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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



military, signs on the uniforms of servicemen that indicate their personal rank or membership in an armed ser-vice, combat arm, or service branch of the armed forces. In the USSR insignia are established by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR.

In modern armies insignia have the forms of shoulder boards; signs on the headgear, the shoulder boards, and collar tabs; emblems; signs on the chest and sleeve; pipings; and stripes on uniform trousers. In Russia in the strel’tsy (semi-professional musketeers) troops of the 16th and 17th centuries the officers were distinguished from the rank and file by the design of their clothing and arms and also carried a cane or a staff and wore mittens or gloves with extended cuffs. In the regular Russian army created by Peter I, noncommissioned officers (sergeants) were distinguished from the rank and file by gold galloon sewn on the cuffs and around the brim of the hat; officers had gold galloon on the edges of the tunic and the edges of the cuffs and pocket flaps. Officers had chest insignia, a three-color scarf with silver or gold tassels, and a sword with a gilded hilt. In 1801 shoulder boards of different colors for different units were introduced in Russia, and in 1807 the shoulder boards of officers were replaced by epaulets. At first the shoulder boards were worn on one or both shoulders, depending on the combat arm, but later on both shoulders; the numbers of the units, the initials of their names, or monograms conferred on them were sewn or embroidered on the shoulder straps. In 1827 stars were placed on the epaulets of officers and generals to indicate their military rank: an ensign had one star on his epaulets; a second lieutenant, major, and major general two; a lieutenant, lieutenant colonel, and lieutenant general three; a captain second grade four; captains, colonels, and full generals had no stars on their epaulets; the epaulets of generals and junior and senior officers were distinguished by their shape. In 1843 insignia were introduced for junior commanders: golden gal-loon for sergeants major and white galloon for noncommissioned officers, both sewn on the shoulder boards. In 1854 shoulder boards were placed on the field uniform of officers and generals. The ranks of officers were indicated by the number of stars and colored longitudinal bands on the shoulder boards; the ranks of generals by the number of stars and zigzag bands on the shoulder boards. Epaulets were worn only on parade uniforms. On the eve of World War I khaki shoulder boards were placed on field uniforms.

When the Red Army was created, a Red Army chest insignia was introduced in 1918 to indicate membership in the army. This insignia was in the form of a wreath of laurel or oak branches topped by a red enamel-covered pentagonal star with the emblem of the plow and the hammer in the center. In July 1918 a new insignia was introduced, a cockade for the headgear of Red Army men and commanders, in the shape of a red pentagonal star with the emblem of the plow and the hammer in the center. The color of tabs on the collars of overcoats and tunics indicated the combat arm. Insignia for rank were introduced in the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army for the first time in January 1919, in the form of sleeve insignia of scarlet cloth sewn on the left sleeve of the tunic and on the overcoat over the cuff. The design was a red pentagonal star under which the insignia of rank was placed. The insignia of rank of naval commanders were horizontal stripes of gilded galloon placed on both sleeves above the cuff. The differences between categories of commanders were indicated by the number and width of stripes. When a new model uniform for the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army was introduced in January 1922, insignia of rank, with scarlet edging and the color of the cloth indicating the combat arm, was attached to a special flap that was placed in the middle of the left sleeve of the overcoat and tunic. Emblems on the collar tabs of overcoats and tunics were established for all combat arms and military administrations and institutions. The hammer and sickle replaced the plow and the hammer on the Red Army badge. From 1924 insignia of rank were made of red copper and attached to collar tabs. The rectangle replaced the square for the senior commanders in March 1925.

When personal military ranks were introduced in December 1935, insignia indicating the ranks were established. The insignia of ranks of commanders were worn on collar tabs and on the sleeves above the cuff. Military political personnel had no gold edging or emblem of the combat arm on their collar tabs but wore a red pentagonal star with a hammer and sickle on their sleeves. Military technical, juridical, service, administrative, medical, and veterinary personnel wore badges of rank only on their collar tabs. Servicemen in the navy wore insignia of rank only on the sleeves. When generals’ military ranks were introduced in July 1940, insignia of rank to be worn on collar tabs were established: two metal stars for major generals, three for lieutenant generals, four for colonel generals, and five for general of the army. Sleeve insignia of rank were established at the same time: for generals (to colonel general inclusive), an embroidered small gold star and one chevron of gold galloon, with a piping indicating the combat arm underneath; for general of the army, an embroidered large gold star framed by red piping and one chevron of gold galloon. The insignia of rank for senior commanders introduced in 1935 were abolished. Two gold-embroidered laurel branches and the hammer and sickle emblem were placed on the collar tabs and the sleeve badges of marshals of the Soviet Union. When additional military ranks were established, insignia of rank to be worn on collar tabs were introduced for them: one square for junior lieutenant, three rectangles for lieutenant colonel, and four rectangles for colonel. In January 1941 new insignia of rank were introduced for junior commanders, in accordance with the military ranks established in November 1940. These badges were collar tabs of a color corresponding to the combat arm or service, with a cloth edging of a color corresponding to the combat arm and a red longitudinal band. A master sergeant wore four enameled triangles as badge of rank on his collar tabs, a senior sergeant three, a sergeant two, and a junior sergeant one.

Shoulder boards were introduced for Red Army personnel by the Jan. 6, 1943, decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, and for navy personnel by the February 15 decree. The June 26, 1969, decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR established for generals, admirals, and officers shoulder boards of golden or silvery galloon for parade and dress uniforms and of khaki galloon for service and field uniforms. For sergeants, master sergeants, soldiers, and sailors, the shoulder boards were made of fabric (galloon) with a color indicating the combat arm, to be worn on all uniforms. Insignia corresponding to rank were placed on the shoulder boards, in the form of stars, bands, and stripes, as well as emblems and patterns indicating the armed service or the combat arm (service); navy personnel wore, in addition to shoulder boards, sleeve badges of rank in the form of bars. In 1970 sleeve badges of rank were introduced for the rank and file and sergeants in the army and for other armed services of the armed forces as well.

In the majority of foreign armies insignia of rank on shoulder boards consist of transversal or zigzag stripes, stars, and emblems.


Viskovatov, A. V. Istoricheskoe opisanie odezhdy i vooruzheniia Rossiiskikh voisk, 2nd ed., parts 1–27. St. Petersburg, 1899–1944.
Illiustrirovannoe opisanie obmundirovaniia i znakov razlichiia Sovetskoi Armii (1918–1958 gg). Leningrad, 1960.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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