0300– The first non-stealth NATO aircraft into East Germany that morning were USAF F-111F Aardvarks, and a mixed force of RAF and Luftwaffe Tornadoes. As the last GBU-27 impacted on the 20th Guards Army’s bunker complex at Mohlau, the fighter-bomber broke formation and scattered, heading for their assigned targets at altitudes of less than 100 feet. The primary targets were the bridges across the Elbe River expected to be heavily used by the Soviet armies now arrayed to attack West Germany. Destroying these bridges would prevent the first echelon of the invasion from being reinforced for a period of time. The bridges would be hit by the -111s. The Tornados’ targets included air bases, railheads, and logistical centers. Practically all of the targets set to be attacked were located in the 3rd Shock Army sector. This was the Soviet formation that NATO and US planners feared the most. The more damage that could be inflicted upon it before crossing the border would hopefully translate to less pressure placed on NORTHAG formations in the opening hours of fighting.
Perched above and slightly behind the strike aircraft F-15C Eagles and other NATO fighters were engaging the MiGs on combat air patrol over East Germany. Radar operators aboard E-3 Sentries over the western reaches of the Federal Republic vectored the fighters towards targets. Their Soviet counterparts aboard the two A-50 Mainstay aircraft north of Berlin reacted slowly to the appearance of NATO fighters. As the MiGs they controlled were engaged scramble orders were transmitted to every fighter base in East Germany.
It would be too late, however. Even as the additional MiGs rose into the pre-dawn skies to challenge the intruders, the Eagles were augmented. F-4 Phantoms, and air-to-air configured Tornadoes were waiting in ambush and along with the USAF fighters, took a horrifying toll of the Soviet defenders.
0335– General Snetkov was consumed by rage. Around him, the sounds of the air battle were gradually dying off. For the last half hour he heard the roar of combat aircraft to the south and west. Explosions, and brilliant flashes of light on the horizons confirmed to him that the command bunkers were not the only targets being struck by NATO on this morning. It was bad enough that 3rd Shock Army’s commander and all of his people were dead. Now Snetkov’s contact with 20th Guards and 8th Guards Armies was disrupted. Calls to both of their command posts were going unanswered. The fact that 2nd Guards Tank Army in the far north remained in touch was of little consolation.
Snetkov’s worst fears were coming to life. NATO air forces were in the midst of very successful pre-emptive air offensive. He was stranded at Stendal and forced to take cover in a shelter on the edge of the now-immolated bunker complex as NATO fighters ran rampant in the skies overhead. He needed to gain an accurate picture of the events unfolding around him. That could not be done from Stendal, though. He ordered his aide to arrange helicopter transportation back to Wunsdorf. The younger officer did not even bother to remind the general that enemy fighters could be lurking in the area. Snetkov’s glare was enough to deter him from verbalizing any objections. Once the order was put through, the general told him to make contact with CINC-WEST, the theater commander, immediately. Snetkov needed to apprise inform him of the situation, and strongly suggest a three hour delay before ground operations. He assumed at least that much time was going to be needed to unscramble the mess which NATO air power had caused.
0359– In Brussels, SACEUR was dealing with the aftermath of the Spetsnaz attacks. For the most part, the attacks had failed, but with two significant exceptions. The port of Rotterdam was a fiery mess. Two cargo ships had been scuttled in the harbor, and another was burning at the dockside. The second Soviet success came in northern Germany at the field headquarters of I Netherlands Corps. A group of commandos wearing Dutch military uniforms had penetrated the headquarters and killed the corps commander before being neutralized. It was bad, he reminded himself, but it could’ve been far worse.
Through the excitement, SACEUR kept up on the progress of the NATO aircraft in action over East Germany. His air commander was keeping him advised on the progress of the air missions. Judging from those reports, the air strikes appeared to have gone off well. An in-depth briefing was set to take place in less than thirty minutes.
For the moment, SACEUR studied the large electronic map mounted on the wall of his operations center. Successful air strikes or not, at any time he expected to begin receiving reports that Soviet fighters, helicopters, and tanks were storming across the border. As chaotic as the last few hours had been, General Galvin knew it was nothing compared to what was surely to come. The fate of Western Europe was now squarely upon his shoulders.
It was 0400 hours, 9 July, 1987.