The Commander, Allied Air Forces Central Europe, General Bill Kirk’s worries were starting to compound. As the land war in Northern Germany ramped up, so did the Warsaw Pact air effort in 2nd ATAF’s (Second Allied Tactical Air Force) area of responsibility. From D+6 through much of the following day, enemy air efforts directly supported the Red Army’s push against Hanover. Large numbers of fighters, ground attack, and support aircraft had been concentrated and committed in the north. The initial attacks nearly caught 2nd ATAF flatfooted. Air superiority was briefly lost in the Gifhorn area early on in the fighting. The commitment and surge of two USAF F-15 squadrons broke the Soviet hold on the skies over that battlefield three hours later, but the damage had been done. NATO had lost control of the air over an important piece of ground at a critical moment.
The major Soviet ground attack that developed, coupled with fears of a possible enemy breakthrough developing soon kept 2nd ATAF almost fully committed for nearly thirty-six straight hours. Control of the air over the battle line was back in NATO hands, although Warsaw Pact and Soviet fighters made subsequent attempts to regain it. This kept most of the fighters busy. The heavy fighting on the ground resulted in large numbers of NATO close air support, and interdiction strikes being flown. Along with these missions came heavy losses, especially to Soviet battlefield air defense weapons.
The line was holding, although barely in some regards. In the afternoon hours of D+7, COMAAFCE was warned by his logistics people that the heavy tempo of operations meant the squadrons up north were burning through ordnance, fuel, and spare parts at an alarming rate. 2nd ATAF was in need of resupply and rearmament to continue functioning at the high level required. Suddenly the supply situation for General Kirk’s wings and squadrons had become an X factor. If the fighting around Hanover remained heavy in the coming days, it would translate to a higher ops tempo for 2nd ATAF. Even more bombs, missiles, fuel, spare parts, and replacement aircraft would be expended. Shortages would become the norm, and NATO squadrons would find themselves running out of weapons, and fuel at the worst possible times.
Kirk considered chopping some of 4th ATAF’s squadrons, and supplies north, but the situation in CENTAG’s area was too uncertain for that just now. A major Soviet attack was underway in the US V Corps sector of the line. Air support, and interdiction efforts were in heavy demand. He could not send 2nd ATAF any help until the 1st Guards Tank Army’s attack was defeated and the lines stabilized.
Until then, 2nd ATAF had to get by as best it could.