The order to temporarily stop offensive operations took time to circulate. In some instances, units were in heavy contact when the halt order arrived. Without being given a sufficient explanation of the reasons for the order, unit commanders began to disentangle their forces from the enemy, pull them back, establish a hasty defense and then adopt NBC precautions. In some sectors this was easier to accomplish than in others. For example, in the southern reaches of CENTAG, a French armored regiment had been absorbing an attack by a similar-sized Soviet unit. The French could not simply break contact and withdraw without endangering the positions of the units to its north and south. So, the fighting continued on as darkness set in and finally drew to a mutual end once news of the nuclear exchange had filtered down through the ranks.
On the North German Plain, NORTHAG’s West German, British, Belgian, Dutch and US corps acknowledged the orders and put them into effect rather quickly. The exception was in US III Corps where forward elements of the 1st Cavalry Division, and the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment were making significant progress south of Hanover. When the stop order was received at division and regimental headquarters, US units had reached Holle and Autobahn 7 and encountered only light opposition. Worried about leaving the forward units out on a limb, CINC-NORTHAG quietly allowed for two battalions to continue advancing on Holle in order to reinforce the troops now stopping there in the event of an enemy counterattack.
NATO’s nuclear forces were also responding to events in North America, Western Europe and the Soviet Union. Ground-based artillery, cruise missile and ballistic missile batteries in West Germany, Italy, Great Britain, and the Low Countries went to their highest level of alert. In many instances, a fraction of GLCM and Pershing II flights started to pack up and make preparations for moves to new deployment sites. At airbases like RAF Upper Heyford, the number of F-111E on Victor Alert was doubled immediately. Similar activity was going on at home stations of RAF Tornados and other NATO aircraft with nuclear roles.
In Legnica, General Boris Snetkov was in the middle of an impromptu briefing with his theater nuclear officer and targeting specialists. The cyclonic speed with which Snetkov assumed command of the Western TVD had negated the possibility of an in-depth briefing on theater forces and conditions in areas beyond the Central Front. As it stood now, Snetkov cared only about the Central Front. The manner in which he had taken General Ivan Korbutov away from Northern Group of Forces and put him in charge of 5th Guards Tank Army in Germany was testament to this. Korbutov was a talented, capable commander doing no good in Jutland. CINC-West was hopeful this general officer could help resurrect Soviet fortunes in Germany now.
What he learned from the nuclear officer was not too encouraging. The atomic artillery shells intended for use by divisional and army group artillery regiments were hundreds of kilometers away from the front, in heavily guarded storage bunkers. If orders were received to initiate or respond to a tactical nuclear attack, Snetkov’s would be forced to rely on air-delivered munitions, and tactical ballistic missiles to do the job. Atomic shells were the preferred choice for punching kiloton-sized holes in enemy lines. Troop concentrations and enemy headquarters appear and disappear swiftly, unlike fixed targets. It was a heavy and surprising blow for Snetkov to absorb when he learned the overwhelming majority of special shells were still in storage bunkers.
The report from his theater targeting experts only added insult to injury. The target lists they were working from hadn’t been updated properly in over a decade. A large percentage of targeting priority was wasted on units, airbases and headquarters sites that no longer existed. Snetkov was apoplectic with rage when he learned this. He ordered the theater nuclear officer and his cohorts to make the necessary revisions to the list and then make certain the updated targeting packages were sent to affected units. The general promised them two hours to finish the task and if it was not completed by then, Snetkov assured the men they would be in KGB custody by dawn.