How it all began
As in most armies around the world, at the end of the 1950s the NVA (Nationale Volksarmee = NVA = National People’s Army, of the German Democratic Republic = GDR) was contemplating the formation of its own airborne force. This was a logical step, as the two NVA Military Districts should each have such operational/tactical components available in the event of a defence alert. In this respect, the NVA conformed to the requirements of the Joint Supreme Command (VO) of the Warsaw Pact countries, which were formally completed mainly in the 1980s.
It was a long and weary process, fraught with obstacles, before this point was reached. Many doubted the need for such a parachute force specific to the NVA and its actual combat potential. At the time, the economic capability of the GDR was a significant factor affecting this decision, as it was inadequate for the establishment of such special forces. Army leaders also harboured considerable reservations about the formation of an airborne force. While the Supreme Command took a pragmatic stand from a military point of view and practically demanded the formation of such a force, the generals and officers who were responsible at the time were still very much imbued with memories of the paratroopers of the German Wehrmacht, which in their opinion should be borne in mind.
Up until 1989/90, when the politically biased structural elements were eliminated from the army in the course of the military reform of the NVA, which unfortunately was never completed, the paratroop force was subjected to close observation and appraisal from the political perspective. The slightest indication of exclusivity in the spirit of the troops was vehemently repressed. However, right up to the end, it was impossible to permanently stifle the feeling and self-perception prevailing amongst the airborne troops of belonging to an elite force, which resulted from the particularly rigorous training, especially the parachute jumping and the mere outer aspect, the uniform.
The airborne forces of the NVA considered themselves to be elite soldiers and we are pleased to say that this feeling continues up until this very day, 20 years after the disbandment of the East German army. As a result of order 61/59 of 3rd December 1959 of the then Minister of National Defence, the setting up of an airborne battalion in the NVA began in January 1960. The former head of the NVA Military District V, Major General Bleck was conferred with the immediate task of setting up such a battalion. Prora, on the Baltic island of Rügen, was selected as garrison for the unit. The foundation of the “Motorized Rifle Battalion 5” (MSB-5) commenced with the formation and briefing of the first battalion command on 22.02.1960 under the auspices of the staff of MB V (Military District V).
On 01.03.1960, MSB-5 officially went into service under the command of former Major Ehrhard Bernhagen. Formation, deployment and start of troop training were kept strictly secret. This secrecy was maintained until the end of 1960 thanks to the secluded location. It was not until the mid 1980s that the veil of secrecy was lifted in the Lehnin garrison, when the training concept of the troops was shown on GDR television in 1984 or in action, on manoeuvres at which NATO observers were present. Nevertheless, often totally unfounded rumours, myths and legends about the structure, training and supposed international operations persist even to this day.
So it was, that on 04.04.1960 the training of MSB-5 personnel began on the basis of order 8/60 of the Chief of Staff of MB V. The main emphasis at the time was on an intensive form of the general principles of infantry training. This was pursued to a very high level and was marked by strong motivation on the part of the soldiers. At this stage, specialized training was unthinkable as there was a lack of qualified superiors and training centres, which had to be erected by the soldiers themselves in the course of day-to-day training.
In particular, the creation of training infrastructure was a permanent task which ran parallel to the on-going training and continued right up to the middle of the 1980s because of a change in location.