The Central Front D+4 (13 July, 1987) Part I

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In the pre-dawn hours of D+4, Group Soviet Forces Germany commander General Snetkov stood over an expansive table map of the central front region. The latest positions of Warsaw Pact units, as well as the known, or suspected positions of enemy units were displayed. Every so often an intelligence officer would come over and make adjustments. Reports from the battlefront arrived inconsistently. Communications nets were becoming less reliable the farther Snetkov’s forces pushed into the Federal Republic. Enemy jamming, and other efforts to disrupt communications were far too effective, in Snetkov’s mind. The fact that so many regiment, and division commanders were forced to relay their situation reports while on the move did not help matters either.

As he studied the map, Snetkov was outlining the strategic plan for D+5 through 7 in his mind. Any ideas of moving 1st Guards Tank Army north to use against NORTHAG had been quashed by common sense, and the harsh realities of the air situation at current. 11th Guards Army from the Baltic Military District would serve as the follow-on for 20th Guards Army and 3rd Shock. CINC-WEST assured Snetkov that 11th GA would be west of the Elbe and ready to begin sustained combat opertions by D+8. Snetkov had doubts, but kept them to himself.

Probing attacks against I NL Corps positions, and I West German Corps to their south had revealed a potential weak point in NORTHAG’s lines. Snetkov took a red marker and sketched a line from Sundburg south to Gifhorn. Between the two towns lay the boundary of the two corps’ areas. An advance west by 20th GA, straddling the boundary line, and supported by a 3rd SA lunge at Hannover should be enough to rupture NATO lines irreparably. The keys to achieving it would be speed and enough combat power at the breakthrough point. Air superiority over the battle area was going to be needed too. A host of other factors, and variables also came to mind. So many that Snetkov told his aide to fetch a pad and pen.

For the next hour, the general alternated between writing on a pad, and staring at the map deep in thought. Alternative plans, force calculations, and possible NATO counters flowed through his brain. In the end, he decided that a push through the northern corps boundaries in NORTHAG was risky but doable. Snetkov assembled his staff a short time later and presented the rough plan. Before he was even finished, NATO aircraft were reported to the north. Reluctantly, he ordered his staff, and everybody else present in the command bunker of the forward headquarters to seek shelter.

The report turned out to be false. Snetkov and his officers returned to the map and went back to work. Overall, his idea of an attack along the corps’ boundaries was well-received by those staff officers who knew what they were about. There was much to be worked out, however. The general wanted an attack to begin no less than twelve hours after he ordered it. His operations officer’s estimate was more realistic though. He figured it would be thirty-six hours before divisions were repositioned, and enough artillery, air defense units, and airpower was massed to support the drive.

Snetkov vetoed the proposed timeline. He wanted the attack to be underway before NATO reinforcements were able to influence the battle. He was mostly referring to the US 1st Cavalry Division, which was in Belgium right now drawing equipment and preparing to move into the NORTHAG area. His intelligence officer had informed him the division was contending with delays and would not be in a position to influence events at the front for thirty-six hours. Snetkov thought it best if the 1st Cavalry not be on the gameboard when the breakthrough was made. He had some ideas on how to help make it a reality.

Snetkov dismissed his staff after ordering them to begin planning the attack in detail. Next, summoned his chief of staff and ordered him west to brief the 2nd GTA, and 3rd SA commanders on the upcoming attack. He expected his army commanders to start their own planning by 0900.

As dawn approached, the general stepped outside to admire the sunrise and take a moment to gather his thoughts. Yesterday, he assured his commander, and political masters that he would bring about an attack that would result in a major breakthrough of NATO lines. Now the preparations for that attack were getting underway.

It was a promising start to the day. Snetkov hoped the rest of it would be fruitful as well.

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