top of page
800px-Coat_of_arms_of_NVA_(East_Germany).svg.png
1200px-Flag_of_East_Germany.svg.png

Nationale Volksarmee (National Peoples Army) 1956-1990

The National Volksarmee, also known as the National People's Army, was established on March 1, 1956, in East Germany. It was formed six months after the creation of the West German Bundeswehr, and it originated from the Kasernierte Volkspolizei, which translates to the Barracked People's Police. Prior to its establishment, former Wehrmacht officers and Communist veterans of the Spanish Civil War played a crucial role in organizing and training paramilitary units of the Volkspolizei. The NVA adopted a German appearance, including uniforms and ceremonies that were influenced by older German military traditions. Its doctrine and structure were heavily influenced by the Soviet Armed Forces, blending elements from the most innovative and successful military schools of the 20th century. Despite its relatively small size, the NVA was widely regarded as one of the world's most professional and well-prepared forces.

During its initial year, around 27 percent of the NVA's officer corps had previously served in the Wehrmacht. Out of the 82 highest command positions, 61 were occupied by ex-Wehrmacht officers. The military expertise and combat experience of these veterans were crucial in the NVA's formative years, although most of these World War II veterans had retired by the 1960s. The West German Bundeswehr also depended on Wehrmacht veterans who initially made up the majority of its commissioned ranks. In the first six years, the NVA operated as an all-volunteer force. In contrast, West Germany reintroduced universal military service in 1956. Conscription was eventually implemented in 1962, leading to an increase in the NVA's strength to approximately 170,000 troops.

The NVA never engaged in full-scale combat, but played a supportive role in the suppression of the Prague Spring of 1968 and NVA officers often acted as combat advisers in Africa. When the Soviet Union was preparing to occupy Czechoslovakia, the GDR government initially intended to deploy the 7th Panzer Division and the 11th Motorized Infantry Division to assist, but concerns about international reaction to German troops being deployed outside Germany for the first time since World War II led to a change of plans. Instead, the NVA provided logistical support as Soviet troops entered Czechoslovakia and remained at the border ready to intervene if necessary.

Throughout the 1970s and increasingly in the 1980s, the NVA improved its mobilization times and combat readiness. NATO's submarine-based missiles were viewed as a significant threat and difficult to defend against. Approximately 85% of NVA units were kept on constant alert, capable of departing within 25 to 30 minutes to designated areas five to seven kilometers away. Reserve mobilization could be completed within two days. This high level of combat readiness was seen as a key element of GDR military deterrence, though it placed significant pressure on military personnel and conscripts.

In the early 1970s, the NVA was tasked by the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany high command with the wartime mission of capturing Berlin. The NVA's plan for this operation, known as 'Operation Centre', involved around 32,000 troops in two divisions, supported by the GSFG's 6th Guards Separate Motor Rifle Brigade. The plan was continuously updated until 1988, when a more modest strategy focused on containing Berlin was adopted.

The NVA maintained a high level of combat readiness during significant events such as the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the 1968 Warsaw Pact intervention in Czechoslovakia, and the protests in the autumn of 1989. Initially a professional volunteer army, conscription was introduced in 1962. By 1987, the NVA had 175,300 troops, with half being career soldiers and the rest short-term conscripts. The National Defense Council oversaw the armed forces, while the Warsaw Pact Unified Command controlled the mobile forces. Political influence over the military was closely tied to the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), which screened all officers. The NVA enjoyed public support due to military training in schools and the increasing militarization of society.

 

Seen through a Leninist lens, the NVA represented Soviet-East German unity and embodied Communist ideals of ideology, hierarchy, and discipline. The NVA combined Communist and Germanic elements, naming its officers' academy after Friedrich Engels and its top medal after Gerhard von ScThe NVA maintained a high level of combat readiness during significant events such as the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the 1968 Warsaw Pact intervention in Czechoslovakia, and the protests in the autumn of 1989. Initially a professional volunteer army, conscription was introduced in 1962. By 1987, the NVA had 175,300 troops, with half being career soldiers and the rest short-term conscripts. The National Defense Council oversaw the armed forces, while the Warsaw Pact Unified Command controlled the mobile forces. Political influence over the military was closely tied to the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), which screened all officers. The NVA enjoyed public support due to military training in schools and the increasing militarization of society. Seen through a Leninist lens, the NVA represented Soviet-East German unity and embodied Communist ideals of ideology, hierarchy, and discipline. The NVA combined Communist and Germanic elements, naming its officers' academy after Friedrich Engels and its top medal after Gerhard von Scharnhorst, a Prussian General.harnhorst, a Prussian General.

Democratic Republic of Germany

bottom of page