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.