For many young men, life in the Soviet Union was one of extreme militarisation. Once a youth turned 18, he would be conscripted into the armed forces for at least two years; aside from the violent process of dedovshchina (‘initiation’) that saw NCOs bully and harass their men, the average Soviet conscript was given basic training compared to all-volunteer forces in the West. Despite large numbers, the war in Afghanistan between 1979-89 quickly took a toll on these men, with even their air support under danger from well-equipped guerrillas.
The Motor Rifles were essentially mechanised infantry, with transportation and support provided by vehicles such as the BTR-70 armoured personnel carrier (APC). The soldiers above are dressed in their summer field uniforms, with red distinctions on the collar and shoulder; ‘CA’ (short for ‘Soviet Army’ in Russian) is written on the latter. Equipment includes a medical/decontamination kit bag, haversack, bayonet, and ammunition pouch. This lieutenant (right) has no red distinctions, and has replaced his officers’ cap and pistol with a steel helmet and 5.45mm AK-74 rifle. Certain elements of his rank are still maintained, such as the Tsarist-style pogoni shoulder-boards and Sam Browne belt. One private (second right) carries an RPG-7; like many examples of Soviet gear, its simplicity and durability have made this anti-tank weapon ubiquitous around the world.
By Ibrahim Zamir
McNab, Chris (2016). ‘The Soldier’ (Bath, England. Parragon Books).
Windrow, Martin (2015). ‘Warriors: Fighting Men and their Uniforms’ (Oxford, England. Osprey Publishing).
Zaloga, Stephen (1987). ‘Inside the Soviet Army’ (Oxford, England. Osprey Publishing).