The Central Front Mobilization Race Part II

In the early June, 1987 senior Soviet military leaders were being queried daily by the new leadership in the Kremlin about theater mobilization procedures. Specifically, General Secretary Romanov was most interested in the amount of time that the vaunted Soviet military would need to prepare for a conventional conflict in Europe. Chief of the General Staff Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev informed Romanov and the new defense minister that under the Western TVD operational plan, a period of 2-3 weeks of mobilization was needed before hostilities could commence on the Central Front. Akhromeyev warned the general secretary this estimate was nowhere near concrete and assembled a staff to address the mobilization matter and come back with a current estimate. He told the staff they had one week to perform this task and time was of the essence. As anticipated, the men gathered in Akhromeyev’s office one week later and informed the chief of the general staff that the operational plan was gravely unrealistic. Western TVD would need a minimum of 3-4 weeks of mobilization before it would be ready for war.  

It was clear to Akhromeyev that hostilities was an option under consideration by the new Soviet general secretary. As June continued on, the air of crisis grew heavier as tensions rose and the prospect of war became a part of daily conversation for millions of civilians in both east and west. Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov, the Commander-In-Chief of the Western TVD was quietly preparing for a possible mobilization order. CINC-West at the time recognized that warning time was the factor most likely to determine success or failure of a a major Soviet attack on Western Europe. If NATO’s own preparations for war did not commence until several days after his own forces did, the prospects for victory would grow immeasurably. The less warning time for NATO the better. Conversely, the more lead time Western TVD and other Soviet commands received, the greater the chance of NATO jumping the gun and starting its own mobilization earlier than anticipated.

Whether there was to be war or not was a political decision. However, by mid-June, 1987 the winds were shifting in the direction of hostilities. CINC-West, his contemporaries and superiors visited the Kremlin on multiple occasions and briefed the politburo and general secretary on the Soviet operational plan for offensive operations against Western Europe and NATO. Unfortunately, politicians are the same the world around. Romanov and his closest allies only heard what they wished to. The general secretary, or in some cases the head of the KGB twisted the military’s estimates and answers to fit their own notions and views. The military men understood what was taking place but found themselves powerless to change the direction of the politicians thinking. To do so would guarantee their dismissal and replacement with a colleague who was more than willing to push forward without challenging their political leaders and their unrealistic portraits of military operations.

In late June CINC-West and Akhromeyev attended two more politburo meetings where they were ordered to walk their leaders through a dry run of how a Western TVD offensive against NATO would play out. It was at this point that the military men realized there would be no going back. The hypothetical questions about mobilization and the veritable tabletop simulation of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe indicated the general secretary and politburo had already made their decision. It was to be war. All that remained to be determined was the timeline and circumstances under which hostilities were to commence.

Author’s Note: Going to need a Part 3 to wrap this up. Sorry, troops. Playoff football interfered 😊


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