Word of the request for chemical weapons release by 8th Guards Army’s commander arrived at the Kremlin during a strained meeting of the Politburo. The slow progress in Germany, coupled with setbacks in other theaters had been starting to fray the nerves of some Politburo members. News that an army group commander had already requesting permission to use chemical agents transformed the meeting into a veritable battle royal. Grigory Romanov’s supporters, and inner-circle had not been unified on the matter of initiating hostilities. The current leader had only been in power for a short period of time. Some influential voices contended that the long awaited showdown with the United States and the West needed to wait until more pressing internal affairs were dealt with. A significant bloc of Politburo members believed that recent events and the climate of US-Soviet relations had dictated the necessity for war now. The US reaction to Romanov’s coup was surprisingly fierce and it was apparent US pressure would only continue to build over time. Better to move now. The third faction consisted of the majority of Romanov’s inner circle. These men were the true believers, so to speak. To an extent their views on the current state of the Soviet Union were the most pragmatic. The United States was rapidly approaching the peak of its military, political, and economic power while the Soviet Union’s power diminished by the day. Their backing of Romanov came on the premise that he would confront the United States and the West sooner rather than later and reestablish the Soviet Union’s place as the world’s premier nation-state.
As the day progressed, Romanov realized he needed to know what was really happening in Germany. He commissioned his defense minister Dimitri Yazov, and Politburo member Yegor Ligachev to fly west and hold a meeting with the theater, and GFSG commanders. Yazov was a member of Romanov’s inner circle, while Ligachev was a staunch supporter of the current general secretary who believed a more detailed picture of the central front was needed to quash the second guessing. The Politburo was comfortable with the selection, and following the latest news from Germany believed it was critical for the Kremlin to receive a first-hand report on the situation.
Yazov and Ligachev arrived at the Waldsiedlung residence exactly twenty minutes after their aircraft landed, as Ogarkov promised. The two men marched into the office and were greeted promptly by the generals. Yazov handled the introductions and then ordered Ogarkov to brief them on situation in the Western theater. Ogarkov complied, yet as he spoke, Snetkov noticed his explanations becoming less detailed, more broad, and open to interpretation.
Sure enough, once CINC-West was finished, the Politburo members turned their attention to GFSG’s commander.
“General Snetkov, why are you not making better progress in Germany?” Ligachev demanded in a low growl. His eyes fixed firmly on the general officer’s face.
“Comrades, as General Ogarkov alluded to, the Americans preemptively launched airstrikes against the command posts of my army groups in the opening minutes of hostilities. These attacks were extremely effective. Before the first tank even crossed the border, the command structures of my most powerful formations were gutted. That is the reason for the initial delay in offensive operations. Time was necessary to deal with the mess, name replacements for the men who died, brief them fully on the attack plan and send them forward. By the time the attack began, NATO was ready for it.”
“You did not see their bombers on radar and alert the air defenses?”
“No. Comrade. The Americans used a new type of aircraft that are nearly impossible to detect on radar. We didn’t even know they were there until the bombs began to explode.”
Judging by the look of surprise on Ligachev’s face, he had likely not been informed about the effectiveness of the new American stealth fighter. “Continue, general.”
Snetkov was blunt. “NATO was far better prepared for us than we were led to believe. We achieved neither total strategic or tactical surprise. The raids on our command posts have taken a long time to recover from. Add to that heavy casualties, stiff enemy resistance, and an air situation not entirely in our favor and it should come as no surprise that my army groups have yet to achieve a breakout. But one will happen,” he assured the men from the Kremlin.
“You seem very confident, general.” Ligachev sighed.
“I am, Comrade. My army group commanders have settled into their new roles and it is beginning to show.”
“Is that so? Then why did the commander of 8th Guards Army ask permission to use chemical weapons in his sector?”
“General Kulkinsky saw that his divisions were not going to be able to break out of the Fulda Gap on their own. He is facing the best divisions the Americans have in the field in Europe. His air support has been anemic. The man is an aggressive, competent general and he wanted to achieve a break out as fast as possible. I denied Kulkinsky’s request, and the theater commander supported my decision.”
“We never expected to obtain a breakthrough in the central part of the front anyway,” Yazov interrupted. This seemed to satisfy Ligachev for the time being.
Snetkov pointed to Hanover on the map, then traced his finger north to Hamburg. “The breakthrough will occur somewhere in this general area in the next two to three days. General Ogarkov and I were discussing the situation before you arrived. Instead of sending 1st Guards Tank Army into Fulda, I will send it farther north. 2nd Guards and 3rd Shock are pushing hard and have identified soft points in the NATO lines. If necessary, I will run them into the ground to achieve a breakthrough and then exploit it with 20th and 1st Guards armies. This will rupture NATO lines irreparably. From there our tanks will race to the Rhine and to hell with what the Americans do to the south.”
Yazov leaned over the desk and studied the map intently. Ogarkov followed suit, and then reluctantly, Ligachev did the same. It was apparent the civilian wasn’t quite sure what he was looking for, however.
“Boris Vasilievich, what will you need to make this happen?” Yazov inquired after he pored over the map for five minutes.
Snetkov did not hesitate. “Give me neutral skies at least, prevent NATO from reinforcing by sea and I will be over the Rhine and in Belgium ten days from now. What is the situation in the North Atlantic? I have received no updates on other theaters since the war started.”
“There are a number of NATO convoys at sea. The Northern Fleet’s submarines and long range bombers are prepared to strike when they come into range.”
“Good. Do whatever is needed to close the Atlantic,” the general warned.
“The situation in the Mediterranean-“ Yazov went on but Snetkov waved him off.
“Nevermind about other theaters. Southern Europe is nothing more than a periphery. What happens there has no bearing on what happens here. The North Atlantic is another story.”
“What about the air situation?” Ligachev spoke. “You said you need neutral skies at least. Explain.”
Snetkov took four minutes to provide a brutally honest assessment of Soviet air power’s performance in Central Europe so far. By the looks on their faces, the men from Moscow had no idea it was so bad. “NATO warplanes are hitting my divisions before they reach the front, and causing major issues with supply lines. The airspace over the battlefield has belonged to NATO more often than not. American airpower is especially lethal. Fire the commander of 16th Air Army and replace him with somebody who knows how to conduct an air war, and send every available fighter west to defend my divisions. I’m not an expert on air warfare by any means, Comrade Minister. But I can tell how bad the air war is going when my tank columns are being chewed up by air attacks before they can even cross the line of departure.”
Yazov had studied Snetkov intently as he spoke. “You will get everything you need, Boris Vasilievich,” Yazov assured him, then raised a finger. “But rest assured, if the two of us are not sharing an espresso in Brussels two weeks from now, I’ll find somebody who can get the job done.”
3 Replies to “A Meeting Outside of Berlin D+3 (12 July, 1987) Part II”
Chilling stuff. I certainly hope Snetkov is overstating his capabilities and NATO airpower stops him more-or-less cold.
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Snetkov was a career tank officer. He was the last WW II vet to command a military district ( In RL and this timeline.) He may not be up to speed on what modern US air power could do to armor in 1987.
Perhaps a first-hand introduction to the destructive capabilities of two braces of AH64A Apaches is what Comrade Snetkov needs as an object lesson in underestimating US Air Power.
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