It’s 1968, the Cold War has gone hot and you’re a British soldier somewhere in northwest Germany. The 3rd Shock Army is coming straight at you and you’re trying to decide if the Soviet motor rifle regiment infantry attacking your defensive position is bringing up a DShK or an SGM. You reach for your trusty copy of Recognition Handbook Foreign Weapons and Equipment (USSR) Group III Infantry Weapons.
Well, of course, you wouldn’t be reaching for the recognition handbook in the middle of a battle but these handbooks, which were assembled by the intelligence corps of most NATO nations, were widely used to learn what the enemy might throw at you.
In anticipation of a conflict with the Soviet Union, detailed recognition guides were written for British troops to identify and familiarise them with enemy weapons and equipment. A substantial series of these were written covering everything from small arms to artillery to vehicles and aircraft. This one was published in August 1966.
The Recognition Handbook is about 100 pages long while the wider series encompasses 12 booklets at approximately 1,200 pages. Each entry in the handbook includes a general description of the weapon, its characteristics and recognition features to help identify it. The Handbooks are a more detailed version of the smaller Threat Recognition Guide booklets which we have looked at previously.
Let’s take a look at some entries from the handbook:
Perhaps one of the most interesting entries is the one for the Stechkin, the entry describes the pistol as a new Russian primary sidearm but does mention that it is a selective fire machine pistol. The fact they only included an illustration of the pistol suggests they didn’t have photographs of the pistol yet.
The handbook’s entry for the 12.7mm DShK notes that the weapon is “probably obsolescent”.
The recognition guide covers more than just firearms and has sections on ammunition, grenades and infantry anti-tank weapons. There is no page on the iconic RPG-7, which had been introduced just 5 years earlier, but there is an entry for its predecessor the RPG-2.
Below is a video I made looking at the entire handbook, I also spliced in some clips from a 1979 British Army training film made by the School of Infantry which shows some of the weapons in action.
Thankfully the Cold War never went hot and soldiers didn’t need to consult these to identify the weapons of their adversaries. Today, they’re fascinating pieces of military history and they give us an insight into what NATO knew about Soviet weapons.