A poorly understood curiosity in the West is the presence of Russians in Japanese uniform, often referred to as “Japan’s White Soldiers.” What isn’t often acknowledged, or investigated, are exactly how deep the political and military ties between the Russian emigres and their East Asian neighbors go. Though by and large most of the early 20th century’s movement of Russians throughout Asia was a result of their civil war against the communists, the military landscape in Asia has been pockmarked with advisors and instructors, adventurers and refugees of Russian extraction prior to the 1917 revolution.

The purpose of this article is to setup the background of those White Russians involved with the Japanese and Manchurian Empires. The first entity to study is the Bureau of White Russian Migrants in the Manchurian Empire (Бюро по делам российских эмигрантов в Маньчжурской империи, or БРЭМ). This secretariat, as the name implies, functioned as a liaison and representative for Manchuria’s growing Russian population which by 1934 had already exceeded 100,000 immigrants and Manchurian born. The organization worked on preserving and expanding the property of Manchurian-Russians and aided in defining the legal status of White Russian immigrants.

Members of the Secretariat and Russian Fascist Party at a Harbin banquet celebrating the group’s founding, December 1934. First row, third from the right is Shun Akikusa. Graduate of the Nakano School’s first class and instrumental to the formation of Russian military units in the Manchurian armed forces.

The organization cooperated closely with the Manchurian government in order to strengthen relations between the Russian population, coordinate with Japan’s Kwantung Army stationed in Manchuria, acting as a bulwark against Soviet activity in the area, promoting anti-Soviet propaganda as well as gathering intelligence on the Soviets and local communists.

The secretariat operated a large public library, touted as being the largest in East Asia. The organization also published magazines and newspapers for the Russian population and for the various Asiatic groups in Manchuria. Various public works were also made by the group such as the “Monument for the Fallen Heroes of the Fight Against the Comintern.”

Monument to the Fallen Heroes of the Fight Against the Comintern (Памятник героям, павшим в борьбе с Коминтерном) Completed in 1941 at Cathedral Square in Harbin, it was destroyed in 1945 by the Soviets and a monument to fallen Soviet soldiers erected in its place.

Relevant to the article, the organization also funded the various Russian military academies that existed in Manchuria (and to an extent, funneled monies to the Russian academies in North China as well).

Cadets in formation at a Harbin Russian military academy.

Manchuria in the first half of the century could be referred to as “melting pot” with its mixture of native Manchu, Han Chinese who had settled prior to the 1930’s conflict or part of the influx of war refugees, likewise with the Russians, Japanese, and the handful of other Chinese minorities that made their way to the region for a chance at a better life. Understand that a significant Russian presence existed before Manchukuo’s founding, and it grew under the patronage of both the governments of Manchuria and Japan. A bureau was created to facilitate coordination between the three groups, an entente providing essential mutual assistance to each party given that both Manchuria and Japan bordered the Soviet Empire, and the desire for the White Russians to protect their vulnerable community from the threat of communist agents.

Next article the various Russian military organizations will be explored.

The first Chinese to go abroad in support of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea(DPRK) did so well before China’s official entry into the war on October 19, 1950. Crossing at night, the first to report were senior cadre (officers) of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) who wore completely sanitized Korean People’s Army(KPA) officer’s uniforms. Likewise, junior personnel wore regular enlisted KPA uniforms, again absent any insignia, until the main thrust of the Chinese Northeast Frontier Defense Army crossed the Yalu kitted out with China’s standardized Type 50 family of uniforms. Chinese that were embedded directly within KPA units wore Korean uniforms for the duration of their assignment.

From left to right: Commander of the 38th Army, Liang Xingchu and his deputy, Jiang Yonghui, accompanied by Commissar Liu Xiyuan
Chinese People’s Volunteer cadre dressed in sanitized KPA officer’s uniform.
Mao Anying, Chairman Mao Tse-Tung’s son, second from the left in the back row, wearing a KPA officer’s uniform. Photo taken October 16, 1950 at the Liaodong Liberation Martyrs Memorial Tower in Andong City (now Dandong City), before going to Korea. 
To Mao’s right is Xu Muyuan, a member of Mao’s staff whom this photo originally belonged.

After the armistice was signed, those Chinese personnel directly embedded within KPA units would begin wearing full insignia and accoutrements.

Wearing KPA uniform, Chinese PLA soldier Jin Dawan through the post-armistice reconstruction period. Jin served as a transport and logistics advisor as well as translator to the Koreans.
Chinese volunteer wearing KPA enlisted winter uniform during the reconstruction period.

Heer Oberschütze

Most nations’ armed services past, present and likely future, the most junior enlisted grades often require little more than the requisite Time-in-Service (TIS) and Time-in-Grade (TIG), to use contemporary US military vernacular, to be promoted.

Germany’s armed forces were no different in promoting their junior enlisted. The pictured rank, Oberschütze (Obergrenadier, ~kanonier, etc.), Senior Private or Private First Class, was reintroduced as the ranks of the newly created Wehrmacht exploded, as the organization emerged from the 100,000 man Reichswehr.

Oberschütze was instituted for those that met TIS and TIG requirements for the automatic promotion from Schütze to Gefreiter, but weren’t quite ready for the additional responsibility or needed additional time to master competencies in their career field and basic soldiering.

The nickname for the rank was “Dippen Stern”, or Idiot Star. Self explanatory.

After four months of satisfactory active service in a combat unit and a total active military service of 6 months the Oberschütze was eligible to be promoted to Gefreiter.

Likewise, the rank/position of Stabsgefreiter (Staff Corporal) was for those that have maxed out their TIG but were not promotable to the NCO grades–being a career lasting rank. The rank was discontinued in 1934 but reintroduced in 1942, becoming promotable to the NCO grades.

Heer Stabsgefreiter

Rank images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Even prior to the annexation by the Japanese Empire, the Korean peninsula had close military ties with the Japanese, of varying degrees of warmth or animosity, and just as varied political motivations. Once the nation became a colony in 1910 however, Koreans were not permitted to serve in the Japanese military except for the following circumstances:

-Former Imperial Korean Army soldiers of any rank/grade transferring into the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA).

-Graduates of the Imperial Japanese Army Academy and military prep schools.

The Imperial Japanese Navy did not allow Koreans to serve until the 1944 conscription law was implemented.

A milestone of sorts was reached in 1938 when Imperial Edict No. 95 went into effect, expanding the national military service law to allow native Koreans to volunteer and expanding eligibility for Koreans to attend the army’s various institutions. Amendments to this edict and the Korean Volunteer Soldiers will be discussed in a future post.

Front page of the General Government of Korea Gazette publishing the articles of Imperial Edict No. 95.

Naturally, growing pains were to be expected as the Japanese military greatly expanded the integration of native Koreans into the ranks. Despite the two East Asian nations’ shared cultural and historical roots, enough difference existed in the habits and customs between the two that made difficult Japan’s plans of integrating the Korean’s along Japanese cultural and martial lines. Putting aside the colorful and very significant politics of Korea’s differing independence movements of the 20th century, the IJA did make a conscious effort to understand and accommodate Koreans’ cultural differences when and where possible, if doing so would not impact the mission.

An example of such efforts can be found in the 1943 “Army Direction For Sending Reference Material on Education for the Handling of Korean Soldiers.” This eleven page pamphlet provides information for those who would be leading or training Koreans.

Readers familiar with Korean culture will know how important sharing meals are with family, friends, and co-workers (known as “hoesik” in Korean) and Koreans’ proclivities to eat Korean style whenever and wherever they are. I found this excerpt from the pamphlet regarding eating habits humorous and relevant:

“…it is interesting that for food and drink, the amount distributed, side dishes, etc. may not be plain, and might expose sneaky behavior during field exercises, etc.”

The pamphlet is instructing the Japanese reader to be aware and understand Korean customs regarding meals, particularly in the training environment where soldiers’ diets are highly regimented, Koreans will pursue obtaining the necessary side dishes (“banchan” in Korean) even when faced with disciplinary action for violating the camp’s or exercise’s restrictions on foodstuffs outside of the mess or canteen.

Another excerpt:

“It is extremely urgent to understand the Koreans’ history, traditions, customs, habits, lifestyles, environment of the general public, ideological tendencies, etc.,…grasp the actual situation of education before enlistment in [military] schools and others… Therefore, it is necessary to thoroughly scrutinize the main points of these matters to junior ranking leaders, but it is necessary to be careful not to make these characteristics immediately by using an indigenous scale or to make them look down on the first-come-first-served basis.”

Here the pamphlet is raising awareness of Korea’s strongly vertically aligned social hierarchy, informing the reader that soldiers must be counseled to treat each other as equals and the only hierarchy that exists is that of rank and grade. Despite Korea’s old caste system being abolished in 1896, the rigid Confucian-style social hierarchy persisted and does to this day. The goal was to eliminate any preconceived discrimination the ranks may have among themselves on account of their age, economic background, or where they went to school or what class a graduate was part of. Private’s First Class should be treated the same by their peers or superiors, regardless of their pre-military background. Again, readers of this blog article familiar with Korean culture can intimately relate how dominant this order of hierarchy is in Korean society, particular in the professional environment. You may be of equal grade and even greater experience to that of your partner, but if he is one year older, you might be the one serving him tea.

The pamphlet cited, dated Showa 18 (1943), August 14.
(JACAR Ref. C01007778900)

The historical relationship between Korea and Japan has not been particularly cheery, but at least within the army there was some consideration and acknowledgement of the two people’s differences and how to best align those to serve the needs of the military.

References:

  1. Army Special Volunteer Order, Original Signature, Showa 13th, Edict No. 95, National Archives of Japan Digital Archive 21506100.
  2. Ultimatum to the general Army regarding the sending of reference materials for education on handling Korean soliders, JACAR C01007778900.

Emerging from the Chinese Civil War (1927-1949) as the nation’s monolithic armed forces, The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) continued the Sino practice of wearing breast and sleeve identification patches. Departing from the variance of patches worn by China’s diverse militaries of the past, the new patches would be standardized in graphic design and method of wear. Of China’s new patches, none would be more iconic than that of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (CPVA, also abbreviated CPV for Chinese People’s Volunteers).

The Chinese Central Military Commission’s and Chinese People’s Volunteer Army’s General Political Departments approved the patch after the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed in July 1953, with an in-country start of wear date of October 19th that year for those still present in North Korea or those deploying as part of the reconstruction effort–the wear date intentionally made on the anniversary of the Chinese entering the war. CPVA personnel in China started wearing the patch immediately after the approval as stock of the patch became available.

Though the first version of the patch was made and issued in 1951, it wasn’t worn due to the concerns of security and avoidance of officially implicating the PLA’s as participants in the war. The first row of the patches’ reverse lists the military department information and for the 51 series of patches this was often the (PLA) Ministry of Defense. Again, any items bearing the PLA’s August 1st logo or naming any PLA department were required to remain in China. No patches were produced domestically in 1952, but new series were made from 1953-55. Subsequent patches would use a numerical code for security reasons when completing the military department section of the patch.

Chinese entering Korea from 1950-51 were issued the 51 series patch. Those entering in 52 had to wait until the 53-55 series patches were created and issued. On an extremely limited basis were new patches beyond these dates created, and those were exclusively for the delegation representing the CPV at Panmunjom.

Those CPVA members, to include non-Chinese such as Soviet technicians, airmen, and medical staff, who served in North Korea throughout the reconstruction period until 1958 were authorized wear of the patch. Likewise, members of the Chinese delegation to the Panmunjom Truce Committee continued to wear the patch long after China had ended her assistance mission to Korea.

Soviet personnel with the CPV air forces, c.1950’s. They are wearing the Type 50 family of uniforms, to include the Chinese version of the Russian “Gymnastyorka” tunic.

Wear of the patch by any Chinese official was discontinued on 1 May, 1985. On 15 December, 1994 the CPV delegation was disbanded and production of official CPV insignia ceased.

CPV delegates at Panmunjom, c. 1960’s. They are wearing Type 65 uniforms.
CPV delegates in 1985, wearing Type 85 uniforms. Wear of the CPVA patch has been discontinued.


The biggest take away if collecting the patch is to ensure it is written in traditional Chinese (中國人民志願軍) and not simplified Chinese (中国人民志愿军) as some reproductions are, especially surplus from some TV/film productions.

Collectors may want to try and find an example from each year, though securing post 1950’s dated patches will be difficult as those were only produced for the CPV delegation. I absolutely would not spend more than US$50 on any deadstock patch, barring any personalized nuances that may increase its value.

CPV veterans attending the October 1, 1953 “National Day Returning Ceremony for the Triumphant Delegation in the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea” in Beijing.


The patch was absolutely not worn by any member of the CPV, in theater, during hostilities though frequently they are sold as being “captured.”

A final note on CPV insignia that needs to be repeated. During the war, CPV uniforms were supposed to be sanitized. The Type 50 uniforms worn throughout the war already had plain faced buttons yet factory ink stamps and production tags inside the garments often remained and no cap badges were worn. The PLA, and thus the CPV, during this period did not have a system of ranks and rank insignia therefore no “captured Korean War CPV rank insignia” exists as there weren’t any to be captured. Likewise, the Type 50 canteen of the period was painted with the PLA August 1st star and was supposed to be removed either by scratching it off or painting over it. Of all Chinese pieces, the canteen would be one item that for whatever reasons, could be found with the PLA logo still present.

China introduced it’s new rank and branch of service insignia with the Type 55 family of uniforms, and its notions were embellished with the August 1st emblem. All regular PLA uniform buttons and cap badges would now feature the August 1st mark, whereas buttons and badges produced for the CPV would continue to be plain faced until CPV items were discontinued in 1994. This will be elaborated on in a future post.

It is my strongest desire to see MARS MILITARIA grow as an entity serving the military enthusiast and collector. Quality reproductions of specific East Asian uniforms of the 20th century’s first half are still missing from the growing catalog of offerings from other manufacturers.

The reader is probably already thinking of a few notable Japanese shops that have reproduced quite extensively various uniforms and equipment, or the handful of Chinese outlets that have also made examples of certain subjects. The issue I have is none of the offerings you are probably thinking of approach what I seek to obtain regarding the degree of authenticity or attention to detail like that of the reproduction U.S. and German goods, which have advanced and matured substantially over the years.

Some issues found with many of the current generation of reproductions:

  • Extensive use of contemporary overlock stitching to close seams
  • Errors in patterning and grading, some minor and some major
  • Quality in workmanship
  • Quality of materials
  • Accuracy of materials

MARS MILITARIA also seeks to cut out the middle man entirely regarding material acquisition and to eliminate reliance on China as a source for supplies and labor. This is pursued primarily due to logistical concerns and quality control. Additionally, MARS MILITARIA chose this route in order to become a more proficient atelier, developing and expanding it’s multidisciplinary skill set.

All master patterns are made in-house and often go through several iterations before it is approved as a production pattern after which, we take the master to a professional pattern maker whom reproduces and grades (sizes) the additional patterns we need.

Most textiles used are locally sourced. Currently, all of our contemporary fabric is made in Korea. Additionally, vintage fabrics and notions are used. The origin of most is Japanese and American.

We use a variety of threads of varied vintages from 1940’s era Japanese military thread to what we presently use the most, 1960’s-70’s vintage American made thread. The thread most common in our garments will be a poly-cotton blend, that is a polyester core wrapped with spun cotton. Modern sewing machines are often too fast and powerful for many vintage threads depending on thread type, age, condition. Many cotton and silk threads for example, break often during high speed work. Hence choosing the poly-cotton thread for it’s strength and appearance.

Presently, the only items that are not sourced locally or of vintage stock are the majority of our buttons which come from China. We look forward to changing that in the near future…

Why MARS MILITARIA?

  • Extensive use of period correct sewing techniques
  • Few, if any, errors in pattern and grading*
  • Pride in workmanship
  • Quality of materials
  • Accuracy of materials

*An exception will always be found, to every uniform pattern that is ever reproduced, and the authenticity of the reproduction and it’s creator always challenged by that exception. Likewise, we find ourselves always making subtle changes to our patterns as more and new information is discovered.