NATO’s second crisis was NORTHAG having been caught looking the wrong way. The much-anticipated advance on Hameln and the Weser had dissipated by the evening of D+15. The Hameln push had been little more than an elaborate feint to keep NORTHAG fixated on the Soviet tank divisions crossing the northern Leine. In that respect, the Soviets had been wildly successful. Farndale swallowed the bait entirely. Even when signs of increasing Soviet movement and activity appeared to the south Farndale disregarded it. Through this obstinance, the British general had managed to place NATO forces in the unenviable position of suddenly facing the prospect of losing the war in spite of its magnificent performance thus far.
The intelligence reports reaching SACEUR painted a grim picture. One enemy tank division had crossed the Leine at Freden and was tangling the Belgian 16th Armored Division west of Einbeck. The fight appeared to be a stalemate with neither side able to gain the advantage. A second Soviet tank division was now in the process of crossing the river at Greene. This division was the primary concern for SACEUR at the moment. The Belgians were going to be hard pressed to stop two tank divisions, let alone slow them down long enough for reinforcements to join the battle.
The primary reserve for the Belgian 16th Armored Division’s sector of the Weser defensive line was the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division. The brigade was encamped north of Hoxter on the western bank of the Weser. It received the order to begin moving east at 0020 hours. At roughly the same time, similar orders were also arriving at the 1st Cavalry Division’s headquarters, which was situated in the town of Lemgo in NORTHAG’s rear area. SACEUR wanted the remainder of the division on the road by first light. If Crosbie Saint felt it necessary to countermand or amend these orders, he was free to do so, but not until he was situated in his new role of CINC-NORTHAG. The 1st Cav Division was not the only unit moving from NATO’s thinning reserves in the north. A British armored regiment and a West German panzergrenadier brigade were also tagged to start moving east by dawn. SACEUR decided to defer future orders and decisions to General Saint.
Next, SACEUR called his air commander. COMAFFCE was briefed on the situation up north and ordered to give NORTHAG as much help as possible. Help in this case translated to reconnaissance and EW missions, deep strike sorties against other Soviet and Pact divisions approaching the battle area, and of course, close air support. SACEUR told him that he expected the skies over the FEBA to be black with A-10s and F-16s. “Even if it means stripping the rest of the front,” he concluded. “I want it done.” COMAFFCE gave him no argument or excuses. General Galvin’s will would be transformed into reality.
Author’s Note: Looks like I have to split Part II into a pair of sections owing to time shortages. Apologies for that. But the next section will be up tomorrow evening and then we can move into the heart of the day.