Three of 2nd Brigade/2nd Armored Division’s maneuver battalions move out from west of Salzhemmendorf. The fourth remains behind to act as the brigade reserve. To the north, the bulk of the British 4th Armoured Brigade emerges from Osterwald and moves in the direction of Oldendorf and Highway 1. The mission of the two NATO armored brigades at this point is to use speed, surprise, and their combat power to push through the advancing Soviet units, break into the rear areas and raise hell before slipping off into the night. The intended objective was to create such confusion, and chaos for the Soviets that it stops the advance to Hameln, and the Weser, potentially opening them up to a larger, more powerful counterattack later.
The Americans developed this tactic during the Vietnam War and it became an effective tool for armored units deployed in-country. It was a decidedly American way to make war utilizing mobility, duplicity, and overwhelming firepower to achieve an objective. Even the handle attached to the practice was quintessentially American: Thunder Run.
The British struck first when the 15th/19th King’s Hussars, and 1st/ Greandier Guards smashed into the main body of a motor rifle regiment from the 56th Guards MRD as it moved to establish blocking positions to screen the flank of its sister division. The Soviets were slow to react effectively, assuming the British had launched another spoiling attack and nothing more. By the time it became apparent to the regiment commander that this was something more, British tanks had penetrated the advance screen and were attacking the columns of Soviet tanks, and BTRs tightly packed on the roads leading in and out of Sehlde.
2/2nd Armored Division made contact with the 58th Guards MRD at Weenzen and Marienhagen. The appearance of American armor here came as a complete shock. A meeting engagement developed between an American battalion and the forward elements of a Soviet motor rifle regiment. Then a second battalion appeared. As was the case to the north, the Soviet reaction was slow. Before the division commander fully understood what was going on, American armor had penetrated the division’s forward screen and was beginning to mix in with his sub-units. The speed with which events unfolded, and the delays in reports reaching his command track further encumbered 58th Guards commanding general, slowing his response.
Spotty communications, and fragmented contact reports were making their way to 3rd Shock Army’s forward headquarters and painting a deficient picture of the situation on the other side of the Leine. 3rd Shock’s commander was growing impatient for a report from the regiment moving towards Escherhausen.
Farther east, in the German Democratic Republic, General Snetkov was closely monitoring events as a sense of alarm grew in his mind. Something was wrong, but he didn’t have enough information to figure out exactly what it was. “Get me 3rd Shock Army’s commander on the line,” he ordered his communications officer. “Now.”
This was the time where the battle truly took shape. British and American armor broke into the interior sectors of the advancing 58th Guards MRD at multiple points and different times. For Soviet commanders ranging from regimental to the army group level, the situation shifted from confused, to chaotic at different times. 58th Guards was in disarray and spread out wide with two regiments moving northwest and a third south. The first engagements with the Americans were thought to be local counterattacks by their rearguard elements. As time went by, and the situation developed this proved to not be the case. Unfortunately, by the time the division commander came to this realization, three American battalions were slicing through his lead regiment, and a good portion of the second. Shortly thereafter, 56th Guards reported the British had broken through in the north leaving the 58th Guards right flank dangerously exposed.
On the fringe of Escherhausen, the advance guard of the Soviet regiment discover the American tanks encamped in the farmland seen earlier in the afternoon by the Mi-24 crews. After engaging and destroying the tanks, the troops approach cautiously and discover the cruel truth. These were not American tanks, but elaborate decoys. There was no American force approaching from the south after all.
The American and British brigades were advancing to the river. 3rd Shock Army’s commander finally saw the counterattack for what it was. NATO wanted to capture his crossing points and by throwing his lead divisions into chaos, they stood a realistic chance of achieving that goal. Acting quickly, he orders the 47th Guards Tank Division to end its crossing operation. The tank regiment now on the west bank is directed to move northwest and engage the British. The general regards the British to be the greatest threat to the crossing points at the moment. 56th Guards is to pull back and take positions on the ridge just west of the Leine. The division, or more correctly what remains of it, will establish an inner-perimeter to cover the river and prevent the Americans or British from reaching it.
The 58th Guards MRD’s commander is ordered to rally his division, reestablish some cohesion with his widely dispersed units and then prepare to advance west from the direction the American attack came from. Unfortunately, the division commander did not live long enough to implement the orders. Ten minutes later, a company of American M-1 Abrams from the 2/252 Armored, North Carolina National Guard (an NG round out battalion for the 2nd Armored Division) discovered his makeshift command post and soon turned it into a burning pile of shattered steel and blood.
Darkness fell, and the NATO brigades used it to sneak away from the bedlam they had created on the western bank of the Leine. It remained to be seen how great of an effect this action would have on the Soviet push to the Weser, but from what the American and British tankers had seen, it was going to take Ivan at least a full day to unsort the mess and get moving again.