Russian Military Memorabilia
Russian Military Memorabilia is comprised of collectible items from the history of the Russian armed forces.
Notable events in Russian Military history
The military history of Russia could be said to begin with the military history of the Russian Empire, established in 1721 by Peter the Great. This was followed by the military history of the Soviet Union, established in 1917, and then finally, the recent military history of the Russian Federation, from 1991.
However, there was military activity in Russia prior to 1721, right from the early periods through Kievan Rus, its successor the Grand Duchy of Moscow, and the Tsardom of Russia from 1547 until 1721. It is the prerogative of a collector to determine what constitutes Russian military memorabilia.
The armed forces of the Russian Empire comprised the Imperial Russian Army, Imperial Russian Navy, and later, the Imperial Russian Air Service. Peter the Great’s reign saw the whole country moulded by him in imitated of Western society, including the military. He studied the soldiers and sailors of every rank in great depth, learnt the most intimate details of shipbuilding, navigation, military formation and fortification, and went on to fight expensive wars, pouring money into his war machine, sending a generation of young men to learn the skills of war from the west. By 1725, Russia was a true military force, overtaking Sweden as Europe’s dominant eastern power.
German delegate Burkhard Christoph von Munnich developed a smaller, stronger military in Russia, more flexible and efficient, with more artillery pieces per unit and additional grenadiers. He introduced mounted Cossacks and Hussars as well as dragoons, and several regiments of cuirassiers.
The Seven Years War during the 1740s and 50s was anticipated by new military commanded Peter Ivanovich Shuvalov, who consequently worked to improve the Russian army based on the Prussian model. He strived to improve Russian artillery, even introducing some designs of his own. This war was the first that Russia fought against a first class European army since Peter the Great’s reign.
The Russian army was embroiled in many skirmishes over the next 150 years, including the Russo-Turkish War of 1768, the Pugachev uprising of 1773-4, involvement in the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean war, the Russo-Turkish war, the Russo-Japanese war, and World War I.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 destroyed the Tsarist autocracy and led to the creation of the communist Soviet Union government, and therefore a Soviet Union military. The Russian Army was exhausted after World War I, and to add to the general disintegration, the officers were generally loyal to Tsarist Russia, men who violently opposed communism and would not be led by the Bolsheviks.
The new Bolshevik government formed the Red Army, to fight against this Tsarist White Army in the Russian Civil War. Most of the officers were Tsarist, so the communist Red Army faced a lack of experienced leaders. The Red Army learned from this, and resolved to become a professional military organisation. Soviet military schools were established to train officers, huge industrial drive mobilised and modernised the Red Army, and a secret police were set up for military intelligence and counterintelligence.
However, a paranoid Stalin saw a threat in the power of the Red Army, and jailed or executed thousands of the best Red Army officers. Despite this, The Soviet Union were a major military force in the defeat of Nazi Germany during World War II. After this event, the Soviet Union had a standing army 10 to 13 million strong, and a vastly powerful armaments industry. The five round magazine-fed bolt action Mosin-Nagant rifle was the primary firearm of the Red Army during World War II, over 17 million of them manufactured. They also began experimenting with small arms during World War II , the semi-automatic Siminov SKS carbine, and later the famous Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle.
Types of Russian Military Memorabilia
Shashka swords are the most common edged weapons in Russian militaria. Shashkas are a curved sabre like sword with a single sharp edge. They were commonly used by Cossacks, and replaced sabres for all Russian cavalry units during the 19th century. They can be among the most valuable items of Russian military memorabilia, especially with an interesting provenance.
Daggers were standard issue to all Soviet troops throughout the 20th century.
Ornate Russian presentation swords from the Imperial era are a very popular area of collectibles.
Several flintlock pistols were in use in Russia during the 19th century. The Berdan rifle was created in 1868, and was the standard issue Russian army rifle from 1869-1891.
After the Soviet Union was established, firearm production and development increased massively. Possibly the best known Russian firearm is the AK-47 assault rifle, which had a huge influence on future rifle design after its introduction in 1951.
Armour, Uniforms and Helmets
Cossack uniforms are a popular area of Russian militaria.
Soviet era dress tunics are widely available and yet very popular, alongside collar tabs and shoulder boards, visor hats, steel helmets, and the somewhat iconic papakha and ushanka winter fur hats.
Medals and Awards
There are a great number of Russian orders, medals and awards. A collector may choose to focus just on those from the Imperial Russian army, such as the Order or St. Andrew founded by Peter tyhe Great in 1696, or Soviet medals such as the Order of Lenin, Order of the Red Star, KGB medals and so forth. Medals can be among the most valuable items of Russian military memorabilia.
The shift of an entire vast country from Tsarist to Communist rule necessitated an awful lot of propaganda. These items, many kept from Western eyes for many years, are now extremely collectible. Posters, pamphlets, documents and other items of ephemera, as well as large banners and flags, of organisations such as the Communist Youth League, are historically fascinating and very sought-after.
Other collectible items
- Documents and Ephemera
- Soviet jet aviation memorabilia
- Belt buckles
- Russian Imperial Porcelain plates – not technically militaria, but very often are painted with depictions of military events and are a very popular area of collectibles.
Guide for collectors
As with most areas of militaria, Russian military memorabilia is suffused with replica and fake items. It is worth seeking the advice of an expert, or referring to a reference work on the subject of whichever area you choose to focus on.
- Order of St. Vladimir medal, circa 1906, sold for £91,250 at Christie’s in June 2008.
- Soviet Presentation Order of Victory Sword, 1927, sold for $105,000 at Auctions Imperial in March 2008.
- Russian Star of the Order of Saint Andrew medal, sold for $115,000 at Jackson’s Auction in July 2008.
- Caucasian parcel gilt and niello shashka, 1865, sold for £157,250 at Christie’s in November 2008.
- Rare Russian Order of St. George infantry sword circa 1915, sold for £181,250 at Christie’s in June 2008.
- Star and Badge of the Order of St. Anne medals, circa 1880, sold for £265,250 at Christie’s in November 2008.
- Rare caucasion child’s shashka sword, belonging to the Tsarevich Aleksei, 1908-1917, sold for £481,250 at Christie’s in June 2008.
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