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Nationale Volksarmee

DDR Armed Force

Nationale Volksarmee

The National People's Army (German: Nationale Volksarmee, NVA) was the army of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).
It was founded on March 1, 1956. Its early roots were laid in 1952 in the founding of the NVA's predecessor, the Kasernierte Volkspolizei (KVP) (barracked people's police).
The NVA was a professional, volunteer army until the 24th January of 1962, when conscription was introduced. Conscription was for at least 18 months and adult males between 18 and 26 were eligible. There was no alternative civilian service for those opposing military service with weapons, e.g. for religious reasons.
However, in 1964 the Bausoldat (construction soldier) in the NVA was introduced as an alternative. Some of these Bausoldaten worked indeed in the construction of military facilities, others worked in hospitals or other social services. Bausoldaten were subject to official harassment during their service, and often after it, too. For example, university admission was often refused after service. Real conscientious objection was illegal and was punished with jailtime.
Often the jailtime was followed by eviction to West Germany. In 1987 at the peak of its power, the Nationalen Volksarmee (NVA) of the DDR numbered 175,300 troops. Appoximately 50% of this number were career soldiers, while the remaining half were short-term conscripts.

The NVA comprised four main branches:

  • LANDSTREITKRÄFTE (Ground Forces) 120,000 soldiers

  • VOLKSMARINE (Navy) 16,300 sailors

  • LUFTSTREITKRÄFTE/LUFTVERTEIDIGUNG (Air Force/Air Defense)  39,000 airmen

  • GRENZTRUPPEN (Border Guards) 50,000 border guards (separate from the NVA but under command of the Ministry of Defense)


As well, the DDR had large numbers of NVA reservists and paramilitary auxillary forces it could draw upon in a crisis. The NVA was merged into the Bundeswehr in 1990. Merging was not a 1:1 process. Large parts of the non-commissioned officer corps and almost all commissioned officers were not taken over, but instead released from duty. The ones who were taken over were usually demoted by one rank. Most of the barracks were closed, much equipment was sold to other armies.