The Central Front: 10 July, 1987 Part II

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NORTHAG Continued….

By 1700 hours, Soviet forces had secured a firm bridgehead on the Elbe despite a counterattack by the Dutch 43rd Armored Infantry Brigade that left the issue in doubt for a period of time. In front of Luneburg, East German troops were keeping the Dutch forces there occupied well enough that 2nd GTA’s commander sensed an opportunity arising. Without consulting his own superiors, he ordered the commander of the 94th Motor Rifle Division to start preparations to turn his forces away from the northwest and move towards the newly established bridgehead. If he moved fast enough, 2nd GTA commander was increasingly optimistic that his units could cut off the better part of the Dutch 4th Division.

He was not going to wait for his forces to build up before moving though. Aware of the need to maintain the initiative, he urged the commanders in the field to speed up the flow of forces across the Elbe. Specifically, he wanted the bulk of the 16th Guards Tank Division on the south side of the Elbe by midnight. The plan was to use the division as a sledgehammer to break the Dutch lines irreparably before they could react. Intelligence reports led him to believe the bulk of the Dutch division’s combat power was centered around Luneburg. A decisive roll of the dice now could result in a heavy payout.

To the credit of NATO commanders, they recognized the growing danger on the banks of the Elbe immediately and were in agreement that counteraction had to be taken quickly. This is where the unity of opinion ended. The corps’ commanding general wanted a larger counterattack unleashed immediately while General Martin Farndale, NORTHAG’s commander, favored ceding the Elbe bridgehead to the Soviets and the establishment of a hasty defensive line to run from Seevetal to Winsen. Simultaneously, he wanted to being withdrawing the Dutch forces around Luneburg to minimize the chances of them becoming cut off. Following a brief conversation between the two via secure communications, NORTHAG won out.

Farndale directed 2 ATAF to place a priority on the Elbe bridgehead. His Soviet counterpart was of similar mind, screaming at 16th Air Army to support his crossing. The result would be one of the fiercest air battles of the war. By midnight 40 percent of the 16th Guards Tank Division had made it across the Elbe, but at a murderous cost.

 

To the south, 3rd Shock Army (to be referred to as 3SA for the duration) resumed its westward advance before dawn. Enemy resistance on the first day had been exceptionally fierce and bogged down 3SA considerably. Like his fellow newly-installed army group commanders, Lieutenant General Alexi Mityukhin was determined to get his army group back into the war again. 3SA’s first strategic objective was the industrial city of Hanover. Hanover was an essential step towards the Ruhr, West Germany’s industrial heartland and 3SA’s primary wartime objective.

Mityukhin was hoping to be able to achieve a breakthrough against the German I Corps. This was the formation he considered to be the weakest link in the NATO defensive chain arrayed against his tanks. South of the Germans were the British and Belgians. With enough pressure and some luck a breakthrough was possible there too, but his money was on the Germans.

For most of the day, it seemed the general had placed the right bet. His armored spearheads were making the most progress in this area, though it was apparent a strong NATO defensive line was going to be found east of Braunschweig. Here, the advance slowed to a bloody crawl and then a complete standstill, and by nightfall the next echelon had been called forward to flank the defenders. Only instead of finding a softly guarded flank, the 40th Motor Rifle discovered a newly arrived battalion of British armor at Wolfenbüttel.

Advances against the British and Belgian sectors fared little better. Progress was being made, but slowly. Each kilometer of ground seized came at a disproportionate cost in men and equipment. Mityukhin was uneasy about the losses he was taking, but he knew NATO was suffering just as badly. His side could afford the losses, it had far larger stockpiles of war material and soldiers to commit to the battle.

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Labor Day Interlude

This blog was planned to be free write of sorts. Fortunately, it has evolved into so much more. I have always wanted to do a project revolving around a hypothetical NATO-Warsaw Pact war in the mid to late 1980s. There have been many false starts, however this time the project has gotten off the pad and is progressing nicely.

I’d like to thank everyone for taking the time to read this blog. It’s gratifying to know that more and more people are reading Third World War: 1987 and appear to be enjoying it. I would also like to give a sincere thanks to the folks who listed my blog on their websites. I am quite grateful and have not forgotten. Once the revisions to my blog are completed, I will include a comprehensive list of links and return the favor.

With this being Labor Day weekend, I’m going to spend it with my loved ones and shy away from the writing for a few days. So there will be no new postings until Tuesday afternoon. I’ll pick up from there move forward. With luck, the revisions to the blog’s layout will be finished by Tuesday. I had hoped to have them wrapped up a few weeks ago, however, I really haven’t found the theme or combination of edits on WordPress that I have been looking for. Therefore, it’s time to break out the credit card and pay for a more high end theme, provided it has what I am looking for. If not, I’m sure I’ll muddle through somehow. 😊

So, here is hoping that you all have a wonderful Labor Day weekend. Enjoy the last weekend of summer and the company of good friends and family. Hopefully the weather will work out in everyone’s favor. On Tuesday we’ll dive back into World War III. 😊

PS- If anyone would like to chat about any aspect of the blog, feel free to get in touch with me.

 

 

Opening Moves

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Hostilities between NATO and the Warsaw Pact began at 0103 hours Zulu on 9 July, 1987. For a war that would spread across the globe in a matter of days, the opening clashes between combatants were quite small. The first shots were exchanged outside of the NATO airbase at Gielenkirchen by KGB-trained saboteurs attempting to gain entry to the base and NATO security forces. The effort was unsuccessful and all seven saboteurs were killed. After the war, it would be learned that this particular attack went off twenty-seven minutes ahead of schedule. The initial wave of Soviet Spetznaz, desant, and saboteur attacks behind the lines was not supposed to commence until 0130 Zulu.

As it was, however, the early attack gave NATO valuable time to get the warning out and bring security to a higher state of alert before the initial wave of attacks began a short time later. Some sites which may not have been ready were. The extent of the attacks and the results will be explored and discussed at a later time. Suffice to say, the opening hours of hostilities were defined by explosions, helicopter landings, and small unit actions across West Germany, Denmark, the Low Countries, and even the United Kingdom and Norway to an extent. Before the first Soviet tanks crossed the border, the war was more or less already in full swing.

At sea, the first contact between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces took place in the Barents Sea at 0219 hours local time. Soviet and Norwegian fast attack craft clashed in the North Cape area. The first casualties of the war at sea were the Norwegian Storm-class patrol boat Brask and a Soviet Nanuchka class patrol boat. Fighting in the North Cape continued through the early morning hours as a running battle between units of the Royal Norwegian Navy and Soviet Red Banner Northern Fleet materialized.

In the North Atlantic, the Soviets drew first blood, sinking a pair of merchant ships northwest of the Azores. The Foxtrot class diesel submarine that launched the attack escaped the area only to be discovered and sunk by US Navy P-3 Orions operating from Lajes Airfield later on the first day.

The Mediterranean and Black Sea remained quiet until around dawn when fast attack craft of the Soviet navy made contact with elements of the Greek and Turkish navies in the Black Sea. Not long afterward, Soviet and Syrian naval forces struck Turkish and other NATO warships operating in the Eastern Med. The rest of the region remained precariously quiet in those first two hours.

The storm would soon break across Europe and the Med.