Combat Groups of the Working Class
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The Combat Groups of the Working Class (German: Kampfgruppen der Arbeiterklasse, KdA) was a paramilitary organization in East Germany, founded in 1953 and abolished in 1990. It numbered about 400,000 volunteers for much of its existence.
The Kampfgruppen were formed on September 29, 1953 after the workers' uprising of June 1953. The KdA made its first public appearance at the annual May Day demonstration on May 1, 1954. It was intended to be the East German equivalent to the People's Militias of Czechoslovakia which played a very important part in the Communist consolidation of power in Czechoslovakia in 1948. Their formation also fit the East German ethos of the worker being the centre of power in the new Communist state.
A central school for KdA leaders was set up in Schmerwitz in 1957. Der Kämpfer was the monthly newspaper and voice of the KdA; it was printed by the SED's Neues Deutschland publishing house.
The largest use of the KdA was during the construction of the Berlin Wall, in the summer and fall of 1961. The best-trained and most-politically reliable KdA units and members from Saxony, Thuringia and East Berlin participated in the construction and guarding of the Wall. Over 8,000 KdA, about 20% of all military units, were involved in this effort. During the six-week deployment of the KdA to the East-West Berlin sector boundary, only eight members escaped to the West, indicating a high state of morale and political reliability.
The KdA were not used during the peaceful mass protests in late 1989 at the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig, for many KdA members identified with the protesters and some participated in the marches. The decline of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) and rapid political changes in East Germany, after the Wall was opened, made the KdA no longer relevant or necessary. The decision to disband the KdA was made by the East German parliament (Volkskammer) in December 1989. Disarmament of the KdA began that month and was supervised by the police who consolidated and stored weapons and equipment along with the National People's Army (NVA). The final 189,370 fighters (in 2,022 units) were completely demobilized in May 1990.
Aid to other countries
There are indications that the KdA was involved in East German military aid to Africa. On May 23, 1980, Radio Brazzaville reported the visit of a KdA delegation in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo. The KdA delegation had announced they were willing to train Congolese people's militiamen in East Germany as well and supply them with equipment.
Command and control
The KdA fell under the authority of the Central Committee (Zentralkomitee) (ZK) of the SED. The KdA was the political-military instrument of the SED; it was essentially a "party Army". All KdA directives and decisions were made by the ZK's Politbüro. The ZK also supervised the rest of the armed forces through its security commission (Sicherheitskommission).
The ZK exercised this power through two chains-of-command. The first ran through the Ministry of the Interior and the People's Police (Volkspolizei), which provided military training, equipment and operational expertise. Second was through the SED district (Bezirk) and county (Kreis) directorates in the areas of personnel and political suitability of members.
Commanders of battalions and companies Hundertschaften were appointed by the Party organization in the major factories or enterprises in the area. They were confirmed by the SED county leadership (Kreisleitung) which received regular reports on the state of training, equipment and membership.
The Combat Groups of the Working Class had over 500,000 members in 1987, however, by 1989, the KdA's membership totaled approximately 210,000 including approximately 187,000 active members and the remainder in reserve. Recruitment was accomplished by the party branches in the factories and enterprises. Membership was voluntary, but SED party members were required to join as part of their party obligation. Non-party members were compelled to join by the Free German Trade Union Federation (FDGB). Men between the ages of 25 to 60 were eligible for membership. Younger men, if they were not performing military service, were part of the paramilitary Society for Sport and Technology (GST). The KdA also had a large number of women who were mainly used in the medical and supply services.
The KdA were organized into units called hundreds based on their workplace. General units were closely tied to their local based nationalized enterprises, state and local administration offices and other workplaces, and their organizations and their employment did not extend beyond the district level.
The organization was similar to the United States National Guard or British Territorial Army; however, unlike a national guard or territorial army, the KdA was strictly controlled by the governing SED.
Each large factory, along with many neighbourhoods, had their own Kampfgruppe, each made up of about 100 workers in a Hundertschaften (Hundred), who sought to "defend the property of the people". The KdA were organised like infantry, and were to supplement the military and police serving as security in rear areas during wartime or in political emergencies, such as protests against the government.
Each hundred was organized into three platoons each containing three groups (squads). The Commander of the hundred had a political deputy and a general deputy, plus a supply officer and a chief medical orderly. An Inspector of the Volkspolizei assisted with training. Other personnel included the three platoon leaders, three deputy platoon leaders, eighty-one (81) kampfer (fighters) and three medical orderlies (one per platoon).
"Schwere Hundertschaft" or Heavy Hundreds have anti-tank, mortar and air-defense platoons and are motorized using the trucks of their enterprises or nationalized haulage firms. Three or four Heavy hundreds formed a Heavy battaion of which there were over 130 by 1973. They may also be equipped with wheeled armored personnel carriers and armoured cars such as the BTR-152 and SK-1.
Three or four hundreds form a Kampftruppe Battalion. The mobile or motorized units, designated Battalions of the Regional Reserve and could be employed outside their local and district areas, were called Heavy Hundreds.
Training was conducted by the People's Police (Volkspolizei) to avoid the KdA being counted as part of the total strength of the armed forces under international treaties. The KdA was substantially cheaper to maintain than the official army, since members did not require accommodation, supplies and wages on the same amount as regulars, and members continued their civilian work while training in their spare time. A KdA member trained with his unit after work and on weekends for a total of 136 hours annually. KdA training camps were held annually, usually in the wilderness. This is somewhat comparable to the British Territorial Army, in that KdA paramilitaries were often equipped like professional infantry, despite KdA forces having substantially less indoctrination and training.
The KdA wore different uniforms from that of the NVA. KdA uniforms were an olive green and were similar in pattern to that of the American Battle Dress Uniform. The cap has a visor, a circular top crown, a side crown with an outside crown band, and earflaps which fold up and secure over the top. The jacket is straight cut bottom, with two breast and two shirt pockets plus a pocket on each upper sleeve. The trousers contain four standard type pockets and later versions had an internal cargo pocket on each thigh. The NVA helmet was also worn.
The KdA organizational patch was worn on the left sleeve over the sleeve pocket and rank patches were worn on or below the pockets on both sleeves, later they were moved to the left breast above the pocket.
The KdA had at their disposal many of the weapons that the police would use in riot situations, and also SK-1 armoured cars and SK-2 water cannon (both armoured and unarmoured versions). After the SPW 152 APC, a variant of the Soviet BTR-152, had been phased out from the NPA arsenals in the mid sixties, it became the standard combat transport for KdA units.
The KdA were armed with surplus World War II German and Soviet equipment or older weapons, which had been phased out by the regular army:
- The mortar "Granatwerfer 82", was used in the variants "Modell 1937", "1941" and "1943" to provide fire support. Every reinforced formation of 100 men, or "schwere Hundertschaft", received three of the weapons after 1957.
- Three 45 mm anti-tank guns M1942 were used in the anti-tank platoon attached to every "schwere Hundertschaft". They were later replaced by recoilless rifles.
- The SPG-9 started to replace the anti-tank guns after 1972.
- The Soviet 37 mm air defense gun M1939 was initially used for air defense.
- The ZU-23-2 air-defense gun came in use after 1974.
In terms of small arms, KdA personnel were armed with the Mauser Kar98k rifle, the Mosin-Nagant rifle, the Degtyaryov machine gun and the PPSh-41 submachine gun during the 1950s and 1960s. In later years, KdA troopers were gradually re-equipped with Soviet-bloc weaponry like the AKM rifle and its numerous variations.
The KdA didn't have ranks but had positional titles as follows:
- Truppführer/Gruppenführer/Geschützführer/Werferführer - squad leader/group leader/cannon leader/projector leader,
- Zugführer - platoon leader
- Stellvertreter des Kommandeurs des selbständigen Zuges - deputy leader of the independent platoon
- Kommandeur des selbständigen Zuges -leader of the independent platoon
- Stellvertreter des Hundertschaftskommandanten, Stellvertreter des Batteriekommandanten - deputy of a company commander, deputy leader of an artillery battery
- Hundertschaftskommandeur, Batteriekommandeur - company commander, (artillery) battery commander
- Gehilfe des Stellvertreters des Bataillonskommandeurs, Propagandist, Fahrlehrer - adjutant of the deputy battailon leader, propagandist, driving instructor
- Stellvertreter des Stabschefs, Bataillonsarzt - deputy chief of staff, battalion's physician
- Stellvertreter des Bataillonskommandeurs, Parteisekretär - deputy battalion commander, party secretary
- Bataillonskommandeur - battalion commander
- Innendienstleiter - duty officer
Badges, awards and insignia
There were a series of badges as well as service and merit medals awarded to KdA members. The KdA also wore distinctive red rank insignia on the right arm of their uniforms.
Oath of the combat groups
The oath states:
- "I am ready, as a fighter of the Working Class to fulfill the directives of the Party to defend the German Democratic Republic and its Socialist achievements at any time with my weapon in my hand and to lay down my life for them. This I swear."
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- "Organization and Equipment" chapter, The East German Army, by Thomas M Forster, George Allen & Unwain LTD, 1967, rev. 1973.
- Granatwerfer 82 on militaertechnik-der-nva.de, retrieved on December 17, 2012.
- 45 mm ATG on militaertechnik-der-nva.de, retrieved on December 17, 2012.
- 37 mm AA gun on militaertechnik-der-nva.de, retrieved on December 17, 2012.
- W. Bader, Civil War in the Marking; The Combat Groups of the Working Class in East Germany, Independent Information Centre, London
- Forester, Thomas M., The East German Army; Second in the Warsaw Pact, George Allen & Unwin Ltd, London, 1980
- Holzweißig, Gunter (1983). "Vom Betriebsschutz zur Territorialarmee. 30 Jahre SED-Kampfgruppen". Deutschland Archiv 16 (11): 1158–1163.
- Koop, Volker: Armee oder Freizeitclub?: die Kampfgruppen der Arbeiterklasse in der DDR, Bouvier, 1997, ISBN 3416026705 (German)
- Dieter Schulze: Das große Buch der Kampfgruppen. Geschichte, Aufgaben, Ausrüstung sowie alles über die Wismut-Polizei, Das Neue Berlin, 2007, ISBN 978-3360019004 (German)