The Central Front D+17 (26 July, 1987) Part II

Once all factors were taken into account, NATO forces in Germany appeared to be in far better shape than anyone could’ve expected. The Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR) General John Galvin reflected on this as midnight heralded the start of the eighteenth day of the Third World War. The aggregate data compiled from hundreds of studies and wargames over the last two decades had led a large number of American general officers and policymakers to assume that by this point in the war either the Red Army would be camped on the Rhine or NATO would’ve resorted to a nuclear defense. The fact that neither one of these scenarios held true on D+17 was a testament to the rearmament programs undertaken by many NATO countries at the beginning of the 1980s as well as the new doctrines put into place.

Warsaw Pact and Soviet miscues were also a contributing factor. In SACEUR’s opinion, Ivan failed to bring enough of his second operational echelon forces forward in the days leading up to the start of the war. According to Soviet doctrine, these forces should’ve been advancing west, close on the heels of the first echelon army groups and ready to either exploit a breakthrough or take over the advance as losses rendered the first echelon forces combat ineffective. This did not occur, however. When the first echelon groups ran out of steam, their replacements were still in Poland or the eastern GDR and advancing towards the front at a snail’s pace. NATO air attacks on railway heads, depots and road junctions deep in the Pact rear became increasingly more effective and caused longer delays to these formations as the war went on. This opened up opportunities for NATO forces to launch counterattacks that slowed and bled the initial Soviet army groups more.

Still, the current picture did not favor NATO completely. There were dangers inherent in NORTHAG’s situation. The battle, and likely the outcome of the entire war hung in the balance. The Soviet feint towards Hameln had nearly resulted in a decisive defeat for NATO forces. By the time it became clear the main effort would come just to the south, it was almost too late. The Belgians had held firm for the past thirty-six hours as NORTHAG transitioned to a new commander-in-chief and reinforcements began heading towards the battle area in growing numbers. The 1st Cavalry Division had an entire brigade across the Weser now, serving as a reserve force for the Belgian 16th Armored Division. Right now that US brigade was conducting a reconnaissance in force with its cavalry squadron, probing the Soviet lines in search of a soft point, or a gap. If one was discovered, the brigade was positioned to exploit it rapidly. Under the right circumstances maybe even break out into the rear area of at least one Soviet division and raise hell. This would buy time for the rest of the 1st Cav Division to move forward and get into position to relieve the Belgians. And behind them were other NATO units waiting their turns to cross the Weser. John Yeosock, 1st Cav’s commanding general had high expectations for his 2nd Brigade’s operation. SACEUR, on the other hand, was a general officer who was averse to mistaking the forest for the trees. In his mind the big picture always took precedence by necessity.

And right now, the picture was unsettled. Soviet follow-on forces were continuing to pace across Eastern Europe. SACEUR was operating on the assumption that these army groups from the Belarussian and Carpathian Military Districts did reach the front. How and where they were to be employed was a growing concern. Even if the enemy’s current push to the Weser was defeated or stalemated, the risk remained that they could redouble the effort with the coming infusion of forces. Or would those army groups be used farther north to punch a hole in the West Germans and Dutch, and then run roughshod into the Low Countries or swing south to the Rhine? SACEUR knew the difficulties the Russian follow-on forces were dealing with and was grateful for the efforts being made by his air commanders to prolong the trek westward for the Soviets. He was also aware that air power alone was not going to win this war, in spite of the views some of his air commanders held. Those army groups would eventually become his problem and when the time came, he needed to have a viable plan to deal with them.

But that was a next-week problem. What happened today between the Weser and Leine rivers would presumably set the tone for the next phase of the war.

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