East German army masked severe flaws behind scenes

December 02, 1990|By Chicago Tribune

BERLIN -- The old East German army, long considered among the best in the Warsaw Pact, was beset by problems ranging from poor living conditions in barracks to top-heavy staff structures.

These are the conclusions of Lt. Gen. Joerg Schoenbohm, who has been finding out what the eastern army was like since Bonn assigned him in September to be commander in chief of German armed forces in the east.

General Schoenbohm, widely expected to become head of the all-German armed forces next summer, found that the former East German forces had far too many staff officers.

"Sixty percent of the officers are staff officers, compared with 30 percent in the West," he said. He plans to keep only 4,000 of the current 23,000 officers.

Political officers already have been dismissed, and most remaining officers with the rank of colonel or above are to be removed. Others will have to undergo retraining and screening to see if they are acceptable in a democratic armed force, General Schoenbohm said.

Among lower-ranking East German soldiers, he said, some non-commissioned officers were very good, but most compared poorly with their Western counterparts.

Sanitary facilities in East German barracks were "unbelievable," he said.

"They spent a lot of money for the stationing of weapons, but not much for the stationing of draftees," he said.

The East German army formerly numbered 173,000, but after the Communist regime fell a year ago, it was reduced to 98,000.

Plans call for this to be reduced to 50,000 by 1994 and for the eastern forces to be converted into a lightly armed territorial unit.

General Schoenbohm said the East German forces had 300,000 tons of ammunition, and the 363,000 remaining Soviet troops in the east have almost 1 million tons.

Gunnar Simon, deputy head of the Defense Ministry branch operating in the east, said of the East German ammunition stocks: "It's much more than we ever thought we would find. If we wanted to get rid of the stuff by firing it, it would take years of constant shooting."

General Schoenbohm said about 2,300 Soviet-built T-55 and T-54 tanks in East German stocks would be destroyed, along with most of the ammunition stocks.

He said one big surprise was learning that during the years of the Cold War, the East German armed forces maintained 85 percent readiness even on weekends.

Even though the West German army command was infiltrated by eastern spies, General Schoenbohm said, the East Germans refused to believe that West German troops usually took weekends off.

The German army is still making an inventory of property owned by the East German forces and has counted hundreds of bases, 23 guest houses and 27 major training grounds.

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