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A Soviet Naval Infantry conscript on a break

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A Soviet Naval Infantry conscript on a break. The Naval Infantry did not enjoy the same prestige as the VDV, perhaps simply because they were not involved in the military campaign in Afghanistan. [Image: Leonid Yakutin.]

'Soviet' means 'the best'

From the publisher:

The never-ending struggle between attack and defense is fully reflected in the 'war' between detection and concealment. In this war, you have to work against one of the most sophisticated 'mechanisms' ever created by Nature — the human eye, the capabilities of which are made many times more powerful by the human mind.

At the beginning of this new century America's armed forces are switching to new weapons, new communication devices, new gear and — most interestingly — a new camouflage pattern called 'digital', in several colour variations. This pattern was developed in the 1990s and is set to replace the woodland and desert patterns to which we are so accustomed. For now, only the marines wear it, but it seems likely that other branches of the U.S. armed forces will receive it after they wear out their existing camouflage uniforms.

To meet the new requirements, the construction of Battle Dress Uniforms has also changed (the old one has changed little since the Vietnam war). Developers of the new uniform say that the new camouflage is absolutely universal and that America's enemies will go cross-eyed, trying to detect it. In spite of the fact that the pattern is still in development, it already has been copied by countries all over the world, including Russia — which should make admirers of 'military style' very happy, indeed. America has become a leader in military fashion, so many people copy their patterns.

However, American camouflage patterns aren't the best. We can say, with confidence that the new pattern doesn't create any optical effects and has zero effect as a masking device. More to the point, the idea behind digital camouflage isn't new and doesn't belong to Americans or even Canadians. Many people will probably accuse the authors of this article of having the 'Soviet mentality' (the sort of people who would argue that Russia was the birthplace of elephants), but we nonetheless assert that the Russian camouflage patterns developed in the Karbyshev Institute are the best in the world for use in Russia's various types of terrain. OK, they might not appeal to a middle class manager, who likes to play paintball or take part in re-enactments — but one of the requirements of a good camouflage pattern is that it shouldn't provoke the desire to look at it. To prove our point, let's examine the history of the creation of disruptive patterns.

The first camouflage patterns appeared during the World War I: for example, Germans put coloured spots on their steel helmets, and our people put 'amoebas' on vehicles. Red Army commanders reached the correct conclusions and, in 1919, established a school of 'military concealment'. In 1927 three patterns resulted: a white winter two-piece suit; a summer two-piece suit with glued-on pieces of sponge (note that this happened way before the Ghillie) and a summer green poncho with applications of brown. At the institute AN USSR, serious research into the fundamentals of the concealment of personnel and vehicles then commenced, with the participation of famous scientists like S.M. Vavilov and V.V. Sharonov. In contrast, the first camouflage pattern used by the American army was developed by one G. Gillespie — a gardener.

In the early 1930s, the Soviet Union developed two-piece suits with a disruptive pattern of big amoeba-like spots, which, in conjunction with the baggy shape of the suit itself, were very effective in breaking the outline of the human silhouette; we must emphasize, however, that they disrupted the silhouette and did not try to blend it with the environment, as many modern hunting outfits do. The colours used were selected to match the season of the year and the location — for example, black spots on a grass-green background were intended for use in summer, while dark brown amoebas on a dirty-brownish-yellow background were meant for use in autumn. The two-piece suits were made to be worn over the uniform and gear, which could be accessed through the special slots (a design feature later employed by the Germans). The huge hood could be worn over a steel helmet or a peaked hat, which effectively changed the silhouette of the human shoulders and head. (Later, the Israel Defense Forces introduced special mushroom-shaped hats, for that very purpose.) The Soviet Union also developed mats that looked like grass, to conceal machine-gun emplacements, and a unique fringed ribbon with chunks of sponge on it, for solders to wrap around their heads and shoulders.

The enemy, meanwhile, was likewise busy. In 1931, Germany developed its famous splinter-pattern, which was used, during the Second World War, to make shelter-quarters, smocks and helmet covers. Under the command of Himmler, the SS also did an extraordinary amount of camouflage research — up to 7 different patterns, in different colours, were used by the Waffen-SS. (The modern Bundeswehr Flecktarn shows obvious traces of 1944 Waffen-SS 'pea pattern'.)

Of course the Russian army couldn't supply enough camouflage gear for every soldier to wear, so only reconnaissance troops, snipers and assault engineers used it. However, improvements were constantly made, based on experience in the field.

In 1942, a one-piece masking suit was developed from fabric of civilian manufacture, which had a semi-realistic pattern of leaves on it. A reversible shelter have was also made, with the leaf pattern on one side and a disruptive amoeba pattern on the other.

In 1944, further research was undertaken, inspired and informed by captured German. Based on all of the available information, a new three-colour pattern was developed, which looked like embroidered 'folk art'. (The Americans 'discovered' this camouflage principle only 50 years later.) This pattern creates the illusion of blurring and doesn't attract any undue attention.

A further elaboration on this pattern included light-coloured amoebas. The reason for this refinement is that that small pattern works very well at close ranges but blurs into one colour over longer distances. At long ranges, however, the big spots start to work, so the combination of the two is an almost ideal concealment …

We will digress, at this point, to mention that the ever-popular U.S. woodland pattern, when viewed from a distance of 100 meters, looks like a big, uniformly-coloured blob, which makes its wearer a perfect target. It doesn't work at close ranges, either, because the spots are too big; and the colours are better suited to jungle undergrowth than European forests. Flecktarn has similar problems — the spots are too small and the colours are too dark, so at ten meters you can see black spots but, at 12 meters, you see only a dark silhouette — even though the idea behind the pattern is correct.

The most successful Western camouflage pattern is British DPM, which was very popular with Russia's VV MVD during the 1990s. In Russian it is usually called 'smog' or 'kukla' ('doll'). Even today, 'kukla ZKA' is the name given to a modified two-piece suit used by Special Forces; the nickname 'kukla' is derived from the designation '>kostyum universal'nyy kamuflirovannyy'.

But let's return, now, to the post-war years, when Russian scientists were compiling and analyzing all of the data gathered during the war …

Originally published in Kalashnikov, February 2005. English translation copyright © 2005 Tat'yana Sapol'kova & Brad Turner. All Rights Reserved.

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