It was way back in March 1918 that the official story of the Red Army five-pointed star being one of the most remarkable and recognizable headgear cockades of the XX century begins. It is first noteworthy to comment that “cockade” as a formal term applies to 1918 pattern red star badge only, and that term was never used since 1922 in respect to the Red Army headgear star.
It was the Order of the Extraordinary Headquarters No.240 dated March 2, 1918 for Moscow Military District personnel that instituted the very first cockade of the young Soviet state. Paragraph 8 of the Order introduced “cockade of a new pattern in the shape of a red five-pointed star bearing gilt plough and hammer in its centre as a distinction for soldiers of the new army retaining their old uniform”.
Barely two months after the Order No.240 was gazetted, People’s Commissariat for Military Affairs issued an Order No.321 dated May 07, 1918 particularly stating that “Red Army badge is a distinction associated with Red Army troops personnel. Individuals not in the service of the Red Army are urged immediately to remove aforementioned badges. Those failing to comply with this order would be tried by the Revolutionary Tribunal”.
Curiously, description of the badge cited above is in essence a near replica of “Description of a Cockade for Lower Ranks Worn on Shapkas and Peaked Caps” introduced as far back as August 18, 1881 by the War Department Order No.313. Thus, description of a headgear emblem for the recently raised Red Army was based on the document of the state destroyed by that very Army. While perhaps at first glance not the most logic situation, it was in many ways determined by the fact that cockades, be it Imperial or Bolshevik ones, have been elaborated in the Russian Empire as well as in the Soviet Russia by the same specialists who served both before and after the October Revolution on the Technical Committee of the Main Quartermaster’s Office. That Committee of the old regime was disbanded on May 13, 1918 by the Order of the People’s Commissar for Military Affairs No.202 with handover of its responsibilities to the Economic Committee of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, renamed Main Military Economic Directorate on June 20, 1918.
Now a note is to be made and a word is to be said about five-pointed red star as the most recognized symbol of the Soviet Russia. Unwilling to waste time over nearly century-old conspiracy theories dealing with “satanic pentagram of godless Bolsheviks” and other odious allegations, we would like to draw attention to a reliable contemporary source, namely “The Red Star” (“Красная звезда”) booklet, printed in 1919 by the Central Publishing Bureau under People’s Commissariat for Education. “Red Star is the symbol of the workers’ and peasants’ Soviet government that protects the poor and ensures equality of the toilers. Hammer and plough make up a symbol of unity of urban worker and rural ploughman who joined together in a pact to defend their land and freedom, workers’ and peasants’ Soviet government and socialist homeland against such enemies and butchers of the working people as capitalists, noble landowners, kulaks (independent wealthy peasants that were regarded as class enemies of the poorer peasants – Translator’s note), foreign exploiters and other counter-revolutionary scum. (…) That is the true meaning of the Red Star as the badge of a red Army soldier…”.
Order No.680 dated August 11, 1918 made wearing of a new cockade by all Red Army servicemen obligatory, while Main Military Economic Directorate was ordered to undertake immediate measures for procurement of required number of those stars.
Wearing of cockades has been extended to the Red Fleet sailors in accordance with the Fleet and Sea Services Order No.773 dated November 18, 1918. In that Order we read: “Considering that sailor suits being quite often worn by corrupted elements including counter-revolutionary rebels, it is hereby ordered to extend wearing of the revolutionary military cockade, Red Star with hammer and plough, to military sailors. Its wearing by former sailors who are not actually members of the Soviet armed forces is henceforth strictly prohibited; Red Star as a revolutionary badge henceforth becomes a symbol of unity of the Red Fleet and the Red Army.
Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council Trotsky” (Source: Russian State Navy Archive. Collection Р-5, inventory 1, file 179, page 174).
Despite provisions of all the Orders cited above, the first official reference to Red Army headgear cockades did not appear until the Clothing allowance table for the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army was issued a year later, on February 03, 1919 (Order of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic No.199, Section “Accoutrement”). In this respect, it seems to be illustrative that the previous Clothing allowance table announced by the Order of the People’s Commissar for Military Affairs No.615 dated July 29, 1918 had no mention of the cockade.
The last official record of the cockade bearing hammer and plough emblem can be found in the Order of the Head Quartermaster No.89 dated March 06, 1922, that announced new descriptions of Red Army clothing allowance items. Although description of the star merely restated Order No.594 cited above, “Supplements and Amendments to Clothing Allowance Items Description Caused by Current Circumstances” are of special interest as they authorized manufacture of cockades of tinplate provided that material was strong enough.
According to the prices defined as of December 01, 1921 and gazetted by the Order of the Head of the Main Military Economic Directorate No.98 dated March 02, 1922, Red Army star had to cost 5 kopecks only. In comparison, mess-tin cost 35 kopecks, winter helmet (not steel helmet in fact, but archetypal distinctive broadcloth type of hat worn by the Red Army personnel – Translator’s note) cost 1 ruble 26 kopecks, scout cloak cost 1 ruble 42 kopecks.
Considering decentralized production of 1918 pattern Red Army cockades that were manufactured by various workshops as well as by artisans in the field, the fog of the Civil War, and, in that respect, absence of unified requirements and established pattern, that headgear insignia has huge number of dies and varieties. Cockades differ in size, shape, finish, as well as in shades and quality of paint (some pieces were even not painted at all). Stars with the so-called “shining” between edges as well as pieces covered with hot enamel instead of varnish paint are widely known.
Design of the first Soviet cockades has changed according to the Order No.953 dated April 13, 1922 cited below.
“Current badge (i.e. cockade – Translator’s note) worn by the Red Army personnel bears hammer and plough images, while State Emblem of the Republic determined by the constitution has hammer and sickle images.
Head Quartermaster is to see to manufacture of the Red Army badges bearing image of the State Emblem (sic!) determined by the constitution.
Red Army badge must be worn on the “bogatyrka” headgear (distinctive broadcloth type of hat worn by the Red Army personnel, a.k.a. “budenovka” and “frunzenka”, worn until 1940 – Translator’s note) attached in the middle of the cloth star of branch colour, the latter instituted by the Order of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic No.322 dated 1922.
Deputy Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic E.Sklyansky”.
However, photographic evidence shows that cockades bearing hammer and plough symbols have been worn until at least mid-1920s.
But even then, that was not the end of the first Red Army cockade: it was half a century later, in 1967 that they got back in again. A large consignment of those stars has been manufactured of aluminum as props for the 1967 parade on Red Square in Moscow in honour of the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution. Commemorative festivities included historical dramatized show involving soldiers wearing Civil War-era uniform of the Red Army and the Red Fleet. It was 1918 pattern Red Army cockade that stood conspicuously on each piece of their headgear.
Written by Oleg (Nairana), Legus History YouTube-channel
Translated from the original Russian by Andrew Kostin, “Antique Photos” website