Soviet Army Visor Hats

Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) formed the early Red Army at Petrograd in February 1918 from peasants and former Tsarist officers, who had their families held hostage to insure their loyalty. This new Bolshevik regime came under attack from several anti-Bolshevik factions, including the White Army, which was loyal to the old Tsarist government. 1 The earliest visor hat worn by the Soviet Army were Tsarist hats issued or captured by Bolshevik soldiers. In order to distance themselves from the Tsarist government as much as possible, the Red Army removed any identifying marks on their hats and uniforms that were symbols of the old regime. This included not only shoulder boards and metals but also embroidered caps, fancy insignia, and piping. Instead, the Red Army wore plain caps with a simple insignia on the front. Most soldiers simply removed any Tsarist elements and added Soviet insignia. 2

During the Russian Civil War (1918-1920) the first Soviet Army cap badge was made from tin and featured a red star with a hammer and plow. The badge was too complicated to manufacture and often broke, requiring costly replacements. The Red Army switched to the iconic hammer and sickle, which was easier to manufacture, shortly after the Russian Revolution in 1917. It remained the symbol of the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991. Some hats also used a simple, felt red star, another symbol of the Soviet Union. 3 By 1920, the Red Army emerged victorious and the Bolshevik government was firmly in place.4

In 1924, the Red Army was officially formed and a new standard visor hat was issued. The hat was gray and had a small brim with a soft body. Chinstraps and vent holes could be added to these visor hats, but the standard issue went without either of these features. The hats featured two types of insignia, a thin red star or a thick metal red star, both featuring a hammer and sickle inlay. These hats were issued until 1934.5

While regular army visor hats remained gray, Soviet cavalry hats at the time had a similar shape and insignia but varied widely in color. In 1927, Stalin dictated a regulation giving every cavalry division their own color combination of hat, cap band, and piping. A typical example of this regulation is a hat with orange piping and a blue hat band on a gray body. It is also worth noting that border guard units used bright green visor hats with violet piping. This color combination remained the same throughout the Soviet era.6

In 1935 the Soviet Army issued a new, larger visor hat.7 The hat came standard with a stiff body, a wide square brim, leather chinstrap, and gold buttons embossed with the Soviet state emblem. During World War II (1939-1945) the Soviet Union was comprised of eleven socialist republics, which were represented by banners on the state emblem. These banners were lined in a “U” shape around a small globe with a hammer and sickle inlay. The front of the hat featured the same red star with hammer and sickle cap badge. Officer hats placed the badge on top of a round gold cockade.8

Hat colors were also regulated at this time. The hat band and piping color represented the wearer’s service branch. Magenta indicated Infantry, blue indicated Cavalry, and black indicated Artillery. All marshals wore red.9 Commissar hats did not have any distinguishing marks on their caps, other than red piping.10

Red Army hats were minimalist apart from the chinstrap and buttons, even for marshals. Every solider wore a similar hat and there were no parade hats made until 1940 when generals were allowed to have a unique uniform. At that time, generals privately purchased their hats, which were usually of higher quality and more complicated to manufacture than the standard hat.11 In 1941, Germany attacked the Soviet Union. Germany’s offensive quickly overran the Red Army, which was forced to make a hasty retreat.12 In an effort to inspire his men, Stalin allowed traditional style uniforms to return to use. This included items associated with the Tsarist regime, such as shoulder boards.13 The styles were expanded throughout the war and continued to be a part of the Soviet uniform throughout the Cold War (1947-1991).14

By 1945, marshals were allowed to wear blue hats instead of the standard gray. Most of the blue hats were specifically made for the victory parade at the end of WWII in 1945, commemorating the Soviet victory over Germany. Hats were also embroidered with various leaf patterns. Larger leaves represented marshals while generals had smaller leaves.15

In 1954, the cap badge changed from the star with hammer and sickle on a round cockade to a star with hammer and sickle on an oval badge.16 Regulations during the Cold War stayed relatively the same, however, as the Cold War progressed, hats became larger.17 Officer’s headgear also became more ornate, with elaborate embroidery, cap badges, and chinstraps. This trend continued until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.18

Visor Hat 1918 — 1991

Article by Samuel Grubb