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Emblem of the Kampfgruppen der Arbeiterklasse
The Combat Groups of the Working Class (German: Kampfgruppen der Arbeiterklasse, KdA) was a paramilitary organisation in East Germanymarker, 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 Factory Units of the Worker's Militia of Czechoslovakiamarker 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 Wallmarker 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 Leipzigmarker as 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.


Battlegroups of the working people
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.


Swearing of the "Kampftruppe"
The KdA were organized into units 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 mobile or motorized units, designated Battalions of the Regional Reserve, could be employed outside their local and district areas.

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 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.

Training and equipment

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 also provided economic savings to the SED which didn't have to construct barracks for these forces, whose members continued their civilian work while training in their spare time. A KdA member trained with his group after work and on weekends for a total of 136 hours annually. KdA training camps were held annually, usually in the wilderness.

The KdA had at their disposal many of the weapons that the police would use in riot situations, and also SK-1 armoured car, SK-2 water cannon (both armoured and unarmoured versions), 82mm mortars; 76mm antitank guns; and 23mm and 37mm antiaircraft guns.


Ranks of the Kampfgruppen
  • Truppführer/Gruppenführer/Geschützführer/Werferführer - squad leader/group leader/cannon leader/ejector 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 a 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 uniform.

Oath of the combat groups

Looking at the Kampfgruppe flag
"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."..


  • 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

  • DEUTSCHLAND-ARCHIV, Growth of Worker Militia Units Reviewed,
Cologne, Vol 16 No 11, Nov 1983

See also

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