What they wore at Stalingrad

Garrett E Eriksen examines uniforms and gear worn by the Red Army and Wehrmacht at Stalingrad.

The rest of this article can be found in the December 2017 issue of The Armourer.

The Battle of Stalingrad is near mythical in its status as a decisive battle during World War II. Any history buff worth their salt has, at the very least, heard of this battle if not learnt it as a standard part of understanding the turning point that lead to the end of WWII and Nazi military might. Even though the battle itself was fought over a period of about six months, from 23 August 1942 to 2 February 1943, much of the heroic Red Army mythos is tied up in the events that happened at the Stalingrad, and especially at the Red October tractor factory. In fact, the victory at Stalingrad would be more than just a military victory for the Soviets; it would also be a morale victory for troops and the common working man, as well as the women and children, and many others, who fought to defend not only the factory but Stalingrad itself. Civilians and soldiers alike were called upon to help resist the oncoming Nazi war machine and this has created a very interesting field for the collector who is interested in, or who focuses on, Stalingrad.

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Soviet soldiers rushing a German position at Stalingrad, 1942

On one hand we have the Wehrmacht, with their highly distinctive uniforms and gear (although at this late stage in the war the German military was suffering economically and as a result the quality of uniforms and gear overall decreased – though many soldiers either inherited or still had better quality gear and uniforms from earlier in the war, though well-worn.) Under the Wehrmacht were the Hungarian, Italian and Romanian troops. For this article, we won’t be looking at their uniforms but it is worth noting their presence for potential collections, and historical accuracy, nonetheless. On the other hand, we have the Red Army – in many ways the exact opposite in terms of uniform design in the sense that where the Nazi military had sleek and exceptionally idiosyncratic designs, the Red Army went for a less-is-more approach, focusing on a more practical and minimalist end to the uniform (though this was unlikely to have been a specific choice and rather a result of economic considerations for outfitting such a large army.) This is evident in records of the deployment of weapons to soldiers that many Red Army soldiers were sent into battle with minimal equipment, or even without rifles, but rather carrying spare ammunition for those that did have weapons.

Under the Red Army were a hastily assembled militia of men and women from in and around Stalingrad, as well as children! Some in the militia were equipped with Red Army uniforms, but many simply wore the regular civilian clothing they had. A collector may go so far as to seek out civilian clothing of the time for their collection, though this article will focus primarily on the uniform of the Red Army.

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Russian children machine gunners preparing to defend Stalingrad, 1942

THE RED ARMY

Many in the Red Army were largely under-equipped and made do by scavenging older equipment and uniforms from earlier conflicts, such as what was available before and during the Russian Revolution of 1917. Until 1940, uniforms were very simple affairs bearing nothing except rank, service patches and the iconic Red Star, but by 1941 a second uniform design began to circulate amongst the troops. Though it should be noted that much of this new uniform was augmented with older, more comfortable and weather worn uniform and gear. Of those at Stalingrad, three units should stand out for collectors: Soviet Anti-Tank teams, Soviet Infantry and Riflemen, and the legendary Razvedchiki, or Red Army Reconnaissance Units.

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Soviet soldiers engaged in battle at Stalingrad (recoloured)

SOVIET INFANTRY

The backbone of the Red Army, the infantry and riflemen were the frontline troops, expected to storm enemy positions without fear of or mercy for their enemies. During the defence of Stalingrad, Stalin had issued a directive entitled “Not One Step Back” intending to spur troops on to protect his namesake city. Often the troops were overwhelmed, outnumbered, lacked gear, weapons and ammunition and outclassed in terms of weaponry, training and command. If they retreated from a position, they were shot by their own people, mostly under officer’s orders, such was the fate of a deserter and a coward in the eyes of the Red Army. Despite this, they knew the terrain and its harsh weather and persevered, eventually taking back Stalingrad after heavy initial losses. Around 1941, the Soviet Army also began to add anti-tank units to their infantry detachments, and none too soon considering the German military’s reliance on blitz tactics using highly mobile and very deadly Panzer III tanks in their campaign into the Soviet East. Uniforms for both infantry and anti-tank were largely similar, differing mostly in gear rather than dress.

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62nd Stalingrad Army on the streets of Odessa in April of 1944

UNIFORM

The Red Army largely made use of the M1935 pattern field uniform which came in a summer version, made from cotton and of a khaki colour, and a winter version, which was darker in colour and mostly made from wool. Paired with this, and worn over a plain cotton shirt, the pullover field blouse, or gymnastiorka, had either a straight-point collar or a standing collar but was very simple in design having two front breast pockets and three to five buttons on the chest and neck. Rank insignia was displayed on the tip of the collar, though privates often did not display their rank insignia. Depending on condition and insignia, collectors can expect a price tag of between £45- £75 ($60-$100).

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Full display of gymnastiorka, medals, epaulettes, and pilotka

Even though they were poorly equipped, Soviet troops still found themselves better able to withstand the devastating cold of the Russian winter better than their German counterparts. Issued with the wool version of the M1935 uniform, the troops would have also had woollen greatcoats worn over their main uniforms. Greatcoats are relatively hard to find as they are not a very popular display items due to their dull, though practical, design; but collectors can find them in the £86 ($115) price range and usually in good condition despite extensive use by their original owners.

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Standard Soviet infantry greatcoat made of grey and brown wool
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Soviet officer’s greatcoats were often of better quality and would have their insignia visible for the rank and file

In terms of headgear, troops may have also either been wearing the M1940 (or SSh-40) steel helmet or the pilotka (material field cap). The steel helmet did not change much in design between iterations and the M1940 was the most common, featuring a green coloration, 6 rivets near the rim and a cotton and leather suspension system. Troops wearing the M1940 may have also had an ushanka (woollen winter cap) underneath to protect them further from the deadly cold of exposed nights. However, the field cap was by and large the preferred option for troops and is often a sought-after collectors piece in modern times, whereas the M1940 helmet has a rather dull design and is often only in collections that either specialise in helmets or is collected for the sake of completionism. Despite this, helmet collecting is a healthy size of the militaria market and authentic helmets can still fetch a premium of up to £352 ($466) with pilotka being listed for a very similar price depending on condition.

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Soviet M1940 steel helmet
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Soviet pilotka (material field cap)

Officially first issued in 1941, the highly iconic shapka-ushanka fur hat was a main feature of this uniform and often came in shades of grey and/or brown fur, for officers, and synthetic fur, often called “fish fur”, for the regular troops. The Red Star was often worn on the central flap and has been a central collector’s piece for ages and modern replicas are very popular with tourists to Russia as well as being popular in the fashion industry in general. Due to the popularity of shapka-ushankas, and their relative robustness as collector’s items over the years, these items can easily reach upwards of £587 ($777).

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Grey shapka-ushanka on Soviet WWII veteran (Courtesy of Kostas Fiev)

Find out more on Soviet Forces at Stalingrad and what they wore, including the sharovari trousers and telogreika jacket in the December 2017 issue of The Armourer.

GEAR

Compared to the Germans, British, Americans and many of the other combatants, the Red Army troops had a great sparsity of gear on the battlefield. Belts and ammo pouches were very varied and ranged from material to leather and even though troops were often issues with gas-masks and the haversacks to contain them, the troops would often use the haversacks to instead store provisions and other items. A very simple backpack, or meshok, was also provided, however many troops simply made use of whatever was convenient to act as a carryall as the meshok was simply a canvas bag with a drawstring and shoulder straps. Many images from the time also show the soldiers wearing some kind of bag across their shoulders or torso – this item was in fact a rolled-up raincoat, or plashch-palatka, often used to carry extra personal items or gear, and which could fold out into a crude tent. Meshok prices can range from £121-£207 ($161-$275), depending on condition, whereas plashch-palatka are far more affordable in the £15-£30 ($20-$40) price range.

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The meshok (backpack) was often little more than a strung, material sack with shoulder straps. Simple, yet functional
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Soviet soldier wearing a meshok as he surveys the area
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The plashch-palatka was a combination raincoat, haversack and tent

If troops were fully equipped, then over the greatcoat they would have had a leather belt, ammo pouches, a water canteen, shovel, canvas bag for grenades and gas mask in haversack slung over their shoulder. Officers would have also had leather map cases, compasses and binoculars. Soviet field equipment as a full set is very rare, and most sellers sell the items individually. If you are lucky enough to come across a full set, expect astronomical prices (depending on authenticity) of around £2266 ($3000). Collectors should bear in mind that some individual pieces can go for as low as £15 ($20), whereas other pieces, such as an authentic and dated water bottle, could reach up to £75 ($100), or an officer’s leather map case worth £117 ($155).

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Example of average infantry gear belt

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Soviet soldiers often had to carry a variety of equipment on them for any situation, including meals

RAZVEDCHIKI

The Reconnaissance Units, Scout Detachment, or Razvedchiki, were considered the best of the best; the elite of the Red Army, and were often the subject of Nazi anti-Soviet propaganda to discredited their deeds and superb skills, especially because many were women. However, the Soviets realised the good such success could do to the moral of Soviet troops and civilians, and how it could demoralise German troops, and embarked on positive propaganda campaigns for their champions. In fact, this propaganda evolved into something of a hero mythos with snipers considered to be elite heroes to many in the Army, and female snipers especially were popular amongst troops and civilians alike for their ability to deal devastating losses to the invading armies, and that they were often from civilian stock made them more relatable to the average soldier and civilian.

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Ziba Ganiyeva, Soviet sniper with 21 confirmed kills

CAMOUFLAGE

Due to the nature of their work, camouflage clothing was often only issued to scouts, however a few other divisions also wore them, such as certain engineering and airborne divisions, though the scouts were the most famed for it. Sporting the famous Amoeba pattern camo, first introduced in 1937, the pattern came in a variety of light and dark khaki and green colourations and also in multiple designs. However, the most common design was a two-piece, loose-fitting cotton suit with a large hood, although a secondary caped hood was also made to be attached separately. The suit was designed to be worn over other clothing as opposed to being a uniform in and of itself. Such suits are rare and highly coveted by collectors and military museums alike. Such a suit could easily reach over £1208 ($1600) if in good condition.

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Razvedchiki in full Amoeba pattern camo

GEAR

Scouts were issued with minimal equipment. They would sometimes receive the same as the rest of the Red Army, but by the time they were placed into the elite units their gear was either worn or lost. They often scavenged gear from captured or downed enemies, including binoculars, but were issued with ammo pouches and water bottles, though they were largely expected to fend for themselves. A possible item of scout-specific field equipment to attach to a razvedchiki display could be a Soviet M40 optic sight canvas cover which was used by snipers to cover their rifle scopes when not in use or when on the move and makes nice addition to a primary display. A decent original cover can reach £120 ($160) in price but is worth it to top off that SVT-40 PU display. 

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Soviet rifle scope cover

Find out more on the Battle of Stalingrad in the December 2017 issue of The Armourer.

THE WEHRMACHT

When compared to the relatively plain design of the Soviet steel helmets, the iconic German Stahlhelm immediately stands out and is certainly a central piece in most WWII militaria collections. In terms of what was worn at Stalingrad, the variety of models is rather high. At this point in the war, Germany had found herself winning on multiple fronts, but Hitler, in a fit of hubris, decided to push forward into Russia, thus breaking their non-aggression treaty. This would prove a fatal mistake for the Wehrmacht and led to a protracted conflict costing millions of lives and resources. By the end of 1942, and a few months into the Battle of Stalingrad, the German army was feeling the impact of economic stressors of a prolonged war and the troops found themselves with a mixed bag of gear, depending on how newly recruited they were.

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German forces at Stalingrad, 1942

The M35 Stahlhelm is perhaps the most well-known design, and certainly many veteran troops, or troops who had inherited/scavenged kit, would have had these helmets. However, many were just as likely to have had the M40’s (identical in design to the M35) or the M42’s (which were a more streamlined design.) Collectors should note that, despite orders given years prior to remove them in order to reduce troop’s visibility in combat, some helmets still hosted double-decal designs, ranging from a shield bearing the German national colours, to the official Swastika/Eagle of the Nazi party. It is more likely to find an M42 with no decals than previous designs as they were often manufactured without decal, but it is still something to note for accuracy. Made from steel with leather a suspension system and leather chin straps; the colour scheme of the helmet would have ranged from dark green, to grey-green to field grey. In theory specific units were meant to wear specific colouring of helmet, but at this point in the conflict these rules were not heavily enforced. Depending on which model the collector is searching for, and the condition and decals present, prices can range from £80-£560 ($100-$700, with some pristine examples breaching the £2014 ($2500) mark. It was not uncommon for troops from both sides to scavenge kit and material from bodies and ruined homes and such. The Amoeba camouflage pattern was especially popular amongst German troops and there is plenty of evidence to show that the material was applied to helmets as well as tunics and weapons.

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German forces entering the outskirts of Stalingrad, 1942

Images of German troops in Stalingrad show that a variety of tunics were also present, and again, depending on veterancy and other factors, these could range from earlier M36 designs, to M40’s, M42’s or even the newer M43’s. However, the M36’s were largely phased out around 1939, thus the more likely tunics would have been the M40’s and M42’s which may or may not have been combined with matching trousers and service shirts. At this point, it can be up to the collector how they would like to display the uniform combinations, but in terms of historical accuracy it may be prudent to analyse images from Stalingrad and build a uniform display based off of this. It should be noted that from the M42 onwards the quality of the uniform deteriorates due to restrictions in material and an attempt to save on manufacturing cost. It was likely the M42 and M43 would have been made from largely synthetic materials, however there are examples of higher quality versions made from left-over woollen stock being worn.

Find out more on what German Troops wore into battle in Gearing Up For D-Day.

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