 design by the Chief of the RKKA Supply Directorate General Khrulev for the then-newly created Guards units. After Stalin decided not to issue Guards units with a distinctive uniform the design was shelved until it was reintroduced in early 1943 for all RKKA and NKVD personnel.

M43 Uniforms were characterized by two major differences from their M37 predecessors. First, new rank insignia were introduced. Shoulder boards (pogony), based in design on Tsarist Russian boards, replaced the old diamond shaped collar tabs and sleeve insignia. Second, collars of pull-overs and tunics were raised. These new high-collar design were fastened at the neck with hook-and-eye devices or small buttons. Aside from these changes the basic cut of most uniforms did not change very much.

M43 OFFICER UNIFORMS

Special M43 NKVD Officer Shoulder Boards

When the M43 was introduced for NKVD/NKGB personnel a special unique design of shoulder board was established for all NKVD/NKGB officers. These special shoulder boards were bottle shaped instead of the standard five-sided shape of regular RKKA officer boards. However, a problem soon became apparent as there were not enough of these new uniquely shaped boards, which were hard to manufacture. As a result many NKVD/NKGB officers used cavalry or air force boards on their tunics instead of going without boards. By 1944 the NKVD/NKGB scrapped the idea of uniquely shaped boards and went with standard shaped boards. (Although even then the NKVD chose the six-sided boards that were at that time only used by generals and naval personal and would not be adopted by regular army personnel until the late 1940s.) Thus WWII-era NKVD/NKGB uniforms can be found with bottle-shaped NKVD boards, regular shaped NKVD boards or cavalry or air force boards.

M43 Officer Field Uniforms

Officer field uniforms consisted of a "gymnastiorka", a uniquely Russian style of pull-over shirt. The gymnastiorka had an opening extending about half-way down from the neck hole which was fastened with three small brass buttons. In addition the high collar was fastened with two more small brass buttons. The sleeves ended in cuffs fastened with two buttons each. During wartime all of these buttons were painted olive or khaki. The gymnastiorka had two external breast pockets, fastened with a brass button. Winter issue wool officer's gymnastiorkas had cuff piping while the summer issue cotton ones did not. Piping was royal blue for all NKVD personnel ( a change from the raspberry used since 1924) except for border guards who had forest green. Gymnastiorkas were mostly unlined. Gymnastiorkas varied in construction through coarse wool, fine wool, and cotton. They varied in colour from khaki (summer) to dark olive (winter).

The gymnastiorka was worn with the appropriate peaked hat (royal blue and maroon for most NKVD, forest green and black for the border guards) or garrison cap, olive breeches (with royal blue or forest green piping), black leather high boots, and a brown leather "Sam Browne" belt. The gymnastiorka was worn with field boards. These strap-on boards are made of olive cloth with royal blue or forest green stripes. Versions with and without piping exist. Service personnel had olive field boards with brown stripes and royal blue piping. Subdued stars were used. However, it was not unusual to see gymnastiorka used during wartime conditions with gold coloured service boards.


An NKVD Major's field gymnastiorka pull-over. This non-piped summer-issue khaki cotton gymnastiorka has non-piped olive field boards with the two royal blue stripes and single gold star of a Major. This example is worn with the standard royal blue and maroon NKVD hat and a leather map case.

M43 Officer Service Uniforms

Officer service uniforms consisted of a "kitel" tunic. This single-breasted tunic was fastened with five large brass buttons. The high-collar was fastened with two hook-&-eyes and not with buttons. Kitels had two breast pockets with flaps and one or two inside pockets. Kitels had royal blue or forest green piping around the cuffs and the collar edge. They were fully lined in a grey or olive cotton. Kitels were usually made of a heavy wool gabardine, though cotton examples exist. They vary in colour from olive to dark green.

Kitels were worn with the peaked cap, piped olive or dark blue breeches, and black leather high boots. They could be worn with a "Sam Browne" belt. Kitels were worn with service boards. These boards were made of gold braid backed by a stiff material, such as burlap wrapped cardboard. They had royal blue or forest green stripes and piping and silver stars. Boards of administrative and technical support staff (supply services, engineering, technical support, signals, medical, veterinary, and justice) were of silver braid with gold stars. The silver boards for medical, veterinary and justice personnel were thinner (only 4cm) than other silver or gold officer boards. Service boards were also used on parade uniforms and are thus sometimes referred to as service/parade boards. During the war field boards were occasionally seen on service kitels. Many commanders wore service uniforms in the field.


An NKVD Major's M43 service kitel tunic. The royal blue piping on the tunic and boards is clear. There is an Order of the Patriotic War, 1st class and a Distinguished NKVD Employee badge on the right breast (this badge was moved from the left breast to the right in 1943) and 2 medals for Combat Service and a Victory over Germany medal on the left. The use of the royal blue and maroon peaked cap dates this uniform to the 1943-1954 NKVD/NKGB/MGB era.


A later-era state security Major's M43 service kitel. While the tunic is the same style as the one shown above, the cap is the olive and royal blue KGB cap introduced in 1954. Thus this uniform is from the 1954-1958 early KGB period. There is an Order of the Patriotic War, 1st class on the right breast.


An NKVD Technical Service Lieutenant-Colonel's M43 service kitel. While this tunic is the same style as those shown above (dark olive with royal blue piping), the silver boards and buttons identify it as a support officer as opposed to a line officer (gold boards and buttons). In this case a lieutenant-colonel of the NKVD's technical support services.

M43 Officer Parade Uniforms

The M43 officer parade uniform was introduced in 1943 though very few were issued or used until 1945. There are two distinct varieties of this uniform -- single-breasted and double-breasted. The exact reason for the difference is not known. The double-breasted parade uniform was modelled on the tunics of pre-revolutionary guards units.

Officer parade uniforms consisted of a double-breasted closed-neck high-collar parade kitel tunic. The parade kitel had no breast pockets. There was a twin vent (actually pocket flaps) at the rear fastened with 4 buttons. Rectangular collar tabs were added to the high-collars, and tabs or "spools" were fastened to the sleeve cuffs. The parade kitel had royal blue or forest green piping down the front edge of the tunic and on the rear vents as well as on the collar and cuffs. The rectangular collar tab was unpiped cloth (forest green for the border guards and royal blue or maroon for the rest of the NKVD/NKGB) and had gold and silver embroidered, or metal, bars (one for junior lieutenant to captain and two for major to colonel) running horizontally along it. The cuff pillars or "spools" were gold (silver for administration and technical) embroidery, or more commonly metal. On some examples they were backed with the same type of cloth as on the collar tabs. The difference between the royal blue and maroon collar tabs on state security parade tunics is not known for sure. Royal blue may have been used for the NKGB while maroon may have been used by the NKVD although that is unconfirmed.

Parade tunics were worn with the royal blue and maroon parade cap (this cap did not vary in any way for field, service, & parade use), piped dark blue breeches, black leather high boots, and a "Sam Browne" belt, usually without cross-strap. The gold braid slip-on service/parade boards described above were worn on parade kitels.


Photo of an NKVD State Security Colonel wearing the M43 parade uniform. The collar tabs have twin metal bars (used for major to colonel rank officers). This Colonel is heavily decorated with 2 Orders of the Patriotic War, Order of the Red Star, 2 Orders of the Red Banner, 20th Anniversary of the Red Army medal, Valiant Labour medal, Victory Over Germany medal, 4 WWII Campaign medals, and 3 Polish medals/orders.


An NKVD State Security Junior Lieutenant's M43 parade uniform. There is royal blue trim on the gold shoulder boards, sleeve cuffs, and front vent. The metal cuff bars (single for junior lieutenant to captain rank) are on maroon and not royal blue cloth. The collar tabs, as seen in the black & white photo above, are missing on this example. There is an Order of the Red Star on the right breast and Capture of Berlin and Victory over Germany medals on the left. The breeches are dark blue with barely visible royal blue piping.


Detail of the reverse of the an NKVD officer's double-breasted parade tunic. The royal blue piping around the rear vents can be seen.


An example of the single-breasted variation of the M43 NKVD officer's parade uniform. All trim, including the collar tabs material and cuff bar base material is the more usual royal blue. (Courtesy of Robert Pandis.)

M43 ENLISTED UNIFORMS

M43 Enlisted Field Uniforms

Enlisted field uniforms consisted of a gymnastiorka pull-over. This gymnastiorka was identical to officer field gymnastiorkas except that it had no breast pockets, was never piped, and was usually made from an inferior material. They were commonly khaki and faded rapidly to light tan. All buttons were subdued.

Field gymnastiorkas were worn with either a peaked hat (while identical to an officer's peaked cap these hats were very rarely actually issued to enlisted personnel, they were usually reserved for extended service personnel, NCOs, and officer cadets) or a plain khaki garrison cap, khaki pants, black high leather boots, and a leather belt. Field gymnastoirkas were worn with soft, slip-on field boards. These were made of olive cloth and were piped (forest green for border guards and maroon for other NKVD personnel). Rank bars were made of dark red cloth.

M43 Enlisted Service Uniforms

Enlisted service uniforms were almost identical to field uniforms. The only exceptions were that all buttons were unpainted brass and that service boards were used. Service boards were soft slip-on boards made of piped coloured cloth -- maroon (dark red) with royal blue piping for state security and green with raspberry piping for border guards. The boards could have metal (or sometimes cloth or even paint) numbers and/or letters on them to signify unit, usually regiment. For example, "45" on green boards signified 45th Border Guard Detachment, "115K" on maroon boards signified 115th Convoy Regiment, "23Zh" on maroon boards signified 23rd Railway Security Regiment and "25P" on maroon boards signified 25th Regiment of Industrial Facilities Guards. In many cases NKVD personnel were never issued these devices and they are quite rare. Rank bars were made of gold cloth. During wartime there was great overlap between field and service uniforms.


An M43 NKVD enlisted service gymnastiorka pull-over for a private. The brass buttons and maroon and royal blue coloured boards can clearly be seen. This example is made from a heavy khaki cotton. This type of tunic (with pockets for enlisted personnel) likely dates from the post-war period although about 10-20% of enlisted gymnastorikas had pockets during the war. The boards were used between 1943 and 1954. Thus this tunic is either NKVD, NKGB, MVD or MGB era. (IA Trades of California.)

M43 Enlisted Parade Uniforms

A parade uniform was introduced for enlisted personnel in 1943. However it was not regularly issued until 1945 and was only selectively issued even then. Enlisted parade uniforms are very similar to officer parade uniforms. They use the same type of kitel tunic -- both single- and double-breasted versions exist. However, the enlisted parade kitel is only piped on the collar and cuffs, not on the front opening and the rear vents. While it has the cloth collar tabs it does not have any cuff "spools". The collar tabs were plain cloth for enlisted personnel and had one horizontal gold stripe for NCOs. Enlisted breeches were non-piped dark blue. Enlisted personnel issued with the parade tunic were issued with the peaked cap as well.


NKVD Peaked Hat. This hat was used by officers and could be used by enlisted personnel with their parade uniforms (although in practice this was rare). The royal blue top and maroon trim are clearly visible as is the high quality brass and enamel cap badge and the black cap cord.


M43 UNIFORMS - COATS

There are three types of coats used by NKVD/NKGB personnel; greatcoats, overcoats, and leather coats. Greatcoats are winter coats made of heavy grey wool felt. Overcoats are spring/summer/fall coats made of light grey wool gabardine. Both greatcoats and overcoats have rank insignia. They use brass buttons, standard gold service boards, and special collar tabs. The collar tabs are royal blue with sky blue piping and have a large brass button in the upper portion. Leather coats are extremely rare and may or may not be official NKVD issue. They have no insignia.


An M43 NKVD State Security Major's overcoat. This spring-fall overcoat is made of grey gabardine wool as opposed to the heavy wool felt of the winter overcoats. It is silk lined. Note the unique royal blue with sky blue piping collar tabs and gold and royal blue service boards. The overcoat is a rare item which was not issued to all officers.


In this close-up of the above coat the royal blue striped and piped gold shoulder boards with major's stars can clearly be seen. The collar tabs are royal blue piped with light blue as introduced for NKVD officers' coats in 1943. There is a large brass button on each collar tab.


Leather overcoat that belonged to NKVD Major-General Esipenko. There are no branch or rank insignia on the overcoat. (There is in fact no insignia of any kind.) It is believed that the coat is NKVD issue and not private purchase though details are not known. (The DA Drabik Collection.)


M43 GENERAL'S UNIFORMS

M43 GENERAL'S UNIFORMS

M43 General's Field Uniforms

General's field uniforms were the same as the service uniforms described below except that all buttons (kitel tunic and hat) were painted olive, breeches had no stripes, and boards were made of olive lace instead of gold. Note that generals did not use the gymnastiorka pull-over.

M43 General's Service Uniforms

General's service uniforms consisted of a kitel tunic. This single-breasted high-collar tunic is identical in cut to the M43 officer's service kitel tunic. It is olive with royal blue trim (forest green for border guards). However, there are several details that differ from the M43 officer kitel. The key difference is that general's service slip-on boards are used instead of officer boards. These boards are made of gold wire lace with blue (or green) piping and silver embroidered stars. The boards were initially issued (1943) With a royal blue zig-zag pattern interwoven with the gold lace background although this changed (in 1944?) To the more plain gold lace background seen on RKKA generals. In addition, general's tunics have gold-plated brass general's buttons with the gerb or soviet-coat-of-arms instead of the star and hammer & sickle found on buttons on officer and enlisted uniforms. Finally, general's tunics are made of a better quality wool with real silk lining.

The kitel tunic was worn with a general's peaked cap. The cap was the usual royal blue and maroon cap but with the general's cap badge (with unique royal blue background enamel) although a khaki cap with royal blue band and piping may have been used by MGB generals sometime in the 1946-1954 period. Border guard generals likely used the standard border guard green cap with dark blue band and raspberry piping although there is insufficient information on this subject. The uniform was worn with dark blue breeches with coloured piping and two wide coloured stripes down the sides and with high black leather boots.


Major General of State Security Esipenko wearing an M43 general's service kitel tunic. The piping (royal blue) at the collar is barely visible. He wears several ribbons on his left breast and a "Distinguished NKVD Employee" badge on his right. This badge was switched from the left side to the right with the introduction of the 1943 Uniform Regulations. (Original photo from the DA Drabik Collection.)


An M43 State Security Major-General's Service Kitel, similar to that worn by Major-General Esipenko in the above photo. This example has the 1947 buttons with 15 republic ribbons dating it to the 1947-1954 period. The royal blue piping can clearly be seen.


Close-up of the above tunic. The gold boards have royal blue piping and a silver embroidered star. The fine quality silk lining can be seen at the collar.

M43 & M45 General's Parade Uniforms

There are many variations of NKVD General's parade uniforms. In 1943 a single-breasted grey tunic and a double-breasted sea green tunic were introduced. Both of these tunics had a unique style of cuff embroidery in the form of a point (pointing up to the elbow). The reason for the two styles of tunic is unclear. It is possible that the single breasted was for the NKGB and the double breasted was for the NKVD. In early 1945 a standardized double breasted tunic was issued to all NKVD/NKGB generals. This tunic was the exact same cut and colour as army (NKO) tunics which ironically were based on the 1943 double breasted NKVD general parade tunic. It had gold laurel leaf embroidery on the collar and three gold embroidered spools on the cuff. It was piped on the cuffs, collar, front opening and rear vents. Like army examples NKVD/NKGB uniforms were piped in red. In addition NKVD Militia and Railways troops generals had uniforms of distinctive colour. No example of a Border Guard general's M45 victory parade uniform has been seen.


M45 Parade uniform of NKVD State Security Major-General Esipenko. This uniforms is identical to an army general's uniforms except for the cap. There are 2 Orders of the Patriotic War, an Order of the Red Star, and a Distinguished NKVD Empolyee award on the right breast and an Order of the Red Banner, numerous Soviet medals, and a Polish Order on the left. Note the award folders issued to Esipenko. (The DA Drabik Collection.)


Close-up of the hat from the above uniform. (The DA Drabik Collection.)



M43 service kitel tunic for a major-general of the NKVD Border Guards. Note the green piping on boards, collar and cuff. The pants are dark blue with green stripes. The papakha winter fur hat, more usually worn with the winter greatcoat, has a green cloth top.


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