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

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The British 1st Armored Division had completed its withdrawal and passage through the 4th Armoured Division’s lines by first light. The 7th Armoured Brigade remained in position east of Hanover, screening the rest of its parent division as it moved west. Enemy opposition was minimal, limited mainly to fire strikes that more often than not missed the intended mark, and less-than-enthusiastic probes by the 10th Guards Tank Division’s reconnaissance battalion.  At dawn, the 7th began its own passage of lines with the 16th/5th The Queen’s Royal Lancers screening the move.

As the battleplans were finalized, 3rd Shock Army realigned the organization and deployments of its divisions southeast of Hanover. With the British passage playing out, 10th Guards TD started two regiment-sized attacks into the British 4th Armoured Division’s area. Their immediate objective was to bypass any British defensive positions and units in the vicinity of Autobahn 7, seize a stretch of the super-highway and then push west to Highway 6 and cut it off, severing the main north-south routes through the 4th Armoured’s AOR. In the strategic sense, the objective of 10th Guards push west was primarily to keep the British busy and unable to influence the battle expected to emerge to the south later in the day.

In the pre-dawn hours 47th Guards Tank Division shifted south and was in position by mid-morning. The division had been vulnerable during its redeployment phase, but luckily NATO airpower and artillery had been committed elsewhere. As its sister division kept the British distracted, the battleplan called for 47th Guards to begin a push west towards the Leine. In all fairness, 3rd SA’s commander had no faith in the ability of a single tank division to reach the river by itself. He did expect it to weaken the NATO units defending the approaches to the Leine, and set the stage for the commitment of follow on forces and the next phase of operations.

 

Through the morning, pressure on the NORTHAG front appeared to be proportional and not concentrated in a specific area. Yet. Even though the dangers facing the NATO units north of Hanover seemed to mirror those to its south, the Northern Army Group’s commander General Martin Farndale was not deceived by appearances. The main attack would develop south of Hanover eventually because the distance between Soviet forces and the Weser was shortest here. Overnight, a limited number of reinforcing units came forward to bolster the brigades east of the Leine. A British mechanized infantry battalion reinforced the Belgian mechanized brigade at Bockenem, while German Territorial troops were deployed around the Leine bridges to guard against the possibility of Soviet airmobile attacks.

Late in the morning Soviet units were on the move south of Hildesheim. Aerial reconnaissance, and intelligence estimated a division-sized scale. Initially, there was no subtlety. Soviet tank regiments crashed into the sectors of the NATO lines just outside of Bad Salzdefurth and Bockenem. The rigidity of the enemy’s direct approach was evident in the initial lack of maneuver. It proved to be advantageous into the first hours of the afternoon. The forward West German and Belgian battalions were pushed back 7 kilometers. Autobahn 7, and Highway 243 north of Bockenem fell under Soviet control.

Through the rest of the afternoon, engagements and battles in the south continued along similar lines to how they had developed in the north. 47th Guards TD pushed forward, defending NATO units gave ground reluctantly, and counterattacked whenever possible. The Soviet division contested, keeping up contact as much as possible. It cost men, and equipment but by 2100 the Germans and Belgians had been pushed back yet again. Battered and nearly broken, the 197th Guards Tank Regiment of the 47th Guards TD was 9 kilometers from the Leine.

 

From his wartime command post, General Snetkov monitored the progress of 3rd SA. His staff, along with that of the army group now heavily in contact were formulating plans to use the two 5th Guards Army divisions moving forward to cross the Leine at three separate points. When he learned of this, Snetkov overruled the idea. Soviet combat power was to be focused on one crossing point. 3rd Shock’s commander and staff waivered on choosing the location so Snetkov made the decision. The Leine crossing would come at Bruggen.

 

Farndale, and his superiors in Brussels studied the map and interpreted the tea leaves. The general idea was to keep the Soviets bottled up east of the Leine for another 24 hours to give NORTHAG ample time to prepare the defense of the Weser farther west. Unfortunately, the Germans and Belgians were not going to be able to endure another 24 hours of pounding. So with SACEUR’s blessing, Farndale ordered the US 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment to cross the Leine and join the battle immediately.

2 Replies to “The Central Front D+9 (18 July, 1987) Part II”

  1. Excellent work.
    Can’t help but feel for the British Territorial Army units who have been placed into the front line to keep the regulars ‘fresh’.
    A terrible irony of the Cold War.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the kind compliment.

      Actually, those were West German Territorials. But there are British Territorial units now intermingled with the BAOR. I’ll definitely be discussing them in the future.

      Like

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