Baltic Approaches D+3 (12 July, 1987) Part I


Colonel-General Ivan Korbutov was the Northern Group of Forces (NGF) commander. He had assumed command of operations in Schleswig-Holstein when the 2nd Guards Tank Army handed off operations in this sector to the NGF, and attached Polish forces. His command now consisted of the 6th Guards Motor Rifle Division (MRD) 20th Tank Division (TD) group level assets, and two Polish mechanized divisions.

As D+3 opened, his forces were advancing deeper into Schleswig-Holstein,  attempting to obtain an accurate fix on the next NATO defensive line. Geography and terrain both assumed a major role in Korbutov’s plan of advance. The western portion of Shleswig-Holstein was made up mainly of flat, treeless land, making for ideal tank country. The central region contained more hilly terrain, while the eastern region was both hilly, and home to many lakes. Korbutov had positioned a Polish division in the west and they were maneuvering to establish contact with NATO forces. 6th Guards MRD was moving north in the center, straddling Autobahn 7.  In the east, his second Polish division was mopping up in Kiel and conducting a reconnaissance-in-force up the coastline. The 20th Tank Division was held in reserve, serving as the operational maneuver group. Once a weak spot was found in NATO lines, Korbutov would send the OMG forward to exploit it, breakthrough and race to the Danish border. If the situation allowed, Korbutov also intended on bringing his air assault forces into play.

LANDJUT’s defenses also were predicated on terrain. The NATO defensive line ran from Husum in the west to Kappeln near the Baltic coast in the east. It ran the entire length of Bundestrasse 201 (B 201) except for a dip in the center where a West German brigade was positioned to cover the airbase at Schleswig. The Danish Jutland Division was in the west, the West German 6th Panzergrenadier Division (6th PgD) anchored in the center, and West German Territorial units holding in the east, where the greatest threat was from a surprise WP amphibious assault behind NATO lines.

The line was not a defensive line in the traditional sense. There were no major fortifications, and minefields to bolsters the defenders. Most of the units arrayed south of B201 had assumed hasty, not deliberate, defenses. There was little room for elaborate ruses here. The WP objective was the Danish border and Jutland beyond it. To get there, the enemy had to come north by land. The X-factor was where the main enemy attack would develop. Although LANDJUT’s forces were as prepared as possible, they were not strong everywhere. The outcome of the battle could very well come down to which side responded fastest to a rapidly changing situation.

By 0800, Polish and Soviet lead elements were clashing with NATO reconnaissance forces. A number of brief battles erupted across the width of Schleswig-Holstein as WP forces attempted to find the Danish and West German lines. In the west, the Polish 8th Mechanized Division had issues almost from the start. The colonel in charge of the lead brigade was killed when his command vehicle rolled over a landmine. The battalion commanders attempted to keep the advance going, however, the network of  confusing secondary roads in the area, and Danish delaying actions prevented the brigade from massing its numbers and firepower. At 1100 the second brigade in line had moved forward to resume the movement, encountering heavier Danish resistance the farther north it advanced.

The Soviet 6th Guards MRD was having better success. The first contact with substantial West German forces was made south of Schleswig Air Base at Lottorf. In just under ninety minutes two motor rifle regiments were heavily committed against the West German 17th Panzergrenadier Brigade and making no headway. It was then that the Soviet division commander took a gamble. He pushed his tank regiment at the Germans right flank, southwest of the airbase where reconnaissance photos indicated a weak point in the NATO defenses was. The bold move paid off. 80th Tank Regiment, smashed a hole in the West German lines.

With the threat rapidly developing on his right flank, the 17th Panzergrenadier Brigade’s commander was forced to move quickly. He ordered his reserve battalion to counterattack the Soviet armor and next issued orders for his battalions positioned at Lottorf to begin pulling back to the north.

It would be a race to see if the West Germans could move their forces north before the 80th Tank Regiment could wheel east and cut them off.

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