East German Military Forces
"With the (ending) of the NVA . . .
went the last true German Army."
- Former Inspector General of the West
German Army, as quoted in German Military Cuffbands, 1784-Present
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.
East German Military Force Structure
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.
(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
More Specific History Information:
East German Military Units
East German Police Units
Intelligence and Security
Militia and Para-Military Organizations
Gowen Militaria maintains the most diversified inventory of East
German uniforms and insignia in the United States and Canada. Almost
all of the uniforms listed in the history section are in stock, plus
many variations not listed.
If you do not see what you are looking for, please
let us know.