Upon returning to NORTHAG’s wartime headquarters just after midnight, General Martin Farndale took some time to reflect on the conduct of his command in the war so far. After six full days of fighting, the Northern Army Group’s performance had exceeded virtually all expectations. The Dutch, West German, British, and Belgian corps’ making up NORTHAG had held the enemy’s advance farther forward than even Farndale had believed possible by this point. Warsaw Pact losses in men, and material were heavy, NATO airpower controlled the air above the battlefield more often than not, and overall, the NATO edge in quality of equipment, and superior training of its troops, and commanders was paying off immeasurably.
NORTHAG’s success had come at a price. Casualties were considerable. Fuel, ammunition, and other war materials were being consumed at a pace exceeding pre-war estimates. Reservists, and reinforcing troops had taken longer to round out parent divisions. West German political pressure was increasing with every kilometer of ground the Soviets took. Bonn was adamant that Farndale hold Hannover at all costs. The loss of a major city would be a catastrophic blow to civilian morale, and put the enemy on the doorstep of the Ruhr. SACEUR was helpful in deflecting this argument, yet Farndale still felt pressure from many West German officers under his command. He understood where they were coming from and sympathized, but Farndale was not prepared to sacrifice his entire army group simply to hold one city. If there was anyone who understood the dangers there, the general reasoned, it should be the Germans!
NORTHAG’s big test would be coming today. A major attack was coming against Farndale’s forces soon. It was expected to happen on the previous day, but according to Brussels, ‘political events’ brought about an unexpected delay for the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies. He wasn’t complaining. The delay gave NORTHAG additional time to reinforce and prepare.
Where the main attack would come was a point still being debated. Farndale believed it would come against Hannover. This was the area where the Soviets had gained the most ground, and it was only logical they reinforce their success. Hours earlier, reports of heavy Soviet activity and movement north of Braunschweig had come in, changing his mind on reorienting I West German Corps. From this indication, and others, Farndale’s notion was reinforced.
Some of his senior staff remained unconvinced, believing the main attack would come against I NL Corps, or even possibly through the Luneburg Heath, on the boundary line of the Dutch corps and the West German corps to its south. While Farndale saw the difficulties a major attack and subsequent penetration in either area would cause, indicators pointed towards 3rd Shock Army resuming its push against Hannover, and the effort being reinforced by the 20th Guards Army, acting as the operational maneuver group.
The Dutch, Farndale reasoned, could handle themselves and hold their line long enough to be reinforced, should a major attack develop in their sector. I NL Corps was still positioned too far forward for his liking, but no changes could be made now without potentially endangering the entire front. The 5th Division was serving as the corps reserve for the moment, and had deployed a brigade into the Suderburg-Gifhorn gap to link up with the West Germans and keep both formations in contact.
Hannover was the key, however. Farndale was becoming even more positive of this. His desire was to lure the Soviets into a prolonged, urban battle. A larger version of what took place at Braunschweig. For all the discussion about how Soviet doctrine was set against urban area fighting in favor of maneuver, the battle in and around Braunschweig proved otherwise and slowed the advance of 3rd SA to a crawl.
A growing area of concern was NORTHAG’s reserves. General Farndale was keenly aware his forces were gradually losing their combat power. Each corps assigned to the army group had its own reserve units, though in most cases the majority of these units had already been used to plug holes or relieve beleaguered forces on the line. The army group’s own strategic reserves consisted of a West German panzer division, units of the French Rapid Action Force, and the nearly ready US III Corps. SACEUR had placed restrictions on Farndale’s possible use of III Corps, however. He could not commit the corps piecemeal, or to seal off a major breakthrough unless it threatened to rupture the whole front. General Galvin in Brussels intended to hold the tank-heavy US corps in reserve to use as the centerpiece of a counter-offensive unless the situation was so dire it called for the corps to be committed sooner.