The focal point in the battle for West Germany was rapidly developing around Hanover. NATO and the Warsaw Pact each recognized the significance of the city and surrounding areas to their future operations, and overall war aims. Hanover was the gateway to the Weser River. Beyond that body of water lay the Ruhr Valley, the industrial heartland of the Federal Republic. It was generally accepted by NATO general officers, and Federal Republic politicians that whoever controlled the Weser controlled West Germany.
For the Red Army it all was about reaching the Weser at the moment. 20th Guards Army was committed northeast of Hanover. Following its daring attack along the seam between two NATO corps the day before, its divisions were now attempting to exploit the chaos and confusion the earlier attack brought on. 3rd Shock Army had focused its advance on Hildesheim and the southeast suburbs of Hanover. This was the area where a breakthrough was most desired. West of Hildesheim, the terrain opened up, favoring the mobility and maneuver of an attacking force significantly more than had been the case farther east. NATO realized this too, and was moving to concentrate a considerable amount of combat power and prevent an enemy breakthrough from occurring.
By dawn on D+8, West German forces had almost entirely withdrawn from Celle. Rear guard troops armed with ATGMs, and a handful of Leopard 2 MBTs bled the 35th Motor Rifle Division’s lead elements as they approached the small city. The division spent much of the morning clearing the approaches to Celle, and securing it. Elements of the West German 11th Panzergrenadier Division counterattacked just as the 35th MRD was handing off the advance to the 90th Guards Tank Division. This significantly slowed 20th GA’s general advance and by the time it got back underway in the later afternoon, West German resistance had stiffened west of Celle.
As this was going on, a motor-rifle regiment-sized reconnaissance in force was conducted against I NL Corps known and suspected positions. The purpose of the maneuver was two-fold: gain solid intelligence about the strength and dispositions of the Dutch defenses around Bergen and Hermannsburg. The secondary objective of the reconnaissance was to sell the notion that the 20th GA’s main attack was going to be made in that direction.
In front of Hanover, the British 7th Armored Brigade covered the withdrawal of the remainder of the 1st Armored Division from east of the city. It held the ground just forward of Autobahn 7 for the majority of the day, beating back increasingly half-hearted enemy attempts to penetrate the line. NATO did not expect the Soviets to advance into Hanover itself, yet a penetration of the 7th Armored Brigade could potentially cause major issues and end up outflanking British and allied forces arrayed to the south.
South of Hannover, the NATO defenses were a mixture of British, West German, and Belgian units. The British 4th Armored Division held a line running from Laatzen to Hildesheim. A West German brigade was dug in at Bad Salzdetfurth, and a reinforced Belgian brigade at Bockenem. A deep defense was established, intended to delay, inflict heavy casualties on, and spread out the 3rd SA as it advanced beyond Hildesheim and towards the Weser. But before the Soviets could even think of reaching the Weser, it first had to reach and bridge a smaller, yet no less important river: The Leine.