On the clear understanding
That this kind of thing can happen
Shall we dance, shall we dance, shall we dance?
– The King and I (1956)
It is July 1989 and you have just been kicked in the chest. But the inevitable boot-torso contact accidents that arise when soldiers scramble inside the cramped interior of an M577 command track are really the least of your problems this morning.
“It looks like we’re it,” the S-2 growls, as the track lurches to the right. “I can’t raise Regiment. Every net is jammed to hell.”
You are a recent arrival to Bavaria, after most of a career spent in line infantry units on the Korean DMZ. After your company command, the Army has decided that you might have some potential leadership talent, maybe. They have given you major’s leaves and a chance to screw it all up, in the form of a coveted S-3 job in the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the fabled Blackhorse. Or, as the E-4 mafia calls it when their sergeants are not around, “The Speedbump of the Fulda Gap.” You are a serious soldier who has served in serious places, and you understand the realities of the mission. But even you had secretly started to think that this tour would be an easy one, certainly compared to the deadly cat-and-mouse games played in the DMZ. The Cold War was thawing, and the Soviets were leaving Europe.
That quaint notion, of course, ended forty-five minutes ago. You have no idea what is really going on. Nobody knows where the squadron commander is, though someone thinks that he may have been caught in the opening barrages. Nobody has been able to raise Regiment or any higher authority. What you do know is that you cleared camp in a command track with the S-2, and that you are the ranking officer in the vicinity of the squadron’s wartime deployment zone. And as a result you are the acting commander of the 2nd Squadron, 11th ACR, at what is looking disturbingly like the start of World War III.
On paper the Eaglehorse Squadron is a robust combat organization, with two companies of M1A1 tanks, two companies of M3 Bradley cavalry fighting vehicles, a fire support platoon, and a composite scout company mounted in humvees (with a heavy section of Bradleys backing them up).
But here in the dark things are different. Right now you have nothing but the scout troop available. According to the war plan the rest of the squadron — normally based at Bad Kissingen — should be scrambling toward you, with the first tanks arriving within thirty minutes. This morning? Who the hell knows. But they are not here now.
At least you have a plan. It may not be a good or appropriate plan, but you have one. As squadron S-3 you are all about plans. You have studied the maps for months. The wartime mission of 2/11 ACR is to delay the advance of the lead elements of the Soviet 8th Guards Army pending the arrival of heavy reinforcements from V Corps. In the absence of orders to the contrary, you are to defend the bridges across the Franconian Saale at Bad Neustadt. You have spent hours upon hours huddled with the S-2 doing the terrain analysis, mapping the obstacles, identifying key terrain, and figuring out the likely avenues of approach through your sector. You need no maps; even bumping along in the back of the command track, you can see it in your head.
The enemy essentially has four courses of action (what the Army helpfully abbreviates as “COAs”). All of his options start with an advance to the west along the N279. Then he has four choices:
- COA-1 involves a hard turn to the right and a northern march along the A71 autobahn, threading the mines and obstacles up north, crossing the Saale at Oberstreu, and sweeping south to take the objectives from behind.
- COA-2 is a much more direct approach, cutting to the north of the high ground south of Hollstadt, and attacking along the NES5 through Heustreu.
- COA-3 involves a straight attack along the N279, to the south of the high ground near Hollstadt, with the option of splitting the force at the junction to seize the bridge at Heustreu and the easternmost bridge at Bad Neustadt at once.
- COA-4 is a southern flanking route, turning left and marching south down the A71, then proceeding west along the NES15 to hit the defenses at Bad Neustadt from the south.
COA-1 seems like a long shot for the main attack. The route is too long, has too many obstacles, and takes the force too far afield of the key bridges. The crossing at Oberstreu will also be a nightmare. COA-2 is better and provides the shortest route, but involves attacking through very bad terrain and several layers of fortifications. COA-3 is perhaps the most likely option, with decent terrain and the option to take two or perhaps three bridges at once. However, it is also the most obvious course and probably the best defended. COA-4 has the fewest obstacles and perhaps the best terrain. But it is a longer route and is dependent on a single crossing site.
You believe that the main attack will probably come through COA-3. Although the southern flanking route has some appeal, it will cost too much time to execute, while with every passing hour your squadron grows in strength. You know that COA-3 creates the most problems for you in the shortest time. And if you were commanding the 17th Guards Tank Regiment, you would shove the bulk of your regiment through COA-3, maybe with a supporting attack through COA-2 to dilute the defense.
At the same time, you know that Soviet doctrine is to attack along multiple paths at once, holding off designating the “main effort” until as late as possible. If you are too successful at defending in COA-3 before they fully commit, they may simply switch. This complicates things. But they gave this mission to the cavalry for a reason.
The M577 bounces off-road, bumps violently along for five minutes, and then comes to a halt. This is your headquarters site, for the time being. As soldiers rush around setting up netting and antennas, you hear an American voice on the net for the first time in what seems like hours. It’s the scout leader.
Troop R’s captain has been busy. He has three sections of scout vehicles — soft-skinned humvees with observation devices — and has arranged them at various observation points to observe the various COA approaches (which he has named Routes Kim, Khloe, Kourtney, and Kendall). Route Kourtney corresponds to COA-3, and he has that highway under observation from both his 3rd scout section (sitting on a wooded hill named Observation Post (OP) Teapot) and also his own headquarters platoon at OP Hexagon. The humvees are not equipped to do anything but sit and watch, but the captain’s headquarters platoon consists of four Bradleys, with 25mm guns and TOW missiles. Which, at the moment, happens to constitute NATO’s entire front-line heavy force actually in place to defend against the 8th Guards Tank Army. You don’t bother mentioning that fact to the scout captain.
“Where’s the rest of the squadron?”
“On their way,” you say. “Just sit tight. You are now the eyes of the corps. Tell us where they are and we will bring the hammer.”
“Follow me,” the captain signs off, and gets to work.
Dawn breaks at 0416, and with the increased visibility comes the first signs of the attack. The scouts sight two platoons of BRDM-2s creeping along Route Kourtney. In accordance with the counter-reconnaissance plan, the Bradleys situated atop OP Hexagon bang away at them from extended range with their 25mm chain guns, to no obvious effect. Then the low-riding Soviet vehicles drop out of sight, headed further west.
Fifteen minutes later the rest of the squadron begins arriving. Right on time: the Eaglehorse does not disappoint. You now have two platoons of tanks (1/A and 2/A), plus a Bradley cavalry section (2/B). The radio jamming is very heavy and the best you can do is to send the nearest platoon of tanks (2/A) east along the N279, to the high ground north of Eichenhausen. It is pretty far forward but hopefully will give you a view into where the enemy is coming from.
But now things start to happen very quickly. More activity appears along Route Kourtney — this time not just recon platoons, but tanks and PCs, and they are appearing just northwest of Rodelmaier. The Bradley scout platoon begins engaging in earnest, and funeral pyres start to appear along the N279. They are much further along than you were expecting, and it is becoming clear that the enemy is way past Eichenhausen. At the road junction, you see a number of enemy vehicles branching off to the north while others continue west along N279. It looks like the Soviets will indeed try to take Heustreu as part of the same effort.
More squadron vehicles appear. You send two Bradley sections into Heustreu, shift the 2/A tank platoon to take a firing position nearby, and dispatch two more tank platoons into elevated positions in and around Herschfeld. The enemy, true to form, is moving very quickly and it will be a race to assemble the defense.
The fighting intensifies. A company of tanks appears on Route Kourtney and is engaged heavily by both the scout Bradleys and the tanks of 2/A. But return fire is heavy and in a bare few minutes, all four scout Bradleys are knocked out. Another tank company appears and presses 2/A, which screens backward as the Soviet spearhead surges forward. You watch helplessly as your hasty defense becomes unhinged. Soviet tanks enter Herschfeld and by 0535, a platoon of T-80s is sighted at the first bridge site.
It is now 0540. You look at the map and consider your options.
The enemy is moving faster than expected, and to be honest he has outraced your defense. On the other hand, you have ripped a chunk out of his leading formations, with the scouts counting about thirty burning vehicles along the N279. Apart from the scout headquarters platoon and one knocked-out M1 from 2/A, your force is entirely intact. And the really good news is that most of the Eaglehorse has now arrived and is ready to be committed.
Troop A is attempting to set up in the high ground on three sides of the engagement area, although it’s not clear that they are going to be in position before the zone becomes too dangerous to cross. A platoon from Troop B is dug in at Heustreu, with a second joining it very shortly. But there is no one in Bad Neustadt, and the enemy is poised to exploit his current gains by simply driving down the N279 on the west side of the river. And given the poor visibility from the morning haze, some of your scouts may be out of place. You have the tools to contain the enemy and achieve your delaying mission. But do you have the time?
The sky grows brighter as dawn yields to sunrise. Your cavalrymen, breathless from the race up from Bad Kissingen, are ready to be committed to a come-as-you-are fight. Somewhere not far away, a Soviet tank regiment is trying to force events to a point where you will become irrelevant.
What do you do next?
Scenario: “A Time to Dance”, Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm. Post your responses in the comments. If you would like to play out the remainder of the scenario and post your own AAR, the saved game is here. (If you do post your own AAR, let me know and I will link it from this page.)