East German uniforms conform to a particular manual of dress regulations. Over the years there have been several changes to the individual items worn but the basic classification of "types" of uniform and their corresponding destined use has remained pretty consistent down to the very end of the DDR. In this respect we can distinguish:
Obviously these are going to change depending of the time of the year in four subvariants:
Summer The four colours camouflage pattern popularly known as Blumentarn was introduced around 1958. Even though its successor (the Strichtarn below) is reported to have started replacing it in 1965, nonetheless it survived quite extensively with some items even being dated as late as 1970. There was an evolution in its shape and usage. Originally it was intended as a over-garment in jacket and trousers with an attached hood. The practice of wearing on its own though prompted the introduction of a better tailored version with a collar and a separate detached hood/helmet cover.
The hooded version below is a reproduction
The collared version is an original
Transitional period. In this case the Blumentarn suit was worn over the grey uniform
Winter. There isn't a winter padded version of the Blumentarn uniform as in the later Strichtarn. The padded suit was instead of a grey-green colour very similar to that of the uniform worn underneath in the coldest months of the year:
Summer . This is the most common uniform available in the raindrop or Strichtarn camouflage. It was introduced in 1965 and progressively distributed to the entire army. It consists of jacket and trousers in the same material of a light green base colour, disrupted by brown lines all over. In the summer it is worn on its own over the basic underwear and a Kragenbinde (collar liner)0 is buttoned into the collar.
Transitional period (warm) (Übergangperiode Nummer 2). The Strichtarn uniform is worn OVER the full grey service uniform (jacket and trousers). This is the reason for the Strichtarn uniforms being in general over-sized, as they ALSO nee to fit over another uniform.
Officers ca 1960-1974. The great distinction in NVA uniforms is the passing of the dark closed collar tunic in 1974 to be substituted by the open one. There are some variations over the earlier years (1956-1960) but with a greater degree of consistency, officer throughout the NVA wore Dark collar tunics in Gabardine for much of the year. Only in the deppth of summer would they switch to a shirt order of dress which will be seen separately. The tunics are very reminiscent of Wehrmacht and REichswehr ones but it should be borne in mind that the colour is different: the NVA colour is Steingrau (=Stone grey) and it is a greenish shade of grey, whereas the WH colour is Feldgrau (=field grey) which is a greyish shade of green. The true service tunic is devoid of any piping and is buttoned down the front with five buttons. There is also a hook at the collar
it is worn with breeches (Stiefelhose) of the same material and boots which can either be the rough or the smooth leather ones. The brown belt normally carries a brown holster for the service Makarov pistol. Decorations are in ribbon format. The normal headwear is the peaked cap (Schirmmütze) but during the winter, the fake fur hat would substitute it and in a field situation it is appropriate for the side cap to be worn.
Officers ca 1974-1990 The open collar tunic is easily the most commonly available uniform. It was gradually distributed over the 1970s with dark collar tunics only being used for a limited period. It is closed at the front by four buttons and it closely resembles the one worn by the Air force since the inception of the NVA. The difference is that a white line of piping is to be found at the collar and at the sleeves. The base tunic is exactly identical between the parade and service one but the insignia etc. will change. A grey shirt and a dark grey tie complete the ensemble. As far as equipment carried and usage, not much changes from the previous periods
Over the course of the 1980s there are some changes to the insignia. The example here represented is a major in the Rear Echelon Services with dark green insignia. In later years the collar tabs became white regardless of regiment and specialisation.
Officers 1962-1990 Summer The creation of a shirt-sleeves order of dress for the hotter months of the year was welcome by many officers. The shirt is known as a Hemdbluse and it is to be worn out of the waistband of the trousers. There are belt loops for inserting the brown belt, but these are on the Bluse itself and NOT on the Stiefelhose (a feature that will distinguish the Wachregiment)
Whilst the basic outlook of the uniform remained unchanged down to the very end of the DDR, some differences are however noticeable in the Bluse themselves with darker (bluer) colours indicating earlier examples:
Professional NCOs 1965-1974 In 1965 Sergeants who had signed up for service up to 10 years and more obtained the privilege of wearing officer quality uniforms. These are therefore in Gabardine and identical to the officer ones except that obviously the collar tabs are the other ranks ones and the silver Treße encircles the collar.
This version of the tunic is actually the fully piped one which was intended for parade only. In practice it is noticeable from the very early days of the NVA that tunics of this type were also worn for service, but obviously without medals and cuff bars. A characteristic that would later disappear is the double chevron on the right sleeve which is the distinctive mark of Professional NCOs.
Officers 1960-1974. The parade version of the dark collar uniform is piped (in white) at the collar and at the cuffs. The distinctive parade insignia are metal (early wired, later stamped) collar tabs and cuff bars and these would vary in colour of piping according to the branch of service. Medals are to be worn and a brocaded aluminum belt with the coat of arms of the DDR on the buckle. Normally the steel helmet is to be worn with parade uniform, although some officers (out of formation) would occasionally wear the peaked cap. In general terms, if the sword is carried, the helmet is worn, whereas if the peaked cap is worn, only the parade dagger is carried.
This last photograph shows beautifully how the tab of the sling for carrying the scabbard protrudes from an appropriate buttonhole in the lower left pocket. (thanks are due to Genosse Oberstleutenant Viktor for his collaboration in the realisation of this photoshoot )
Officers 1974-1990 The parade uniform of the open collar tunic is obviously complemented with shirt and tie but this time the shirt is white (whereas it was grey in the service uniform). From 1976 onwards the shoulder chord is added to increase the dressy appearance of this uniform (it should be noted that the shoulder chord was NEVER used with dark collar tunics)
The insignia on all these uniforms is piped in white EXCEPT for the shoulder boards which are the last ones to show the different colour of the branch of service. The cuff bars disappear around 1981, which means that after date, aside from the medals etc, the basic tunic is absolutely identical for service and parade.
In the preparation of this article, the Stadtkommandantur Berlin Living History Group would like to thank the NVA Museum at the Raiffeisenmarkt Lübben for their cooperation. They kindly allowed us to make use of their article on female uniforms in the NVA, as well as giving their permission to use the photographs and images shown here. For more information on the Museum, and the uniforms of the NVA and Red Army, please visit their website at:
Since the founding of the National People’s Army in 1956, the handbooks of the types of, and the correct wearing of, uniforms detailed various uniforms for female members of the army. In the beginning there were only Service and Walking-out uniforms for women. From 1973, field service uniforms in the familiar „Strichtarn“ camouflage fabric were also added. Although women in the uniformed services were rare during the 1960s, from the middle of the 1970s their number rose noticeably. For the mid-1980s, the personnel records of the NVA showed 3.500 planned positions that were considered suitable for women, and which could be staffed by suitable applicants. However, until the end of the NVA in 1989/90 female officers were very much the exception rather than the rule. A soldier would be more likely to meet a General than a female officer. Until 1988 there were always circa 100 female officers, the majority of whom served in the Medical services. As far as we are aware, the most senior officer was Frau Oberst MR Dr. Schenderlein from the central army hospital at Bad Saarow. The medical hospitals in Leipzig and Dresden had only one female Oberstleutnant each. Resulting from a lack of suitable male officers, the MfNV (Ministerium für die Nationale Volksarmee) decided in 1983 to increase its recruitment of women for the officer grades, to be trained from 1984 at the OHS (Offizierhochschule, Officer Training Academy) of the Landstreitkräfte and Luftstreitkräfte at Zittau and Kamenz respectively. From 1985, the Grenztruppen caught up, with the establishment of its own officer training scheme for women at the OHS at Suhl. Near the end of the NVA in 1989, the number of female officers in service was 190.
Staff Service and Walking-out uniforms, from the 1986 uniform manual.
Field Service uniforms from the 1986 uniform manual (and a Service uniform)
Leutnant Mot. Schützen, Staff Service / Walking-out uniform
After four years of training, on the 13th of August 1988 the first women at the Landstreitkräfte OHS were awarded with their Lieutenant commissions. The training began in 1984, and almost one third of the cadets dropped out prior to completion.
Originally it was decided that female officers, unlike their male counterparts, should not have the ceremonial daggers. A submission by the women to the highest levels of command finally resulted in some movement on the issue. Only 48 hours before the graduation ceremony did the then Minister for the Nationale Volksarmee, Heinz Kessler, issue the order that the ceremonial daggers should also be given to the female cadets.
The daggers were obtained from the current production run at Mühlhausen, albeit out of one crate rather than with the usual individual presentation boxes. The tailors’ department was then faced with the stress of sourcing and attaching the Achselschnüre, and attaching the daggers to the uniform of every woman. Until then, there was no planned attachment for these accoutrements on the female uniforms, and the results of the compromise settled on can be seen in the photographs above.
Oberleutnant der mot.Schützen, Staff Service / Walking-out uniform
For this Frau Oberleutnant, the celebratory reception on the 40th anniversary of the founding of the GDR (7th of October 1989)was the last opportunity to attach her orders to her jacket. As a recruit to the officer training programme with a high school qualification in economics, she was entitled to wear the Absolventenabzeichen, but didn’t have a ceremonial dagger like the graduates of the NVA and Grenztruppen. Until 1988, the few female officers that there were came almost exclusively with a civilian education and background (usually in Medicine). At the beginning of 1990, they left the NVA, since the Bundeswehr would not take on the qualified female officers. At this time, the Bundeswehr was not as progressive as the NVA in the employment of female officers.
The Achselschnüre for female officers were roughly equivalent to the Size 1 as worn by male officers, but were noticeably narrower and give the effect of having a lighter colour. Their attachment to the uniform also diverges from that of male officers for anatomical reasons. For men, there was a button for the lower loop beneath the righthand lapel. For women, there was a button hidden inside, about 2cm behind the upper buttonhole for this purpose. For the handful of female officers in the Volksmarine, almost all uniform parts were made to measure. To take measurements, a member of the B/A Beschaffung der MfNV branch at Berlin Schnellerstraße travelled specially to the Volksmarine sites along the Baltic coast, and then contacted the relevant clothing manufacturers with the details for the uniform.
Women in NVA military magazines
From the 1970s, young women were targeted by reports in the Armeerundschau and other illustrated military magazines (FF-Dabei, NBI etc.), to inform them about career opportunities within the NVA / Grenztruppen and to raise their awareness of the services. This advertising demonstrated results. For many young women, this was a tempting opportunity to get away from the lack of private space (and the oversight) of the family home. With what was, by the standards of the DDR a good living, along with free accommodation and catering, the material encouragement was certainly there. Female recruits lived in hostels outside of the barracks. They were certainly welcomed by the male recruits, who often had no leave (or any female company) for periods of 8 weeks and more.
LASK Offizierschülerin, Field Service uniform (winter)
This shows a Winter Felddienstuniform (Field Service uniform) of a LASK Offiziersschülerin (officer trainee) in the third year of training (according to the 1985/86 manual). The trainee is kitted out for topographical landscape training. The winter field service uniform for female officers was of course different in many details from the uniform for men. Aside from the specific cut of the female uniforms due to anatomical differences, there were other particularities. The uniform parts are finely quilted inside, and the cut of the external pockets / the location of the internal pockets are different. The jacket has 5 buttons for the attachment of the collar (men had only 3). The faux “fur” on the collar is the same as that used for the winter hats. Female officers normally received only one pair of boots in patent leather, and no brown officers’ belt as was normal for their male counterparts. According to the uniform manual (summer and winter) the female officer trainees wore normal belts in suitably small male sizes. The holes for the attachment of the shoulder boards on this uniform (as for officers‘ winter coats) covered up inside, and not open as with the male field service uniforms
On the photo can be seen the left-hand zip closure for the putting on of the trousers. The female trousers were also worn with a pair of braces. However under field conditions, this method of wear was a particular handicap for women (although it could also be uncomfortable for the men). To answer a call of nature, the trousers could only be let down by removing the upper clothing (plus any equipment and accoutrements). The female field services trousers of the West German Bundeswehr did not have this side zip, rather a frontal zip as on male uniforms, and they were held up by a belt. As such, women in the Bundeswehr did not have the above-mentioned inconveniences as their NVA counterparts.
Female boots also had a different cut to those issued to male officers, with a more pointed tip. Another clear difference is the beading in the instep.
Leutnant der Grenztruppen (Politoffizier), Field Service uniform (summer)
This shows a uniform of a Lieutenant of the Grenztruppen (Political officer) in a Border Guards Training Regiment (GAR) circa 1989. After the beginning of the training of female officers in the LASK and LST in 1984, this was followed in 1985 by the training of female officer cadets at the OHS of the Grenztruppen in Suhl. Following their appointment as Lieutenants, the young female officers were intended to take up positions as Political Officers in the Border Training Regiments as Staff Service wings as well as becoming training instructors. The Grenztruppen planned for an intake of female officer cadets every four years.
Stamping of female uniforms
The production stamps of female field service uniforms of this period are to be found, upon opening the uniform, on the upper left, stamped directly on the fabric. In this case, 1958 is not the year of production, rather the designation of the manufacturer. The year of manufacture is denoted by the letter “T”, meaning (?). Until 1963, the year of manufacture was in fact given (e.g. „1961“), but after 1963 this was replaced with the letters. Unfortunately, the stamps often disappeared following the first dry cleaning, so well preserved examples of female uniforms have become rare. The summer field service uniform for women had no internal pocket, but the winter ones did, located on the lower left on the button strip.
Meisterin (Feldwebel) der Grenzbrigade Küste, Field Service uniform (summer)
This uniform was for an Officer Trainer at the Under-officer training school of the Grenztruppen at Perleberg. At Perleberg during the 1980s there was a special training unit for female cadets. Mostly these young women were trained for Under-officer ranks in the area of Communications and Signals for the staff units of the Grenzkommandos. With the blue beret, re-introduced in 1983, the blue Volksmarine (Peoples‘ Navy) shoulder boards and the typical maritime pullover, this uniform was very conspicuous on land. On this field service uniform, no production stamps are extant. Particularly evident are the later added buttons for the collar band. In field service, soldiers and officer trainees always wore these.
Leutnant Rückwärtige Dienste Winter coat with female winter hat, as worn from 1987.
Stabsfähnrich of the Air Force, Staff Service dress (summer)
These service dresses could be found in all arms of service, including the MfS and Ministerium des Inneren (Ministry of the Interior), although those in the Volksmarine were navy blue rather than the usual grey. They were available in either short sleeved or long sleeved variants. They were made of the synthetic fabric “Malimo” which was not very breathable, meaning that they were only really suitable in the cooler months.
Selection of female hats
Known as the "Kaffeebohne" (Coffee Bean), these hats were worn with Service and Walking-out uniforms from 1963.
The example in the upper right has an embroidered (LSK) emblem, rather than the pressed metal badges that were used after 1963.
Selection of hats for Field Service uniforms
Hats of this type were worn from 1963 to 1983. From 1983, berets were once again worn – they had previously been worn from 1956 to 1962 by female members of the NVA.
Selection of winter hats from 1987. These versions were similar to those worn by men.