The Central Front: D+1 (10 July, 1987) Part II**


By 1700 hours Soviet forces had secured a firm bridgehead on the Elbe despite a counterattack by the Dutch 43rd Armored Infantry Brigade that left the issue in doubt for a period of time. In front of Luneburg, East German troops kept the Dutch forces there occupied well enough that 2nd GTA’s commander sensed an opportunity coming about. Without consulting his own superiors, he ordered the commander of the 94th Motor Rifle Division to begin the preparations necessary to turn his forces away from the northwest and move towards the newly established bridgehead. If he moved fast enough, 2nd GTA commander was increasingly optimistic he could cut off the better part of the Dutch 4th Division.

He was not intending to wait for his forces to build up before moving though. Aware of the need to maintain the initiative, he pushed the commanders in the field to speed up the flow of forces across the Elbe. Specifically, he wanted the bulk of the 16th Guards Tank Division on the south side of the river by midnight. The developing plan was to use the division as a sledgehammer to break the Dutch lines swiftly, and irreparably. Intelligence reports led him to believe the bulk of the Dutch division’s combat power was centered around Luneburg. A decisive roll of the dice now could bring in a heavy payout.

To the credit of NATO commanders, they recognized the growing danger on the banks of the Elbe immediately and were in agreement that counteraction had to be taken quickly. This is where the unity of opinion ended. The corps’ commanding general wanted to unleash a major counterattack immediately while General Martin Farndale, NORTHAG’s commander, favored ceding the Elbe bridgehead to the Soviets and the establishment of a new defensive line to run from Seevetal to Winsen. Simultaneously, he wanted to begin withdrawing the Dutch forces around Luneburg to minimize the chances of their becoming cut off. Following a brief conversation between the two via secure communications, Farndale decided his plan was better-suited for the current situation.

Next, he directed 2 ATAF to place a priority on the Elbe bridgehead. His Soviet counterpart was of similar mind, screaming at 16th Air Army to support his crossing. The result would be one of the fiercest air battles of the war. By midnight 40 percent of the 16th Guards Tank Division had made it across the Elbe, but at a murderous cost.


To the south, 3rd Shock Army (to be referred to as 3SA for the duration) resumed its westward advance before dawn. Enemy resistance on the first day had been exceptionally fierce and bogged down the group’s divisions significantly. Like his fellow newly-installed army group commanders, Lieutenant General Alexi Mityukhin was determined now to get bring his army group back into the war. 3SA’s first strategic objective was the industrial city of Hanover. Hanover was an essential step towards the Ruhr, West Germany’s industrial heartland and 3SA’s primary wartime objective.

Mityukhin wanted to achieve a breakthrough against the I West German Corps. This was the enemy formation he considered to be the weakest link in the NATO defensive chain arrayed against his tanks. South of the Germans were the British and Belgians. With enough pressure and some luck a breakthrough was possible there too, but his money was on the Germans.

For much of the day, it seemed Mityukhin had placed the right bet. His armored spearheads were making the most progress in this area, though it was apparent a strong NATO defensive line was going to be found east of Braunschweig. Here, the advance slowed to a bloody crawl and then a complete standstill, and by nightfall the next echelon had been called forward to flank the defenders. Only instead of finding a softly guarded flank, the 40th Motor Rifles discovered a newly arrived battalion of British armor at Wolfenbüttel.

Advances against the British and Belgian sectors fared little better. Progress was being made, but slowly. Each kilometer of ground seized came at a disproportionate cost in men and equipment. Mityukhin was uneasy about the losses his divisions were suffering, but he knew NATO was dealing with similar problems. His side could afford the heavier losses, however, since it had  larger stockpiles of war material and soldiers to commit to the battle.

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