Baltic Approaches D+17 (26 July, 1987) Part II

The importance held by Denmark in Soviet and Warsaw Pact war plans was absolute. Seizing control of the country shortly after the start of a NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict would grant the Soviet Baltic Fleet an ability to breakout into the North Sea and beyond unmolested and at its leisure. A breakout would increase the amount of enemy pressure on England, southern Norway and the Atlantic shipping lanes. NATO recognized this and set its Baltic doctrine on defending Denmark and the Baltic approaches, while the Pact concentrated on offensive options to seize the aforementioned objectives. However, the customary precedent for war planning is that no plan will survive first contact with the enemy. This was entirely the case for the Soviet and Pact designs on the Baltic after the balloon went up. As the war continued, the prominence of Denmark and the approaches steadily declined. This was partly due to the heavy resistance encountered by Soviet and Pact forces, but more due to the lagging pace of operations on the Central Front.

Now, on the 18th day of the war, fighting on the Jutland peninsula and Zealand was rapidly approaching a permanent stalemate. For Northern Group of Forces, the chance of breaking through NATO lines and racing to the northern Danish coast was almost nil. A large chunk of NGF’s combat strength was being dedicated to warily monitoring potentially hostile combat formations belonging to its Pact allies. This left an inadequate amount of combat power available for the main task, even if this fact was not readily apparent.

The 78th Guards Tank Regiment of the 20th Tank Division had started probing north before midnight. By first light on D+17 a number of company-sized engagements and skirmishes were taking place between the Soviet reconnaissance companies and advance guard units on one side, and West German and Danish forces on the other. With inconclusive results dominating reports from the battlefield, 78th Guards committed additional forces to the fight. This was when NATO air superiority over the battle area truly became a critical asset (Author’s note: I could’ve used the term ‘Force Multiplier’ but I absolutely cannot stand it…in real life or alternate history 😊). West German Alpha Jets and USAF A-10s made their presence felt and grinded the 78th Guards morning advance to a bloody halt.

From the beginning of the morning it was clear to LANDJUT the Soviets were advancing to Skrydstrup Airbase where a contingent of besieged Soviet paratroopers awaited rescue. A counterattack utilizing a brigade of the US 9th Infantry Division (Light) and two Danish Home Guard battlegroups was scheduled to jump off early in the afternoon. But for reasons never fully explained, the counterstroke never went off. The Danish Home Guard troops were fed into the NATO defensive lines anchored by what remained of the West German 6th Panzergrenadier Division. The US brigade was held in immediate reserve to contend with any penetrations of the NATO line.

Soviet commanders were completely unaware of a possible NATO counterattack. In fact, NGF commander Colonel General Ivan Korbutov’s focus was drifting away farther from the battle going on.  By late in the morning, incidents and events taking place in Germany and Moscow threatened to eclipse the fighting in Jutland and render the entire theater inconsequential.

13 Replies to “Baltic Approaches D+17 (26 July, 1987) Part II”

  1. uthor’s note: I could’ve used the term ‘Force Multiplier’ but I absolutely cannot stand it…in real life or alternate history 😊)

    THANK YOU!!!!!!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. 78th Guards never had a chance under unfriendly skies. Even with MANPADs, the odds of stopping heavy attrition to Interdiction and Anti-armor strikes were low… IMO, I think that it took all morning to kill the advance was because they had the portables.

    Otherwise, it would have been bloodier sooner. My opinion at least.

    Jutland was a fools errand for the Soviets from the start due to some pretty bad warplans. Had they committed the air assaults and the amphib landings within the first four days of the war, they’d have had a better shot at success and enough Airpower to help it along.

    They didn’t and so… here we are.

    I too am surprised by the non-committal. But someone had reasons.

    I don’t think the Soviets have enough ass to do the link up AND defend against the Poles. Jutland may be considered a “side-show” but its a sideshow that can turn into something more if stuff goes wrong in the next 24.

    iIMO, nothing is a sideshow in a war. Maybe less critical… but no side show. Had the Soviets committed assets properly from the start, this would be a different story altogether.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It’s funny, John, how the scope and scale of operations are perceived by each side (which is to say, I agree with you re: Jutland being a sideshow). If you look at certain operations at any point in recorded history, things that seem to be a pitched battle for survival for one side are often remembered by the other as “not much to report, a little enemy action”…

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Like the North African campaign for instance…[runs and hides from every Brit on the internet!] Economy of effort by the Germans, main effort for everyone else.

        Jutland is an interesting question. Operational effect is negligible, opens the gate to the North sea for the Baltic Fleet – which is designed and tailored for fighting in the Baltic. But you still need to get past Norway and even with that, you are faced with the same situation the Germans had in both WWs, your locked into the North Sea. I think the strategic effect of knocking out a NATO country and forcing Denmark to either decamp or sue for separate peace is the real objective.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Good points on Jutland. I think if Denmark had been knocked out early in the war it would’ve been a blow that NATO might not recover from. Politically, at least. But by ’87, Soviet and Pact strategy had changed from seizing Denmark right away, to doing so only after air superiority was established. That change really doomed their plans for the Baltic in war time

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Morale is a powerful catalyst for effort/action. A force that is getting thumped will have future performance degrade to the point you wonder why they are even there. Through loss of manpower and gear… and through loss of will. And will is one of those odd things many planners fail to account for. Either through hubris or disbelief in its ability to affect outcome.

            Oft times, one act or event will change the momentum of a battle- it has been seen ad nauseum throughout history. Either a force folding like a house of cards (current Afghan army in spots) or making a stand so…. epic, it completely throws the opponent’s advance into question or worse (Edson’s Ridge on Guadalcanal)…

            Or something even more famous (and mis-repped at times)- Battle of Trenton in the rev war. Guys… that single event was one of the biggest damn gambles and realistically, it changed the direction of both the war and the morale of the Continental Army.

            One act, one battle, one…. win or loss (perspective of who’s talking, of course) can really cause a shift in fortune.

            I digress…. But the point of giving a hit to the confidence of your opponent is to add to the chances of a successful outcome of a battle… or help generate the push to force a retreat or even a capitulation. And if the other side capitulates, that’s less national treasure being used up in battle. In theory at least. History does support this notion…

            Had the Soviets stayed with the plan to seizing/eliminating Denmark, NATO response would have been hamstrung. Almost a sure bet… due to politics and panic, at least. I am fairly sure that, despite there being contingency plans for such an event, their enactment would be haphazard most likely and for certain, never even looked at seriously prior to such an event.

            I mean, most folks never expect to lose…. and I suppose that’s human nature. Ike being prepared for D-Day to fail… dude, that was some serious admission that the invasion gamble might not work. I’m amazed he wasn’t an alcoholic…

            Maybe I’m weird in that I expect to lose every time cause I know I’ll never account for every possibility. I just try to have something that allows for mad adjustment on the fly…. or solid threshold for backing off and reassessment. I don’t like losing… but I like to think I am not paralyzed by the prospect.

            Y’alls mileage may vary.

            Liked by 3 people

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