Hoyershausen, Federal Republic of Germany 0200 Hours CEST
The commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment stood at the edge of the two-lane road nodding in satisfaction as the blackened shapes of main battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles rumbled by him. The armored vehicles belonged to his regiment’s 1st Squadron and were moving southeast to fighting positions now under construction on the west bank of the Leine. They were right on schedule, the colonel noted after confirming the time on his watch. If everything went well enough, three of his squadrons would be in place on the west bank by 0400, paving the way for the fourth squadron to cross the river and start taking up positions east of the Leine.
This was not the original plan given to Rifle 6, as the regiment’s commander was known. Initially, NORTHAG had wanted the 3rd Cav to cross the river entirely and be prepared to defend a section of the battlefield by first light. When these orders reached Rifle 6, and the III Corps commander, both men were aghast, viewing them as a recipe for disaster. The corps commander didn’t waste a second going over General Farndale’s head directly to SACEUR. In Brussels, General Galvin listened to the objections voiced by his subordinate and quietly agreed. With impressive tact Galvin convinced NORTHAG’s commanding general to reconsider his intentions, and orders for the 3rd Cavalry.
The revised orders, put together with heavy input from III Corps commander as well as Rifle 6, were realistic and offered a greater chance for success. Instead of charging forward blindly, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment would cover the withdrawal of the Belgian and German units east of the Leine. Once that was completed, the Cav would transform the width of land between the Leine and Weser rivers into a kill sack to keep the Soviets busy while NATO forces set up a strong defensive line at the Weser. Since the regiment would be out there and essentially on its own for the next eighteen hours at least, III Corps and NORTHAG were arranging for the Cav to receive first priority on artillery, and air support for that time.
Rifle 6 had the weight of the world on his shoulders this morning. On the other side of the FEBA, another officer in a similar situation was dealing with his own concerns, and apprehension about the day ahead.
Grasdorf, Federal Republic of Germany 0335 Hours CEST
The commander of the 56th Guards Motor Rifle Division was also a colonel, however, his current position was the result of circumstances and not the design of the Soviet chain of command. Until thirty-six hours ago a general had been in charge of the division until a rather tragic collision between two vehicles on the road march west relieved him of his earthly duties. The colonel now running the 56th MRD had been a regiment commander thirty-six hours ago and now he was charged with leading a full, inexperienced division into battle with minimal time to prepare.
The division was going into battle today. That was about the extent of what the colonel knew for certain at the moment. He did not know when or how. 3rd Shock Army, which the 56th was now attached to was not forthcoming with its orders. Attempts to raise the higher headquarters via radio were being thwarted by NATO jamming. The division commander considered sending a runner to 3rd Shock’s forward command post but it was dark out, lights on the road would attract attention, and no one was quite sure where the forward command post was even located.
From where the colonel stood at the edge of a treeline he could see the western horizon lit by flashes. Artillery, he assumed. Whether it was friendly or not was another matter entirely. In a moment of brutal honesty he admitted to himself that he was ill-prepared for whatever was to come his way this day. This thought was knocked out of his head by the more pragmatic side of his brain. A war was underway, and he commanded a division that was expected to fulfill its mission when the time came. Whatever that mission may be.
The anxieties of one colonel looking for self-pity in the German countryside meant nothing in the big scheme of things. In twenty-four hours he would either be alive and still fighting, or dead and nothing would matter.