We are aimed at making our Society the most powerful in terms of membership rate and efficiency. Every member of the Society must be an activist. The challenge now is to ensure that not only every club, but even every ordinary member is entrusted with at least any responsibility. Provided that every OSOAVAIKhIM member is the key element in the solid machinery of our Society, the latter will be getting stronger, develop further and create more benefits for everyone.
Kliment Voroshilov, People’s Commissar for Defense of the USSR
The roots of the OSOAVIAKhIM, the most powerful dozen million-strong paramilitary voluntary organization of the USSR, date back to 1920, when Military Scientific Society, or VNO (Военно-Научное общество, ВНО), was founded on November 15, 1920, amid the Russian Civil War, within the walls of the Academy of the General Staff of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army (since 1998 – the Combined Arms Academy of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation). Progress in military scientific training of the Red commanders was one of the initial tasks of the VNO. By 1923, nearly every regiment had group or section of the Society focused on analysis of the course of the Russian Civil War, planning of combat operations, and tactics of the Red Army. Particular attention was paid to development of the military training in the light of Marxism-Leninism theory. As such, VNO operated as a purely military structure and showed lack of enthusiasm for becoming a mass voluntary society. It was only during the first All-Union congress of the VNO (March 12-16, 1926) that Kliment Voroshilov (04.02.1881-02.12.1969), the then People’s Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs, pointed out particularly the necessity to bring the Society closer to the general public. The VNO was renamed Society for Assistance to Defense, or OSO (Общество содействия обороне, ОСО) after the congress, and since then a strategic course has been set for its transition to a mass defense organization. Soon after thousands of plants and factories workers, civil servants, students and scientific employees have joined the Society.
“Aviation component” of the future OSOAVIAKhIM originated from the Society of Friends of the Air Force, or ODVF (Общество друзей воздушного флота, ОДВФ) that was established on March 08, 1923 to support the development of the powerful Soviet Air Force, both military and civilian, to organize the collection of funds for the construction of airplanes and generally to popularize aviation. ODVF also financed the construction of designs produced by young and unestablished designers, even importing engines and planes from abroad. It supported construction of aircraft factories, training of flight personnel, technical improvement of the national aviation, and advocated fundraising campaigns for those purposes. ODVF funds consisted of membership dues, voluntary contributions of citizens and employees of enterprises, revenues from propaganda flights, lectures, exhibitions, guided tours, rallies and concerts. Territorial, regional, provincial, district and rural cells of the ODVF had been created all across the country.
The first public sign that ODVF’s twin organization for chemistry, Society of Friends of Chemical Defense and Chemical Industry of the USSR, or Dobrokhim (Общество друзей химической обороны и химической промышленности СССР, Доброхим), would be established appeared in the Pravda newspaper on March 07, 1924, exactly one year after the formation of the ODVF. Given a front-page position, the piece had an additional quality in that it described developments of chemical weaponry in the West, especially in the USA, as proceeding at a feverish pace. Moreover, it declared that a chemical attack would touch most of the civilian population in a future war. These alleged realities and assumptions left the Soviet population with only one choice: “the entire populace must be prepared for chemical warfare”. Thus, preparation for chemical war in the West made Dobrokhim imperative. Its purpose was to assist the Red Army by providing civil defense for communications in the rear. The whole population had to be taught basic elements of chemical defense, and mass support for chemical industries as well as chemical research was necessary to achieve that aim. An organizing assembly founded Dobrokhim on May 19, 1924, and the first working session of the Central Council convened in June. The Central Council leaders defined the Society’s relationship to the ODVF as one of mutual support. Functional subsections were formed in the Council to lead the various specialty activities of the Society. At the same time a few industrial enterprises and several institutes of higher education took the cue from the center and founded local Dobrokhim organizations.
In structure, Dobrokhim seems to have been a mirror image of the ODVF. The Central Council, elected by a congress and containing a presidium, was not outwardly different from the ODVF. Agitation, fundraising campaigns, membership recruitment and elementary training made up the central work in the beginning just as they did for the ODVF. Dobrokhim sought its initial membership among student groups and persons connected in some way to chemical industry activity, but in fact, it never acquired a vast membership. Thus, by August the membership exceeded 100,000, but in comparison with the ODVF, this remained a modest figure.
The life of Dobrokhim was short, only one year before it was amalgamated with the ODVF to form Society of Friends of Aviation and Chemical Defense and Industry, or Aviakhim (Общество друзей авиационной и химической оборон и промышленности, Авиахим) on May 23, 1925. The reason for that merger was that aviation and chemical warfare were considered two of the obvious markers of technological modernity in the 1920s. However, its mission differed very little from those previously undertaken by the two independent organizations. Goal of the Aviakhim was to bring ideas about aviation and chemical warfare to the masses, that is, to integrate the larger population with military and civilian aviation and chemical industry. It continued efforts to raise chemical consciousness, to generate public support for state policies, and to promote air-mindedness through the orchestration of aeronautical spectacles, air shows and propaganda flights. More significantly, the creation of the Aviakhim pointed to an ongoing transition in Soviet aviation culture. Although aeronautical development would remain the society’s most important function, the pairing of aviation and chemical interests indicated the Communist Party leadership’s growing concern with exploiting the military potential of flight technology.
By the fall 1926 Aviakhim boasted ca. 3 million members. The Society consisted of nearly 30,000 cells, more than 5,000 aviation and chemical corners, ca. 1,000 aviation hobby groups, more than 40 aviation and chemical instruction courses as well as the Europe’s biggest Leningrad Flying Club and Museum. Aviakhim collected 6 million Rubles, and thanks to its financial support more than 150 airplanes and 30 hangars have been built.
Thus, two major voluntary public organizations, Society for Assistance to Defense and Aviakhim, existed in the Soviet Union by the beginning of 1927. As goals of both societies were fundamentally the same, their merger was the only reasonable solution. Less than one year following the conclusion of the ODVF-Dobrokhim union, Soviet aeronautical culture witnessed another major institutional transformation: joint meeting of the first congress of Aviakhim and the second plenary session of the OSO held on January 23, 1927 in Moscow adopted unanimous decision to merge both structures and form a mega-society devoted to civil defense and military education of the country’s populace – Union of Societies of Assistance to Defense and Aviation-Chemical Construction of the USSR, or OSOAVIAKhIM (Союз Обществ содействия обороне и авиационно-химическому строительству СССР, ОСОАВИАХИМ).
The creation of the OSOAVIAKhIM represented a fundamental shift in both the direction and the content of the Soviet aviation. Although OSOAVIAKhIM continued to promote the development of civil aviation, the Society now undertook efforts to train citizens in rifle marksmanship, chemical defense and guerilla warfare tactics as well. New civil defense mission meant that Soviet aviation culture would take on an increasingly militaristic character. The creation of OSOAVIAKhIM also represented long-standing effort of the Communist Party leadership’s effort to strengthen military preparedness through the militarization of the Soviet Union’s civilian population.
Initially top-level Central Council of the OSOAVIAKhIM oversaw nine sections (later expanded to sixteen) reflecting its thematic focus: agitation-propaganda, agriculture, chemical-scientific industry, aviation industry, aviation law, military-scientific research, air-chemical defense, riflery, and sports. Sections divided themselves according to more specific themes under bureaus, for example, for specific areas of agriculture. At the local levels, the working units were cells that were organized in factories throughout the country. Cell membership could vary from five to a hundred people who helped with production on factory floors. Cells operated under the jurisdiction of appropriate sections or bureaus, which funded their activities with money collected from membership dues, donations, lotteries and revenues from publications and souvenirs.
By the end of 1929 OSOAVIAKhIM had about five million Soviet citizens in its ranks. The Society had 65 defense clubs; ca.17,000 military corners; ca.26,000 military study groups; more than 15,000 shooting circles; 1,080 shooting ranges and galleries; four flying clubs; more than 1,000 aviation circles; five glider stations; 760 chemical units; ca.2,000 air and chemical defense circles.
Later on special emphasis was placed on expansion of special programs of military training, e.g. cavalry, naval, signals, proficiency in machine gun shooting; on deploying of well-developed network of instruction stations and camps; on strengthening of instructors training; and on enhancement of the general quality of training.
While at the time the 3rd plenary session of the Central Council of the OSOAVIAKhIM was held (March 29, 1932) the Society had about 10 million members, that figure have surpassed 13 million as at January 01, 1935.
Having completed that necessary historical digression let’s return to the main subject of an article. Thus, uniform for the OSOAVIAKhIM personnel of the penultimate pattern, i.e. Model 1936, had been introduced by the Decree of the Presidium of the Central Council of the OSOAVIAKhIM of the USSR and the RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, the largest, most populous and most economically developed republic of the Soviet Union – Author’s Note) “On Uniform of the Commanding personnel of the OSOAVIAKhIM” dated September 29, 1936. Text of the Decree is cited below with a minimum of editing work and purely stylistic amendments to facilitate understanding.
“In accordance with the decision of the commission of the Presidium of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR, Presidium of the Central Council of the OSOAVIAKhIM of the USSR enacts:
a) Aviation units of the OSOAVIAKhIM,
b) Commanding personnel and combat training personnel of the OSOAVIAKhIM,
c) Riflemen of the OSOAVIAKhIM,
d) Naval units of the OSOAVIAKhIM.
2. To allow wearing of current uniform as working attire until further notice, with obligatory replacement of current distinctive insignia by that of new pattern by January 01, 1937.
3. To allow wearing of the current OSOAVIAKhIM star as a headgear emblem to participants of musters and annual camps only who undergo pre-conscription military training during periods of musters.
4. To entrust comrade Guzhinsky, chief procurement officer, with immediate production of distinctive insignia of new pattern with a view to supply it to all local organizations not later than January 01, 1937. (Leon Guzhinsky, real name Leyser Styzky, Polish, was born in 1884 in the town of Beden (Piotrków Governorate, province of the Russian Empire). Member of the Communist Party since 1918 who have acquired pre-primary education only, Guzhinsky was made chief procurement officer of the OSOAVIAKhIM (head of the Soyuzsnabosoaviakhim). He was arrested on July 26, 1937, and was sentenced to death by the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR on April 27, 1938 on a charge of involvement in a military fascist plot and espionage. Leon Guzhinsky was executed on the same day at the Kommunarka shooting ground on the far southwest side of Moscow; rehabilitated posthumously on March 10, 1956– Author’s Note).
5. To entrust chief procurement officer with preparation of sketches of new pattern uniform for all republics, regions and territories and their distribution not later than November 15 of this year”.
Description of the uniform for commanding personnel of the OSOAVIAKhIM
Service dress uniform for permanent commanding personnel:
a) double-breasted raglan manufactured of dark grey cloth with six buttons, straight inner pleat on its backside, belt of the same fabric with metal buckle;
b) army-style gimnastyorka, i.e. military shirt-tunic made of worsted cloth, or made of khaki colour cloth as worn with winter uniform, or made of cotton cloth as worn with summer uniform.
Service dress uniform for permanent rank and file personnel – same as described above but manufactured of fleece of medium fineness.
Service dress uniform for non-permanent rank and file personnel. Roter Jungsturm (Section for young members of the Roter Frontkämpferbund, paramilitary Communist organization in Germany during the Weimar Republic – Author’s Note) uniform:gimnastyorka with two patch pockets, stand and fall collar (worn either tightly buttoned or with an open neck), yellow waist belt; khaki breeches made of cotton cloth. Female personnel wear culottes or wide trousers manufactured of the same fabric.
Parade dress and walking out uniform for permanent commanding personnel:
a) raglan of the same cut as worn with service dress uniform, but manufactured of light grey thick woollen cloth;
b) narrow service jacket manufactured of light grey worsted cloth with five buttons, stand and fall collar, four patch pockets and half-belt;
c) British style plain trousers worn over footgear.
Service dress uniform for rank and file personnel and “uchlyots” (students of OSOAVIAKhIM flight schools – Author’s Note):
a) raglan similar to described above but manufactured of fleece of medium fineness;
b) jacket made of dark grey cotton cloth with stand and fall collar, four set-in pockets, four buttons and yellow waist belt;
c) breeches manufactured of dark blue cotton cloth; female personnel wear culottes or wide trousers.
Parade dress and walking out uniform for permanent commanding personnel:
a) double-breasted raglan manufactured of light grey thick woolen cloth with six buttons, straight inner pleat on its backside, belt of the same fabric with metal buckle;
b) single-breasted light grey service jacket manufactured of worsted cloth, with four buttons, four set-in pockets and smooth backside.
c) British style trousers with flaps below, manufactured of the same fabric, worn over footgear;
d) In summertime similar trousers are worn, but manufactured of white fabric.
Service dress uniform for permanent commanding personnel:
a) raglan of general pattern but manufactured of marengo colour cloth;
c) navy cut trousers made of black cloth;
d) summer uniform consisted of jacket and trousers described above but made of white cloth.
Parade dress and walking out uniform for commanding personnel:
a) raglan of the same cut and colour, but manufactured of thick woolen cloth;
b) navy cut double-breasted jacket made of black cloth with six buttons;
c) navy cut trousers made of black cloth.
a) double-breasted navy peacoat made of black cloth with twelve buttons;
b) sailor’s jacket made of dark blue cloth;
c) navy cut trousers made of black cloth;
d) summer uniform consisted of white sailor’s jacket, navy cut trousers worn over shoes, black waist belt.
a) In winter season “Shapka-ushanka” (fur cap with ear flaps that can be tied up to the crown of the cap, or fastened at the chin to protect the ears, jaw and lower chin from the cold – Author’s Note) is worn by all personnel without exception. It was manufactured of black or dark grey fur and had bottomof the same colour as overcoat worn by personnel of the corresponding unit.
b) Commanding naval personnel wear navy cut peaked cap of black cloth with light blue piping; sailors wear navy-style peakless caps. White soft covers are worn in summertime.
c) Commanding personnel of all other units wear peaked cap of the same colour as the jacket worn (light grey with parade dress uniform, khaki with service dress uniform) with piping to the crown and bordering the central band. The colour of the piping corresponded to that of collar tabs, according to branch of service.
d) Rank and file flight personnel as well as students of flight schools wear dark blue berets; rank and file personnel of all other units wear khaki peaked caps without piping.
a) Flight personnel wear emblem that consists of an airplane placed inside cogwheel topped with five-point red star and flanked with silver leaves.
b) All other OSOAVIAKhIM personnel, including sailors, wear traditional OSOAVIAKhIM emblem flanked with gilt leaves:sickle and hammer, two-bladed propeller and rifle superimposed on the five-point red star, the whole composition being placed inside the cogwheel.
a) Naval personnel wear gilt stars sewn on black velvet sleeve flap. The later together with gilt anchor above are sewn on both sleeves just above cuffs.
b) Personnel of all other OSOAVIAKhIM units wear silver stars sewn on collar tabs, colour of which depended on specialization:
- general personnel, i.e. infantry units and administrative staff of the Central Council and local councils of the OSOAVIAKhIM– crimson;
- cavalry units – dark blue;
- chemical defense units – black cloth and black velvet;
- aviation units – light blue.
Collar tabs piped with silver thread and bearing emblems depending on the branch of service (see Paragraph 5) are worn on collars of overcoats and double-breasted jackets.
7. Jackboots and shoes worn by all OSOAVIAKhIM personnel are manufactured of black boxcalf”.
1. Two representatives of the permanent commanding personnel of infantry, chemical defense or cavalry units of the OSOAVIAKhIM in parade dress or walking out uniform. Figure at the left is shown wearing light grey service jacket, while the one at the right wears raglan.
2. Two representatives of the permanent commanding personnel of the OSOAVIAKhIM aviation unit in service dress uniform. Figure at the left wears gimnastyorka and breeches, the one at the right wears raglan.
3. Representative of the permanent commanding personnel of the OSOAVIAKhIM aviation unit wearing summer parade dress or walking out uniform.
4. Representative of commanding personnel of the OSOAVIAKhIM naval unit wearing summer parade dress or walking out uniform.
5. Woman from a permanent commanding personnel of the OSOAVIAKhIM aviation unit wearing summer parade dress or walking out uniform. Note that illustration shows non-regulation skirt instead of prescribed culottes or wide trousers.
Having cited the regulations, we should probably complement them highlighting a particularly interesting aspect, i.e. Model 1936 rank insignia of OSOAVIAKhIM personnel.
Thus, the Decree didn’t specify the material collar emblems denoting branch of service should have been manufactured of. Photographic evidence shows that emblems worn by OSOAVIAKhIM air units personnel were either bullion embroidered or made of enameled metal. Exact choice depended largely on the stocks available.
As for the number of silver stars attached to collar tabs of OSOAVIAKhIM commanding personnel, the issue unfortunately neglected by composers of the afore-mentioned Decree, they were worn according to the following scheme: four stars – supreme commanding personnel, three stars – senior commanding personnel, two stars – intermediate commanding personnel, one star – junior commanding personnel. Rank and file personnel undergoing military training, including students of OSOAVIAKhIM flight schools, wore plain collar tabs with emblems only.
Notably, stars were attached to collar tabs not in a line, as it was the case of 1932 or 1937 pattern OSOAVIAKhIM insignia, but according to the scheme shown on a separate illustration.
The author thanks Andrey Zarembo (Moscow, Russia) for assistance and Dr.Leonid Tokar (Saint Petersburg, Russia) for providing M1936 OSOAVIAKhIM collar tabs reconstruction.