How good was the GDR army?

There are many people in Germany who believe that the” National People’s Army” (NVA), the army of the communist GDR, with its West German opponent, the “Bundeswehr“, would have wiped the ground.but I do not agree.

I met many former NVA soldiers and officers after the reunification of Germany, served with some of them, and when you talk about professionals to professionals, the picture is very different.

The East German army has done much better than most NATO armies.Because her country was a dictatorship, the military did not have to worry about public opinion or human rights, and could do what it wanted:

  • High readiness: An armored NVA battalion was able to prepare for combat within a few hours and reach the front.

The Bundeswehr, on the other hand, took 24 to 48 hours to prepare for the fight.

  • Well-trained staff The soldiers were very well trained and prepared.
  • Conscription in the NVA lasted much longer than in the Bundeswehr and this meant more time for training.

  • Better special operations: During the Cold War, the Bundeswehr had no special forces.
  • The military planners said our paratroopers were good enough for all kinds of missions. On the other hand, the NVA had many special ops, not only in the army and navy, but also within state security. A long time after the end of the Cold War, I spoke to a man who was a member of a paramilitary sabotage department of state security. These people regularly went to Western Europe to explore German and NATO military facilities. In the event of an armed conflict, they would have caused us many problems.

  • Discipline: The NVA was extremely disciplined.
  • An order should not be discussed, as it sometimes happened in the Bundeswehr. In combat, this is a big plus.

  • Perfect maintenance: Your equipment was always ready for use.

  • This may look impressive, but like many other Eastern European militaries, the NVA had many problems:

    • Obsolete and inferior material: Although they functioned flawlessly, most of the East German weapons were Soviet-made and technologically inferior to NATO systems.

    The NVA had limited night combat capability, and its tanks (mostly T-55 and T-72) were not up to the Bundeswehr leopards or the American M-1 Abrams.

  • Dependence on the Soviet Union: The GDR was a satellite state under the rule of the Soviet Union.
  • This also applied to their military. As a result, the NVA could only be as good in combat as its military strategists, who were not Germans.

  • Politicized leadership: What struck me most when I spoke to former NVA soldiers was how much they hated and despised their officers.
  • In the Bundeswehr, you usually respect your commander as long as he is not a total idiot, but not in the NVA: To become an officer there, you had to be a good communist first. Military capabilities ranked only second. This, of course, led to a highly indoctrinated and less capable officer corps.

  • Incompetence: In contrast to the Bundeswehr, the NVA was not built up with the help of former Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS officers.
  • A former Nazi officer who becomes NVA general would have been unthinkable. The few senior Wehrmacht officers in the NVA were mainly people who were “turned upside down” during their time as prisoners of war in the Soviet Union. Other high-ranking officials had fought for the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. They were good communists, but terrible soldiers. In the Bundeswehr, on the other hand, it was not uncommon to see the bearer of a knight’s cross or a tank ace. The Bundeswehr benefited from these experts, while the NVA did not

  • Lack of motivation: Having discipline is good, but not enough.
  • East German conscripts were not really willing to fight for their country. In large parts of East Germany, the population was able to receive a Western television signal and therefore knew exactly what was going on. I remember that many Western TV presenters sent special greetings to their viewers in East Germany because they knew how popular their shows were there. When the East German government collapsed, it made one last attempt to control the situation and ordered its most loyal army units to suppress the massive popular uprising. Instead of obeying the orders of their superiors, these units decided to revolt themselves.

    Despite all the propaganda and discipline, the NVA probably could not have fought against its West German brothers for long.

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