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German Democratic Republic Deutsche Demokratische Republik 7th October 1949 - 3rd October 1990

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Old 02-16-2007, 04:06 PM   #1
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History: East German Military Forces Introduction


East German military forces comprised one of the Cold War's most formidable armies. These same forces also kept the East German population from revolting successfully against hard-line Communist rule for over four decades. Furthermore, East Germany sent combat and security/intelligence troops all over the world in conjunction with the Soviet Union's master plan to spread Communism across the globe. They could function as an independent military force if necessary, but were mainly factored into the Soviet Union's defensive and offensive plans for all of Europe.


At the end of World War 2, the Western allies and the USSR divided much of the world among themselves. Germany was no exception. The country was split into four occupation zones, which later evolved into two separate and increasingly antagonistic countries: West Germany, an ally of the West, and Communist East Germany, the right hand of the Soviet Union. Both sides evaded cease-fire agreements aimed at blocking the two Germanys from developing armed forces. With the help of the Soviets, East Germany formed police groups of various sorts -- ground, air, water and others -- to circumvent these restrictions. By the early 1950s, these police groups had expanded to the size of small armies, each with its own administrative and mission tasks.

By then the Cold War had escalated into a struggle for survival between two global power blocs, with the Soviets backing their new client state, the GDR (German Democratic Republic; in German, DDR), as it became more open in its demands for a genuine military. In 1956, East Germany merged existing police units into recognizable armed forces: infantry, air force, navy, and other branches. In this confrontational way the East Germans began their formidable military machine -- all geared for total war against the West, including their West German blood brothers, whenever the call came from Berlin or, more accurately, from Moscow.

East German Military Force Structure

(Figures are based on 1987 data and should not be considered definitive)
In 1987, the armed forces of the DDR, officially known as the National People's Army (NVA), totaled 175,300 troops, of whom slightly over half (54%) were conscripts. The NVA comprised four main branches: ground forces, Navy, Air Force/Air Defense, and Border Guards, who technically were under the control of the Ministry of Defense, but in the field cooperated closely with the ground forces.

The actual number of male and female soldiers under arms was much larger, however, than the figure above indicates. East Germany's Communist leaders followed the Soviets in having available an assortment of auxiliary forces with military capabilities to support the regime. The list includes several types of police, militia, para-military and special mission units (see below).

It is vital to note that these forces were subordinate to Soviet forces stationed in East Germany, which numbered 380,000 men organized into 20 infantry divisions and one air army. In addition to countering NATO, the Soviets placed so many troops in the DDR to insure internal security and to keep the East Germans from rising up against their larger Communist brother.

Last edited by willie777; 01-03-2010 at 08:43 PM.
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Old 02-16-2007, 04:19 PM   #2
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History: East German Military Units


Official name: "NVA" can be used loosely to refer to the East German ground forces, or to all branches of the country's military. We use "NVA" in the section immediately below to mean the ground forces, or "Landstreitkräfte."
Mission: An all motorized infantry force slated with the task of defensive or offensive action to protect East Germany and the Soviet Union, or to attack Western Europe in conjunction with a Soviet offensive.
Organization: 120,000 troops, 60% draftees. 2 tank divisions, 4 motor rifle divisions, 2 surface-to-surface missile brigades, 10 artillery regiments, 1 anti-aircraft regiment, 8 air defense regiments, 1 airborne regiment, 2 anti-tank battalions, and other support units.
Equipment: Most of the NVA's equipment was of Soviet design, although some items came from Czechoslovakia or elsewhere within the Warsaw Pact: AK-47, AK-74, 122-mm multiple rocket launchers, T-72 tanks, various types of armored personnel carriers, massive artillery pieces varying from 85-mm to 240-mm, anti-tank weaponry as heavy as 100-mm, and various air defense platforms.

NVA dress and parade uniforms
Except for Navy, NVA uniforms followed a similar pattern. The following description applies, with slight variations, to Army (including elite units), Air Force/Air Defense and Border Guard uniforms.

Uniforms varied by period; early tunics were similar to those worn by the Wehrmacht during World War 2. From the mid-1970s to 1990, officers and career personnel wore stone-grey gabardine tunics white-piped around collars and sleeves, also trouser seams; breeches (used for parade) were unpiped. Non-career NCO's and other enlisted men, including draftees, wore wool stone-grey tunics, with unpiped grey wool trousers. From 1956-1982, parade tunics had decorative cuff bars on the sleeves.

NVA field uniforms
These varied considerably. The two main types were:
  • Leaf (or Splotch) Pattern Camouflage BDUs: Two-piece battle uniforms worn until the mid-1960s.
  • Rain (or Splinter) Pattern Camouflage BDUs: Two-piece battle uniforms worn from the mid-1960s until 1990. After 1986, the BDUs used rectangular rank patches in place of shoulderboards.

Special units, with cuff titles on tunic sleeves
Cuff titles have white lettering on stone-grey base with the exception of the "Erich Weinert Ensemble" (below).
  • "Wachregiment Friedrich Engels" Best known and most visible of the three Guard units, specifically charged with security and elite duties in Berlin, including the "Changing of the Guard" ceremony.
  • "NVA-Wachregiment" Oldest Guard unit (1962), charged with security and elite duties outside the capital city.
  • "Erich Weinert Ensemble" Elite armed forces entertainment group. Cuff titles are white and red on stone-grey base (Army), or dark blue base (Navy).
  • "Militärmusikschüler/Music School Student" Musicians completing the 3-year bandsmen program.

Other special NVA units
Mission: to provide the NVA with airborne assault capabilities.
Organization: Started in 1962, East Germany's airborne grew from the Willi Sänger battalion to an air assault regiment, totaling around 680 men.
Uniforms: Standard white-piped NVA stone-grey tunics, both gabardine and wool, worn with special tapered pants, berets, and other apparel unique to airborne.

Bausoldaten/Construction Troops
Mission: to provide labor service as required by the armed forces. The majority of soldiers in the Construction units were conscientious objectors who refused to serve in the regular armed forces. Service in the Bausoldaten unit was equivalent to a form of punishment.
Uniforms: Standard white-piped NVA wool tunics, worn with Soldat/Private olive-piped shoulderboards but no other rank or insignia.

Official NVA unit colors ("Waffenfarben"), used on shoulderboards

  • Air Defense: blue
  • Air Force: blue
  • Artillery, including Rocket Troops: red
  • Border Guard/Grenztruppen: green
  • Civil Defense/Zivilverteidigung: violet
  • Construction Troops/Bausoldaten: olive
  • Engineer/Pioneer: black
  • Motorized Rifles/Infantry: white
  • Navy: dark blue
  • Navy Aviation: light blue (on dark blue base)
  • Navy Coastal Border Patrol/Grenzbrigadeküste: green (on dark blue base)
  • Tanks/Panzer: pink
  • Paratrooper/Fallschirmjäger: orange
  • Rear Services; dark green
  • Signals: yellow
  • Stasi/State Security Police: reddish maroon


Mission: to serve as forward naval and amphibious transport component of the Warsaw Pact Fleet in Baltic area of operations.
Organization: 16,300 sailors, 50% draftees. 131 surface ships (largest: frigate), 48 auxiliary craft, 12 amphibious vehicle landing ships. For amphibious operations, the Navy relied on the 28th and 29th Motor Rifles Regiments, which were trained extensively in amphibious techniques with special armored personnel carriers, the BTR-60PB.

Officers and petty officers wore dark blue gabardine tunics with gold (brass) anchor-design buttons and dark blue unpiped trousers. Lower enlisted men wore a variety of blue and white outfits, determined by season and type of duty.

Special units
Coastal Border Patrol/Grenzbrigadeküste
Mission: to complement Border Guard activities in patroling coastal waters of the DDR; a part of the Navy, not to be confused with the Water Police.
Organization: 2,750 sailors, out of the Navy's total complement of 16,300. Included 8 patrol boat groups and land units for patrol of littoral regions.
Uniform: Standard Navy uniforms, with unit-distinctive insignia.

Navy Aviation branch
Mission: to provide tactical air support for joint fleet operations with the Soviet Navy, including anti-submarine warfare.
Organization: Pilots and ground crews for 1 squadron of jet fighter-bombers and 1 squadron of helicopters.
Uniform: Navy dark blue tunic with unit-distinctive insignia.


Mission: to prevent hostile penetration of East German air space.
Organization: 39,000 troops, 38% draftees (higher ratio of officers and NCOs to enlisted than any other military branch). 171 combat aircraft, including Mig-23s, Mig-17s, and Mig-21s. Toward the late 1980s, the DDR acquired a number of sophisticated Mig-29 fighter aircraft from the Soviet Union. 39 transports, including Antonov 26s and Tu-134s. 111 helicopters, including Mi-24 attack, Mi-8 armed and unarmed transports.
Air Defense: Troops constituted 67% of total Air Force/Air Defense manpower. Air Defense also controlled 300 Mig aircraft, including the Mig 23, and 217 surface-to-air regiments with SA-2s and 3s, plus 2 radar regiments.

Uniforms: See above, "National People's Army." Air Force and Air Defense uniforms were piped in the same color: blue.


Mission: to prevent East German citizens and government employees, including the military, from escaping from the DDR. Also to serve as part of the first-line of assault in event of an attack from the West.
Organization: 50,000 troops, 50% draftees. Three command centers: Command North, Command Central, and Command South. Troops were arranged in regiments around these centers with armament of a motorized rifles regiment, complete with some artillery and helicopter support. Also had a water-borne group for Command North.

Uniforms: See above, "National People's Army." Border Guard uniforms were piped in green. Cuff title worn by all ranks: "Grenztruppen der DDR," with white letters on green base.

Special units
Border Guard Air Patrol
Mission: to assist Border Guard ground units with air support, especially fly-over surveillance.
Organization: Small unit of uncertain size.
Uniforms: Same as Border Guard, but with green Air Force style collar tabs.

Last edited by willie777; 01-03-2010 at 08:44 PM.
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Old 02-16-2007, 04:44 PM   #3
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Abbreviated name: VOPO
Mission: to enforce East German Communist law and protect domestic peace and internal security.
Organization: 12,000 male and female professional force. Armed with AK-47 and AK-74 assault rifles, and various pistols such as the Tokarev and Makarov.

Uniforms: Uniforms varied by period. Older uniforms were unpiped. From the late 1970's to 1990, all ranks wore the same basic uniform: green tunic and trousers.
Color of piping (if any): medium green.
Color of collar tabs: dark green.

Abbreviated name: BEPO
Other names: Garrisoned Police, Kasernierte Volkspolizei (KVP); also (loosely) Volkspolizei Bereitschaften.
Mission: Rapid response unit to quell any civil uprising, to provide People's Police with a SWAT/riot control element, and to assist the people during natural disasters. This group fell under the administrative auspices of the People's Police, but was combat-trained same as the NVA and wore unit-distinctive insignia.
Organization: 12,000 troops, garrisoned throughout the country. Armed with light infantry weapons from the AK series assault rifles to the 82-mm mortar. Also equipped with armored personnel carriers. Stationed in rural areas in military style barracks like an army infantry unit, but kept in constant state of readiness.

Uniforms: Same as the People's Police, with variations of insignia. Barracks Police could wear NVA decorations, including parade cuff bars.
Color of piping (if any): medium green, same as VOPO Police.
Color of collar tabs: light green.

Abbreviated name: TRAPO
Mission: to protect East German rail lines against mishaps and saboteurs.
Organization: 8,500 troops armed with AK series assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Uniforms: Uniforms varied by period. Older uniforms were unpiped. From the late 1970s to 1990, all ranks wore the same basic uniform: dark blue tunics and trousers.
Color of piping (if any): light blue.

Special units:
Kompanien der Transportpolizei
Rapid response unit for protecting rail lines in emergencies.
Uniform: Similar to TRAPO, but with slight variations in tunic design and insignia.

Mission: to fight fires, inspect buildings for fire hazards, investigate arson and suspicious activities.
Organization: Number of troops is uncertain.

Uniforms: Varied by period. Older uniforms were unpiped. From the late 1970s to 1990, all ranks wore the same basic uniform: dark blue tunics and trousers.
Color of piping (if any): violet

Mission: to serve as prison guards and administer the East German prison system.
Organization: Number of troops is uncertain.

Uniforms: Varied by period. Older uniforms were unpiped. From the late 1970s to 1990, all ranks wore the same basic uniform: dark blue tunics and trousers.
Color of piping (if any): grey.

Mission: to assist police with operational air support: spotting, marking overtly hostile targets, riot control.
Organization: Number of troops is uncertain. Unit equipment consisted of attack and transport helicopters.

Uniforms: Varied by period. From the late 1970s to 1990, all ranks wore the same basic uniform: dark blue tunics and trousers, with Air Force insignia.
Color of piping: blue.

Mission: to patrol harbors and major waterways as an adjunct of the People's Police.
Organization: Information on both units is scarce. Number of troops small but uncertain.

Uniforms: Varied by period. From the late 1970s to 1990, all ranks wore the same basic uniform: dark blue tunics and trousers, similar to the Navy, but stamped "MdI." Cuff titles were worn on two types of tunics, both unpiped:
Hafenpolizei/Harbor Police: gold letters on dark blue base.
Bootsführer/Boat Commander: gold letters on dark blue base.

Mission: to protect against gross mistreatment of the environment and water quality.
Organization: Functioned under auspices of an independent agency: Ministerium für Umweltschutz und Wasserwirtschaft, about which little is known.

Uniforms: Grey uniforms with variety of unit-distinctive insignia.
Color of piping: blue.

Mission: to collect customs duties while protecting the country against subversive influences and illicit goods.
Organization: A small but active independent agency with police-like functions, including inspecting cars, trucks and ships. Size of unit is uncertain.

Uniforms: Varied by period. From the late 1970s to 1990, all ranks wore the same basic uniform: blue-grey tunics and trousers.
Color of piping (if any): green.

Last edited by willie777; 02-16-2007 at 04:44 PM. Reason: History: East German Police Units
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Old 02-16-2007, 04:48 PM   #4
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History: Intelligence and Security

Each branch of the NVA had an integral component that collected and analyzed military intelligence. For the country as a whole, intelligence and surveillance activities were under the control of the Ministry for State Security/Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, or MfS. Known as the "Stasi," this sophisticated secret police combined the techniques of the Nazi Gestapo and Soviet KGB to become an inescapable part of every aspect of East German life.


Mission: to protect East Germany from penetration by foreign intelligence services, to root out domestic traitors of the DDR (very broadly defined), to provide security for government buildings and personnel, to execute special military operations including overseas, and to provide the Stasi with a combat arm similar to that of a Motor Rifles regiment.
Organization: 100,000 staff officers. These officers supervised or "ran" approximately 150,000 civilian informants. Equipment included surveillance tools such as listening devices, letter opening machines, and small arms for covert operations such as silencer pistols and the small Czechoslovakian submachine gun called the "Skorpion."

Special units of the Stasi:

"Wach Regiment F. Dzierzynski"
Mission: to provide the Stasi with a reliable combat force under its own command.
Organization: Expanded regiment numbering around 10,000 elite (Guard) troops. The unit had at its disposal the same type weapons as a Motor Rifles regiment: assault rifles, artillery, anti-aircraft guns, armored personnel carriers, and helicopters.
Uniform: Standard white-piped NVA stone-grey tunics with unit cuff title "Wach-Rgt. F. Dzierzynski," white letters on a grey base. Earlier tunics and trousers stamped "MfS"; later stamped "NVA."

Headquarters (or Administrative) Stasi
All Stasi officials were entitled to wear a military-style uniform. Unlike the Dzierzynski combat unit, the tunics worn by the great majority of Stasi personnel had no cuff title on the sleeve. From the mid-1970s to 1989, the tunics worn by non-combat Stasi personnel were standard white-piped NVA stone-grey tunics with white-piped collar tabs and Stasi (reddish maroon) shoulderboards.

Central Intelligence Administration (HVA)
Agency charged with overall coordination of intelligence and counter-intelligence activities of the DDR. Mission included operating an extensive and highly successful spy network in West Germany and its NATO allies. The HVA had 4,128 case officers who ran an undisclosed number of spies infiltrating Western governments, technologically advanced companies, military organizations, and financial sectors.
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Old 02-16-2007, 04:53 PM   #5
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Histiry: Militia and Para-Military Organizations


Mission: to support the military in times of war with rear area services and other activities as required, and in peacetime to protect the security and Communist identity of the DDR.
Organization: 3,000 NVA officers and NCOs made up the core of this organization, overseeing the training of several hundred thousand members. Beginning in 1981, Civil Defense training was mandatory for all males ages 16 to 65, and females 16 to 60. Training took place sporatically during the year; in war, Civil Defense units were subject to mobilization.

Uniforms: Permanent cadre of officers and NCOs wore standard white-piped NVA stone-grey tunics. All other troops, including volunteers, wore two-piece, olive drab colored, fatigue-style uniforms with Civil Defense unit patch on the left sleeve, and cloth rank patch on right sleeve.
Color of rank insignia: violet.


Mission: to serve as the military arm of the East German Communist Party as well as the symbol of working class control of the country ("dictatorship of the proletariat").
Organization (founded 1953): Nationwide network of factory and neighborhood militia units, with membership (1987) in excess of 500,000, serving as an additional means for the Party to control activities in the workplace and to safeguard the loyalty of the regular armed forces. Weekly and monthly training exercises: compulsory 136 hours training annually.

Uniforms: All troops wore two-piece, olive drab colored, fatigue-style uniforms, with Kampfgruppen unit patch on left sleeve, and rank patch on right sleeve.
Color of rank insignia: red.


Mission (founded 1946): to physically and psychologically prepare male and female youth ages 15 to 25 for induction into the armed forces as a prelude to spending the rest of their lives as politically reliable East German citizens.
Organization: Massive network of youth-related athletic, educational and social activities, including the Ernst Thälmann Pioneer program (ages 6 to 14). FDJ activities revolved around a core component stressing military fitness and training.

Uniforms: All troops wore two-piece, olive drab colored, fatigue-style uniforms, with FDJ unit patch on left sleeve.


Mission (founded 1952): Similar to the FDJ.
Organization: Similar to the FDJ, with more emphasis on military training of youth ages 14 to 25. The FDJ was under the direct administrative control of the Ministry of National Defense.
Membership (1983): approximately 480,000 members, with almost 100,000 instructors, many of whom were NVA active personnel and reservists.

Uniforms: Permanent core of officers and higher GST officials wore dark blue-grey NVA-style four-pocket tunics. All other troops wore two-piece, olive drab colored, fatigue-style uniforms, with GST unit patch on left sleeve.
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Old 04-11-2013, 08:36 PM   #6
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Re: History: East German Military Forces Introduction

An old post, but a good post! :thumbsup :)
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