On the night of 7 July, and continuing into the next day, two mass migrations were underway in the Federal Republic of Germany. The first one consisted of thousands of West German civilians living in close proximity to the Inner-German border. What started as a steady stream of families moving west towards perceived safety in an orderly fashion soon dissolved into a disorderly, chaotic evacuation being fueled by panic and false rumors. News of mobilization, and deteriorating chances for a diplomatic solution had finally pushed those civilians who had ignorantly remained behind to accept the fact it was time to leave. Roadways from the Baltic Sea to the Austrian border were now filled with hordes of frightened civilians moving west.
The second migration was traveling in the opposite direction: towards the border and danger. Tanks, APCs, armored vehicles, self-propelled artillery, and countless other types of military vehicles were pouring out of NATO installations across the FRG and moving east towards the wartime positions of their respective units. In some instances the evacuating civilians, and military convoys came together on the autobahns, resulting in massive traffic tie ups. But for the most part, West German police were efficient in keeping the roads assigned for military traffic clear of civilians, and vice versa.
NATO land units were responding swiftly and with determination to the mobilization, and deployment orders. In some brigades records were set for the short amount of time it took for the unit to pack up and deploy. The urgency of the moment was not missed by anyone wearing a uniform. Officers, NCOs, and enlisted men all fell back on their training. Practice alerts were regular occurrences for NATO units stationed in West Germany. Troops were recalled to their bases, units packed up and prepared to deploy into the field. When the order to move was given, units embarked on road marches to the same locations they would move to in a time of crisis. Individual units trained on, and familiarized themselves with the terrain and features of the areas that they would fight from if the balloon ever went up.
In the US V Corps sector, the 3rd Armored Division was seventy percent in the field by 2300 hours. It was an impressive feat which exceeded the expectations of almost everyone at V Corps headquarters. For Major General Thomas Griffin Jr, the division commander, his unit’s performance was no surprise. 3rd AD was as capable and motivated a combat division as Griffin had ever seen or been a part of during his career. His brigade commanders were exceptionally talented colonels, all of whom would likely command their own divisions one day. The junior officers and NCOs all took soldiering very seriously. They took pride in their unit, its history, equipment, and most importantly, in its role should war come. Spearhead, the division’s nickname, was a word spoken with dignity and reverence at kasernes in Frankfurt, and across Hessen.
3rd AD was one of two heavy maneuver divisions assigned to V Corps. The 8th Infantry Division (Mechanized) was the other. Griffin’s unit would be the one to serve as the sword which the Soviet 8th Guards Tank Army impaled itself on in the Fulda Gap. He was certain that the 8th IDs commander likely believed the same thing about his division. To an extent, that man was correct, however, Griffin firmly believed 3rd AD was the most important piece on the CENTAG chessboard.
At the moment, the majority of the division’s kasernes were empty. Two of its three brigades were fully in the field with the combat elements digging in west of the town of Fulda. The rest would be emptied out soon enough. Griffin had reported to V Corps commander, Lieutenant General John Woodmansee that the 3rd would be fully in the field by 0000 9 July.
East of Fulda was the Inner-German border. On the other side of it sat thousands of Soviet tanks, IFVs, and artillery belonging to the 8th Guards Army. When the balloon went up, the Soviets would come west, channeling through the valleys and around the mountains that marked the terrain, driving towards Frankfurt. This was the terrain that made up the area collectively known as the Fulda Gap, not the actual town of Fulda itself. In those valleys and from those hills is where V Corps planned to smash the Russians and stop their advance cold.
Before that could happen, Griffin had to ensure his brigades were all in the field and ready. Military police had set up traffic control points to better control the flow of units heading into the field. Unfortunately, the sheer numbers of vehicles on the roadways was causing unforeseen delays. The section of autobahn between Hanau and Gelnhausen was a green parking lot where a large part of his division’s artillery and third brigade were stuck. Efforts were underway to detour German civilians onto nearby roads and clear the highway, but it was going to take more time than expected. The general needed those units off the road and, if not in the Gap, close to it, by the time fighting broke out. If the MPs couldn’t do the job by themselves, he’d get men in there who could.
As midnight approached, 3rd AD’s commander was certain his problem was the worst one being faced by any division commander in the FRG. Had he been aware of the issues facing some of his NORTHAG counterparts just then, Griffin would’ve breathed a collective sigh of relief and realized that his problem wasn’t so terrible after all.