Border Troops of the German Democratic Republic

Border Troops of the German Democratic Republic

The Border Troops of the German Democratic Republic, in German "Grenztruppen der DDR", were a military froce of the GDR and the primary force guarding the Berlin Wall and the border between East and West Germany. The Border Troops numbered at their peak approximately 47,000 troops. Other than the Soviet Union, no other Warsaw Pact country had such a large border guard force.


The "Grenztruppen's" predecessor organization was the "Deutsche Grenzpolizei" (German Border Police), originally formed on 1 December 1946. The "Grenzpolizei" were armed and organised like a police force; eventually, the East German regime demanded a reorganization of the force along military lines, similar to their Soviet counterparts, the USSR Border Troops. In 1961, the Grenzpolizei were reorganized as the "Grenztruppen der DDR". As part of the reorganization, the "Grenztruppen der DDR" were moved from the GDR Ministry of the Interior to the GDR Ministry of National Defense (MfNV). Although the border troops were originally part of the National People's Army (NVA), in 1973 they were separated from the NVA and reported thereafter directly to the MfNV.

The border troops had their own dark green arm-of-service colour, and their service and dress uniforms bore a green cuff title with white lettering - "Grenztruppen der DDR" - on the left arm. From 1973 on, service in the "Grenztruppen der DDR" was voluntary - no draftees involuntarily served in its ranks after 1973, as opposed to the NVA.

In contrast to the massive efforts along the borders with the West, there were only circa 600 members of the "Grenztruppen" assigned to guard the GDR's borders with Czechoslovakia and Poland.

On 1 July 1990, the border control regime along the borders with West Germany and West Berlin was ended. In September 1990, shortly before the reunification of Germany, the "Grenztruppen der DDR" were disbanded; its border patrol duties along united Germany's eastern frontiers were assumed by the "Bundesgrenzschutz" (Federal Border Guard - later "Bundespolizei" or Federal Police).

Pass and Control Units

For most visitors to East Berlin and the GDR, including persons who utilized the land transit routes (road and rail) between West Germany and West Berlin, their exposure to the "Grenztruppen der DDR" consisted of dealing with the members of the "Pass and Control Units" ("Paß- und Kontrolleinheiten" - PKE) who processed travellers passing through the GDR's "Grenzübergangsstellen" (border crossing points). Although they wore "Grenztruppen" uniforms, the members of the PKE were in fact members of the 6th Main Department "(Hauptabteilung VI)" of the GDR Ministry of State Security "(Ministerium für Staatssicherheit der DDR" - "Stasi").

Refugee Shootings Along the Berlin Wall and the Inner-German Border

Undoubtedly the most controversial aspect surrounding the "Grenztruppen der DDR" concerns those who were killed or wounded while attempting to flee East Germany into the West. Even today, the topic of the "shoot-to-kill order" "(Schießbefehl)" is quite sensitive in Germany, East and West. According to information released by the "Working Group 13th of August" "( [ Arbeitsgemeinschaft 13. August e.V.] )" on 13 August 2004, 1065 persons were killed along the GDR's frontiers and coastline, including 37 "Grenztruppen" soldiers killed during escape attempts. Many more were wounded.

The Berlin Public Prosecution Department reckons that about 270 'proven' deaths on the border were due to acts of violence by GDR border security guards, including deaths caused by mines and automatic firing devices. The Central Assessment Group for Governmental and Federational Crimes (German ZERV), however, has registered 421 suspected cases of killings by armed GDR border guards [cite web|url=|title=GERMANY AND THE GERMAN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC - Truth and justice|publisher=Amnesty International, Daan Bronkhorst|month=June | year=2006|accessdate=2008-03-11] .

To encourage the troops, the GDR government gave distinctions, extra liberty and premiums to a soldier who had used his gun in earnest at the border. If he had killed a refugee, he got a gold watch, but was also transferred to another unit to avoid bullying from his own unit buddies. Source: die NVA in Stichworten, published 1977.

Training and equipment

Frontier Troops regiments were trained similar to regular infantry, but were much more lightly equipped than comparable NVA infantry formations, with the heaviest weapon being the RPG-7 grenade launcher. To increase their capability to search for persons attempting to flee the GDR, most units had German Shepherd dogs. A regiment consisted of around 1,500 men divided into three battalions of four companies each. These regiments also had an anti-tank battery, a mortar battery and an engineer company. The units of the "Grenzkommando Mitte" were mechanized, with PSzH-IV and FUG armoured vehiclesfact|date=September 2007.

Training for Grenztruppen soldiers was provided by the four training regiments; after the reorganization of 30 November 1989 (see below), the four regiments were consolidated into two training centers. Training for noncommissioned officers was held at the "Unteroffiziersschule der Grenztruppen der DDR „Egon Schultz“" in Perleberg. Training for dog handlers was conducted in Wilhelmshorst. "Grenztruppen" officers and officer candidates were trained at the "Offiziershochschule der Grenztruppen der DDR „Rosa Luxemburg“" in Suhl (previously located in Plauen).

Organizational Structure

The units of the "Grenztruppen der DDR" were organised in the same manner as ordinary NVA army units. The structure listed immediately below was that which existed prior to 30 November 1989.

Major units and locations

National headquarters

The headquarters of the "Grenztruppen der DDR" was located at Pätz (a small village southeast of Berlin in the present-day state of Brandenburg).

Regional headquarters

The Grenzkommando Nord (GKN) (Border Command North), with headquarters at Stendal (in the present-day state of Saxony-Anhalt) was responsible for the northern sector of the East German border. The GKN consisted of six frontier troops regiments, two training regiments, a helicopter flight and some smaller support units.

Commanders::Oberst Harald Bär (1 Feb 1971 - 31 Dec 1981):Oberst Johannes Fritzsche (1 Jan 1982 - 30 Nov 1989)

Order of battle::Grenzregiment 6 "Hans Kollwitz":Grenzregiment 8 "Robert Abshagen":Grenzregiment 20 "Martin Schwantes":Grenzregiment 23 "Wilhelm Bahnik":Grenzregiment 24 "Fritz Heckert":Grenzregiment 25 "Neithardt von Gneisenau":Grenzausbildungsregiment 5 "Gustav Sobottka":Grenzausbildungsregiment 7 "Martin Hoop":Pionierkompanie 25:Sicherungskompanie 25:Stabs- und Versorgungsbataillon 25:Musikkorps

The Grenzkommando Süd (GKS) (Border Command South), with headquarters at Erfurt, guarded the southern border sector. The organizational structure of the GKS was similar to that of the GKN, with six frontier troops regiments, two training regiments, a helicopter flight and some smaller support units.

"Commanders"::Oberst Gerhard Lorenz (1 Feb 1971 - 30 Oct 1973):Oberst Klaus-Dieter Baumgarten (1 Nov 1973 - 14 Apr 1978):Oberst Walter Tanner (15 Apr 1978 - 31 Oct 1982):Oberst Heinz Janshen (1 Nov 1982 - 30 June 1987):Oberst Dieter Hoffmann (1 July 1987 - 30 Nov 1989)

Order of battle::Grenzregiment 1 "Eugen Levine":Grenzregiment 3 "Florian Geyer":Grenzregiment 4 "Willi Gebhardt":Grenzregiment 9 "Konrad Blenkle":Grenzregiment 10 "Ernst Grube":Grenzregiment 15 "Herbert Warnke":Grenzausbildungsregiment 11 "Theodor Neubauer":Grenzausbildungsregiment 12 "Rudi Arnstadt":Pionierkompanie 27:Sicherungskompanie 27:Stabs- und Versorgungsbataillon 27:Musikkorps

The Grenzkommando Mitte (GKM) (Border Command Center), with headquarters at Berlin-Karlshorst, manned the crossing points into West Berlin and guarded the entire border perimeter surrounding West Berlin. The GKM consisted of six frontier troops regiments, one border crossing point regiment, two training regiments, an artillery regiment and some smaller support units.

"Commanders"::Oberst Bernhard Geier (1 May 1971 - 31 Aug 1979):Generalmajor Erich Wöllner (1 Sep 1979 - 30 Apr 1990):Oberst Günther Leo (1 May 1990 - 30 Sep 1990)

Order of battle::Grenzregiment 33 "Heinrich Dorrenbach":Grenzregiment 34 "Hanno Günther":Grenzregiment 35 "Nikolai Bersarin":Grenzregiment 36 "Walter Husemann":Grenzregiment 38 "Clara Zetkin":Grenzregiment 42 "Fritz Perlitz":Grenzregiment 44 "Walter Junker":Grenzausbildungsregiment 39 "Ho Chi Minh":Grenzausbildungsregiment 40 "Hans Coppi":GÜST-Regiment "Walter Husemann":Artillerieregiment 26:ABC-Abwehrkompanie 26:Amphibische Pionierkompanie 26:Instandsetzungskompanie 26:Kfz-Transportkompanie 26:Kompanie Chemische Abwehr 26:Nachrichtenkompanie 26:Nachrichtenwerkstatt 26:Sicherungskompanie 26:Musikkorps

The Grenzkommando Küste (GKK) (Coastal Border Command), with headquarters at Rostock, deployed a coastal brigade "(Grenzbrigade Küste)" consisting of twelve marine battalions and several boat battalions and companies to guard the GDR's relatively small coastline along the Baltic Sea. For command-and-control purposes, the GKK was incorporated into the GDR's "People's Navy" "(Volksmarine)".

Reorganization in 1989

In accordance with a June 1989 decision of the National Defense Council of the GDR, the "Grenztruppen der DDR" were extensively reorganized as of 30 November 1989. The personnel strength was reduced by approximately 17 percent, while the number of headquarters units was reduced from 50 to 24.

In the place of the previous command structure, six border district commands "(Grenzbezirkskommandos)", 16 border county commands "(Grenzkreiskommandos)" and two border training centers "(Grenzausbildungszentren)" were created. The "Grenzbezirkskommandos" reported to the national headquarters.

; "Grenzbezirkskommando" 1, Schwerinwith three "Grenzkreiskommandos":
* Grevesmühlen / Gadebusch
* Hagenow
* Ludwigslust
* 18 "Grenzkompanien"
* two "Bootskompanien"
* three "Reservegrenzkompanien"

; "Grenzbezirkskommando" 2, Magdeburgwith five "Grenzkreiskommandos":
* Salzwedel / Osterburg
* Klötze
* Haldensleben
* Halberstadt / Oschersleben
* Wernigerode
* 27 "Grenzkompanien"
* seven "Reservegrenzkompanien"

; "Grenzbezirkskommando" 3, Erfurtwith four "Grenzkreiskommandos":
* Nordhausen
* Worbis/Mühlhausen
* Heiligenstadt
* Eisenach
* 22 "Grenzkompanien"
* 5 "Reservegrenzkompanien"

; "Grenzbezirkskommando" 4, Suhlwith four "Grenzkreiskommandos":
* Bad Salzungen
* Meiningen
* Hildburghausen
* Sonneberg / Neuhaus
* 29 "Grenzkompanien"
* four "Reservegrenzkompanien"

; "Grenzbezirkskommando" 5, Gerano assigned "Grenzkreiskommando"
* eight "Grenzkompanien"
* two "Reservegrenzkompanien"

; "Grenzbezirkskommando" 7, Karl–Marx-Stadtno assigned "Grenzkreiskommando"
* three "Grenzkompanien"
* one "Reservegrenzkompanie"

The four "Grenzausbildungsregimenten" were consolidated into two "Grenzausbildungszentren":

* "Grenzausbildungszentrum" 16 (locations in Halberstadt und Dingelstedt)
* "Grenzausbildungszentrum" 36 (locations in Plauen und Eisenach)

The two training centers reported directly to the national headquarters, along with the training schools for "Grenztruppen" officers, officer candidates and NCOs.

Translation of German terms into English

:"ABC-Abwehrkompanie" - NBC-defence company:"Amphibische Pionierkompanie" - amphibious engineer company:"Artillerieregiment" - Frontier Troops artillery regiment:"Grenzausbildungsregiment" - Frontier Troops training regiment:"Grenzausbildungszentrum" - Frontier Troops training center:"Grenzkompanie" - Frontier Troops company:"Grenzregiment" - Frontier Troops regiment:"GÜST ("Grenzübergangsstelle")-Regiment" - border crossing point regiment:"Instandsetzungskompanie" - repair company:"Kfz-Transportkompanie" - truck transport company:"Kompanie Chemische Abwehr" - chemical defence company:"Musikkorps" - parade band:"Nachrichtenkompanie" - signal company:"Nachrichtenwerkstatt" - communication support company:"Pionierkompanie" - engineer company:"Reservegrenzkompanie" - Reserve Frontier Troops company:"Sicherungskompanie" - security company:"Stabs- und Versorgungsbataillon" - staff & supply battalion

Chiefs of the "Deutsche Grenzpolizei" (1946-1961) and the "Grenztruppen der DDR" (1961-1990)

* 1952 Richard Smolorz
* 1952–55 Hermann Gartmann
* 1955–57 Heinrich Stock
* 1957 Hermann Gartmann
* 1957–60 Paul Ludwig
* 1960–79 Generaloberst (Colonel General) Erich Peter
* 1979–90 Generaloberst Klaus-Dieter Baumgarten
* 1990 Generalmajor (Major General) Dieter Teichmann


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