Did you know about:
…the origins of the Telnyashka?

Everybody who is a russian military/speznas enthusiast, like we are, got a Telnyashka. But did you know that there are different colored ones? And that every Color has its own affiliation to a Military/Special Forces Group?

Celebrating russians on VDV Day (2nd August) wearing their light blue Telnyashkas and Majkas.

What is a Telnyashka? Well, a Telnyashka (тельня́шка – means literally “striped vest/shirt) is a striped, long or non sleeved (Majka) cotton undershirt, which is mostly worn by either Navy Sailors, Airborne Troops (VDV), MVD Speznas (e.g.OMON), Border Guards and/or Marines (Naval Infatry) in its designated Color. Wearing a Telnyashka in russia is a symbol of great military pride and also of “being a real man” and self-confidence.

The official uniforms of above mentioned units actually includes a Telnyashka and a  Jacket/Trouser combination (like every uniform has, normally). But since the jacket is worn with some buttons open, the telnyashka becomes not only a “underwear”, but a visible part of the uniform itself.

 Russian Marines (Naval Infantry) wearing their dark blue Telnyashka with pride.

The origins of the Telnyashka came from the merchants and fishermen of Brittany (France), who just wanted to distinguish them from other nationalities at a distance. Later this style was adopted and became popular by the french navy and other navies.

This is the original look of a merchant and fisherman of Brittany style  “Telnyashka”.

So the Telnyashka was a “Navy only” shirt? How does it happen that it is adopted by so many branches of todays russian forces? Well the (new) tradition of russian ground troops wearing a naval style uniform comes from russian/soviet navy sailors who fought on the ground when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union during WW2. It is said that the well known Soviet sniper Vasily Zaytsev was somehow involved in this trend/tradition. Vasily Zaytsev was a petty officer (likely a seargent in sailor terms) in the Soviet Navy, who volunteered for army duty during the Siege of Stalingrad. When he was transfered to the regular army, he refused to give up his (Navy) telnyashka, because it was  a symbol of military achivement and he was proud to have it.

VDV (Airborne) Troops wearing their light blue Telnyashka during a ceremony.

Before General Margelov (Hero of the Soviet Union in 1944) modernised the Soviet Airborne Troops, he served in the Naval Infantry unit in World War II. Due to him there are now telnyashkas for the VDV, which indicate their elite status in the Military.

There are 5 different colored Telnyashka. Not only the color has its belonging to each individual Unit, but also a association to their purpose.


  • Dark Blue (like the Sea): Navy Sailors and Naval Infantry, also known as Marines.
  • Light Blue (like the Sky): Airborne Troops (VDV) and GRU Speznas.
  • Black (like darkness and deepness): Submarine Sailors and Tank Crewman.
  • Green (like the Forest): Boarder Guard Troops
  • Red/Maroon (which is a color adopted by Speznas Forces): OMON and other Units of MVD.



The non-sleeved Telnyashkas are actually called Telnyashka-Majka (Майка – means “Jersey”) and are also used in their color designated troops in the summertime. There are different knitted version of Telnyashkas (which you can also buy). There is the standard single thread knitted version and for colder days the double and quadruple knitted version. There are also 2 types of Material used – one being Cotton and the other being Wool. The latter one being for a Winter version. – thx vlad z.!

There is even a russian saying which shows the “masculinity” and pride of the Telnyashka: “Нас мало, но мы в Tельняшках!” which means something like “We are few in numbers, but we are wearing telnyashkas!” – I like it!

Border Guards celebrating their “Border Guards Day” the 28th of May.

I hope I could give you an understanding of that “simple long sleeved” and Iconic shirt and maybe the next time when you wear it for an Airsoft Skirmish or Reenactment, you will feel a little bit proud, like the russian forces do when they wear theirs.


28.02.2013 – by Logisticz for Gruppa L

One thought on “Did you know about:
…the origins of the Telnyashka?

  1. A few corrections:
    1. Telnyashka means something that is being worn on your body (тело mean body in Russian). It was originally issues only to the navy. After WWII it became standard issue for the ariborn troops only in the light blue color as opposed to the navy color that is still used by the navy.
    2. Vasily Margelov never served in naval infantry. During the WWII he was commander of the infantry regiment and then infantry division.
    3. The reason why it was adopted by VDV is because during the WWII due to the significant shortage of reserves Soviet Navy had sent a large number of sailor to fight on the ground. In many cases they retained their navy uniforms (black uniforms) and even in cases when there were given regular infantry uniform most of them kept their telnyashkas as a symbol of their courage. In many cases they were taking very heavy casualties but did not retreat. After the war when Margelov was appointed as VDV commander in 1954 the VDV uniform has changed. The blue telnyashka (along with the blue beret) were introduced as a symbol of courage and bravery demonstrated by the naval infantry during the WWII.

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