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Summary: From Interbrigader to Member of People’s Army - The Secret Armament in the SBZ/GDR between 1945 and 1956

Frank Heinz Bauer

With the foundation of the German Democratic Republic on 7th October 1949 the ruling SED received creative political possibilities unknown up till then. Thus it suited fine that people like president Wilhelm Pieck and general secretary Walter Ulbricht had already been dealing with military matters for decades and had tried several times to define the role and function of armed forces within socialism. Above all, a good reason for an Eastern German approach in military politics was the fact that Stalin assessed the change from a defeated enemy state to an alliance partner to be, evolving between the Federal Republic of Germany and the western victorious powers of the Second World War, as being a threat to soviet security interests.

In the Weimar Republic, concerning military politics the CPG-leadership concentrated on creating a defence organisation culminating in the foundation of so-called Proletaric Contingents of a Hundred in May 1923. In October 1923 altogether about 130.000 men were members of this organisation lead centrally by Hugo Eberlein and Wilhelm Pieck. Additionally, with the establishment of the Roter Frontkämpferbund (RFB) in July 1924 an organisation came into being going in a lot of trouble to give its members military training. Several training periods of RFB-officials were to express close cooperation in military matters with the Soviet Union.

Despite this attachment the close military cooperation between the Reichswehr and the Red Army, which was kept secret from German public, remained untouched by this and pointed out that the Soviet leadership, when dealing with its security political interests, by no means was guided by ideological considerations alone, which annoyed German communists. During the Spanish civil war, many German communists and Interbrigaders had been fighting at the front since 1936. Although due to the lack of professional military skills the number of casualties on the part of the German communists was disastrous, from that time on within the CPG the veterans of the Spanish civil war were considered to be military experts.

In the time between June 1941 and the capitulation of the German formations in Stalingrad, the re-education of Wehrmacht NCOs and other ranks had been the centre of communist efforts. Afterwards, these efforts were focussed on all officers. By dissolving the national committee and the Alliance of German Officers on instructions by Stalin in November 1945 Moscow pointed out that it was not interested in Eastern German officials dealing with military political matters.

Not until November 1946 Ulbricht established a border police consisting of 2.500 men, which was lead centrally by the German Interior Administration. Between September and October 1948, with the permission and help of the Soviet Union Erich Mielke, the head of the Central Committee’s Department of Justice and Police, succeeded in engaging 4.774 men out of 4.934 returnees from Soviet prisoner-of-war camps for police squads. Although the activities of the people’s police, which were similar to the military, took place secretly, in September 1949 the formations in barracks already consisted of 24 infantry squads, 8 artillery squads, 3 armoured squads, and several training schools.

The Korean War became a catalyst for East German military political considerations and subsequently the Soviet supervisory committee finally made up their mind to give permission to the FDJ to establish "military sports common interests groups”. In 1951 already 91% of the officers of the main training administration were made up of the workforce. The selection by classes, however, which was obligatory, had unwelcome negative effects. 88% of the officers had only attended elementary school with eight forms, and only 10 % had intermediate high school certificates. Thus, officers with school-leaving certificates and university degrees were exceptions. Only in April 1952 the simplistic directions, given by the Soviet head of state to Pieck and Ulbricht, to "establish a people’s army without fuss”, dissipated all latent East German misgivings to be dropped by the Soviets in favour of more global German interests for good.

Although the national uprising of 17th June 1953 had been primarily provoked by the economic crisis and the political suppression of the population by the SED, the wrath of the people also was directed against the barracked people’s police (KVP). Only when the Soviets had put 500 combat tanks into action in order to crush the revolt violently, the KVP was alerted with Soviet approval. Up to 22nd June a total of 13.000 people’s policemen were in action to assist the Red Army.

Immediately after the Federal Republic of Germany had joined NATO, Pieck signed the Warsaw Treaty and thus also the GDR’s integration into the military organisation dominated by the Soviet Union, as was provided in this treaty. But even five years after the fundamental decision to put up a regular army, strong pacifistic tendencies within the population caused severe problems in recruitment. On 18th January 1956 the act of establishing the national people’s army was passed by the people’s chamber, and with the handing-over of the colours to the 1st Armoured Division on 30th April 1956 the systematic conversion of the KVP to the regular armed forces began. At the end of the same year the KVP was dissolved.

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Eigentümer und Herausgeber: Bundesministerium für Landesverteidigung | Roßauer Lände 1, 1090 Wien
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