The Origin of "SMERSH"
Is it an acronym? A word in Russian? A misnomer?
Believe it or not, the word itself matters here, as most of us in the West have absolutely no idea where it came from.
The best answer is "It depends." Most of us outside of Russia in general call it the "SMERSH" with an "SH" at the end — and we're going to keep calling it that to keep things simple.
But we had to be sure. We've seen it spelled in more ways than one. So, we went down the confusing rabbit hole of it's origin...
"Death To Spies"
СМЕРШ, literally "Smersh" is a Portmanteau of "Смерть шпиoнам (Smert’ shpiónam)" which means "death to spies".
It's so Russian that the term itself was coined by none other than Joseph Stalin to nickname the Red Army's counter-intelligence operations.
So, the word is not an acronym, nor does it directly translate to a single word in English.
The way we use it, it's a borrowed term. much like how we use "RSVP" in English despite none of the words in "répondez s'il vous plaît" being English.
We wouldn't blame you if that portmanteau doesn't sound like something you'd name a belt kit, but with the connection the FSB (who developed the SMERSH) has to the former KGB, one could argue still that this may be the true origin...
СМЕРЧ, however, another Cyrillic spelling of the rig we've seen would best translate to an English pronunciation of "SMEAIRCH" (Say it in your best FPSRussia or Niko Bellic accent for proper effect.)
Our friend in the industry who's responsible for our Gorka suits also insists this is the way it's spelled, and some of the Russian side of the internet seems to agree. Numerous sellers of the "SMERCH" in Russia and other countries that use the Cyrillic alphabet spell it this way.
Unlike Stalin's anti-spies, "SMERCH" does directly translate to a single English word: "Tornado" or "Whirlwind".
It's been used to name a Missile truck and a goofy-looking prototype bullpup AK too. Here in the west we're no strangers to naming military equipment after natural disasters either, with examples like the Eurofighter Typhoon or F-35 Lightning II.
So the belt kit might share the same name. Or does it?
We're not sure. but it sounds just as valid as the argument supporting "SMERSH" as the true name...
Which Way, Western World?
Looking at both spelled out in Russian, It's a single Cyrillic character difference.
So is it "СМЕРЧ" like we spell it on our site? Or is it Stalin's "СМЕРШ"?
In our opinion, it would seem either way is correct, but we'll continue call it "SMERSH" the American way since that's the most common. And frankly, that's the way people are going to continue saying it no matter what we do.
You'll see us spell it "СМЕРЧ" as told by our Russian Gorka-Making friend on our site — After all, there's no better source to cite than a guy who actually works in a military-adjacent industry over there. But even some Russians spell it the other way...
The Worldwide Webbing
USSR vs. Mujahideen
During the very peak of the cold war, the USSR invaded and attempted to occupy Afghanistan.
It was here that much of the equipment handed down from the "Great Patriotic War" (WWII) started to fall far behind in combat.
Meanwhile, their communist friends in China were arguably miles ahead in taking the grenadier vests of the world wars, making them able to hold magazines, and giving birth to the first true 'Chest Rigs'.
The humble type 56 'Chicom' rig had a resounding effect on everyone's gear development but definitely tickled the soviets the right way.
Whether "Tactically Acquired" off of Mujahideen or eventually made themselves, they needed new webbing so badly that Chicom chest rigs were the way to go.
It wasn't until after the fall of the union that they went back to the drawing board with their belt kit...
SMERSH Is Born
As the new Russian military was being reorganized, the Federal Securities Service (FSB) Began experimenting with belt-kit again.
A modernized version of the Stalin-Era belt kit began to take shape in 1997 from SSO/SPOSN by request from an FSB Alpha member.
As we said earlier: whether it was truly called "SMERSH" due to its connection to WWII and the KGB, or whether it's always been "SMERCH" is unclear to us.
A Legend In The Making
The first iterations of SMERSH were tested and extensively changed by the FSB after use in numerous combat & training exercises.
They drew a lot of the influence from the existing American M1967 Belt kit, (the predecessor to the ever-popular "ALICE" webbing) from its suspenders to a wider hip belt and the iconic buttpack.
The "Partizan Rig", which could be considered a part of the SMERSH family saw limited adoption. It drew more inspiration from British PLCE webbings with a different style of yoke and a smaller buttpack with side-pouches.
If you've seen This famous photo before, you've seen the Partizan harness. It only served from 2003 to 2006 and had its most iconic appearance at the Belsan School Siege during the Second Chechen War.
The "Partizan Harness" and "SMERSH" were being developed side by side, but SSO/SPOSN decided to focus on developing the SMERSH with some of the partizan's improvements instead.
Around the 4th iteration into the SMERSH family, with the introduction of ALICE-Like plastic magazine dividers and an improved Yoke, the SMERSH was standardized.
From there, new pouches for supporting weapon systems such as the PKM, RPK, SVD, VSS and of course the classic AKM were configured.
With the 5th iteration, it switched to a nylon construction, and became the iconic SMERSH many know today, and the one we picked to clone.
Claims To Fame
Outside of it's appearance in several military operations, it became the object of obsession here in the west, as many Russian items have.
As notorious as the Gorka Mountain Suit (and often equipped right on top of it), it appeared in any setting where post-soviet Russian gear could be found, predominantly in Survival & Shooter video games.
The SMERSH rig would become the "It" item to have from popular games like Rainbow six: Seige and DayZ.
People only became more infatuated with Russian kit through other games like the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series and Escape From Tarkov. SMERSH became an unstoppable force in the gear world, and a common sight at any Milsim event — All the 'cool kids' had one.
But the stars were aligned at exactly the wrong time for SMERSH.
A New "Curtain"
The lingering wounds of the Soviet Union's split have resulted in numerous conflicts to arise in countries formerly part of the USSR.
Would they remain loyal to Russia, Try to join NATO? Or maybe even try to fend for themselves?
Ukraine has been one of the primary "battlegrounds" for this kind of conflict, and the fuse was finally lit in February 2022 with Russia's Invasion of the Donbas region.
As soon as that begun, exporting goods from Russia went from somewhat difficult to borderline impossible, as we ourselves learned when moving our Gorka suits out of the country.
With outrageous tarifs, export bans, and a slew of sanctions, the SMERSH as we know it in the west became a highly endagered species.
Sure — a few here and there made it out of Russia, and maybe even got stateside. We won't pretend like they're all gone. But if you want one, you either have to get extremely lucky, buy a cheap Chinese clone, or shell out quite the stack of cash for the real mccoy.
Much like our other historical reproductions in the past, we didn't want SMERSH to go extinct.
So we got to work cloning it as closely as we could, and making sure we didn't pick a country of manufacture that'd end up getting sanctioned.
...With a Little Help From Our Friends
After investigating ways to get the real deal stateside and even re-make them in Eastern Europe to no avail, we settled on our new friends at Arktis.
With decades of experience in making combat webbing and a prolific rig of their own, they absolutely nailed the clone of SMERSH to a T and gave it a materials & construction upgrade too.
They've helped us strike the perfect balance of feeling just like the original, but giving it proper QC and NIR compliant fabrics that helps it keep up with modern needs & wants.
In short — If you loved the original, rest assured you'll be right at home wearing one of ours.