The Central Front D+16 (25 July, 1987) Part I

NATO was faced with a pair of potentially decisive crises in the early hours of D+16. The first was a crisis of command in NORTHAG while the other was of the physical variety, having to do with the emerging situation on the battlefield. Given the urgency of the moment, these two crises were inexorably joined together and a failure to address one of them effectively ran the danger of turning the tide against NATO at the worst possible moment. 

NORTHAG’s commander General Martin Farndale had been relieved of his duties shortly before midnight by SACEUR. The British general’s stubborn insistence that the main Soviet attack was centered in the direction of Hameln was his undoing. Even as evidence piled up and indications pointed to the main attack likely falling to the south, Farndale persisted. Once the cat was out of the bag, however, and there was no further question on where the Soviet attack would come, SACEUR fired Farndale. Timing-wise, it was not the most opportune moment to cashier an army group commander, with a major battle less than twelve hours away. Yet SACEUR had lost all confidence in Farndale’s abilities.

SACEUR’s choice to replace Farndale was controversial to say the least. NORTHAG was a command customarily held by a British general who also commanded the British Army of the Rhine. This tradition was bucked on D+16 when SACEUR named Lieutenant General Crosbie Saint, US Army as NORTHAG’s new commander. Until 0005 hours on D+16, Saint had been commander of US III Corps. Now, the entirety of NATO’s northern army group, and quite likely the future of West Germany, was in Saint’s hands. Officially, SACEUR selected Saint because he understood the situation on the ground completely.

Unofficially, General Galvin wanted an American general in the position now because it would streamline the chain of command, so to speak. Galvin and Saint were the products of the same doctrine and tactical mindset. SACEUR didn’t believe he’d find himself questioning some of Saint’s decisions the way he had with Farndale’s. Even more importantly, Saint was an offense-minded, aggressive commander who had a reputation of approaching battle as if it were a football game instead of a chess match. Where Farndale had been more deliberate and guided by logic, Saint was willing to take a  gamble and roll the dice. Saint was also more able to adapt to an ever-changing battlefield situation. Another reason why SACEUR intended for him to assume command of NORTHAG.

There was blowback from SACEUR’s decision immediately. It wasn’t long before word reached London that Farndale had been relieved. The British government had been caught off guard, though, by a US general being named the new commander. There was quite a deal of anger and frustration from 10 Downing Street to Whitehall. To their credit, the Brits kept the a lid on their angst for the time being, but there would be an eventual reckoning between Reagan and Thatcher over Farndale.

The second crisis was that NORTHAG had been caught looking the wrong way. The long-expected drive to Hameln and the Weser had evaporated earlier on the evening of D+15. The push on Hameln had been nothing more than an effort to keep the NATO defenders fixated on the Soviet tank divisions crossing the northern Leine. In that respect, the Soviets had been wildly successful. Farndale swallowed the bait fully. Even when signs of increasing Soviet movement and activity appeared on the southern area of the river, Farndale ignored it. Through this obstinance, the British general managed to place NATO forces in the unenviable position of suddenly having to face the prospect of losing the war in spite of its magnificent performance thus far.

17 Replies to “The Central Front D+16 (25 July, 1987) Part I”

  1. Farndale…. was blinded by his belief in his thinking he was never wrong in his assessment. In my opinion, at least. In thinking that there was no possibility that the attack could come elsewhere, despite growing circumstantial evidence and real contact reports, he doomed himself.

    The characterization of him… is that he may have wanted to be another Monty. In his defense, Monty was a good general but too…. cautious at times. Alot of this was due to the Casualty Conservation Policy he was saddled with… and his belief in his infallibility.
    It is written his steadfastness at setting up the counter assault at the Bulge is what helped both break it and push it back. That the weather cleared 4 days into his commanding the counter attack helped alot- but as far as the Germans were concerned, Monty played it smart and kept his forces on the same page (Patton not withstanding but he was always the wild card. 🙂 )

    But I digress….

    Farndale went the Bad Traits of Monty here…. and SACEUR had to do pull him.

    Putting a US Commander in charge…. Controversial for sure… but for flow of command, makes sense. Same sheet of music helps alot and the reasons presented are sound.

    Your picture of Saint… is kinda a stereotype (Aggressive Offense Minded) and yet not as you didn’t say he was a maverick. 🙂 Some of the better historical US Generals were the sort willing to roll the dice… and treating The Big Picture as an American Football game rather than a Chess Match is an advantage. War is Chaos…. and everyone knows in American Football, there is a ton of that.

    Any Given Sunday indeed…. End Run Attacks, Flea Flicker (feint/misdirection moves) and Hail Mary passes are a god-damned thing. Steadfast plans (ie: logic based) *DO* work… but being willing/able to shift gears on the fly is a bigger advantage.

    You and I talked about Smoke and Mirrors… and I daresay about a third to half of any US plan is just that. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Monty should’ve been cashiered after Market-Garden. I mean, sacked, packed up, sent back home, never to hold a combat command again.

      Anyway…

      Farndale screwed the pooch on a Hitler during D-Day and weeks after level (“The real attack will come here! This is just a feint!” “Uh, sir, their troops are slicing through the rear areas deep into our southern flank…” “A FEINT, I SAY!”)

      This is the Third World War. “Loss” means nukes fly, not being pushed back for a month while a division is refit then having another go at the Jerrys. The British can be assmad that they dropped the ball, but acting like this is some exercise at Sandhurst where you’ve got time to “Hum” and “Hm” and walk around in your beret and short pants and khaki shirt and nudge stands of lead miniatures with a swagger stick while Third Shock patiently waits for you to move a stand of infantry to the next styrofoam hill is a ticket to tac nukes falling on Belgium to cover NATO retreats – and SS18s hitting Sheffield and Colchester about 40 minutes later!

      This *is* a football game – proper football, not soccer – and that Farndale seems to believe otherwise is kind of shocking.

      Like all things the British will just have to get over it, because as with WW2, history will prove the US generals correct. Hell, in your timeline its proving them correct right now. If Farndale is watching reports (assuming he’s being updated at all) and he has any capability for self introspection he’ll be shaking his head and saying “Of course Hameln was a feint, how could I be so stupid” and he’ll be apologizing to the PM and Queen for nearly losing the war.

      But also knowing what I know, his attitude is probably “Well, yeuuuuus but the AhMERRUCAN chaps of coz got it all wrong don’t you know, I could have saved six or even perhaps ten of our lads if we’d done as I suggested and held on to bally Hameln…”

      Sorry, I get a little…irked…about British generalship in Europe…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The coming days (or maybe hours) on the Central front will be really interesting. I wonder if the Soviets have enough strength left to push through and exploit Farndales mistake?
    Until the next entry I recommend looking at the documentary on Youtube about Exercise Lionheart 84. Took place in the area of Hanover and the Leine.
    It’s really nice to get a picture of how the terrain looks like and how the British deploy their forces.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. They might, but they need to move fast.

      Lionheart was a great exercise. Pretty much a British REFORGER. I walked some of the exercise area when I was in Europe…a while after the Cold War but still. The videos on Youtube are great and like Anders, I strongly recommend them

      Liked by 3 people

      1. How much were the Soviets relying on GDR and Polish troops in the center, though, Mike, in terms of offensive punch? If the disintegrating conditions in Poland and East Germany are sapping the strength of the communist invaders, will they have the oomph to exploit the sudden weakness in the line due to Farndale’s blunder?

        Liked by 1 person

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