The watchword for the newly installed Soviet army group commanders on 10 July was same it had been for their deceased predecessors: Speed.
The first day of war had been a near disaster for Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces on the Central Front. Only the fact that Warsaw Pact forces held a toehold on West German soil at the end of the day prevented it from being remembered as an unmitigated disaster. The amount of Federal Republic territory in Warsaw Pact hands was small, however. The grandiose lightning offensive that had promised large swaths of enemy land conquered by the morning of the second day instead more closely resembled a lethargic pachyderm. Every second the operational pace remained sluggish gave NATO time to reinforce and fortify.
The army group commanders faced other daunting issues. Casualties, and equipment losses on the first day far exceeded projections. Staggeringly so in some army zones. MBT losses were over 50 percent higher than expected. Soviet tank commanders were quickly learning first hand just how effective NATO’s newest generation of anti-tank munitions were on the battlefield. NATO air power was not making the lives of Soviet troops at the front any easier either. Airstrikes on second echelon formations, and logistics sites was taking a toll. Once the offensive was underway in earnest, and the war of maneuver developed this would change, GSFG commander General Snetkov was certain.
The North German Plain would remain as the primary avenue of advance. Although the Red Army and its Pact allies were pushing forward from the Baltic to the Austrian border, the main effort was to be made in the north. The pressure was on 2nd GTA and 3rd Shock Army to force a breakthrough of NATO lines and open the door for the Operational Maneuver Group to exploit the rupture. It was widely expected that the anticipated breakthrough would come against NATO’s Northern Army Group.
The bulk of 2nd GTA and attached East German divisions were focused on driving northwest and west from the Inner-German Border towards the Danish border and Hamburg respectively. It was this sector where Soviet ground forces had made their farthest advances. A second prong consisting of one motor rifle division and an accompanying tank regiment was developing south of Mölln, aimed at the Elbe and beyond it NORTHAG’s extreme left flank. West German units confronting this push were already worn down after 24 hours of heavy fighting. The 16th Panzergrenadier Brigade was covering the approaches to Hamburg, wary of a push developing in that direction. Between Mölln and the Elbe River though, there was nothing but a handful of rear guard units left to delay what was turning out to be a significant Soviet advance towards the river and the Dutch 4th Division beyond it.
For the I NL Corps, the developing threat on its flank was cause for concern. The covering force battles had stopped the Soviet 21st Motor Rifle Division dead in its tracks the day before. However, information reaching Corps headquarters and NORTHAG indicated the advance was pick up again by noon. The developing threats were aimed specifically at the sector of the line held by the Dutch 4th Division. This division was 80% deployed in the field with the remaining combat and support units stationed in the Netherlands expected to close by nightfall. The new corps commander elected to move the US 3rd Brigade/2nd Armored Division closer to the battle front instead of keeping it as part of the corps reserve.
Dutch reconnaissance and cavalry elements crossed the Elbe and began probing for signs of the Soviets to their front. Contact was made east of Hohenhorn. Following a series of brief, and violent engagements the Dutch broke off and elected to monitor the movement of Soviet units from a distance. Attempts to radio back reports to higher headquarters were being frustrated by enemy jamming. By the time radio contact was reestablished it was already clear to division and corps commanders that the Soviets were planning to cross the Elbe at Geesthact. Surviving Dutch recon units were redeployed to the friendly side of the Elbe, the bridge was blown behind them and Dutch forces south of the river dug in deeper and waited patiently for what was to come.
4 Replies to “The Central Front: D+1 (10 July, 1987) Part I**”
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Back at ya, bro. 🙂
Literally discovered your blog yesterday and scrolled all the way down to read it all. Great job!!! I’m loving the blogs so far!!!!
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Thanks so much. I’m glad you’re enjoying it. Be sure and stick around, I’m going to be posting a lot more between now and Christmas. –Mike