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


It wasn’t until the late afternoon that 2nd Squadron/3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment was ejected off the first ridge overlooking the Leine and Alfeld. Their resistance had been strong, and resilient. It took far longer than anticipated to remove them, and the effort nearly bled 56th Guards Motor Rifle Division white in the process. Shortly afterwards, the 1st Squadron, positioned across the river from Brüggen, withdrew. Each movement was executed briskly, and in good order. The purpose for the US withdrawal had more to do with the units’ dwindling ammunition and fuel than Soviet pressure. Expenditures had been running extremely high.

No matter the reason, the fact was that the west bank was cleared and secure. 56th Guards MRD could now expand the bridgeheads and begin to move west. Multiple pontoon bridges were operating at both towns and by 1700 the rest of the division was moving to their designated crossing points. NATO airpower, after a brief respite, came back with a vengeance, drawing the process out even more. Losses were heavy. Some of the recently laid bridges, or their replacements as the case was in some instances, lasted less than ten minutes before aircraft-delivered bombs, or cluster munitions permanently relocated them to the bottom of the river.

With the lifespan of the bridges now being measures in minutes traffic issues became more crucial. The delays, and snail-like movement of the rest of the 56th Guards compounded the traffic issues on the roads leading to Alfeld, and Brüggen. Behind it, the lead elements of the 58th Guards MRD were waiting in hastily established assembly areas, or strung out on roads targeted all too often by NATO aircraft. Soviet fighters were trying to maintain control of the airspace over the eastern side of the Leine, but had their own issues to deal with. (Author’s Note: This will be discussed in detail in the next Air War Central Front post.) SAM and mobile anti-aircraft guns caused heavy NATO air losses into the evening, but failed to stop the attacks totally.

At his wartime bunker in East Germany GSFG commander General Boris Snetkov monitored the reports from the front. As the news oscillated between satisfactory, and anxious so did his mood. On one hand, progress was being made. On the other, it was taking too damn long. Behind the two motor rifle divisions crowded around Alfeld, and Brüggen was the 47th Guards Tank Division, still serving as 3rd Shock Army’s OMG. 5th Guards Tank Army was also moving towards the front. With all of this combat strength coming west it was doubly important for the Soviets to get as many units across the river now, expand the bridgehead and secure the crossings as soon as possible.

In Brussels, SACEUR read similar reports and comprehended the situation at the Leine. What he also saw, and what  NORTHAG’s commander had willfully ignored, was an opportunity presenting itself. Specifically, an opportunity to bottle the Soviets up even longer, disrupt their timeline, and create as much havoc as possible. Unfortunately, General Farndale appeared dead set against any maneuver or operation that threatened to take away from the defensive line he was putting in place at Hameln. Early in the afternoon, the British general had stiffly resisted moving two brigades forward to disrupt the Soviet crossing. He only relented after SACEUR’s insistence showed no signs of letting up.

Now, as those two brigades, one British and one American, moved east to relieve the 3rd ACR, SACEUR found himself wondering once again if the time had come to replace the commander of his Northern Army Group.

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

  1. Well… it would not be the first time a General played it too conservative.

    All war is a gamble… and sometimes you have to trust that the two pair in your hand is better than what the other guy has in his. SACEUR likely has a wildcard to use somewhere… likely in the form of an Armored Division called Spearhead. 🙂

    Will he get it out in time?

    (disclaimer: I was stationed with 3rd AD at Ray Barracks 1990-92)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Really pushing for the 3rd Herd to head north, eh John? 🙂 Can’t say that I blame you.

      Just remember, NORTHAG still has an entire US corps up there that’s barely been touched. They might be hearing “Garry Owen” before seeing the Spearhead up north. 🙂

      90-92, eh? Guess you deployed to Saudi for The Storm. 3rd AD performed magnificently over there.


      1. Yeah…. I am. Cause we were that good. 🙂

        I do know the crews around that time frame this is set in and while I was there set records on their tank tables. Us mortars… set a record that still stands, I believe.

        I look forward to more entries here, my friend. Good reading. Got me hooked!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Wouldn’t be surprised if those records still stand today. Not one bit.

          Thanks for the kind words, as always, John. I look forward to your commentary probably as much as you look forward to the entries 🙂


          1. you are welcome- and yes, I went over for the Storm. We were in Hoenfels when we found out…. we cheered hearing we were going and lemme tell ya, thinking on that now its kinda weird we did that. Relief in knowing, I guess. 🙂

            One of the records set was full platoon quals with four guns instead of six (ie: doing the job of 6 guns with two-thirds the number). Between initial round downrange and # of rounds fired in a set time frame AND accuracy, we were monsters.

            If I recall correctly, our numbers were so killer even on the hip-shot drill that someone thought we were cheating. 🙂

            Its been almost 30 years… I should hope some of those records fell by now. Newer tech and all that.

            Our M1 companies were consistently high-scorers too… dunno how it would translate into a scenario/sim program but my Bn was considered the one’s to beat.

            Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re on target. Nothing simple about crossing a river, even one that’s relatively shallow and narrow. Getting large units across is not fun.

      Thanks, Pete!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My Dad served under Farndale at Brigade, Divisional and Corps level, rates him as one of the best and most decisive Generals of his era and says he was one of the major forces that converted BAOR from being used as a punchbag to using manouver warfare.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. From what I’ve read, and also from what I have heard personally from some folks who served under him in the 80s, Farndale was a top shelf general and battlefield commander. It sounds like your Dad has a lot of firsthand experience serving under him. Please don’t misconstrue anything I’ve said to be critical of Farndale in any way. What I’ve presented in this post, and in some previous ones including NORTHAG is a contrast in the styles, and doctrine of US and British general officers in Europe at the time.


  3. Yes- I’m not too sure either about the doctrinal differences point between US and British forces- I think that view is 4-5 years behind the times for 1987. Certainly a vast amount changed even pre-Farndale- all begun by Nigel Bagnall- who incidentally also helped revise the US V Corps GDP to be much more aggressive in 1982-3 (at the request of CinCENT). Worth reading Bagnall’s, Farndale’s and Inge’s articles in the RUSI journal to get an initial idea of how far British plans had moved by 1987.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Quite a difference. Once the changes started to take place they produced two very polished instruments of war. We saw how polished, and lethal they were in Desert Storm.


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