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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Volks-Armee, The Other NVA

With the upcoming release of Volks-Armee from Battlefront, I thought it would be a good idea to give players a brief history of East German military and the weapons they used. The formation of the National Volks Army (NVA) took a different path than many of the other nations in Eastern Europe who found themselves in the Warsaw Pact. First of all the creation of two separate German nations was not something that was planned prior to end of the war. The plan was to carve Germany up into zones of occupation under the Allies and the Soviet Union after World War Two, with the thought that one day the entire nation would revert to self-rule.

Obviously this never happened because the two sides could not agree on very much and in 1949, the Soviet Union turned over their occupation zone to the German Communist Party and they formed the German Democratic Republic (DDR in German). I think the term “turned over” is applied very liberally here since not only did the Soviet troops stay in the DDR, very little went on in East Germany without the approval of Moscow.

The DDR geographically composed of what was agreed to during the Potsdam conference of 1945, with the eastern most parts of Germany and East Prussia being given to Poland and the remaining territory being east of the Oder–Neisse line to the new Polish border. The German capital of Berlin was also similarly split between the Allies and Soviets in 1945 and in 1949 the City of East Berlin became the capital of the DDR.

If you ever want to look up some interesting historical facts, do some research on how the two German nations (with their occupiers) behaved with one another during 1945-1991; like how the West German nation airline Lufthansa was not allowed to fly into West Berlin, or how West Germany never looked at the DDR as being a foreign nation.

As the DDR was being established the Soviets had to give a lot of thought into the re-armament of Germany. While Moscow feared NATO, they also hated the fact of arming the very nation that they felt caused two major wars. However in 1956 the NVA was established and was originally an all-volunteer force, which incorporated conscription in 1961 (same year the Berlin Wall was built). The NVA was never a large military and in 1962 it had 85,000 soldiers and saw a peak of 175,000 in the late 1980’s. During most of its existence the NVA was an army in search of a mission. The mission of securing the DDR's borders done by the Grenztruppen (Border Troops) who peaked at about 47,000 personnel, so the NVA found itself training for supporting a Soviet attack against NATO by recapturing West Berlin, which was a side show in the event of WWIII.

East Germany in many ways was a caricature of the communist autocratic state. It had the ruthless Soviet paranoia done with a touch of German efficiency. A few of us can recall the DDR today, I remember the jokes about female East German Olympic athletes, or the fear everyone had for the Stasi, the dreaded internal security force that had an informer or agent for every 63 East German citizens.

The NVA was considered by many to be the best equipped, ready, and most combat capable of all of the Soviet satellite states during the Cold War. The NVA was able to field 2 full panzer and 4 motorized rifle divisions on paper, however one can would assume that in the event of a war, these units would struggle to quickly ready themselves for combat action. Plus I do not see why they would have taken the mission to capture West Berlin seriously. As Soviet units pushed into the West they planned to bypass major population centers, why wouldn’t they just reinforce the ring around Berlin and await the outcome of the war?

One aspect I like about the NVA are the uniforms.  The gumdrop shaped helmet worn by NVA soldiers is iconic and I swear some of the guys in the documentary Darkon wore them. The uniforms still had the flair of German uniforms used in the past.

What about the equipment used by the NVA? Like all of the other Warsaw Pact nations, it was either bought from Soviet factories or licensed to be made by factories behind the iron curtain. The Soviets trusted no one, so they would not think of selling top of the line equipment to even their allies. I recall asking a Bulgarian pilot why the MiGs they bought from the USSR couldn’t refuel in flight and the reply was “so we couldn’t bomb Moscow. So thought the Cold War, the Soviets never really tried to make sure that Eastern Bloc nations had a military that was ready to go to war with NATO, they were way too worried about having to put down an uprising in one of their satellites.

Many speculate how the NVA would have performed if they would have to fight against the Bundeswehr. Would they fight against fellow German’s whose only difference is political? While we have seen East vs. West clashes between Korea and Vietnam, I do feel that a NVA vs Bundeswehr clash may have gone down differently with perhaps the FRG troops initiating the “Why are we fighting each other” question to their NVA counterparts.

 Build That Wall???
No matter how that fight would have gone down, we have the chance to pit the NVA against the other NATO forces in the upcoming Volks-Armee book. While this release is not a game changer like Iron Maiden was, I still think it gives some flavor to the forces who fought under the red star.

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