The opening hours of D+19 in Germany were marked by a series of small unit engagements along the length of the front. As the morning went on, the size and scope of the battles rose. Contact and engagements of company and battalion size broke out in sectors where the lines had been rather stationary, such as in I NL Corps sector in NORTHAG. Commanders were operating under restrictive conditions. A minimal amount of information made its way down the chain of command as the first part of the morning progressed.
At battalion level and lower, officers and NCOs were almost fully blanketed by the fog of war. With little news coming from higher headquarters, the rising worry was the potential use of nuclear weapons at the battlefield level soon. Would there be nuclear-tipped medium range missiles and artillery shells falling on friendly lines in the coming hours? This poignant question was alive in the minds of NATO and Pact commanders alike.
The fact nuclear weapons had already been used colored tactical thinking and decision-making on both sides of the battleline. It made sense for commanders to want to maintain close contact with the enemy. This minimized the chances of nuclear weapons being on their unit. Damage caused by blast effects and radiation would have a severe effect on defender and attacker alike.
At corps and army group-level headquarters, commanders were waiting for orders from their superiors at the theater level. Theater commanders, in turn, were awaiting direction from their political leaders. For the first twelve hours of the day it was a waiting game as the politicians in Moscow and the Western capitals debated what was to happen next. SACEUR and General Snetkov and their staffs were planning for the resumption of operations at some point in the next twenty-four hours. Predictably, NATO’s plans were centered on offensive operations while the Soviets were almost entirely defensive in nature.
SACEUR’s concept for future operations was centered on a counteroffensive launched from NORTHAG with heavy corps-level support from CENTAG. III Corps, a collection of heavy maneuver US divisions, was the centerpiece of the offensive, in both planning and reality. At present, III Corps combat elements were crossing the Leine. The river was entirely secured and in NATO hands now. West German, Belgian and British forces had the surviving combat elements of 3rd Shock Army encircled between the Weser and Leine. Lead elements of the 1st Cavalry Division and 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment were at Holle and Hildesheim awaiting orders to resume the advance east. The stop order remained in effect for the moment, but follow-on units of the division and regiment continued arriving in temporary assembly areas near Autobahn 7 as the morning progressed.
Western TVD’s commanding general Boris Snetkov was taking advantage of the pause in major combat operations to prepare his army groups in West Germany for what lay ahead—provided the conflict remained conventional. Snetkov had been made aware of General Secretary Romanov’s warning to NATO regarding the Inner-German Border. After the past twenty-four hours, he took this threat quite seriously and recognized how important it was to keep NATO on its side of the border. Snetkov believed he had enough divisions and supporting units on hand to do this, provided a handful of variables swung in his favor. Most important was the willingness of the enemy to press their own advantages in the face of forthright threats by Soviet leadership to escalate the war again to the nuclear stage if Warsaw Pact territory was violated. NATO reluctance would buy Snetkov the time needed to make certain his forces inside the Federal Republic were fully prepared to withstand the coming offensive. 5th Guards Tank Army, reinforced by two divisions from its sister 7th Guards Tank Army would act as the shield, absorbing the initial NATO attacks. The remainder of 7th GTA, a well as the 28th Combined Arms Army were to be the sword Snetkov used to push the enemy back west and give Moscow the breathing room needed to begin negotiations on favorable terms.
Quick Author’s Note: There will be three Central Front posts for D+19. Part I-Intro, Part II- NORTHAG (NATO and Pact vantage points) Part III- CENTAG (same).