The Central Front: Command And Control On The Nuclear Battlefield D+24 (2 August, 1987) Part II

NATO’s retaliation for the nuclear attack against I NL Corps came in the form of two nuclear warheads targeted at two separate targets and delivered by a pair of US Army Pershing II medium-range ballistic missiles. The first and more valuable target was the Group Soviet Forces Germany’s wartime forward command bunker outside Stendal. This was the third alternate command bunker and became operational two days earlier. The primary bunker and other two alternates were damaged beyond repair by NATO air-delivered smart bombs and other ordnance. Stendal was the nerve center for Red Army operations and army groups in both the FRG and GDR. When Marshal Korbutov was moved up to take charge of Western TVD, General Ivan Ivanovich Korbutov was selected to take his place. Korbutov, the former commander of Northern Group of Forces came to GFSG as the Soviet advance to the Weser was collapsing and NATO’s counteroffensive was starting to take shape.

While the Soviet nuclear strike on the Dutch brought on a temporary degradation of command and control with the loss of a corps’ forward command post, the Dutch and NATO managed to recover rather quickly. Seventy minutes post-detonation saw the deputy I NL Corps commander assume command and rescue operations getting underway in the affected areas of the 5th Division.

NATO’s strike on the command bunker at Stendal turned out to be a near-fatal blow to all Soviet forces still fighting on the Central Front. When the US W85 warhead from a Pershing II detonated 150 meters above the location of the GSFG forward command bunker, its blast-yield was set for 10 kilotons. This proved to be more than enough power to assure the bunker’s destruction, as well as the deaths of General Korbutov and his senior staff. Soviet command and control across the Central Front collapsed the moment the W85 detonated, and the Soviets never recovered. The communications disruptions from the Wünsdorf attack had not been entirely mitigated by the time Stendal and the 8th Guards Tank Division were struck. These attacks only made the communications situation worse and guaranteed and assured it was going to be a long time before comms were back up and the chain of command restored.

As was the case with the Dutch, command and control disruption was directly responsible for a considerable number of casualties. For Soviet units the numbers climbed into the thousands. The Soviet military command structure, like its civilian counterpart, was a rigid, centralized instrument. In the absence of communication with higher headquarters, army group and division commanders on the Central Front fell back on their most recent orders for guidance. In the case of many formations these orders were centered on withdrawing immediately from the Federal Republic. For the units pulling back through the Helmstedt area, there was little information available on radiation levels around the area where a 30kt W85 exploded over 8th Guards Tank Division’s main line of resistance. The better part of two regiments either went through or failed to detour far enough from areas containing higher fallout numbers. Despite having the majority of officers and men wearing NBC protection, and vehicles being buttoned up, these regiments suffered more casualties than were necessary. Radiation sickness became a major problem in the hours and days following their transit through 8th Guards Tank Division’s area as the number of cases spread. Had command and control not been so severely hampered, this situation could’ve been avoided or minimized at best.

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