Germany's Forgotten Army
"You get the impression that some people would very much
like to remove the NVA from history so that it is
Admiral Theodor Hoffman, Volksmarine der NVA
The German Democratic Republic (GDR)
German: Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR),
informally known in English as East Germany, was a
Communist state that existed from 1949 to 1990 in
the former Soviet occupation zone of Germany.
The German Democratic Republic was proclaimed in East
Berlin on October 7, 1949, five weeks after the
Federal Republic of Germany in western Germany.
was declared fully sovereign in 1954. Soviet troops
remained based on the four-power Potsdam agreement,
largely to counterbalance the U.S. presence in West
Germany during the Cold War. East Germany was a
member of the Warsaw Pact.
In the first and last free
elections of the GDR on March 18, 1990, the leading
communist party (SED) lost the majority in the
Volkskammer (the parliament of the GDR), which they
had been guaranteed in the previous elections. On
August 23 the Volkskammer decided that the territory
of East Germany (including East Berlin) would accede
to the ambit of the basic law of the Federal
Republic of Germany on October 3, 1990. As a result
of German reunification on that date, the German
"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
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
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.
Die Nationalhymne der Deutschen
Text: Johannes R.
Musik: Hanns Eisler
1. Auferstanden aus Ruinen
Und der Zukunft zugewandt,
Laß uns dir zum Guten dienen,
Deutschland, einig Vaterland.
Alte Not gilt es zu zwingen,
Und wir zwingen sie vereint,
Denn es muß uns doch gelingen,
Daß die Sonne schön wie nie
|: Über Deutschland scheint. :|
2. Glück und Frieden sei beschieden
Deutschland, unserm Vaterland.
Alle Welt sehnt sich nach Frieden,
Reicht den Völkern eure Hand.
Wenn wir brüderlich uns einen,
Schlagen wird des Volkes Feind!
Laßt das Licht des Friedens scheinen,
Daß nie eine Mutter mehr
|: Ihren Sohn beweint. :|
3. Laßt uns pflügen, laßt uns bauen,
Lernt und schafft wie nie zuvor,
Und der eignen Kraft vertrauend,
Steigt ein frei Geschlecht empor.
Deutsche Jugend, bestes Streben,
Unsres Volks in dir vereint,
Wirst du Deutschland neues Leben,
Und die Sonne schön wie nie
|: Über Deutschland scheint. :|