The reason Soviet troops used to boil their bullets

Miguel Ortiz
Jan 30, 2023 6:00 AM PST
2 minute read


Unless you were part of the elite ruling class (ironically), life in the Soviet Union was drab and difficult. This…

Unless you were part of the elite ruling class (ironically), life in the Soviet Union was drab and difficult. This went double for citizens serving in the Soviet military. While a deployment to Afghanistan for an American soldier in the 21st century was no walk in the park, a deployment during the Soviet-Afghan War was undoubtedly worse. Among the chief complaints of Soviet troops was their rations. This led to them boiling ammunition, but not to eat (the rations weren't that bad).

A Soviet BMD-1 in Kabul (DoD)

Not eager to chow down on their canned, dehydrated and condensed field rations, Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan found an alternate source of sustenance. Local Afghans were willing to sell them food in bazaars. These markets also had clothes and other supplies that were sold to Afghans by corrupt Soviet officers looking to make some side money. While Soviet troops didn't have much money of their own to shop at the bazaars, there was one thing they had plenty of: ammo.

Mujahideen fighters used any weapons they could get their hands on (Wikimedia Creative Commons)

Afghan merchants were more than willing to barter for Soviet bullets. For the soldiers, it was easy enough to requisition more ammunition from supply in a war zone. However, with a certain inevitability, the ammo sold by the Soviets found its way into the hands of the mujahideen fighters they were at war with. While trading bullets for food and supplies was a short-term win, each one sold could be used to kill a comrade.

"Goodbye Afghanistan" spelled out in munitions (National Security Archive)

In an effort to avoid arming the enemy, Soviet troops took to boiling their ammo before trading it to Afghan merchants. The intent was to make the bullets inoperable without leaving any visible traces of the sabotage. However, despite boiling for four to five hours, the bullets were likely unaffected. Modern Soviet ammo was lacquer-coated and used primers with extremely high heat tolerances, making it resistant to boiling. Still, Soviet troops boiled and bartered in order to survive their time in Afghanistan.

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