Boris Shvanvich: how the Soviet entomologist came up with camo for the tanks

Another 01/01/20 Boris Shvanvich: how the Soviet entomologist came up with camo for tanks

bolsheokhtinskoye cemetery in St. Petersburg is not the usual tombstone – with the image of a butterfly wing. Not the usual places of burial picture. But it has another unusual detail: it is said that this wing masked image… tank.

what is going on here? Why would a butterfly among the graves? And what is the connection with tanks?

Image of a butterfly wing on the obelisk is simple: here is buried a distinguished Russian and Soviet zoologist, entomologist Boris Shvanvich. He is the author of classic works on entomology, which has still not lost its scientific value. And one of the most important fields of his scientific interests was mimicry of butterflies.

Boris Shvanvich showed himself a brilliant researcher immediately after graduating in 1913, the natural separation of physics and mathematics faculty of St. Petersburg University. He worked at the Murmansk biological station, where he collected material for his master’s thesis defense, in 1928 headed the Department of Zoology of invertebrates, Perm state University. Since 1930 Shvanvich head of the Department of entomology of the Leningrad University. After some time, the Department of entomology was merged with the Department of invertebrate Zoology. Shvanvich further research in the laboratory of the Leningrad University. He engaged in a pattern of the wings of Lepidoptera, studying the principle of stereotropism that allows the butterfly to blend in with the environment, becoming invisible to predators.

When the war started, Boris Shvanvich was in Leningrad. He continued the scientific activity, in particular, conducted a study dealing with indoor flies and suggested a number of methods of dealing with them. In 1942 he was evacuated from besieged Leningrad, and until 1944 he headed the Department of invertebrates at Saratov University. During this period, he bithave ABOTEL methods food use river mollusks.

In 1944, at Leningrad University newly opened the Department of entomology, and Boris returned to his beloved work as the head of the reconstituted Department. In 1949, he published a textbook of entomology, which still remains the basic work in this field of science. Eminent scientist died in 1957.


With the name Boris Shvanvich is a legend that is still alive at the Department of entomology of St. Petersburg University. Here is what to tell.

In 1942 Shvanvich died from starvation in besieged Leningrad. At this time the Rate of Supreme commander held a meeting devoted to the issues of masking in the front. Stalin was interested in why the German airfields from the air is not very visible why our pilots are struggling to identify their tanks and other military equipment. Some of those present, perhaps in the recent past, a graduate of Leningrad University, suggests that there are, say, a Professor who is engaged in the protective (protective) coloration of butterflies. Stalin asks where to find this scientist? His answer: in Leningrad. For Shvanvich immediately dispatched a special flight. Professor find barely alive. Nutrient broth start soldering already on the plane to Moscow. Shvanvich the same night, delivered to Stalin. He outlined the problem: it is necessary to deal with the camouflage of military equipment, buildings and structures to the German air force was not able to recognize them from a height.

— you will be Able to help the front, Professor?

Yes, comrade Stalin.

— What should I do?

Three days and two artists.

three days Later Shvanvich on three-dimensional models were shown to Stalin and the generals of the Betting results.

the Concept of masking based on studies on mimicry of insects, proposed by Shvanvich, if very simply and briefly, is as follows: projecting light parts should be painted dark and concavee – on the contrary, in bright colors. Of course, there are subtleties and details, but the main thing is. Disguised thus building a fighting machine when viewed from above as would “fall apart” and lose shape, becoming completely invisible.

These recommendations have been applied in practice and proved its effectiveness. Then Stalin once again summoned Shvanvich and asked what he wants as a reward for their labor. Shvanvich and asks to restore the Department of entomology at the University of Leningrad, merged before the war with the Department of invertebrates. This has been done. However, in addition to this award, Boris received the order of Lenin.


This beautiful story has no documentary evidence. Nothing like that in the official biography of Professor B. N. Shvanvich, nor in the memoirs of military leaders of those years.

moreover, in books on military history you can read that the concept of camouflage was developed long before the beginning of the Second world war. In its development was attended by artists Baranov-Rossine, Ebot Thayer, Norman Wilkson. In the USSR in 30-ies left instructions for the camouflage, which was painted in detail, as in what colors are in different periods of the year should paint the machinery. In 1941 he established the Commission for geological and geographical service of the red Army, which was led by academician A. Fersman. The members of this Committee work and ad-hoc group on camouflage airfields.

In conclusion

However, in the story of how Shvanvich taught the generals camouflage, there are some points that convince supporters of its authenticity. First: the Department of entomology was re-established at Leningrad University in 1944! The war is still on, the blockade is removed relatively recently, and all of a sudden – Department of entomology. The seemingly “indispensable” business in the prevailing conditions. And second, the order of Lenin by the Professor of the Shvanvich. Surely he received this award for the research methods of controlling indoor flies or attempts to introduce into the diet of the Soviet people recnyh clams? And finally, this line of reasoning: development of methods of disguise began even before the outbreak of the Second World war and not completed until now. And then, in the years of the great Patriotic war, the best minds in the country continually worked on how to help our soldiers and to ensure the needs of the front. So, it is not excluded that Boris Shvanvich still contributed to the improvement of methods of camouflage.

Olga Melnikova

© Russian Seven

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