Camouflage Fatigues: Battle Dress Uniforms (BDUs)

The National People's Army (NVA) wore three types of camouflage combat uniforms, commonly called "BDU's," over its 34-year history (1956-1990).

Soviet camouflage uniform, 1956-1960.
The NVA came into existence in January 1956 wearing Soviet combat uniforms. The 3-piece uniforms were made out of heavy canvas cloth, with reddish-brown camouflage and button-on hood. Almost immediately NVA planners went to work designing a combat uniform closer to German military tradition, a process involving elaborate research and testing over a 6-year period.

Soviet combat uniforms worn by the NVA in its early years are no longer obtainable.

NVA "Splotch" or "Leaf Pattern" BDU, 1960-65.
Officially, the BDU wore between 1960-65 was called "Flächendruck"/Field-Pattern Print, but it is better known as "Flecktarn"/Splotch Pattern or Leaf Pattern, sometimes "Blumendruck"/Flower Print.

The most distinctive feature of the two-piece (jacket with separate trousers), heavy canvas cloth uniform was its 3-color camouflage: brown and two shades of green on a tan-grey base.

Two variants of the Leaf Pattern BDU appear to have been issued. The earlier version was made out of heavy weatherized canvas fabric, with reinforced stitching and a permanently attached hood. The second version was made out of lighter material, and used a removable helmet cover in place of a hood.

The following additional clothing and field gear in Leaf Pattern camouflage is known: Assault pack/ Sturmgepäck, canteen/Feldflasche, gas mask bag/Schutzmaske, M-43 style hat/Feldmütze, and AK-47 ammunition pouches/ Magazintasche.

NVA "Rain" or "Splinter Pattern" BDU, 1965-1990.

BDUs using Rain pattern camouflage, what the East Germans called "Strich"/Stroke design, have become the best known of all Warsaw Pack combat uniforms since the end of the Cold War.

Rain Pattern BDUs did not go into actual use until March 1967. They were considered a major improvement over what had been issued before in that they were lighter, easier to maintain and much less expensive to mass produce. (In discussions with representatives of Gowen Militaria in 1990, NVA spokesmen said that extensive testing had proved that the Rain Pattern design was better suited to the East German terrain).

NVA and combat police units continued to use BDUs with Rain Pattern camouflage until the East German armed forces ceased to exist in 1990. Various modifications were made to the BDU uniform over this 25-year period, including the use of built-in holsters and radiation detectors. For collectors, the most significant of these changes was the introduction in the late 1980s of jackets using a cloth rank patch on the left sleeve in place of shoulderboards. Officially, the new-style BDUs were to be worn by flight and technical personnel; the extent to which ground personnel wore these BDUs remains uncertain.

Over the years the NVA also introduced Rain Pattern BDUs designed for specific purposes. The list of specialized BDUs includes the following:

- Generals/Admirals
- NVA and Police Paratroopers/Fallschirmjäger
- Tankers/Panzer
- Females
- Navy/Volksmarine land units. (Note: Volksmarine BDUs not available)

Other specialized BDUs may have existed as well.

Non-Camouflage Field Uniforms/Fatigues

East German armed forces, Police, Kampfgruppen (Workers' Factory Militia), Zivilverteidigung (Civil Defense) and other agencies wore a variety of 2-piece (jacket and trousers) uniforms intended for combat and related purposes. When these outfits were issued and how they differed remains largely uncertain.

Outerwear: Overcoats, Peacoats,and Raincoats

Information about the variety of protective outerwear worn by the East German armed forces, Police and other agencies, especially in the early years of the DDR, remains too incomplete to justify more than a few cautious generalizations. The most obvious of these is how closely the winter coats -- overcoats, peacoats and certain foul-weather gear -- worn by East German armed forces resemble those worn by German soldiers during the period of the 3rd Reich (1932-45). The resemblance is not exact, and became less apparent as time went on, but is nevertheless often striking.

On the other hand, with raincoats and most other raingear, including Police all-season coats, the primary considerations appear to have been functionality and cost-effectiveness, not preserving tradition. The raingear is generally made out of inexpensive nylon or other synthetic, adequate to do the job but readily disposable.

 

Overcoats (Greatcoats)/Wintermantel

In overall appearance, the overcoats worn by the East German armed forces resemble the greatcoats worn by German troops in World War 2. The resemblance is especially close in the early years of the NVA, when the East Germans followed the Wehrmacht in using overcoats with dark collars, double (or French) cuffs, and 10 buttons (2 rows with 5 buttons per row). The similarity remained even after double cuffs were phased out in the mid-1960s, and the number of buttons limited to 7 (2 rows with 3 buttons per row, plus collar button). Throughout the DDR period, in other words, career and non-career soldiers alike continued to wear overcoats obviously modeled on what had been used in Germany before 1945, not on what their Soviet allies wore.

The similarity between the overcoats worn by the members of the various East German Police agencies, including the Customs Administration, and those used during the World War 2 years was less striking but still apparent.

NVA Overcoats/Wintermantel

Overcoats from the NVA's earliest years (1956-65) are rarely seen and therefore difficult to comment on.

The overcoats in use from 1965 to 1986 continued the sharp distinction previously made between career soldiers ("Berufsoldaten") and non-career, or limited time ("Auf Zeit"), soldiers. Career soldiers of all ranks in the Land Defense Forces, including Border Guard, wore gabardine (smooth fabric) grey-green overcoats with black or, more accurately, dark collars. Soldiers in the various Guard ("Wach") regiments and Military Musicians' School also wore black collar overcoats, although not exclusively, with unit cuff titles added.
In this same period, soldiers in the Air Force and Air Defense Forces wore overcoats with plain collars - that is, the collar and the rest of the coat were the same grey-green color. In addition, they wore collar tabs on their greatcoats whereas members of the Land Defense Forces and Wach regiments did not.

The main difference between the overcoats worn by conscripts and other non-career soldiers and those above is that the basic fabric of the non-career overcoats was wool instead of gabardine, which gave them a courser appearance than the more polished look of gabardine.

The era of the black collar overcoats came to an end with the 1986 NVA Uniform Regulations. These initiated the plain collar overcoat, with no color variation between the collar and rest of the coat, as the new standard issue for all units and ranks. As before, the overcoats worn by non-career soldiers were more "wooly" to the touch.

Police Overcoats/Wintermantel

The overcoats worn by the various East German police agencies differed in color and insignia, but in basic design they varied little. Unlike NVA overcoats, Police overcoats were made out of the same thick gabardine material for all ranks. Also unlike the NVA, Police overcoats had collar tabs as well as shoulderboards, and in addition might have sleeve patches and time-in-service chevrons.


Navy Peacoats/Überzieher

Peacoats are the distinctive dark blue, hip-length coats worn by sailors of many navies. In the East German Navy/Volksmarine, they were worn by the two lowest ranks: Matrosen/Seaman and Maat/Junior Petty Officer. Volksmarine peacoats are characterized by open collars, two lower pockets, and 10 large brass anchor-design buttons. Standard insignia includes collar tabs and shoulderboards, and up to four different rank/specialization patches and chevrons. (Note: Peacoats used before 1986 may have gold (brass) rank/career specialization insignia, some of which closely resemble those worn by German sailors during World War 2).

Petty Officer peacoats, Maat rank and above, have gold tress around the collars. Peacoats worn by the Navy Grenztruppen/Border Guard are distinguishable by the green and white cuff title around the left sleeve.

In appearance, Volksmarine peacoats and various sleeve insignia are very similar to those worn by the Kriegsmarine during the period of the 3rd Reich (1932-45).

VOPO Police All-Season Coats

The practical response of the VOPO Police to Germany's unpredictable weather was a hip-length coat with water-repellant surface and removable quilted lining, attached by snaps plus buttons. The 4-button green coat has four pockets and, rarely, matching trousers

.

Raincoats

NVA Raincoats

The East German armed forces wore several types of protective rain gear, especially in the 1960s-1970s. By the 1980s these had become standardized into the stylish raincoat described below and one or two others not listed.

VOPO Police Raincoats

Seasons permitting, the VOPO Police did their rainy day duties wearing a full-length, lightweight raincoat made out of rain-repellant nylon. The raincoats had an inner lining, ventilated shoulder capes and matching belt. Insignia was limited to shoulderboards.

 

EXPLANATION OF TERMS AND ABBREVIATIONS:

EMs: Enlisted men, including conscripts, from the rank of Private (Soldat) through Senior Corporal (Stabsgefreiter).

NCOs: Sergeants, from the rank of Unteroffizier through Stabsfeldwebel.

Career soldiers ("Berufssoldaten"): With hats as with other parts of the uniform, the East German armed forces made a sharp distinction between career and non-career soldiers. Career soldiers were those signed up to serve a minimum of 10 years for EMs/NCOs, 15 years for Warrant Officers, and 25 years for officers. All career soldiers wore hats made out of smooth "gabardine" fabric; the cockades and capcords differed by rank.

Non-Career soldiers ("Auf Zeit"): Soldiers signed up to serve no more than 10 years were officially designated Non-Career. Included were conscripts (length of service: 18 months) and EMs/NCOs signed up for a maximum of 10 years. Non-Career soldiers of all ranks wore hats and uniforms with wooly texture; the cockades and capcords were identical also.

Gabardine ("Kammgarn"): Blended fabric smooth to the touch.

Wool ("Streichgarn)": Blended fabric with wool-like texture and appearance.

 

USEFUL TERMS: Types of East German Head Wear

Feldmütze: Field cap
Schiffchen: Overseas cap
Schirmmütze: Visor hat
Stahlhelm: Helmet
Winterpelzmütze: Winter (fur) hat

Camouflage Fatigues: Battle Dress Uniforms (BDUs)

The National People's Army (NVA) wore three types of camouflage combat uniforms, commonly called "BDU's," over its 34-year history (1956-1990).