The Central Front D+9 (18 July, 1987) Part I


20th Guards Army combat units started the tenth day of the war advancing along the same axes they had on the previous day. With the point of convergence for the entire front having shifted from Hanover to the Weser, the army group’s future role in the grand drama playing out on the North German Plain was up in the air. The push along the seam of two NORTHAG corps formations had come as an unexpected shock to NATO, dangerously exposing Hanover, and the bulk of NORTHAG’s main combat formations to potential encirclement around the city. Unfortunately for the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies, the Dutch and West Germans recovered from their surprise fast enough to resist and grind down 20th GA’s twin advances. Speed and momentum had been lost, and not regained fast enough to exploit the weakened enemy lines. NORTHAG’s northern formations had consequently recovered to an extent, especially the West Germans northeast of Hanover.

The regiment-sized reconnaissance in force made headway on the previous day. The Dutch forces defending the Bergen-Hermannsburg area were revealed to be the better part of two reserve brigades from the 5th Division. Their response to the Soviet probe was swift, but inadvertently revealed too much about the defending forces strength, tactical dispositions, and other information. On the morning of D+9, 20th GA’s commander opted to add an additional regiment, plus army group-level support to the effort. Now that a relatively clear picture of the Dutch defenses had been formed, it was time to persuade NATO to swallow the bait and believe a major attack was going to come in that direction. To enhance the notion, two regiments of East German motorized infantry, and units from the 2nd Guards Tank Army were ordered forward. Little effort was made to conceal the moves and it didn’t take long for NATO to pick up on what appeared to be happening. By the early afternoon, an inordinate amount of airpower was heaped upon the hapless East German and Soviet troops traveling west from the rear.

Celle was finally in Soviet hands following the protracted battle between the 35th Motor Rifle Division, and the West German 11th Panzergrenadier Division. It had come at an ugly cost for the 35th which endured significantly heavier casualties than anticipated in the effort to capture the small West German city. It was replaced by the 90th Guards Tank Division on the afternoon of D+8. Now the tank division was spearheading the push towards the next active objective: Autobahn 7.

The 11th PgD was in no better shape then its Soviet counterpart. Unfortunately, with conditions as they were, the entire division could not be taken off the line and replaced fully. Therefore, the two most-depleted brigades were transferred off the line and replaced by the 19th PgB from the 7th Panzer Division. This left only two brigades in reserve for the NATO formations north of Hanover.

Fighting west of Celle was fierce, mobile and lasted through the later part of the morning and most of the afternoon. Soviet advances were countered by West German counterattacks and delaying actions, which were then met by further maneuver and massing of firepower. The largest engagement of the day in the north was at Wietze and led to the almost complete destruction of two Soviet regiments. By dusk Autobahn 7 remained in West German hands and neither side was in any condition to continue the battle.

Reluctantly, 20th GA’s commander conceded that his army group would be unable to secure the ground north of Hanover. He informed General Snetkov of this, half expecting to be dismissed from his post and receive orders to return to the east at once. This did not occur. Instead, Snetkov acknowledged the report and signed off.

By this point in the day the actions north of Hanover had become inconsequential. The operations underway in 3rd Shock Army’s sector were the ones dominating Snetkov’s thoughts.

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