Author’s Note: CENTAG is coming first because my laptop went south on Friday and it took over 36 hours to get it reset and all my files recovered. Need some extra time to gather my CENTAG and NORTHAG timelines and notes up from the wreckage. As a result, this entry will be short, unfortunately. 😊
As was the case in the north, the NATO corps and Warsaw Pact army groups squaring off in the CENTAG region began D+19 by sniping at the enemy to their front. Companies and battalions squared off in a number of brief but fierce battles through the first eight hours of the day. In the suburbs of Kassel, Soviet motor rifle and tank regiments had replaced the East German divisions that either surrendered or withdrew to the other side of the border late on D+17 and early on D+18. These were units from the 8th Guards Army that were filled out with replacement soldiers and commanded by officers who were still alive and relatively healthy after three weeks of war. These skirmished gave the men a feel for what the coming hours and days would bring provided the war remained conventional. It also provided the officers with an opportunity to coordinate and command larger units than they had been accustomed to. Men who started the war as captains commanding companies now found themselves raised in rank and in charge of almost full-strength regiment.
From outside of Kassel to within sight of the Inner-German Border at the Fulda Gap to north of Regensburg, units squared off. The threat of more nuclear weapons being used remained first and foremost in the minds of officers and NCOs. Yet the terrain in the central and southern regions of the Federal Republic was quite different from that found in the north. Here the valleys and uneven terrain provided a degree of natural cover against the effects of a nearby nuclear detonation that was not to be found on the North German Plain. As a result, NATO and Pact units did not feel the need to remain exposed for extended periods of time along the line of contact. Probes and reconnaissance missions darted into enemy territory, made contact and spent short times engaging the other side before pulling back to the relative safety of friendly lines.
At Central Army Group’s forward headquarters, the prospect of a NATO counteroffensive aimed at the Hannover, Brauschweig and beyond solidified the need for CENTAG to have a plan ready to implement that would support NORTHAG’s push and ultimately form a separate prong should the decision be made to cross into East German territory. This notion was one that planners had been looking at closely on D+17. Events of the next day temporarily shelved the idea but it was now starting to come back.
A push by V Corps northeast could bypass Kassel and the stalemate there and serve to threaten the enemy’s left flank. This would give the 5th Guards Tank Army and whatever other Pact formations that were present a serious threat to deal with while III Corps was charging straight at them. 3rd Armored and 8th Infantry were ready to jump. The division commanders were standing by waiting for orders. Those would not be coming until SACEUR reached a final decision on when the counteroffensive would begin. He was waiting for the green light from Washington. Until that happened, CENTAG was in a holding pattern. But the planning continued, and as the early afternoon approached, there were indications that General Galvin was close to issuing orders.