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The border guards of the inner German border comprised tens of thousands of military, paramilitary and civilian personnel from both East and West Germany , as well as from the United Kingdom , the United States and initially the Soviet Union.
The DGP became increasingly militarised as the East German government decided that protecting the border was a military task. Although it was notionally a police force, it was equipped with heavy weapons, including tanks and self-propelled artillery. Around half of the Grenztruppen were conscripts, a lower proportion than in other branches of the East German armed forces.
Their political reliability was under especially close scrutiny due to the sensitive nature of their role. They were not allowed to serve in areas near their homes. Some categories of individuals were not allowed to serve in the Grenztruppen at all; for instance, if they had close relatives in West Germany, a record of dissent or dissenting family members, or were actively religious.
As one later recalled: The ultimate role of the Grenztruppen was to prevent border escapes by any means necessary, including by shooting escapees. Failure to shoot was itself a punishable offence, resulting in severe consequences for a soldier and his family. The East German regime's distrust of its own citizens extended to its border guards, who were in a better position to defect than almost anyone else in the country.
A special Stasi unit worked covertly within the Grenztruppen , posing as regular border guards, between and One in ten officers and one in thirty enlisted men were said to have been "liaison agents", the euphemism for an informer. The Stasi regularly interviewed and maintained files on every border guard. Stasi operatives were directly responsible for some aspects of border security; passport control stations were entirely manned by Stasi officers wearing Grenztruppen uniforms.
As a further measure to prevent escapes, the patrol patterns of the Grenztruppen were carefully arranged to reduce any chance of a border guard defecting. Patrols, watchtowers and observation posts were always manned by two or three soldiers at a time. They were not allowed to go out of each other's sight in any circumstances. When changing the guard in watchtowers, they were under orders to enter and exit the buildings in such a way that there were never fewer than two people on the ground.
Duty rosters were organised to prevent friends and roommates being assigned to the same patrols. The pairings were switched though not randomly to ensure that the same people did not repeatedly carry out duty together. Individual border guards did not know until the start of their shift with whom they would be working that day.
If a guard attempted to escape, his colleagues were under instructions to shoot him without hesitation or prior warning. Much of the work of the border guards focused on maintaining and scrutinising the border defences. This included carrying out repair work, looking for evidence of escape attempts, examining the area for signs of suspicious activities and so on.
The patrol times and routes were deliberately varied to ensure that there was no predictability, ensuring that a patrol could potentially appear at any time from either direction.
Guards posted in watchtowers played an important role in monitoring the border, though shortages of personnel meant that the watchtowers were not continuously manned. During the final years of the East German state, the lack of manpower was so severe that cardboard cut-outs of guards were placed in towers to present the illusion that they were occupied. Not surprisingly, given that they could defect with only a few footsteps in the right direction, the GAKs were drawn from the most politically reliable echelons of the Grenztruppen.
They worked closely with the Stasi and were often seen photographing targets across the border. They also guarded work detachments carrying out maintenance work on the western side of the fence. The workers would be covered by machine guns to discourage them from attempting to escape. To maintain what the East German state called Ordnung und Sicherheit "order and security" along the border, local civilians were co-opted to assist the border guards and police.
They were tasked with patrolling the strip behind the border defences, assisting at control checkpoints and reporting any unusual activities or strangers in their area.
In one border community, Kella in Thuringia, the mayor boasted in a speech that nearly two-thirds of arrests on the border that year had been made by local civilians. The locals were, however, kept away from the border strip itself. The border guards were usually recruited from far-away regions of East Germany to ensure that people living near the border would not become familiar with its workings.
A "Young Friends of the Border Guards" organisation was established for children living in the border region, modelled on a similar Soviet organisation. The original Soviet version fostered a cult of the border guards, promoting slogans such as "The frontier runs through people's hearts.
A number of West German state organisations were responsible for policing the western side of the border. West German troops were not allowed to approach within one kilometre of the border individually or within five kilometres in formation without being accompanied by BGS personnel. It eventually became the basis for the present national semi-militarised police force.
Although it was not intended to be able to repel a full-scale invasion, the BGS was tasked with dealing with small-scale threats to the security of West Germany's borders, including the international borders as well as the inner German border.
It had limited police powers within its zone of operations to enable it to deal with threats to the peace of the border. The BGS had a reputation for assertiveness which made it especially unpopular with the East Germans, who routinely criticised it as a reincarnation of Hitler's SS. It also sustained a long-running feud with the Bundeszollverwaltung over which agency should have the lead responsibility for the inner German border.
Although it was nominally a customs service, the Bundeszollverwaltung BZV was responsible for policing much of the inner German border. Its original duties focused on stopping smuggling across the border, though this task virtually ceased after the border was fortified in The BZV continued to man the few remaining border crossings but its duties now evolved into the policing of the border zone to a depth of about 10 kilometres 6.
Unlike the BGS, which was based in barracks located further back from the border, BZV personnel lived with their families in communities along the border. They carried out regular policing tasks with the power to arrest and search suspects in their area of operations with the exception of the section of border in Bavaria.
Not surprisingly, this led to turf wars between the two agencies. The British Army conducted only symbolic patrols along its sector of the inner German border and gradually reduced the tempo of its border operations as the Cold War progressed.
By the s it was carrying out only one patrol a month, only rarely using helicopters or ground surveillance radar and erecting no permanent observation posts. The British border zone was divided into two sectors. Although patrols were stepped up in the s, they were carried out primarily for training purposes. Soldiers were issued weapons but not ammunition.
The border was also patrolled in the British sector by the British Frontier Service BFS , the smallest of the Western border surveillance organisations. Its personnel manned frontier control posts along all of the international and interzonal borders of the British sector, including the Danish and Dutch borders as well as the inner German border.
The German customs service was re-established under BFS supervision and manned crossing points on the borders of the British zone of occupation along with BFS personnel.
When German sovereignty was re-established in , customs responsibilities were handed over to the Germans. A heavily reduced BFS remained in operation to serve as a liaison between British military and political interests and the German agencies on the border.
He instituted the highly distinctive uniform of the BFS, designed in a quasi-naval style with silver rank badges. The United States Army maintained a substantial and continuous military presence at the inner German border throughout the entire period from to after the end of the Cold War.
Regular American soldiers manned the border from the end of the war until they were replaced in by the United States Constabulary , a lightly armed constabulary force responsible for border security. In its place, two dedicated armoured cavalry regiments were assigned to provide a permanent border defence. They also used a variety of technical measures such as ground surveillance radars to monitor Warsaw Pact troop movements across the border. A rapid reaction force was on constant duty further behind the border to provide backup in an emergency.
During the s the state of Hesse refused to grant U. It took the view that since there was no legally recognised border, there was no legal reason for their military observation posts to be built along it. Observation Post Alpha with a human chain. Perhaps appropriately for a cold war, the relationship between the East and West German border guards and officials was frosty. As a Bayerische Grenzpolizei report of noted, "the conduct of the Soviet zone [i.
East German] border troops continued unfriendly and uncooperative. Officers and officials only sought contact to obtain information about refugees or to influence the border population with their propaganda. One of the guards shouted at us: They were used to resolve local problems affecting the border, such as floods, forest fires or stray animals. For many years, the two sides waged a propaganda battle across the border, erecting signs with slogans promoting their respective ideologies.
Both sides used balloons, rockets and mortars to fire propaganda leaflets into the other's territory with the aim of undermining the other side's morale and sowing doubts about their government's policies. The West German government and political parties of both left and right, especially the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats, participated in the campaign.
West German leaflets sought to undermine the willingness of East German border guards to shoot at refugees attempting to cross the border. Some leaflets depicted dead and dying refugees alongside captions such as "The world knows that the overwhelming majority of the People's Army soldiers are decent young men who would not dream of committing murder. Border troops were said to be avid readers, despite risking severe punishment if they were caught even picking up propaganda leaflets.
Reasons advanced for taking the risk included trying to find out the true facts, affirming solidarity with West Germany, the thrill of doing something forbidden, demonstrating secret opposition to the regime, and simple curiosity. East German leaflets and slogans played on Westerners' desire for peace.
A common theme was the allegation that the Bonn government was threatening European peace and security by its supposed "revanchist" aim of restoring German's borders. West Germany's moral values were also criticised; one leaflet accused the government of corrupting its people with "pictures of playgirls and naked female legs".
NATO exercises in Germany were denounced as "warmongering" and the stationing of nuclear weapons on West German soil was condemned though, of course, Soviet nuclear weapons went unmentioned. Bonn's claimed continuity with the former Nazi regime was also a theme of East German propaganda, as was the emergence of the far-right National Democratic Party.
Some leaflets were bellicose, warning of the consequences of a Western attack: The number of such leaflet drops was immense. During the s, West Germany sent millions of propaganda leaflets into East Germany each year.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Border Troops of the German Democratic Republic. A West German customs dog Zollhund on the inner German border in East German propaganda leaflets in a canister which was fired across the inner German border attached to a rocket.
Example of an East German propaganda leaflet, promoting East Germany's diplomatic policies. Retrieved 4 August Europe and the Asia-Pacific: