The Central Front D+7 (16 July, 1987) Part I


Confusion and indecision descended on I NL Corps headquarters as midnight passed and a new day began. Details of the situation in the Suderberg-Gifhorn sector made their way up the chain of command in muddled fashion. The 52nd Armored Infantry Brigade was retreating from Eschede. Beyond that, very few solid facts were known. The corps commander had yet to make a final decision on what the next move would be. The remainder of the 5th Division was moving to pick up the slack, though it wasn’t certain if the division would arrive in time to influence events. The corps commander remained unconvinced this was even the right move. However, leaving Eschede uncovered for very long could wind up leading to disaster.

With the 52nd pulling back, the B-191 highway was undefended, which left the West German rear area, and Celle vulnerable. It also left open the prospect of an advance northwest to Soltau, the B-7 and into I NL Corps rear area. Either of these potential advances, if successful, could rupture the entire front.

The corps commander had to make a decision quickly. The incomplete picture of what was happening on the ground confined his options to either pulling the entire corps back to avoid it being cut off, or risking everything on a successful 5th Division counterattack against the advancing Soviet division stabilizing the situation. If the counterattack failed though, envelopment of the entire I NL Corps was a distinct possibility. This would bring about the complete destruction of the Dutch corps.

As the Dutch procrastinated, the West Germans were gradually becoming aware of what was happening. The 32nd Panzergrenadier Brigade was surprised to learn the Dutch brigade to its north was pulling back. Attempts to communicate with the 52nd Armored Infantry Brigade’s headquarters were unsuccessful, but from the radio traffic, and reports from the northern-most West German battalion, it was clear the Dutch were withdrawing west and doing so quickly. The 11th Panzergrenadier Division, parent division of the 32nd PgB, was every bit as bewildered by the Dutch brigade’s actions. Requests for a clarification of the situation shot up the chain of command. Meanwhile, noting the now exposed position of the 32nd PgB with growing anxiety, the division commander ordered it to withdraw west and reorient itself to defend Celle.

At NORTHAG’s wartime headquarters, it was apparent there was a potential crisis developing along the seam between the Dutch and West German corps. The reports sent by I West German Corps contrasted sharply with the tepid situation reports coming in from I NL Corps. Throughout the previous day, General Martin Farndale had remained certain the main enemy attack was aimed at Hanover, and the flow of events had vindicated his position. Now, Farndale’s operations staff was wondering if the main effort was going to be made on the corps boundary area. Even if it was not the Soviets intention originally, if the situation around Eschede and Gifhorn was truly as chaotic it appeared to be, the Soviets could use it to their advantage.

This assessment was similar to the one made at I NL Corps headquarters a short time earlier. Unfortunately, the Dutch were not keeping NORTHAG current on what exactly was happening, or what their next move would be. Farndale himself radioed the corps headquarters and demanded to speak to the corps commander, only to be told that the general was in an operations meeting and would get in touch with him shortly. Frustrated, Farndale reluctantly accepted the excuse and left orders for the commander to contact him the moment he freed up. Next, Farndale huddled with his own staff to make sense of the current conditions, and attempt to envision what the next few hours might bring. Not once was the possibility of a Soviet breakthrough mentioned or discussed, though it was on the minds of every officer present.

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