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East Germany Border Troops Grenztruppen

In 1989 the Border Troops [Grenztruppen] numbered approximately 50,000, about 50 percent of whom were conscripts. Although subordinated to the Ministry of Defense, they were no longer part of the National People's Army (Nationale Volksarmee - NVA). Formerly known as the NVA Border Command, (and before that the Border Police), they were separated from the NVA in 1974 and renamed Border Troops. This step may have been taken to keep the units from being affected by international agreements on force reductions.

According to East German law, service in the Border Troops was the equivalent of NVA service in terms of fulfilling the military obligation, as was service in the Garrisoned Units of the Ministry of the Interior (the People's Police Alert Units and portions of the Transport Police) and the Ministry of Security (the Feliks Dzierzynski Guard Regiment in East Berlin and the units of that regiment stationed in the district capitals). The Border Troops' oath of allegiance did not differ materially from that of the NVA. The troops were composed of conscripts, term soldiers, and career soldiers. Women served as term and career soldiers on the staffs and in the rear services of the Border Troops. Care was taken to ensure that members of the Border Troops had no family ties with the West. Young men eager to climb the ladder fast in East German civilian life frequently volunteered for term service in these troops, and the SED expected that many of its members who were earmarked for cadre assignments would serve there.

These troops, with a central command in Pätz, near Königswusterhausen, were organized into three border commands and two independent regiments. Border Command North, headquartered in Stendal, patrolled the east-west border from its northernmost point at Lübecker Bucht to Nordhausen. Border Command South, with its seat in Erfurt, guarded the border from Nordhausen to the Czechoslovak border. Border Command Center, in Pätz and East Berlin, was responsible for the regiments and units whose troops operated in the area around Berlin. The Polish and Czechoslovak borders were each patrolled by an independent border regiment, with headquarters in Frankfurt am Oder and Pirna, respectively. The seacoast was guarded by the Coastal Border Brigade of the People's Navy.

Border Command North was reinforced on the Elbe by a boat section independent of the People's Navy, based at Dömitz, and was assisted by the Water Police. Other than this augmentation, the northern and southern commands had identical organizations. Each had six regiments and two training regiments, with 1,200 to 1,400 men in each regiment. Border Command Center operated in the area around Berlin. In addition to six border regiments and two training regiments, it included the special Border Crossing-Point Regiment that controlled the access points to West Berlin.

Border regiments each comprised three battalions of four companies. The regiments also had a staff company (headquarters) and transport, rear services, engineer, signal, and artillery companies. Overall, there were approximately 150 border companies, each with an authorized strength of 100. Weapons and equipment corresponded to those found in a motorized rifle battalion; T54s and T55s were available for antitank operations. Along the border with West Germany, there were three helicopter squadrons, equipped with Mi-2, Mi-8, and Mi-24 helicopters. Flight personnel were trained by the NVA's Air Force/Air Defense Force, which probably supplied the technical personnel as well. In addition, the GSFG maintained its own helicopter forces for border security. The Border Crossing-Point Regiment was made up of eight companies; the other regiments of Border Command Center were each reinforced with a boat company to patrol the waterways in and around Berlin.

The Border Troops were quite successful in halting illegal emigration. Improvements in facilities and procedures were made when a new system known as company security was introduced in 1981. Only 160 persons were known to have succeeded in crossing the border illegally in 1985, as compared with 192 in 1984, 228 in 1983, and 207,000 in 1961, before the Berlin Wall was built. Special awards for preventing escapes, as well as special pay and rations, were provided to members of the Border Troops. The Border Troops operated their own training establishment for officers, NCOs, and recruits.

Beginning in 1983, however, warrant officers (Fähnriche) were trained at the NVA's Erich Habersath Military Technical School at Prora, on Rügen Island. Members of the Border Troops were closely supervised and intensely indoctrinated, largely because of their ease of access to West German territory. East German military defections between 1961 and 1985 totaled 2,500, and 90 percent of these were members of the Border Troops, primarily enlisted men. Reorganization, stricter border zone security, and stringent training brought a steady decline in the defection rate. In 1985 there were only ten military defectors overall.

Guarding the border was not the only mission of the Border Troops. According to a Politburo resolution of 1985, the Border Troops, as well as the NVA, reliably defended the socialist order and guaranteed the inviolability of the borders of the workers' and peasants' state and its national security. In case of an attack from the West, these troops would be East Germany's first line of defense. Authorized to operate and fight independently until the approach of the NVA, they were trained to seize and hold commanding heights, important lines of communication, military facilities, and vital civilian installations on enemy--presumably West German--territory, or to destroy major objectives that they were not equipped to defend.

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