The Russian telnyashka is an undershirt horizontally striped in white and various colors and which may be sleeveless. It is an iconic uniform garment worn by the Russian Navy, the Russian Airborne Troops (VDV) and the Russian marines. Dating back to the 19th century Imperial Navy, it was subsequently worn by the Soviet successors of these troops.
The official uniforms of Naval, Airborne and Naval Infantry personnel do not include conventional shirts. Open fronted jackets of various designs make the distinctively striped telnyashka a conspicuous part of the clothing of these different branches of the Russian armed forces.
Telnyashkas are also available to civilian customers and may come in a variety of knittings. Single-stranded knitting is the standard military-issue variant, but double- and quadruple-stranded knitting for increased warmth can be produced. A quadruple-stranded telnyashka is thick enough to keep the wearer warm with nothing else on, even at 5 °C (41 °F), as it was originally developed to be worn by military divers under a dry suit.
Soviet special forces wear telnyashkas with Afghanka battle dress during the War in Afghanistan.
he Russian telnyashka originated in the distinctive striped marinière blouse worn by merchant sailors and fishermen of Brittany, who adopted this style to distinguish them from other sea-going nationalities. The fashion was later adopted and popularized by the French Navy and other navies of the pre-dreadnought era. Sailors of the modern French Navy still wear these garments in certain orders of dress.
The Imperial Russian Navy adopted the blue and white striped telnyashka blouse during the 19th century. The tradition of Russian or Soviet ground troops wearing a naval uniform comes from Soviet Navy sailors who fought as shore units during World War II. It is exemplified by the famed Soviet sniper Vassili Zaitsev, a petty officer in the Soviet Pacific Fleet who volunteered for army duty, but refused to give up his telnyashka because of the pride it engendered.
Vasily Margelov, who was later to modernize the Soviet Airborne Forces (VDV), had previously served with a Naval Infantry unit in World War II, and procured telnyashkas for the VDV as a mark of their elite status.
Telnyashkas with stripes of certain colors traditionally designate particular troops, for example:
• Black – Naval Infantry
• Dark blue – Navy
• Light blue – VDV paratroopers, GRU Spetsnaz (posing as VDV)
• Light green – Border Troops
• Maroon – OMON
• Red – National Guard Forces Command, National Guard of Russia (formerly Internal Troops of the MVD)
• Orange – EMERCOM