News of the raid at Geilenkirchen reached NATO headquarters in Brussels shortly after it began. SACEUR wasted no time in getting the word out. Less than a minute after giving the order, flash messages were going out to every NATO installation across Europe warning them to be prepared for the sudden appearance of Spetsnaz commandos or saboteurs soon. General Galvin expected to be swarmed with incoming reports of facilities under attack beginning at any moment. When it didn’t happen he was unsettled. What was going on?
Another seven minutes of silence passed by before it occurred to him that the attack on Geilenkirchen might’ve gone off prematurely. And that thought was a fleeting one. The uncertainty of the situation around 0120 placed SACEUR squarely between two chairs, so to speak. Unbeknownst to everyone except for his deputy and a handful of other senior officers, SACEUR had been approached by his air commanders a week earlier with a plan for a series of offensive air strikes targeting a core group of high value enemy targets in East Germany. The intent was for the missions to launch at the first concrete sign of hostilities; the moment that the Russians showed their hand.
SACEUR expected that moment to be the start of Spetsnaz attacks in the NATO rear. But with only one attack underway so far, Galvin faced a moment of truth. If he ordered his air commander to begin what they referred to as Operation Dark Comet without more validation that the Soviet offensive was imminent he ran the risk of handing Moscow a justification for hostilities. If he wavered and the offensive emerged as expected, a golden opportunity to maybe even the playing field would be lost. Aware that time was running out, SACEUR made what many historians now consider to be one of the most pivotal decisions of the war. Dark Comet would commence immediately.
While fighter bombers and support aircraft assigned to the missions were taking off from NATO airbases in the UK and Federal Republic, Spetsnaz attacks began going off across the Central Front region. Explosions, and the rattle of small arms fire punctured the quiet pre-dawn hours. From the North Sea to the Austrian border firefights were breaking out in and around almost every NATO military facility, and at select points in the major Western European cities. Soviet commandos, and KGB operatives found, much to their astonishment, that NATO security troops were alert and prepared for them. In spite of their high degrees of training and rugged mental preparedness, a number of Spetsnaz teams could not recover from the shock of losing the initiative so abruptly. From the intelligence each team was privy to, NATO was not expected to be ready.
The size and qualities of the security contingents at individual target sites depended on the size of the target and its significance. Predictably, POMCUS, nuclear weapon storage sites, and dispersal locations for GLCM and Pershing II missiles. On average, the size of a NATO security unit was a platoon sized unit, 30-35 men. Spetsnaz teams, in contrast normally had between 4-6 troops, and in some instances upwards of 10-12. The attackers relied on speed, and slinkiness. The defenders, on firepower and numbers.
Bulletins started reaching Brussels minutes after 0130. Word was working up the chain of command about an increasing number of NATO military and civilian sites coming under attack. A POMCUS compound in Holland, GLCM dispersal sites north of Wuschheim, and an air defense radar site west of Hanover were among the first places to be hit. SACEUR was digesting those reports as even more news arrived. A major explosion had occurred in the port of Bremerhaven. Two West German cabinet members were assassinated in their own homes.
As his aide informed him of these attacks, SACEUR took some solace in the fact that he had made the right decision in authorizing Dark Comet.