General John Galvin, Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, had so far enjoyed a good war. This statement can assumably be misconstrued as trite or highly offensive by an outsider. But for many senior NATO officers who served in Europe during the mid to late 1970s, the veracity of the assessment is beyond reproach. If this conflict had erupted ten years earlier, Western Europe would presently be either a scorched radioactive landscape, or the newest Soviet Socialist Republic. The state of the NATO alliance’s military forces in 1977 can best be described as dismal. The United States armed forces were just then starting to emerge from the post-Vietnam malaise. New doctrines were in the process of being created and a new generation of weapons and hardware was under development, but more time would be needed before they were operational and fielded in sufficient numbers to counter the latest Soviet weapons. Other alliance members were in similar states. Their military readiness declined throughout the early and mid-70s as US military and political attention was focused on Southeast Asia.
Between 1977 and 1987 that new generation of weapons reached NATO units, and coupled with the resurgence of US power, slid the balance of military power in Europe into NATO’s favor. The performance of every soldier, sailor, airman and officer in Europe in the last twenty-one days was testament to that. There were moments of uncertainty and instances where NATO defenses came perilously close to breaking, but the line held. The greatly feared and much anticipated Soviet offensive was ground to a halt far short of the Rhine. Now came the equally difficult task of pushing the Soviets back across the Inner-German Border. The first phase of NATO’s counteroffensive was set to jump off at 0500 hours.
The time was 0030 hours in SACEUR’s wartime headquarters in Belgium. He had just retired to his somewhat spartan quarters to enjoy a couple hours of uninterrupted sleep before operations commenced in the NORTHAG region. Unfortunately, this was not to be. A knock came to the door. The general opened the door and was greeted by his aide who informed him the Pentagon wanted to speak with him immediately.
Two minutes later, Galvin was on a secure line in the cleared-out communications center.
“Good morning, Jack,” the voice on the other end came through clearly and was recognizable at once. It belonged to Admiral William Crowe, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“Hello, Admiral,” SACEUR responded automatically, assuming this call would turn into a last-minute pep talk before the counteroffensive began. Crowe’s next words put this assumption to rest.
“I know it’s short notice, but we need to temporarily delay the attack you’re set to launch in a few hours. I’m sorry, but a few political wrinkles have developed that will need to be ironed out before your boys jump off.”
Galvin felt his grip on the phone receiver tighten. “I see. Can I ask what the problem is?”
“The West Germans and Brits are complaining that none of their units will be included in the initial attack. Thatcher and Kohl took their gripes to the president and he’s trying to work it out.”
SACEUR fought to keep his voice level. “Bill, I talked about this with the president less than twelve hours ago. Not all of the corps will be ready to go in time. That holds doubly true for the Germans. They’re handling the surrender and disarming of the goddamn Russian 3rd Shock Army.”
“I know,” Crowe fired back defensively. “Believe me, I do and I’m on your side. But alliance politics is playing a role now. Kohl needs to see his own soldiers as part of the spearhead of your attack for domestic political reasons. Understandable, I think. As for the Brits-“
“I already know where this is going,” Galvin groaned. Crowe continued on, undeterred.
“When you shitcanned the former commander of NORTHAG, the British were livid. The fact you replaced him with an American general who went out and succeeded where their guy failed has only ruffled more feathers. I realize it had to be done and no one here is second guessing your decision.”
Galvin knew it was senseless to argue. The war was entering a new stage where politics were destined to play a larger role. “Okay, I get it.” he conceded. “Just one question. How long will I have to delay the attack?”
“Realistically, I’d say twelve hours from the scheduled time. That will give the White House enough time to settle this down. Hopefully, some German and British units can make it forward by then.”
“Alright. I’d better get talking with my corps commanders and pass the word along. I’ll call you in a few hours to give you an update. Just let me know when things get settled on your side of the pond.”
“Will do,” Crowe promised. “And Jack, I am sorry,” he concluded sincerely.
“Not your fault, Bill. We’ll talk soon.” He disconnected the line and summoned the communications officer and his men back in. “Connect me with NORTHAG’s forward HQ as soon as you can,” he instructed the officer.