Across the length of the Federal Republic of Germany on the night of 7 July into the morning of the 8th, two mass migrations were underway. One was made up of thousands of West German civilians residing in close proximity to the Inner-German border. What began as a steady stream of families heading west towards perceived safety in good order was dissolving into a chaotic evacuation fueled by panic and rumors. News of mobilization, and deteriorating chances for a diplomatic solution had finally pushed civilians who had ignorantly remained behind to accept the situation for what it was and leave before it was too late. Roadways from the Baltic Sea to Austria were now filled with thousands of civilians moving west.
The second migration was moving in the opposite direction; towards the border. Tanks, APCs, armored vehicles, self-propelled artillery, and other types of military vehicles were pouring out of NATO installations across the FRG and moving east to occupy the wartime positions of their respective units. In some instances, evacuating civilians, and military convoys met on the autobahn resulting in massive traffic tie ups. For the most part, though, West German police were efficient in keeping the roads assigned for military traffic clear of civilians.
All in all, NATO land units were responding swiftly and with determination to their mobilization, and deployment orders. In some brigades, and regiments, records were set for the amount of time it took for the unit to pack up and deploy. The urgency of the moment was not lost on anyone wearing a uniform. Officers, NCOs, and enlisted men alike fell back on their training. Practice alerts were regular occurrences for NATO units based in West Germany. Personnel were recalled to their bases, units packed up and readied 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. An impressive feat that exceeded the expectations of everyone at V Corps headquarters. For the division commander Major General Thomas Griffin Jr, 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 quite 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, but Griffin’s unit was the one that would serve as the sword which the Soviet 8th Guards Tank Army impaled itself on in the Fulda Gap. Griffin was certain that his counterpart in the 8th ID probably thought the same thing about his division. To an extent he was right, however, when it came down to it, Griffin fervently believed that his division was the most invaluable piece on the CENTAG chessboard.
At the current time, the majority of the division’s kasernes were empty. Two of its three brigades were fully in the field, the combat elements digging in west of the town of Fulda. The remainder 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 lay the Inner-German Border, and on the other side of it sat thousands of Soviet tanks, IFVs, and artillery belonging to the 8th Guards Tank Army. When the balloon went up, the Soviets would push 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 needed to ensure that his troops were ready. MPs 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 that 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 major after all.