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MiG-23BN . Luftstreitkrafte der Nationalen Volksarmee 

Honneckers Air Force One 

Luftstreitkrafte / Luftverteidigung

Re-Printed from “Die Nationale Volksarmee –

Journal for the Society of East German Militaria Collectors, # 18, Winter 1997-98

Luftstreitkrafte / Luftverteidigung: The East German Air Forces /Air Defense

By Lee Stewart



Formed on the founding of the Nationale Volksarmee on 18 January 1956, the East German Air Forces (Luftstreitkrafte) were a rebirth of an earlier German military aviation tradition dating from World War I, the heritage of the Luftwaffe of Nazi Germany having been totally rejected. The formal designation of flak artillery units as Air Defense (Luftverteidigung), making them a distinct component of the Air Forces, came later in 1961. This new air force organization, however, came with adaptations to meet the overall defensive requirements of the Warsaw Pact. With East Germany on the line of contact for the Warsaw Pact in any confrontation with NATO, air defense was critical. With a strength of approximately 39,000 in 1987, the Air Forces / Air Defense was the second largest organizations in the East German armed forces structure.

This article presents a summary of the evolution of the Luftstreitkrafte / Luftverteidigung following World War II and the formal creation of the German Democratic Republic. It also discusses the mission and organization of the Air Forces / Air Defense and provides details of its uniforms and insignia.




Although formally created in 1956, the East German Air forces / Air Defense existed sub rosa well prior to that time. It is now known that a few pilots were trained in the Soviet Union as early as 1946. Following the creation of the German Democratic Republic from the Soviet Zone of Occupation in 1949 the existing police forces were subordinated to the new Ministry of the Interior and the Barracked Peoples Police (Kasernierte Volkspolizei -KVP) were further subordinated to its Main Administration of Training. In early 1950 the KVP were divided into distinct military style service components. The first KVP pilots were trained at an aviation club at Lausitz and Special Section 2 of the KVP was created. In 1952 this section was redesignated as the Main Administration for Air Police.


The popular rebellion in East Germany on 17 June 1953 had a deleterious effect on the development of the Volkspolizei - Luft. Although the uprising was quickly put down by the intervention of Soviet troops, the East German police had shown a strong reluctance to use force on their own people. Concerned about the political reliability of the East German forces, the Soviets withheld delivery of MiG-15 aircraft destined for the Air Police units and curtailed training and other programs. Aircraft already in place were withdrawn for a period of two years. The East German Government under Walter Ulbricht, badly shaken by the poor performance of some police units during the rebellion, purged approximately 12,000 personnel of all ranks from the police as being politically unreliable. Rebuilding of the forces was well underway by 1956 when the NVA was established.



Based on a constitutional amendment permitting the establishment of a Ministry of National Defense, legislation enacted on 18 January 1956 created this ministry and the National Peoples Army (Nationale Volksarmee - NVA). At this time the Volkspolizei - Luft was incorporated into the NVA to become its air component, the Luftstreitkrafte, the title which it held throughout its existence, with the addition of Luftverteidigung to the title in 1961.


Headquartered at Strausberg/Eggersdorf, thirty five kilometers west of Berlin, near Brandenburg, the Air Forces / Air Defense formed Military District II until the mid-1970s. After that time they were a separate command on the same basis as the Volksmarine. In 1987 the Air Forces / Air Defense were commanded by Colonel General Wolfgang Reinhold, who also held the position of a Deputy Minister of National Defense. He was replaced in 1990 by Colonel General Rolf Berger.

When the Air Forces were created in 1956, flak artillery units were assigned to it in the same manner as those of the Luftwaffe in World War II. The Air Defense troops then wore the same uniform as the ground forces, with red artillery branch piping. It was not until 1961 that the Air Defense received corn flower blue-piped Air Forces uniforms. The Air Defense's antiaircraft artillery and surface-to-air missile units were distinctly different from the combat support air defense units assigned to the Ground Forces for close-in tactical defense. They provided strategic air defense and were fully integrated into the Warsaw Pact air warning and defense networks.



The mission of all of the armed forces was to defend the DDR against attack, to assist the internal security forces in defense of the regime, and to participate in the military activities of the Warsaw Pact. The main mission of the Air forces / Air Defense was to prevent penetration of East German airspace by hostile aircraft or missiles.


The Air Forces / Air Defense were equipped almost exclusively for air defense and support of ground force units. To a limited extent, it could provide close air support to ground and naval forces. It possessed a few small transport aircraft and helicopters but not enough for major troop lift operations. Fighter bombers constituted the only offensive capability of the force.


In its Warsaw Pact role, the interceptor aircraft and missile units of the Air forces / Air Defense were fundamental parts of the Duty System, in which Soviet, Czechoslovak, Polish, and East German air defenses were maintained in a high state of alert.



The US Army area handbook, East Germany: A Country Study, published in 1988, offers the following description of the Air Forces / Air Defense:


"In 1987 the Air Force numbered approximately 39,000 personnel, of whom 38 percent were conscripts. The latter figure, which was substantially lower than the 60 percent figure for the ground forces and the 50 percent for the Peoples Navy, reflecting the higher proportion of officers and NCOs in the air force. Officer candidates were trained at the Franz Mehring Officer School in Kamenz Much of the pilot training was conducted in Bautzen, not far from Kamenz, and in Rothenburg. Many East Germans received flight training as teenagers through participation in the GST, and were licensed pilots when they entered military service. Essential in the training of air force officers was a good knowledge of Russian, the language of the Warsaw Pact's Duty System of air defense.

Except for a few Czechoslovak trainers, the approximately 380 aircraft, 70 armed helicopters, and other equipment of the air force were of Soviet manufacture. In the mid-1980s, there two regiments [actually two Air Divisions, the 1st, headquartered at Cottbus, and the 3rd, headquartered at Neubrandenburg] of fighter aircraft, probably composed of six squadrons -three of thirty-five MiG-17s and two with twenty-four MiG-23 Fs. There were some SU-22s as well. The NVA's single reconnaissance squadron had eighteen MiG-21s The transport regiment [27th Transport Aircraft Wing 'Arthur Pieck'] was made up of three squadrons equipped with eighteen An-26s, fifteen Tu-134s, An-2s, An-14s, An-26Bs and some six L-410UVPs. This regiment provided the airlift for the airborne battalions of the ground forces. The three helicopter regiments [57th Combat Helicopter Wing 'Adolf von Lutzow', 67th Combat Helicopter Wing 'Ferdinand von Schill, and the 37th Transport Helicopter Wing 'Werner Seelenbinder'] included nine squadrons: ,three attack squadrons with thirty Mi-24s; three assault/transport squadrons with thirty-six armed Mi-8s; and three transport squadrons with some forty-five Mi-8s.

The Air Defense Command with 26,000 troops - almost 67 percent of the manpower total of the Air Force / Air Defense Force - was organized in two air defense districts.

The six air regiments, including the:

  • 1st Fighter Wing 'Fritz Schmenkel'

  • 2nd Fighter Wing 'Juri Gagarin'

  • 3rd Fighter Wing 'Wladimir Komarow

  • 7th Fighter Wing ' Wilhelm Pieck'

  • 8th Fighter Wing 'Hermann Matern'

  • 9th Fighter Wing 'Heinrich Rau'

included six squadrons of 100 MiG-21Fs, MiG-21MFs, MiG-21PFs, and MiG-21Us, and twelve squadrons with 200 MiG-23s.

The six surface-to-air missile (SAM) regiments [the 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, and 18th] had SA-2 and SA-3 missiles at some thirty sites. The missile inventory included 205 strategic SAMs and 270 tactical SAMs. Two radar regiments were available as well.

Other assets of the Air Force / Air Defense Force included an inventory of some sixty Yak-11, L-39, Zlin-226, MiG-15 UTI, MiG-21U, and other small aircraft controlled by the chief of flight training. The available liaison aircraft included Ztin Z-43s. In addition, the NVA had AA-2/ATOLL air-to-air missiles and AT-3/SAGGER guided weapons for antitank warfare.

The air force could provide limited ground attack support for the ground forces [31st Fighter Bomber Wing 'Klement Gottwald' and 31st Fighter Bomber Wing 'Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher'] and defense of the country's airspace. Acquisition of heavy armed assault helicopters suggested an increased emphasis on developing the capability for close air support. The air transport capability was adequate for the logistics and airlift needs of the NVA. Its helicopter component provided a degree of air mobility for NVA ground forces. The air arm of the NVA was, however, basically a tactical air force that was totally reliant upon the Soviet Union for strategic or long-range operations."

After this appraisal was written, in the late 1980s the NVA received MiG-29 aircraft from the Soviet Union to upgrade its interceptor capability. The Air Forces / Air Defense possessed twenty of these aircraft at the time of its deactivation in 1990.



Just as with the other service components of the NVA, the training programs of the Air Forces / Air Defense focused on political reliability and technical competence.


  • Air Force /Air Defense officer cadets were trained and commissioned at the Officers Higher School (college)'Franz Mehring at Kamenz.

  • Pilots were trained at the Officers Higher School for Military Flyers 'Otto Lilienthal' at Bautzen and by Training Wing 15 'Heinz Kaelle', using several versions of the MiG-21, and Training Wing 25 'Leander Ratz', employing the L-39ZO jet trainer.

  • Helicopter pilot training was conducted by Helicopter Training Wing 35, at Brandenburg, using the Mi-2 and Mi-8T.

  • Transport pilot training was carried out by Transport Training Wing 45, at Kamenz, using the An-2, L-410UVP, and the Z-43.

  • Technical training for other non-pilot personnel was carried out at the Military Technical School 'Harry Kuhn' at Bad Diiben.

  • Political officers were trained at the Politico-Military Staff College 'Wilhelm Pieck' in Berlin.

  • Senior officers received advanced military education at the Military Staff and Command College 'Friedrich Engels' in Dresden and at Soviet staff colleges.

  • NCOs and warrant offices were provided initial and in-service training by the military technical schools and training centers.

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