News of the raid at Geilenkirchen reached NATO headquarters in Brussels within minutes. SACEUR wasted no time in getting the word out. In less than a minute flash messages were being transmitted to every NATO installation, and combatant command across Europe warning them to be prepared for the sudden appearance of Spetsnaz commandos or saboteurs shortly. General Galvin expected to be swarmed with incoming reports of facilities under attack beginning at any moment. When it didn’t happen he was unsettled. What was going on?
Seven additional minutes of silence passed by before it occurred to him that the Geilenkirchen raid attack might’ve gone off prematurely, and the thought was a fleeting one. The uncertainty of the situation by 0120 placed SACEUR squarely between two chairs, so to speak. Unknown to everyone other than his deputy, and two or three other senior officers, he’d been approached by his air commander a week earlier with a plan for a series of offensive air missions against a core group of high value enemy targets in East Germany. The missions would launch at the first concrete sign of imminent hostilities. In other words, at the moment the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies revealed their hand.
SACEUR expected the moment to arrive with the start of Spetsnaz attacks in the NATO rear areas. But with only one attack underway so far, Galvin faced a moment of truth. If he ordered his air commander to begin what had been dubbed Operation Dark Comet without more validation, he ran the risk of handing Moscow a justification for hostilities. On the other side of the coin, if he wavered and the offensive emerged as expected, a golden opportunity to even the playing field early on would be lost. Aware that time was running out, SACEUR made what many historians now consider to be his most crucial decision of the war. Dark Comet would commence immediately.
As fighter bombers and support aircraft assigned to the missions were preparing to takeoff from NATO airbases in the United Kingdom and the Federal Republic, Spetsnaz attacks started going off across the region. Explosions, and the rattle of small arms fire punctured the quiet pre-dawn hours. From the North Sea to the Austrian border firefights broke out in and around NATO military installations, and at select points in the major Western European cities. Soviet commandos, and KGB operatives discovered, much to their astonishment, that NATO security troops were alert and prepared to meet them. In spite of their high degrees of training and rugged mental preparedness, many Spetsnaz commandos could not recover from the shock of losing the initiative so abruptly. From the intelligence that each team had been privy to, NATO was not expected to be ready.
The size and quality of the security force at individual target sites depended greatly on the size of the target and its importance. Predictably, POMCUS, nuclear weapon storage sites, and dispersal locations for GLCM and Pershing II missiles had the largest, best-trained security troops. On average, the size of a NATO security unit was a platoon-sized unit, 30-35 men. The Spetsnaz teams, in West Germany this morning, had between 8-20 troops. The attackers relied heavily on speed, and stealth. The defenders, on firepower and numbers.
Reports started arriving in Brussels as 0130 passed. News was working its way up the chain of command about a number of NATO military, and civilian sites coming under attack. A POMCUS compound in Holland, GLCM dispersal sites north of Wuschheim, and an air defense radar site west of Hanover were among the first to be hit. SACEUR was digesting those reports as even more news arrived: A major explosion in the port of Bremerhaven. Two West German cabinet members were assassinated in their own homes.
As his aides rushed in with news of even more attacks materializing, SACEUR took some solace from the fact that he had made the right decision in authorizing Dark Comet while there had still been time.