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 East Germany

Soviet Union &          Warsaw Pact

West Germany &          Other Countries

Koenig Seppi

Gowen Militaria
1404 Ragsdale Road
Greenville, NC 27858
ph: 252-830-5353
fax: 252-830-0122

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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.

        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
(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 brother.

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.

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