East German Military Units
NOTE:Tunics and trousers
used by the East German armed
forces are normally stamped "NVA" on the interior lining.
NATIONAL PEOPLE'S ARMY: NATIONALEN VOLKSARMEE
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.
Uniforms: 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:
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).
- 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.
Other special NVA units:
- "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"
- "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
- Militärmusikschüler/Music School
Student. Musicians completing the 3-year bandsmen program.
Official NVA unit colors ("Waffenfarben"), used on shoulderboards:
- Fallschirmjäger/Paratroopers. 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.
- 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
PEOPLE'S NAVY: VOLKSMARINE
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.
Uniforms: 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.
- 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.
AIR FORCE/AIR DEFENSE: LUFTSTREITKRÄFTE
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.
BORDER GUARDS: GRENZTRUPPEN
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.