Translator’s Note: The Soviet Red Army experimented with elected officers (chosen by the men serving as ordinary soldiers), that changed regularly – with no formal structure of rank. However, in 1917 this system failed terribly in battle against Imperial Germany on the battlefield! Following numerous restructurings with the onus of attempting to ‘avoid’ the formal ranking system of the feudal or bourgeois armies, the Soviet Red Army eventually prevailed during the Russian Civil War (1918-1921) and eventually ‘ousted’ the invading Western armies and their White Russian allies. Although the Red Army inflicted two humiliating defeats upon the armies of Imperial Japan in 1938 and 1939, (and fought well against the fascist armies of Finland), in 1941, the Blitzkrieg employed by the Nazi German invaders encircled hundreds of thousands of Soviet Red Army regiments – causing a paralysis of Soviet command and control. This was in-part blamed upon the ranking system which was reformed, clarified and made easier to understand. Once perfected, the Soviet Red Army could make its numbers (and superior Marist-Leninist) ideology count against the barbarism and mindless brutality of German fascism (and that of its allies – including Italy, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania Finland, Estonia and Slovakia, etc – a genocidal attack designed to wipe-out the Slavic race that was supported by Leon Trotsky and his followers, and ‘blessed’ by the Vatican)! The Nazi Germans murdered and maimed through their barbarism between 27-40 million Soviet men, women and children (including Russian Jews, Romany, Disabled and anyone who ‘resisted’ Nazi tyranny). A recent Russian-language academic study revealed that the Soviet population fell (by unnatural means) by around 35 million between 1941-1945 – above and beyond that normally expected through natural causes. Political ‘Officers’ (or ‘Commissars’) – also referred to as ‘Political Instructors’ – depending upon seniority, were responsible for the education of the ordinary men who formed the body of the common soldiery (‘Privates’) within the Soviet Red Army. Although life had improved incredibly for ordinary men and women since the 1917 Russian Revolution, and despite country-wide and extensive ‘free’ universal education, many recruits from the Soviet hinterland often came from ethnic and national (or religious) minorities who only possessed a very rudimentary education. Even relatively well-educated recruits from urban areas sometimes did not fully or completely understand or comprehend exactly what Marxist-Leninism was, or what it meant to fight a self-defence war against fascist aggression. Each Red Army soldier attended formal academic classes where their reading and writing was checked and improved, and their understanding of Marxism and Leninism developed and enhanced. They were taught that the selfish bourgeoisie enslaved the international working-class – and made that international working-class to fight itself through the myths of bourgeois ‘nationality’ and ‘race’. The Soviet Red Army – the Political Commissars taught – although defending the sacred territory of Mother Russia, nevertheless, represented the ‘Political Rights’ of ALL of the international working-class, a unique military function which extended even to the enemy soldiers the Soviet Red Army were fighting. When Red Army soldiers were confused or uncertain of the ‘correct’ political viewpoint for a Soviet Red Army soldier – the Political Commissars had to intercede and be able to explain fully the required clarification. Indeed, the Political Commissar had to set a stern example in every facet of their lives to inspire the ordinary men and ensure that Soviet Red Army Officers possessed an attitude of ‘confidence’ in the ideological and military structure of the Red Army, and its efficient functioning in peacetime as well as in the heart of combat. The Soviet Red Army in peacetime served the ordinary people through building roads, houses, schools, hospitals and any other required structures to make life ‘better’, as well as providing free education and medical care. The Red Army function of the Political Commissar was feared by the Nazi Germans who targeted these men (and women) with a severe brutality when caught. Political Commissars were quite often slowly and painfully ‘tortured’ to death within Nazi German Concentration Camps – in-front of the ordinary Red Army men to ‘prove’ that Marxist-Leninism could not save the Russian people from the dominance of German Nazism – which had declared the Slavic race as ‘inferior’ and ‘unworthy’ of life. The Political Commissar was often a Member of the Communist Party and was personally dedicated whole-heartedly to the Socialist Revolution and the transformation of society. They inspired Red Army soldiers to fight bravely, die selflessly and yet treat prisoners and civilian populations with humanity and civility. ACW (15.10.2020)
The year 2020 is now on the calendar, and despite various obstacles (such as the coronavirus), 75 years have passed since the great Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. In this article, I want to fully convey the subject of the ‘old’, Soviet collar, lapel and sleeve insignia, which Red Army Units wore into battle during WWII (1939-1945) and the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945).
During September 1935 – by the decision of the Soviet government (Decree of the Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR dated 09.22.1935) – personal military ranks were introduced to replace the so-called ‘service categories’ of regimental command). By order of the NKO of the USSR – No. 176 of December 3, 1935 – the original insignia of military ranks – to be worn by Red Army soldiers – was established.
When introducing personal ranks, all servicemen were divided into the following categories:
2) Junior Commanding Officers and Junior Commanding Staff (i.e. Sergeants and Foremen – or Non-Commissioned Officers [NCO] – possibly Sergeants, Sergeant-Majors and Warrant Officers at Platoon, Company, Regiment and Brigade-level, etc – as modern equivalents – although there seems to be no Lance Corporals or Corporals).
3) Command staff (Lieutenant and Senior Lieutenant, Captain, Major, Colonel i.e. ‘Commissioned Officers’ – distributed as above – in modern equivalent).
4) Commanding staff: a) military-political composition (Political Instructor, Senior Political Instructor, Battalion and Regimental Commissar); b) Military-Technical Personnel (Military Technician of the 2nd and 1st rank, Military Engineer of the 3rd, 2nd and 1st ranks); c) Military-economic and administrative personnel (Technician-Quartermaster of 2nd and 1st rank, Quartermaster of 3rd, 2nd and 1st rank); d) and e) Military Medical Personnel and Military Veterinary Personnel (Military Assistant and Senior Military Assistant, Military Doctor of rank 3, 2 and 1, for Veterinarians the same, only the ranks were called Military Medical Assistant and Military Veterinarian); f) Military-Legal Composition (Junior Military Lawyer and Military Lawyer of 3, 2 and 1 ranks). Private and Junior Commanders were finally formed by November 1940. Below is the correspondence between lapel insignia and ranks: Without triangles – Red Army, Red stripe – Corporal (the rank was introduced by order of the NCO No. 391 of November 2, 1940).
1 triangle – Junior Sergeant,2 triangles – Sergeant (most often sergeants and junior sergeants commanded squads),3 triangles – Senior Sergeant,4 triangles – Foreman (most often the foreman of the company).
The correspondence of insignia and ranks of Command Personnel was as follows: 2 squares (also called “kubari”) – Lieutenant, 3 squares – “cubes” – Senior Lieutenant, rectangle (also “sleeper”) – Captain, 2 rectangles – “sleepers” – Major, 3 rectangles – Colonel, rhombus – Brigade Commander, 2 rhombuses – Division Commander, 3 rhombuses – Corps Commander, 4 rhombuses – Army Commander of the 2nd rank, 4 rhombuses and a star – 1st rank Army Commander, Large Star – Marshal of the Soviet Union.
The correspondence between the insignia and ranks of the Commanding Staff was as follows: 2 squares – 2nd rank military technician, 2nd rank Quartermaster Technician, Military Assistant, Junior Military Lawyer; 3 squares – Political Instructor, Military Technician of the 1st rank, Technician-Quartermaster of the 1st rank, Senior Military Assistant, Military Lawyer; rectangle – “sleeper” – Senior Political Instructor, Military Engineer of the 3rd rank, Quartermaster of the 3rd rank, Military Doctor of the 3rd rank, Military Lawyer of the 3rd rank; 2 rectangles – “sleepers” – Battalion Commissar, Military Engineer 2nd rank, Quartermaster 2nd rank, Military Doctor 2nd rank, Military Lawyer 2nd rank; 3 rectangles – Regimental Commissar, Military Engineer 1 rank, Quartermaster 1 rank, Military Doctor 1 rank, Military Lawyer 1 rank; rhombus – Brigade Commissar, Brigade Engineer, Brigade Commander, Brigade Doctor, Brigade Lawyer; 2 rhombuses – Divisional Commissar, Divisional Engineer, Divisional Officer, Divisional Physician, Divisional Lawyer; 3 rhombuses – Corps Commissar, Corps Engineer, Corps Intendent, Correspondent, Corps Lawyer; 4 rhombuses – Army Commissar of the 2nd rank, Army Engineer, Army Intendant, Army Doctor, Army Military Lawyer; 4 rhombuses and a star – 1st rank Army Commissar (insignia of Political Personnel and Quartermasters are shown above in the illustrations).
In addition to the collar badges, the Command Staff wore red chevrons as rank on both sleeves above the cuff of an overcoat and on a cuff of a tunic. Chevrons were the same for all branches of the military. Commissars and Political Pnstructors wore such insigna on both sleeves above the cuff of an overcoat and cuffs of a tunic; they wore red stars cut from cloth, edged with red thread and with a hammer and sickle embroidered in the center of the star. The rest of the Commanding Staff on the sleeves did not have any chevrons or other signs. In addition, the emblems of the relevant services were worn on the collars..
In 1937, by order of the NCO No. 163 of 20-08-1937, additional military ranks and corresponding insignia were introduced: *in the Command Staff – a junior Lieutenant (on the collar 1 cube and 1 chevron on the sleeve); *in the Military-Technical Staff – Junior Military Technician (1 cube in the collar); *in the Military-Political – the Junior Political Instructor (2 cubes on the collar).
No additional ranks were introduced for the military medical, military veterinary and military legal personnel.In 1940, by order of the NCO No. 226, the following ranks were introduced:*for Senior Command Personnel – Lieutenant Colonel,*for the Military-Political Staff – the Senior Battalion Commissar.The insignia changed accordingly. The Lieutenant Colonel and the Senior Battalion Commissar receive the old Colonel’s three “sleepers” on the collar, and the colonel and the regimental commissar receive four “sleepers” each. It should be noted that specialists of the 1st rank of various Services were left with three sleepers. The sleeve chevrons of the Command Staff were also changed, which can be seen in the pictures below.
It was with these collar and sleeve insignia that the fighters and commanders of the Red Army went through hard days and nights until the introduction of epaulettes in 1943.
Russian Language Reference: