5 Primary Factors That Contributed To The Soviet/WP Defeat On The Central Front INTRO

Military historians love to debate the reasons why major armies were soundly defeated on the fields of battle throughout history. The Central Front in 1987 is no exception. For thirty-plus years historians have conducted research and presented an endless number of theories to explain in great detail just how and why the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies were decisively beaten on the Central Front in the summer of 1987. Some factors have been largely accepted by historians while a small amount of other ones remain on the fringe, scrapping for mainstream acceptance. Whether or not they will succeed is yet to be determined as a new generation of historians, some of whom were not even alive in 1987, seek to make their mark in the field.

For the purpose of this blog I’ve selected the five factors that contributed most to the Red Army’s defeat on the Central Front. This post will provide a brief overview of the five. In mid-February I will go into detail on each factor through a series of entries that will be put into the rotation over a period of 4-6 weeks. And yes, starting in February I am going to set up a rotation of topics. I’ve been playing it pretty loose since the end of D+24 and find myself missing the structure of moving from theater to theater with a couple reviews tossed in between. Creature of habit, I suppose. Anyhow, below are the factors we’ll be talking about in Feb and March.

  • Effects Caused By NATO’s D+0 Air Attacks On Soviet Command Bunkers– It goes without saying that the F-117 strikes against C2 locations less than two hours before the Red Army crossed the border severely hampered the Soviet war plan. More consequential was  the domino effect the loss of three army group commanders had on the initial Soviet offensive and throughout the war on the Central Front.
  • Failure of Soviet/WP Air Forces To Gain Air Superiority By D+2- On D+0 Soviet air strikes against NATO airbases and C3 sites failed to inflict enough severe damage to put many of these sites out of commission permanently. More worrisome was the number of aircraft lost to NATO fighters and SAMs, but predominantly to fighters. It was accepted that NATO’s airpower held a qualitative advantage over the air arms of Warsaw Pact nations, but the losses taken on the first day were traumatic. Aside from a small number of regional and local exceptions, the Soviets and Pact never gained air superiority over enough of West Germany to influence land operations significantly.
  • Inflexibility of Soviet Doctrine and Tactics– Centralized control was the hallmark of the Soviet military in 1987. Battles were planned and decisions made at the top and handed down to subordinate commanders who were expected to operate under the broad plans conceived by higher headquarters. When things did not go as planned, on-site commanders were unable to make the necessary changes fast enough to adapt to the enemy’s maneuvers and tactics.
  • Overreliance On Special Operation and Desant Units On D+0– It was no secret the Soviets planned to overwhelm the NATO rear areas with specially trained Spetsnaz and air mobile units with the goal of wreaking havoc on REFORGER sites, NATO headquarters and other high value targets. Unfortunately for the Soviets, they overestimated the level of success these small units would have. Overall, the effort failed and did nothing to support the leading army groups once they crossed the border.
  • Failure To Correctly Anticipate Airland Battle 2000- The US Army and USAF plan for fighting a war in Europe changed dramatically in the early ‘80s with Airland Battle 2000. In short, Airland Battle called for using land forces to halt and counter a Soviet invasion while simultaneously, airpower and artillery would halt the movement of reserve units and supplies to the front. The Soviets never really accepted that this doctrine could achieve its stated intent and thus, never developed a valid counter for it. Events on the Central Front in 1987 show how disastrous this oversight was for the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies.

6 Replies to “5 Primary Factors That Contributed To The Soviet/WP Defeat On The Central Front INTRO”

  1. Hey Mike, this is going into the novel?
    My thoughts, if you allow me:
    Point 1 and 3 are overstated. If Soviet tactics are rigid, it’s because they are expected to be implemented irrespective of orders from above. 2 hours before the start of the invasion, the Soviet lowest level unit would already have its order and would go at it with no intervention from higher ups – this is captured in Ralph Peters “Red Army” and you will note that the Russian Army initial invasion of Ukraine went along the orders issued pre-war despite jamming their own networks (oh well…) and only stopped after a few days when units ran out of supplies, so D+0 would have seen combat all along irrespective of commands from HQ.
    The Air operation is a big question mark… in 1987 the Soviets had the tools in the form of ARMs to penetrate the SAM belt but their fighters were appalling vs the F-15, but there weren’t many F-15s and were about equal to the more common F-4s. AWACs could tip the balance, but keeping the air forces busy could mean the ground forces blast a hole in NATO lines.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nope, the WWIII 87 novel is a done project. Just sitting on a shelf waiting for the publisher to release it.

      You’re right about Point 1 and 3 to an extent. But the way the battle for Germany played out in this alternate world gave me the chance to create a canvas to see how these points might play out in the real world.

      True, they had the ARMs but like many pieces of Russian equipment, the anti-rad missiles back then were junk.

      If NATO had been allowed to reinforce before the war kicked off, figure on 72 F-15Cs in theater. So between those and the Sentry coverage, that should be enough to offset the Soviet advantage in numbers and mediocre aircraft.

      Fortunately, we’ll never know for certain. So we continue to debate and simulate, and probably will until we’re old and gray….or grayer 🙂


      1. I suppose you can always ‘play out’ both sides strengths and weaknesses in a CMO air battle simulation, so long as the sim accurately reflects what’s available to the 2 sides back in 1987.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I did just that in each theater using CMANO. CMO came a little too late, but to be fair I’ve gone back and revised everything to CMO standards and played it 🙂 Yeah, take the same data and start from D+0. Need to have a computer that can handle a large scenario like that though


      2. Given the less favorable terrain in northern Germany, do you think the two American Corps, which were our best Corps at the time, should have been stationed in NORTHAG instead of CENTAG?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Maybe. But the decision was a political one and you know how those go. Real world matters aren’t taken into consideration. From a military perspective, definitely would’ve made sense

          Liked by 1 person

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