The Central Front D+11 (20 July, 1987) Part I


NATO forces had been chased across the Leine completely. Soviet tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and troops were pressed up against the eastern bank of the river. The 56th Guards Motor Rifle Division was spread at Brüggen, Alfeld, and Freden. The division’s engineering battalion had been savaged by an air attack on its assembly area the day before and was now ineffective. The division commander wasn’t unsettled by this. He knew additional help was on the way, and it was. Engineering and bridging units moved forward from concealed locations deep in 3rd Shock Army’s rear area. The first of them had already started arriving after midnight, later than expected due to NATO air attacks along their route. Enough equipment and engineers were expected to be on hand by 0400 for the next phase of the operation to commence: Crossing the Leine.

3rd Shock Army’s commander had charged the 56th  Guards with the task of getting across the river and securing the west bank, establish and then expand a bridgehead large enough to accommodate the 58th Guards MRD and 47th Guards Tank Division behind it. Along with the bridges and engineers, 3rd Shock Army promised to provide the 56th with air support, artillery, and additional attack helicopters. Whether or not these guarantees would materialize remained to be seen, but the 56th Guards commander was not holding his breath.

Time was a growing concern. The Soviet commanders wanted to get the 56th  across quickly before NATO could reinforce its own troops on the west bank. The enemy had been very thorough in dropping every bridge into the river before the Soviets could get a single vehicle across them. Overnight and into the early morning hours NATO threw artillery and aircraft against possible crossing sites, troops inside of the towns, and the roads leading to them. Soviet artillery responded in kind, concentrating on the ridges dominating the western bank of the Leine. This was the area where most NATO forces were thought to be digging in. 56th Guard’s own divisional artillery had taken considerable losses the day before. 3rd Shock Army had partially relieved that by allocating two battalions of guns, and three batteries of rockets to the 56th. The division commander did not hesitate to use them, throwing them into action immediately.

The operation would commence at 0445 hours. It would be a hasty river-crossing assault. The first wave was to be made up of two motor-rifle battalions set to cross, one at Alfeld, and the other at Brüggen.


On the west bank of the Leine the US 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, and an assortment of smaller Belgian, British and West German units watched and waited. When the Soviets grew serious about crossing the river, the Cav’s mission would be to make the effort as expensive and time consuming as possible. Keeping the Soviet river crossings bottled up for a long period would give NORTHAG more time to bring reinforcements forward and complete the defenses along the Weser River.

The 3rd ACR was not expected to stop the Soviets on their own. Sooner or later they’d get across the river and resume the advance towards the Weser in force. Between the Cav’s present position and the Weser, British, US, and West German brigades were preparing to delay and disrupt the Soviets even more as they moved towards the next river in force. When they arrived at the Weser, they’d find the bulk of the British Army of the Rhine, and US III Corps waiting for them. But first they had to get there and the Brave Rifles were determined to make the first part of this trip as unpleasant as possible.

6 Replies to “The Central Front D+11 (20 July, 1987) Part I”

  1. Oh man… NATO able to destroy EVERY Soviet bridge before any forces come across…?
    Come on, man… the PMP-series bridge (which had various generations, to accomodate for heavier equipment) could be set up acros a river as wide as Elbe within 30 minutes at most. And then the tanks etc. would roll across.
    BTW: the NATO had always had not as much arty as the WarPact, and in the situation described above there would be, at most, a single US battery of M109 supporting the ArmCav sqn and maybe a composite battalion (of separate batteries) of Belgian M109, maybe WGerman M109 and Uk M109 or Abbots. The UK had, at the Corps level, 2 single battalions of M107 (later upgraded to M110), Belgians had 2 battalions of M109 in their Corps and West Germans had NO corps artillery (all was down in divisions, with up to 5 battalions per division).

    Thus I can hardly see any NATO artilllery interrupting the river crossings.

    And of course I doubt the Soviets would assault in the places the NATO was strong – just read about how the Dnieper was crossed and how they get their (final) success…
    So NATO would face a strong, attack in the sector shown above – but this would be a diversionary attack only; main thrust would be elsewhere, with PMPs and mobile ferries being deployed against – maybe – outposts or even unguarded places.
    Anyway, in order to succesfully cross the river, the Soviets would assault in various places, to disperse the defender’s efforts, and tghe concentrate their reserves in point of greatest achievment, to secure a bridgehead. And this would be done quickly – a battalion across the Leine within an hour is much better than a regiment assaulting after 6 hours of preparations…

    If the Soviets found a suitable place for crossing, especially the one where no NATO troops were (likely distracted to other sector), then the BMPs and BRDMs would swim across, with engineers making a recon to see if the river’s bottom is suitable for deep fording and the banks capable of withstanding tanks’ weight, then the tanks would snorkel across… and you have a bridgehead.
    During the “swimming/snorkelling” phase the PMP-carrying trucks would come in, deploy along the bak, release their loads and engineers could make the bridge.
    So you could have a bridge across the river, with secured bridgehead, within an hour – and ready to accomodate for the rest of division to follow, and the second echelon division to be poured into NATO rear, with SAM batteries covering the bridge (and there would be more bridges being deployed paralelly!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sorry for posting it twice, yet IMHO this is too important for the whole story to be missed, so:

    Ssomething more detailed about Warsaw Pact river crossing operations:

    Most important part:

    Most river crossings would have been assault crossings from the march, at sites that were only lightly defended, if at all. Reconnaissance patrols of up to platoon size, operating up to 50km ahead of the main body and equipped with specialised equipment, would find suitable sites. When a crossing site had been selected, a forward detachment, two to three hours ahead of the main body and avoiding contact with the enemy, would secure the site. A typical forward detachment would consist of a motor rifle battalion with an attached tank company and artillery battalion. Amphibians, ferries, air defence, anti-tank and chemical defence units would also be attached. Heliborne or occassionally airborne troops could also be used in this role.

    If the crossing site was defended, the attack would be carried out with significant artillery and air support. River crossings got priority for air support, and were considered particularly vulnerable to enemy air attack. Air defence assets would be deployed close to the crossing site, and would cross the river as soon as feasible to extend their coverage.

    The crossing itself would be carried out by APCs or IFVs swimming across the river, supported by tank and artillery fire from the near shore. A few tanks may have crossed in the first wave, but most would provide fire from the near bank and cross later. Artillery and anti-tank units would cross immediately after the infantry to provide support in holding the bridgehead. Tanks would cross using ferries, snorkelling, or bridges.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No worry about posting twice. You know I enjoy your commentary and opinions. You make some valid points that I, admittedly, have neglected to emphasize.


  3. Hey, folks!
    No offence (sorry if someone felt insulted), but the Ribbon Bridges of PMP-series (PMP, PMP-M, PPS-84 etc.) are REALLY HARD to destroy/damage:
    1. every floating section is easily replaceable, even in water (that’s why you have all those motorboats and tugs)
    2. every floating section is internally dvided into compartments (just like any other floating vessel), so any damage/puncture does not sink the whole section and does not reduce buoyancy too much.
    See the photos in provided links:
    PPS-84 looks really impressive, doesn’t it?
    Here’s the main page:
    For ex ample, 1 set of the PPS-84 bridge allows to construct (alternatively):
    48 ferries with load capacity of 90 tons each – during 15 minutes
    1 bridge with load capacity of 60 tons (i.e. tanks up to 60 tons of weight can travel across it fully save) and length of 1393 meters (!!! – I doubt if there are any so wide rivers in Western Europe…) within 2 hours 30 minutes (yep, 150 minutes…). Of course construction of shorter bridge can last much shorter too.
    So within 15 minutes you can have a set of ferries capable of transporting a whole MR battalion with a company of tanks to enemy bank of the river. And the flow may start…
    I believe that with use of 2 x PPS-84 sets (one as ferries the second to build a bridge), during the time required to construct a bridge you can easily ferry across the river a full MR regiment (with tanks, SPGs, SPAAGs etc.) to hold the bridgehead.
    Not so nice perspective for the guys on the opposite bank, especially if they’re fooled or pinned down elsewhere, isn’t it?
    Best regards!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep thats why russia useing those very same engineering equipment was able to cross ever river in Ukraine…ho whate, river crossings are hard, most places on a river are completely unpassable by “aquatic” afvs and crossings by there very nature have a lot of eggs in very few basicits. Not even getting into the how bad russin “crossings” training was.
      And BTW only one part of a pontoon bridge needs to be hit to redor it un operable, phiskes dosnt lie.

      Liked by 1 person

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