In 1987 the Border Troops numbered approximately 50,000,
about 50 percent of whom were conscripts. Although subordinated
to the Ministry of Defense, they were no longer part of the NVA.
Formerly known as the NVA Border Command, (and before that the
Border Police), they were separated from the NVA in 1974 and
renamed Border Troops
This step may have been
taken to keep the units from being affected by international
agreements on force reductions.
According to East German law, service in the Border Troops
was the equivalent of NVA service in terms of fulfilling the
military obligation, as was service in the Garrisoned Units of
the Ministry of the Interior (the People's Police Alert Units and
portions of the Transport Police) and the Ministry of Security
(the Feliks Dzierzynski Guard Regiment in East Berlin and the
units of that regiment stationed in the district capitals). The
Border Troops' oath of allegiance did not differ materially from
that of the NVA. The troops were composed of conscripts, term
soldiers, and career soldiers. Women served as term and career
soldiers on the staffs and in the rear services of the Border
Troops. Care was taken to ensure that members of the Border
Troops had no family ties with the West. Young men eager to climb
the ladder fast in East German civilian life frequently
volunteered for term service in these troops, and the SED
expected that many of its members who were earmarked for cadre
assignments would serve there.
These troops, with a central command in Pätz, near
Königswusterhausen, were organized into three border commands and
two independent regiments. Border Command North, headquartered in
Stendal, patrolled the east-west border from its northernmost
point at Lübecker Bucht to Nordhausen. Border Command South, with
its seat in Erfurt, guarded the border from Nordhausen to the
Czechoslovak border. Border Command Center, in Pätz and East
Berlin, was responsible for the regiments and units whose troops
operated in the area around Berlin. The Polish and Czechoslovak
borders were each patrolled by an independent border regiment,
with headquarters in Frankfurt am Oder and Pirna, respectively.
The seacoast was guarded by the Coastal Border Brigade of the
Border Command North was reinforced on the Elbe by a boat
section independent of the People's Navy, based at Dömitz, and
was assisted by the Water Police. Other than this augmentation,
the northern and southern commands had identical organizations.
Each had six regiments and two training regiments, with 1,200 to
1,400 men in each regiment. Border Command Center operated in the
area around Berlin. In addition to six border regiments and two
training regiments, it included the special Border Crossing-Point
Regiment that controlled the access points to West Berlin.
Border regiments each comprised three battalions of four
companies. The regiments also had a staff company (headquarters)
and transport, rear services, engineer, signal, and artillery
companies. Overall, there were approximately 150 border
companies, each with an authorized strength of 100. Weapons and
equipment corresponded to those found in a motorized rifle
battalion; T54s and T55s were available for antitank operations.
Along the border with West Germany, there were three helicopter
squadrons, equipped with Mi-2, Mi-8, and Mi-24 helicopters.
Flight personnel were trained by the NVA's Air Force/Air Defense
Force, which probably supplied the technical personnel as well.
In addition, the GSFG maintained its own helicopter forces for
border security. The Border Crossing-Point Regiment was made up
of eight companies; the other regiments of Border Command Center
were each reinforced with a boat company to patrol the waterways
in and around Berlin.
The Border Troops were quite successful in halting illegal
emigration. Improvements in facilities and procedures were made
when a new system known as company security was introduced in
1981. Only 160 persons were known to have succeeded in crossing
the border illegally in 1985, as compared with 192 in 1984, 228
in 1983, and 207,000 in 1961, before the Berlin Wall was built.
Special awards for preventing escapes, as well as special pay and
rations, were provided to members of the Border Troops. The
Border Troops operated their own training establishment for
officers, NCOs, and recruits. Beginning in 1983, however, warrant
officers (Fähnriche) were trained at the NVA's Erich
Habersath Military Technical School at Prora, on Rügen Island.
Members of the Border Troops were closely supervised and
intensely indoctrinated, largely because of their ease of access
to West German territory. East German military defections between
1961 and 1985 totaled 2,500, and 90 percent of these were members
of the Border Troops, primarily enlisted men. Reorganization,
stricter border zone security, and stringent training brought a
steady decline in the defection rate. In 1985 there were only ten
military defectors overall.
Guarding the border was not the only mission of the Border
Troops. According to a Politburo resolution of 1985, the Border
Troops, as well as the NVA, reliably defended the socialist order
and guaranteed the inviolability of the borders of the workers'
and peasants' state and its national security. In case of an
attack from the West, these troops would be East Germany's first
line of defense. Authorized to operate and fight independently
until the approach of the NVA, they were trained to seize and
hold commanding heights, important lines of communication,
military facilities, and vital civilian installations on
enemy--presumably West German--territory, or to destroy major
objectives that they were not equipped to defend.
Data as of July 1987