An ushanka (Russian: уша́нка; IPA: [ʊˈʂankə], lit. "ear hat"), also called a ushanka-hat (Russian: ша́пка-уша́нка; IPA: [ˈʂapkə-ʊˈʂankə]) or trooper hat, is a Russian fur cap with ear flaps that can be tied up to the crown of the cap, or tied at the chin to protect the ears, jaw and lower chin from the cold. The thick dense fur also offers some protection against blunt impacts to the head. While no match for a helmet, it offers protection far superior to that of a typical beanie cap should the wearer fall and hit his or her head against ice or packed snow.
The word ushanka derives from ushi (у́ши), "ears" in Russian.
Ushankas are often made from expensive sheepskin (tsigeyka, ru:Цигейка), rabbit or muskrat fur. Artificial fur hats are also manufactured and are always referred to as "fish fur" since the material has no relation to any real fur. The simplest "fish fur" of ushankas was made of wool pile with cloth substrate and cloth top, with the exception of flaps, in which pile was exposed. Mink fur ushankas are widely used in Arctic region of Russia, keeping ears and chin safe even in the "deep frost" (−40 to −70 degrees C).
German hunter with an early form of the ushanka, painting by Joachim von Sandrart, 1643.
Alexander Kolchak decorating his troops wearing kolchakovkas
Hats with flexible earflaps made out of fur have been known in Russia, Germany and Scandinavia for centuries. The standard modern-type ushanka with a perfectly round hat crown was developed in the 20th century. During the Russian Civil War, when Aleksandr Kolchak ruled in Siberia, he introduced around 1918 a winter uniform hat, commonly referred to as a kolchakovka, which similar to the ushanka but had an extra eye-flap. In 1933, W. C. Fields wore a kolchakovka in the short film The Fatal Glass of Beer. However, Kolchak and the White Army lost the war, and their headgear did not find usage in the new Soviet Union.
During the Winter War against Finland, organizational failures and inadequate equipment left many Soviet troops vulnerable to cold, and many died of exposure. The Finnish army had much better equipment including 1936 introduced ushanka-style fur hats, the turkislakki M36. 1939, shortly before the winter war, the slightly improved turkislakki M39 was introduced, which is still in use today. After the winter war, the Red Army received completely and improved new winter uniforms and budenovkas were finally replaced with ushankas based on the Finnish example. Only officers received fur ushankas, the lower ranks received ushankas made with plush respectively fish fur. Later in the Great Patriotic War, German soldiers started to wear ushankas, as well as other Soviet-type winter gear, as the German soldiers lacked adequate protection against the Russian climate.
The ushanka became a symbol and media icon of the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation. Photographs of U.S. President Gerald Ford wearing the cap during a 1974 visit to the Soviet Union were seen as a possible sign of détente. In 1991, with the fall of the Soviet Union came the first wave of commercially imported Russian winter hats into the United States.
Identified with Soviet rule and issued in all Warsaw Pact armies, the ushanka has become a part of the winter uniform for military and police forces in Canada, the United States, and other Western countries. Gray (military, American police), green (for camouflage) and blue (police, United States Post Office, navy) versions are being used.
It has stayed as a part of the German police uniform in winter after German reunification, as was used by East German Authorities. In the Finnish Defence Forces, a gray hat is used with M62 uniform and a green one of different design is a part of M91 and M05 winter dress. Armoured troops have a black hat (M92) and general officers may wear a white M39 hat. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police use a "regulation hat" (between an ushanka and an aviator hat), made of muskrat fur. This replaced the former Canadian military fur wedge cap.
A similar type of headwear is worn as part of China's People's Liberation Army's winter uniform. Seen in an iconic image of Lei Feng, this type of hat is often called by Chinese "the Lei Feng hat" (雷锋帽, Lei Feng mao). In 2013, the Russian army announced that the ushanka was being dropped in favor of a new headgear design.
A similar hat is a trapper hat, which "are a sort of hybrid between the aviator cap and the ushanka—they combine the style of the former with the furriness of the latter". They are considered more casual than the military-derived ushanka.
- Zaloga, Steven J. Red Army of the Great Patriotic War 1941–5. Osprey Publishing, 1989. ISBN 0-85045-939-7. p. 43.
- Finnish army website
- Laurent Mirouze: Infanteristen des Zweiten Weltkriegs, Verlag Karl-Heinz Dissberger, Düsseldorf, ISBN 3-924753-27-X, p. 28
- Mathias Färber: Zweiter Weltkrieg, Unipart-Verlag, Stuttgart 1990, ISBN 3-8122-3001-1, S. 556
- 雷锋帽 ("Lei Feng hat")
- "Russian Army Says Goodbye to Earflaps."
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