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.