The Central Front D+5 (14 July, 1987) Part I

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Not long after 0100 hours CEST, a diplomat at the Soviet consulate in Geneva was hand-delivered a message by a middle-aged, bookish official from the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. The Swiss official explained that the message came from a West German man claiming to be a representative for a bloc of West German, and Dutch parliament members anxious to explore the prospects of a ceasefire between the Soviet Union and their respective nations.

Thus began the diplomatic incident which would eventually become better-known as the ‘Geneva Pause’. As events started taking shape in Geneva, and later on that morning in Moscow, the rest of the world remained oblivious to what was happening, or the impact that this matter would have on Soviet and Warsaw Pact military operations in the coming days.

 

In Germany, the focus of both sides was fixated upon the approaching battle. It was apparent to NATO that a major attack was coming against NORTHAG. Most likely, it would begin around dawn with the objective being the capture of Hannover with the follow-up goal of establishing a bridgehead on the Weser. The picture painted by intelligence data, and reconnaissance photographs led NORTHAG’s commander and staff to assume that the main attack would be made by 3rd Shock Army. 20th Guards Army, coming up behind it, would peel off one or two divisions to launch a supporting attack against the I NL Corps and keep it pinned down. The remainder of the Soviet army group would assume the role of the Operational Maneuver Group for the front. If a breakthrough came, 20th GA would move it exploit it and rupture NATO’s entire northern front in the process.

SACEUR was not so confident about the enemy’s intentions. He felt there was an even money chance that the main attack could come against the Dutch as well as the West German forces arrayed to their south. If the major effort came there and was successful, the Soviets would be in the perfect position to launch a flanking maneuver north of Hannover. NORTHAG’s commander viewed the situation differently and for now SACEUR was going with his field commander’s instinct. At the same time however, the American general was hedging his bets.

 

Soviet upper echelon commanders were also feeling the tension, most notably General Snetkov. This attack was his brainchild. Its success or failure inevitably would fall on his shoulders. He’d spent the past eight hours going over every detail of the plan and making revisions where needed. As much as it galled him to admit, the attack was not going to go off as scheduled. 20th GA’s divisions were not all in place. At best, only two of its four divisions would be where they needed to be at the proper time. Traffic tie-ups, and NATO air attacks were continuing to have a negative effect on Soviet forces moving west.

Snetkov and his staff did plan ahead. The final draft of the attack plan they put together anticipated  delays in the opening hours and the timetable was insulated with some padding, so to speak. 20th GA’s commander estimated his lead divisions could begin moving at 0700 and the rest two hours from then. 2nd Guards Tank Army and the East Germans in the north were set and ready to jump off at 0700 too, while 3rd SA would go off at 0600 as planned. 20th GA was going to arrive late, yet it was hoped that by that point NATO would be convinced the main attack was centered on 3rd SA’s push.

Not long after 0400 Snetkov held a final briefing with his battle staff. As this was coming to an end, an aide stepped into the room carrying a yellow message form. He strode up to the general and handed to him without saying a word.

Snetkov looked down at the sheet, read it, and felt himself go cold.

The message read:  YOU ARE ORDERED TO POSTPONE OFFENSIVE OPERATIONS SCHEDULED FOR 0600-0900. WILL ADVISE. –OGARKOV, CINC-WEST.

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