Disorientation continued to hamper Soviet commanders into the afternoon. From the divisional level straight up to the theater commander, there was no clear picture of the situation developing along the Leine or to its west. Fragments of information made their way to headquarters and then somehow ended up either being exaggerated and passed along or, in some instances, inexplicably disregarded. For 3rd Shock Army’s commander and staff, it was clear that the enemy had achieved a breakthrough. A sizeable force had penetrated its lines northwest of Einbeck and had reached the Leine. This unexpected move had caused significant disruptions which continued beyond first light. The scheduled attack against the Belgians went off shortly after 0700 but with only half the intended combat units.
As time went on, it became clear 9th Guards Tank Division’s push west was not helping matters. There were not enough combat units available to seal the hole in Soviet lines. 8th Guards TD was still in chaos. After a long, difficult journey forward, 3rd Shock Army’s operations officer had finally arrived. He was now attempting to gain control of the division and launch a counterattack on the Greene bridgehead. Continued enemy activity on the ground in the division rear, coupled with heavy NATO air attacks was slowing down those efforts.
Farther north, 47th Guards Tank Division’s preparations to launch a counterattack at Freden were revised by 3rd Shock Army. The attack force was reduced from a full regiment down to a pair of tank battalions and heavy artillery support. Concerns about stretching the lines east of Hameln too thin and giving NATO another potential opening had taken precedence. Another concern was the vulnerability of the bridgeheads at Alfeld and Brüggen. With American armor now at Greene and Freden, 3rd Shock ordered the nearest division on the eastern side of the river to move forward and reinforce those crossings.
Back in East Germany, General Snetkov’s fears were growing as the minutes passed by. It was clear the danger of a front-wide rupture was increasing. With 3rd Shock Army moving to reinforce the northern Leine bridgeheads before a threat to them materialized, Snetkov now turned his focus to obtaining permission to commit the OMG to the growing battle. Around 1330 he contacted Western TVD again to press the theater commander on the issue. Remarkably enough, he was informed by the communications officer that Marshal Ogarkov was ‘unavailable at the moment.’ Uncertain of exactly what this meant, Snetkov terminated the call and started making preparations to move the OMG forward as soon as possible, on his own authority.
By mid-afternoon, 2nd Brigade/1st Cavalry Division had one battalion at Freden and another approaching. At Greene, 1/8 Cav was digging in as combat engineers and bridging equipment were arriving to assess the condition of the surviving Soviet bridges and make preparations for new crossings to be set up south of the town. A second contingent of engineers and equipment was expected to arrive in Freden by 1800, but for the moment Greene was the focal point. There was a schedule to keep and it called for 1st Brigade to begin crossing the river at dusk.
West of Dassel, the Belgians were holding, if just barely. Every spare man and piece of equipment was now committed. The afternoon had brought on a pair of Soviet attacks. The first one ended up being a replay of the morning attack, while the second was little more than an isolated attack that ended up being even less effective. Nonetheless, the 16th Armoured Division was down to roughly 35% of its original strength. At any other time, a division in this condition would be pulled off the line and replaced. But there were no divisions available to replace it with. Or brigades for that matter. CINC-NORTHAG had decided in the early afternoon to commit the 1st Cavalry Division in full to reaching the Leine and preparing to conduct a rapid, division-sized crossing. This meant the Belgians had to hold, even if it cost them every ounce of their combat strength. And it nearly had. But the men of the 16th Armoured Division stayed their ground and defeated what would turn out to be the final Soviet attacks conducted west of the Leine River. The Belgian Wall, as it was to become known, had held and through its sacrifices handed NORTHAG a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to turn the tide of the war in NATO’s favor. Perhaps permanently.
Author’s Note: D+17 is quite an eventful day in NORTHAG’s area. Suffice to say, another entry will be required to wrap it up before moving down to CENTAG. 😊