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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 forgotten..."

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.

It 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 Democratic  

"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.

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 Demokratischen Republik


Text: Johannes R. Becher

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. :|