Western TVD commander-in-chief General Boris Snetkov began D+22 at his command’s alternate wartime headquarters in western Poland, an area still under the control of Soviet forces. His first thought of the new day was the realization that the situation was not going to improve. If anything, it appeared destined to deteriorate further. What was uncertain was the extent and timeline of the continued decline. Snetkov needed twenty-four hours. If the remaining combat divisions of 5th Guards Tank Army, and one presently arriving division from 7th GTA, could hold NATO forces west of Wolfsburg for that long, the bulk of 7th Guards Tank Army would be positioned to act as a concrete wall to keep NATO off East Germany territory long enough for the next echelon of reinforcement divisions to arrive from the interior Soviet Union. Federal Republic territory currently under Soviet control was diminishing by the hour. Once the last Soviet unit was ejected from West Germany, the uncertainty and real danger would bubble to the surface.
What might happen after the Northern German Plain was cleared of Soviet tanks and troops worried Snetkov deeply. Neither of the two most-likely possibilities were palatable. NATO had proclaimed that its forces would stop at the Inner-German Border and not proceed east of that point. If the alliance held true to its pledge, the war would enter a new phase, ending with either a negotiated settlement or the start of an eventual second Soviet offensive into West Germany. But if NATO smelled blood and decided to continue and broaden its attack into East Germany and beyond, all bets were off. The Kremlin’s warning to NATO on this was explicit. If Western forces crossed the so-called Iron Curtain, it would result in an immediate and decisive Soviet nuclear counterstrike.
Snetkov required at least eighteen hours to get enough combat power in to prevent a NATO lightning thrust into East Germany following the imminent collapse of 5th GTA. Twenty-four hours would be better, the theater commander allowed, but considering matters more carefully, he felt eighteen hours was more realistic. Then there was the possible second prong of the NATO counteroffensive developing from the CENTAG area. There were indications of American armored units moving northeast near Kassel. The reports of this were yet to be confirmed, but Colonel-General Korbutov considered them credible. Still, Snetkov required proof, though he shared Korbutov’s view. Two of the remaining MiG-25 reconnaissance fighters would be tasked to fly missions in the Kassel area at 0300 and confirm the presence of US tank columns on the roads. Setting up these missions had been difficult enough. Apparently, late on the previous evening, his most recent air commander had retired to his quarters and committed suicide. The taking of his own life was tragic enough, but the fact the Air Force general had failed to order preparations for recce flights early on D+22 evaporated the few droplets of sympathy Snetkov had for the man’s passing. For all of the help the Red Air Force had provided to its counterparts on the ground since early July, the passing of its senior general officer in the Western TVD was regarded coldly and as little more than an ill-timed nuisance.
The significance of the air war was one topic Soviet military planners had been dead wrong about, Snetkov thought bitterly. Years of confident assurances, fixed exercises and wargames convinced an entire generation of rising Soviet officers that NATO control of the sky over a future battlefield would have zero effect on the outcome of a conflict. Modern war, Snetkov had been told over and over, is decided on the ground. This promise, as was the case with many others from Snetkov’s past, turned out to be nothing more than rubbish when put to the test in the real world.