The Central Front Mobilization Race Part III

On 28 June, 1987 the Soviet general secretary informed the Ministry of Defense that Zapad ’87 was to commence on the first of July. A final decision on the date hostilities were to commence was not mentioned. Senior Soviet generals suspected Zapad would transition directly into a broader mobilization and from there to war. Marshal Akhromeyev and his general staff comrades pinpointed the start date for Zapad to be somewhere between 15 and 25 July. It was not revealed until months after the war that Romanov and the politburo selected 19 July to be the original D+0.

Quiet and discreet preparations got underway with Western TVD taking the lead. Group of Soviet Forces in Germany and its new commander General Boris Snetkov went to work at once readying for the upcoming exercise, which conveniently mimicked readiness for war. Divisions in the Carpathian and Belarussian military districts assigned to West as second-echelon formations in a time of war were also alerted and commenced their own measures. Elements of a few divisions from these MDs would come west immediately to take part in the final days of Zapad ’87, with the remainder of units beginning their journeys west only in the final forty-eight hours of peace. The operational plan was concise on this point with rail and transportation schedules having been worked out meticulously.

The wartime operational plan for Western TVD was for an initial strategic offensive against the following NATO nations in Western Europe: West Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, France (northern part) and the United Kingdom. Achieving overall strategic surprise was considered to be unrealistic. However, a large degree of surprise would be needed for the operation to be successful. This translated to the peacetime movement of large numbers of troops, tanks, aircraft and supplies to initial staging areas without arousing NATO suspicions. A major military exercise in Eastern Europe on the scale of Zapad provided the perfect cover for this. It also provided Western TVD an opportunity to mask its war prep in plain sight. Soviet and other Warsaw Pact units would prepare for Zapad and train as they were expected to during a build up to real hostilities. Troop and equipment movements from western Russia into Poland and East Germany could be passed off as units moving to take part in the exercise. Western intelligence would eventually realize what was actually taking place and inform their governments. But the politicians would take two days at most before accepting what appeared to be going on. Some NATO member-states would move faster than others, making alliance-wide mobilization piecemeal instead of a set piece affair. When hostilities did commence, Soviet and Pact forces in East Germany by that time would be at 100 percent readiness while NATO was still mobilizing and deploying. By the time second echelon forces from western Russia arrived in Germany and were prepared for commitment, the front line was anticipated to lay at least 100-120 kilometers inside the Federal Republic of Germany and Warsaw Pact victory all but assured.

This was the plan at least.

In reality, early July 1987 turned out differently. As is generally the case, no war plan survives first contact with the enemy whether intended or accidental. The encounter between US and Soviet warships in the Mediterranean on 2 July dramatically altered the course events would take. With 100 Russian sailors and 30 of their American counterparts dead, Romanov decided that if war was to come it must come soon and on Soviet terms. Each passing day would allow NATO time to prepare militarily and unify politically in the face of Soviet belligerence. Over the next thirty-six hours, while insincere efforts were underway to alleviate the crisis by Soviet diplomats, critical decisions were being made in Moscow. Romanov was convinced NATO would begin alerting its armed forces and moving them at any given time. Consequently, the general secretary pushed up the start date by ten days. Hostilities would commence on 9 July, 1987.

On the morning of 5 July General Secretary Romanov addressed the Soviet people and promised that the Soviet Union stood ready to resist further aggression by the United States. Four hours before the speech was given, he’d ordered full mobilization to commence immediately. Later that same day President Reagan addressed the US and warned Romanov not to test American resolve. He went on to announce the immediate reinforcement of Europe, signaling the start of REFORGER. Official NATO mobilization would come less than thirty-six hours later.

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