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

Dutch Leopard 1 tank during exercise "Big Ferro" in Germany, September 1973

By the early afternoon, General Snetkov was growing less confident about the chances of commencing the attack today. No guidance was forthcoming from CINC-West, though Snetkov was hardly surprised by the communications black hole that had developed between his command post and Western TVD’s wartime headquarters. He was certain that his superior was not willfully withholding any critical information. Ogarkov simply had no new orders, or updates to give. The waiting game continued on, with no end in sight.

Meanwhile, NATO continued to take advantage of the Soviet pause. It was unclear if the enemy fully appreciated the situation or not, however. Still, efforts were being made to disrupt the Soviet and Warsaw Pact formations in Northern Germany. From late morning onward, NATO airpower made its presence felt with numerous attacks against staging areas and supply depots (real and suspected sites) in 3rd Shock Army and 20th Guard Army’s areas. Around the noon hour, NATO probes and spoiling attacks started across the NORTHAG front. These attacks, along with those launched a couple of hours earlier by 3rd SA and 20th GA set the stage for an afternoon of frenzied activity, and swift, brutal clashes between the opposing armies.

A number of meeting engagements had developed across the North German Plain. The majority were the result of NATO and Warsaw Pact forces bumping into one another entirely at random. A handful of the engagements, however, were the consequence of both sides pressing need for battlefield reconnaissance. This was the case east of Hannover where reconnaissance units of the Soviet 12th Guards Tank Division and the British 1st Armoured Division clashed in the late morning. By the afternoon, the engagement had expanded into a full-fledged battle as both sides reinforced the initial units. The BRDMs and Scimitars sparring on either side of Autobahn 2 were eventually replaced by Challengers and T-80s. Not very long after, air and artillery joined in and the battle dragged on for practically the rest of the day. Neither side was willing, or able to disengage due to respective concerns about the what unforeseen damage a withdrawal might bring about. When all was said and done, those concerns melted away. The battle slackened and eventually came to an end after dark with the British and Soviets both having taken heavy casualties.

Further north in  I NL Corps area, the Soviets were again clashing with Dutch armor in a series of small to medium-sized engagements. Here, there was a purpose guiding the Dutch actions. As the 1st Division shortened its defensive lines , reconnaissance battalions, supported by armor from the division reserve covered the westward movement of forces aggressively. Throughout the course of the morning, and early afternoon, the Dutch corps commander began to develop concerns about the seam between his corps and I West German Corps to the south. The Germans were in the process of reorienting to guard against a possible Soviet advance along the corps seam. Until the reorientation was complete, this area was going to be vulnerable. After consulting the Germans, and NORTHAG, he ordered a brigade from the corps reserve to move forward and cover the seam, as well as the northern portion of the coverage bubble that had developed between Suderburg and Gifhorn. This movement was not going to be complete until after midnight. Until then, the corps commander would remain tense, and on edge.


1700 Hours. CINC-West informed General Snetkov that the earlier restrictions no longer applied. He was to resume offensive operations as soon as practical. This order sparked a discussion in Snetkov’s headquarters about how to take CINC-West’s wording. ‘As soon as practical’ could be interpreted a number of ways. Snetkov believed the phrase had to be taken at face value. As soon as the forces were ready, Ogarkov expected the planned attack to begin.

The problem was that the situation on the ground had changed over the last fourteen hours. Not dramatically, but enough for the initial attack plan to be in need of modification. The following morning was the logical time for the attack to begin. Determining whether or not that was practical was the next step. After extended deliberations with his staff, much uncertainty remained.

The attack would either come the next morning, or it would not.

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