The Central Front D+20 (29 July, 1987) Part III

As III Corps awaited the arrival of West German and British brigades, activity along the rest of the front ebbed and flowed through the remainder of the morning and early afternoon. Probes became a regular occurrence as formations on both sides wrestled with the realization that the anticipated NATO attack had failed to materialize. For NATO corps and divisions, the purpose of the probes was twofold: Keeping the Soviet units in front of them off balance and guessing about future moves took precedent. Battalion-sized probes supported by air and artillery did this in a number of sectors. Reconnaissance of enemy strength and dispositions was also needed for NATO commanders to accurately assess the opposition to their front.

Soviet units conducted similar operations for the same reasons, but it was the reconnaissance missions that took precedence. The intelligence staffs at Western TVD and General Korbutov’s headquarters expected the counteroffensive to commence south of Hanover and push east for the Inner-German Border. The US III Corps would spearhead this effort, however, there was debate swirling within the Soviet chain of command as to whether the main attack would come from III Corps. By most indications it appeared this was the case. Except for reports of inexplicably high amounts of activity around I NL (Netherlands) Corps north of Hanover, as well as US V Corps in the northern area of the Central Army Group. There was growing suspicion that a major effort could emerge from either of these areas, with Western TVD’s senior intelligence officer even going as far as suggesting the main effort would come out of the CENTAG region to outflank 5th and 7th GTA and deny them an escape corridor across the border in the event one was needed.

Air recon missions were also undertaken at increasing peril to Soviet pilots. The number of MiG-25 Foxbats and MiG-21 Fishbeds fitted for reconnaissance was dangerously low, yet the need for up to date photos of NATO rear areas was critical. Sorties were launched, sometimes with escorting fighters but more often without. For the MiG-21s and their pilots, the combination of NATO fighters and SAMs made their sorties over the rear areas of the US V Corps borderline kamikaze missions. Of twelve sorties launched between 0600 and 1400 CEST on D+20 only three of the aircraft returned to their home airbases. The MiG-25s, with their speed advantage over most NATO fighters, were more successful in their sorties during the same time period. Six Foxbat Bs were launched with only one failing to return, having fallen victim to a USAF F-15C Eagle south of Bremen. The photographs and visual reports brought back by the pilots were invaluable and provided Soviet intelligence staffs and commanders with a current picture of the I NL Corps and V Corps rear areas. Ironically, this latest batch of reconnaissance photos only heightened the debates raging in Soviet headquarters sites in Poland and the GDR.

In Belgium, SACEUR was informed by Washington that a resolution to the political wrinkle was within sight. It was left unclear how much more time would elapse before SACEUR was given the greenlight to start the attack. Of course, it wasn’t as simple as picking up a phone, issuing a short order and then III Corps, along with its German and British components would set off moments later. At the current rate, SACEUR could not start the attack before midnight at the earliest, and depending on conditions, that time might not even be realistic. NORTHAG planners were working the German and British brigades into its overall plan and on the ground in III Corps area, preparations were being made for the arrival of the two brigades at 2200.

The appearance of a considerable number of Soviet reconnaissance aircraft over NATO rear areas had raised alarm and concern. Although it was unclear to SACEUR just how valuable the data gathered would be to the enemy, the possibility of his counterpart at Western TVD using it to telegraph the coming punch from III Corps unnerved him and added to a growing sense of unease as the late afternoon approached.

6 Replies to “The Central Front D+20 (29 July, 1987) Part III”

  1. This is getting really tense. The delay has given the Soviets much more time to get a better assessment of what is going on as well as time to potentially dig in more. Politics!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. With the lack of good night vision gear I wonder if it will make a difference for Ivan. You can dig in all you want but once it gets dark and you can’t see your hand in front of your face good luck hitting anything.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. So true. Compared to what the 1st Cavalry and the rest of III Corps had in 1987, the Russian gear doesn’t measure up. Big disadvantage for them


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