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Ministry of Defense

In 1989 East Germany maintained a regular military establishment with a strength of 175,000, about 1 percent of the population. Conscripts totaled about 95,000, or approximately 54 percent of the armed forces. The ground, air/air defense, and naval forces were included in the National People's Army (Nationale Volksarmee - NVA), which had grown out of the police units created under the Soviet occupation after World War II. The close association thus established with the Soviet Army continued to exist and was reflected in the missions and roles of the NVA. Even the military oath of allegiance taken by all NVA service personnel refers to the alliance with the Soviet Army.

Since the mid-1970s, East Germany has had three military districts--I, III, and V--defined as higher militaryadministrative groupings of formations, units, and military facilities in a certain area. Until the mid-1970s, the People's Navy had constituted Military District IV, while the Air Force/Air Defense Force had formed Military District II; these two districts as such were abolished in the mid-1970s. In 1987 the air/air defense and naval forces were under the orders of their respective commands. The military districts were also separate from the fifteen districts of the civil administration and from the air defense districts, which were part of the Warsaw Pact air defense system. Within the NVA's system of military justice, each military district constituted a judicial district for a military high court.

In 1989 Military District I, headquartered at Strausberg--a small town near Brandenburg, thirty-five kilometers west of Berlin--was essentially the capital district. The district included the Ministry of Defense, the Border Troops, and Civil Defense. Military District III and Military District V--the two ground force districts--have been subordinate to the Ground Forces Command in Potsdam since 1972. The head of each district was supported by a staff and an advisory military council. Military District III, embracing the southern half of the country, was headquartered in Leipzig; Military District V, which included the northern half of East Germany, had its headquarters in Neubrandenburg.

The decline in East Germany's population from a high of 18.4 million in 1950 to the 1989 figure of 16.7 million, caused serious manpower problems for the armed forces. The Military Service Law contained several measures designed to increase the pool of potential service personnel, including a provision for mandatory premilitary training for all young men and women. Women were not subject to compulsory military service, but they were permitted to volunteer and were doing so in increasing numbers. For the most part, women served as temporary NCOs, career NCOs, or warrant officers in the NVA and the Border Troops. Typically, they worked in the administrative service as secretaries, in stationary communications centers as telephone and teletype operators, and in the medical service as nurses. More and more women displayed interest in becoming officers, and in September 1985 the Franz Mehring Officer School of the Air Force/Air Defense Force for the first time admitted women for education as political officers or technicians. Women were not assigned to line units, although official publications contained discussions of the possibility of a combat role for women.

During mobilization and in a national defense emergency, East German women between the ages of eighteen and fifty (through December 31 of the year in which they turned fifty) might be included in the general draft. Since appropriate peacetime preparation was a prerequisite, they might at any time receive an order to report for induction for training purposes. One source estimated that in the mid-1980s women accounted for as much as one-third of the country's active civil defense forces. Socialist military education stressed women's important contribution to national defense, and in January 1983 the magazine Sport und Technik, an official GST publication, appealed to young women to volunteer for service in the NVA, since the mission of the armed forces -- the prevention of war -- was not men's concern exclusively.

On January 18, 1956, the People's Chamber (the national legislature) passed a bill creating the NVA and the Ministry of Defense. This act formally acknowledged the existence of East Germany's armed forces. The NVA incorporated the KVP, Sea Police, and Air Police into a single armed force having three branches: ground, naval, and air. The Ministry of Defense was headed by Colonel General (Generaloberst) Willi Stoph, who was also minister of the interior. Stoph was later chairman of the Council of Ministers and a member of the SED Politburo. General Hoffmann, who was listed as first deputy minister of defense, attended the Soviet General Staff Academy in the mid-1950s and replaced Stoph as defense minister in 1960. Hoffmann held the post until his death in 1985.

Concurrent with the establishment of the NVA as a legal entity was a return to public manifestations of German military traditions, with the addition of socialist elements. The training regimen for recruits approximated that of the former Wehrmacht, as did drill and ceremonies. New uniforms, whose color and cut were far closer to those of German World War II forces than to Soviet models, were introduced. Only the helmet represented a radical departure from World War II, but here too the design differed from the Soviet model.

The NVA was administered through the Ministry of Defense, one of the principal branches of the national government. In December 1985, General (Armeegeneral) Heinz Kessler became minister of defense with headquarters in Strausberg, just outside Berlin. Kessler replaced Hoffmann, who held the post from 1960 until his death in 1985. Kessler was assisted by a colloquium of deputy ministers who were also chiefs of certain key administrations within the ministry.

In 1987 the deputy ministers and their assignments were: Lieutenant General (Generalleutnant) Klaus-Dieter Baumgarten, chief of the Border Troops; Admiral Wilhelm Ehm, chief of the People's Navy; Colonel General (Generaloberst) Joachim Goldbach, chief of Technology and Weaponry; Lieutenant General Horst Brünner, chief of the Main Political Administration (Kessler's former post); Colonel General Wolfgang Reinhold, chief of the Air Force/Air Defense Force; Colonel General Horst Stechbarth, chief of the ground forces; Colonel General Fritz Streletz, chief of the Main Staff and secretary of the National Defense Council; Lieutenant General Fritz Peter, chief of Civil Defense; and Lieutenant General Manfred Graetz, chief of Rear Services.

The organization of the East German Ministry of Defense, which closely followed the pattern of the Soviet Ministry of Defense, comprised several administrations and departments, among which there appeared to be a certain amount of overlapping authority. In the mid-1980s, its complement of about 4,200 personnel had a military-to-civilian ratio of approximately three to one, in contrast to comparable Western ministries or departments that generally have a much higher proportion of civilian employees. Approximately 100 Soviet officers also were assigned to the East German ministry.

Since the mid-1970s, East Germany was involved indirectly in virtually every large-scale conflict in Africa. In many cases--Angola, Ethiopia, and Mozambique, for instance--East German support was crucial. Despite the financial expense of support for Africa and other Third World countries, East Germany in the mid-1980s was strengthening its existing ties and seeking new ones as part of a policy expressly based on Marxist-Leninist doctrine and proletarian internationalism.

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Page last modified: 06-10-2014 18:47:32 ZULU