0630 Zulu (0830 Local)
News of the chemical weapon attack on LANDJUT units along the Danish-West German border reached NATO headquarters in Brussels less than seven minutes after the first CW rounds impacted. Initial reports were understandably lacking in detail, but it was clear beyond a doubt that the Soviets had deliberately initiated the use of chemical weapons against the Jutland Division and West German 6th Panzergrenadier Division. The extent of the attack would not be known for some time. However, for the moment it seemed the enemy’s use of chemical agents was restricted to the NATO units in one specific geographic area. Whether this would remain the case remained to be seen.
Naturally, SACEUR was not taking chances. Immediately, warnings were transmitted to all NATO units in Western Europe. Troops in the field were ordered to MOPP Level 4. Personnel at airbases, headquarters and other installations in the rear were directed to adopt MOPP 3 posture. Activity on the ground halted at once. Units in contact were ordered to break off and withdraw. Vehicles stopped and were buttoned up. Soldiers donned their MOPP gear. As minutes went by corps commanders in the NORTHAG and CENTAG regions were busy ordering their divisions to adopt anti-chemical postures, along with all of the attached difficulties.
Warning messages also went out to all NATO commands and governments of member-states. SACEUR personally placed a telephone call to Washington and informed President Reagan of the chemical attack. It was approaching 0300 on the East Coast of the United States and most senior members of the US government were asleep. Closer to Brussels, the governments of West Germany, France and Great Britain were already demanding more information and answers. Shortly, they were joined by leaders and representatives of every other NATO nation, asking for the same.
Unfortunately, SACEUR had no answers. Pieces of news streamed in, but he had a war to run and had neither the time, or the inclination, to seek out answers to any questions that were not of critical importance. Neither LANDJUT or its parent command AFNORTH was requesting authority to retaliate in kind. Yet. In time the request would come, SACEUR was certain. Yet chemical release was a political decision, not one left to a senior general officer. And before that political decision was made, SACEUR wanted to have a better idea of the enemy’s intentions and whether or not more CW attacks were coming.
Right now, the use of chemical agents by the Soviets was restricted to use on LANDJUT’s forward divisions. The first estimates were that between 25-30 CW rounds were used against each of the Jutland Division and 6th Panzergrenadier’s lead brigades. The rounds were a mixture of Sarin and the Russian version of VX and all of them were delivered by self-propelled artillery. There were no indications of ballistic missiles having been used. More curious, the Soviets appeared to have gone to a great deal of effort not to cause damage to the rear areas. What this meant was unclear for the moment. Maybe more volleys were coming later in the day.
At first glance it appeared to SACEUR the purpose behind the Soviet chemical attack was to cause confusion and temporarily halt LANDJUT’s push into Schleswig-Holstein. An obvious side effect of this would be a swift slowdown of the NORTHAG and CENTAG divisions now approaching the Inner-German Border. It made sense from his perspective, though he was fairly certain there was more to the Soviet plan, and it would become clear sooner or later.
Author’s Note: Shorter than anticipated entry today. I’m just getting over a stomach bug and didn’t want to push it. I’ll catch up a bit in the other entries later in the week. –Mike