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


Warsaw Pact activity in NORTHAG’s southern area in the first half of the day was centered around a series of aggressive medium-sized probes and supporting attacks along the length of the Belgian, British, and West German lines.  3rd Shock Army had discovered, to its surprise, that NATO forces had fully withdrawn from Braunschweig during the night. 1st PzD, battered and bloodied, had completely pulled out and was moving back into its parent corps rear area to reconsolidate. Early morning reconnaissance probes launched from Braunschweig revealed British covering force units in place to the west and northwest. Intelligence estimates put the British 1st Armoured Division in the vicinity of Peine. Probes, and limited attacks in I West German Corps area turned up the 11th PgD positioned north of I British Corps, and discovered that elements of the 7th PzD were moving forward to cover an area that had nominally been the responsibility of 1st PzD. The commitment of the 1st PzD to the BAOR/1st BR Corps sector early in the war had come about because of delays in moving BAOR armored units forward. By the time the roadway bottlenecks had been handled, the Germans were fully committed and forced to remain an integral piece in holding the 3rd SA as far away from Hannover has possible.

The incessant, aggressive probing, and lack of other significant activity by 3rd SA served to reinforce NORTHAG commander British General Sir Martin Farndale’s suspicions about a major attack on the horizon. As the afternoon went on, Farndale became more convinced that the main defensive battle was about to get underway, and it would come against I British Corps and potentially I West German Corps as well. Up north in I NL Corps area, a major battle was shaping up through the afternoon and early evening. Farndale saw this as a diversion effort by the Soviets. However, the action, coupled with the credible reports about 20th Guards Army moving forward, seemed to be concrete indicators that a supporting attack would be made against the Dutch, while 3rd SA conducted the main attack. Everything he knew about Soviet operational doctrine pointed to this as well. 20th GA was an army group consisting of three motor-rifle, and one tank division. Enemy doctrine called for a major attack like the one shaping up to be conducted by a tank-heavy shock army.

In the late afternoon and evening, plans were made and preparations got underway. Farndale ordered I West German Corps to reorient itself  in order to closely support the British when the time came. British and West German covering force units moved to identify the enemy main axes of advance, and simultaneously disrupt their reconnaissance efforts. Air recon was stepped up, and Farndale requested additional intelligence, and reconnaissance assets be chopped to NORTHAG in order to confirm or deny that preparations for a major attack were underway. Concerns were raised by the Dutch about the possibility that a major attack could instead come in their sector, but Farndale dismissed the possibility. He and his staff were confident, and the masses of data appeared, on the surface at least, to support their conclusion that the main attack would be made by 3rd SA against the British.

Sir Martin was wrong, of course, and his miscalculation nearly resulted in an irreversible disaster for NATO forces on the Central Front.

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