Wünsdorf, German Democratic Republic
11 July, 1987
Colonel Aralov entered the operations room. Immediately, he became aware of the differences between himself, and the other officers there. His uniform was dirty and ripped. A thin smudge of black remained on his left cheek, either grease from a vehicle or soil from the ground. He did not know which and it was meaningless to speculate in any case. The staff officers around him wore clean, starched uniforms. Despite the similarities in rank, he could sense the anger directed at his intrusion. The front headquarters was an orderly, calm place. Lightyears away from what was taking place in West Germany. They regarded Aralov as a visitor from an unwelcome world.
General Snetkov looked up from a tabletop map. He motioned his aide towards his office.
“You look like a pauper,” Snetkov commented with a slight smirk once the door was closed. He pointed to an empty metal chair. “Tell me how the attack went.”
“Opposition was stronger than expected. NATO reinforced at some point and we were not made aware of it! German tanks are there now, but not in great numbers. I estimate a battalion at most. That will change soon, however. The British brigade fought ferociously but took severe losses. They’ve been weakened severely, even with the German reinforcements. Unfortunately,” Aralov sighed. “The same holds true for our motor rifle troops. If 3rd Shock’s commander moves fast enough, we can break through the NATO lines and race through to Braunschweig and beyond.”
“Don’t count on that,” Snetkov grunted. “After you left, the Germans launched a counterattack against the 55th Guards west of Schapen.”
“The colonel in command of that tank regiment is a very capable officer. I’ve seen him in action. He came close to tearing a hole in the British lines. Even with their counterattack, if we move fast we can exploit the situation. I recommend moving a regiment from 10th Guards forward immediately.”
“Operational Maneuver Groups are not to move without the theater commander’s permission. Who, in turn, must get his own permission from Moscow.”
Aralov’s eyes widened in amazement–or was it disgust? “That was not a joke.”
“You know how the chain of command works,” the front commander reminded him.
Snetkov’s mind went back to the general campaign plan. Staff members back in Moscow had looked at the maps, analyzed the data and figures, and drew the conclusion that Braunschweig would be captured in the first twenty-four hours of hostilities. This prediction had been off by a wide margin! He reflected sourly. The resistance of the British and Germans was on a level surpassing even what he had expected. One factor that had not been carefully considered was that the Germans were fighting for their homes and families. This made them more dangerous enemies. In time, this stubbornness would be turned against them as their staunch defenses cost them large numbers of irreplaceable men and material.
“Comrade General, the initial attack would have succeeded with the proper amount of preparation and support.
Snetkov considered this observation in silence for two full minutes. “Very well,” he spoke finally. “I will contact Marshal Ogarkov soon and request he release 3rd Shock’s OMG to me. Is there anything else you wish to discuss, Mikhail Alexsandrovich?”
The younger officer took a drink from his large canteen. “You need to sit your air commanders down and find out why we do not control the skies.” Aralov told him of the devastating air attack on the self-propelled artillery emplacements. “Four planes! In less than a minute two dozen guns and over a hundred men were gone.”
“Mother of God!” Snetkov was horrified. And outraged. “CINC-West can wait. Have the communications officer contact 16th Air Army’s commander at once. I want him here in ninety minutes.”