|3rd AD on Central Front|
"The most threatening . . . would be an attack from the Thuringian Bulge through the Fulda Gap, aimed at Frankfurt. Except for the Fulda River, the terrain on this axis should not greatly hinder the movement of large armored forces. Importantly, this axis cuts across the ‘wasp-waist’ or the narrowest section of [West] Germany. The distance from the inter-German border to Frankfurt is a mere 100 km [62 miles]. Frankfurt, because of its central location in [West] Germany’s communications network, would be a most attractive target. Capturing Frankfurt would effectively cut [West] Germany in half, and given the importance of north-south lines of communication, would leave NATO’s forces in southern Germany isolated.”
(Source: John J. Mearsheimer in Conventional Forces and American Defense Policy, Steven E. Miller and Sean M. Lynn-Jones (eds.), Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989, Rev. Ed., p. 156.)
The Central Army Group Area of Responsibility
It is often stated that NATO has a comparatively easy defensive task on the southern side of the Central Front, where the terrain is supposed to favor the defensive more than in the north. However, the Americans and the Germans are forced to spread themselves very thinly in order to fill the void left by the departure of the French from the front line in the 1960s. In grand and spacious features like the Vogelsberg and the Rhoen long-range anti-tank weapons may be emplaced on the forward slopes, where the vegetation permits, and packets of armor are capable of commanding the flanking valleys.
The bulge of East German territory towards the Main River gives the advantage of interior lines to the Warsaw Pact. The Soviets will have some splendid targets close at hand if they come surging across the border at West Germany’s wasp waist. A push of 68 miles brings them to the city of Frankfurt, to probably the busiest civil airport in continental Europe (Frankfurt/Main) and to the autobahns which carry NATO’s most important communications between northern and southern Germany. By advancing 124 miles the Soviets can reach, (1) the critical city of Bonn, or, (2) the first area of the French Border, or, (3) the huge US Army supply depot at Kaiserslautern, and the heavy concentration of USAF bases nearby.
The Fulda Gap is the most celebrated of all the possible directions of Soviet advance into West Germany, but strangely enough some effort is needed to identify it on the ground, for no single geographical feature fits the precise designation. The immediate area around the town of Fulda similarly does not yield the precise characteristics. The Fulda River is an insignificant stream, measuring about 60 foot wide and less than 6 foot deep. It corresponds with the likely axis of Warsaw Pact penetration for no more than 7 miles. In reality, the Gap turns out to be a zone of relatively accessible ground reaching from the German Border near the East German city of Eisenach, south-west to the environment of Frankfurt. Close to the Border the two principal frontier avenues converge on the basin of Bad Hersfeld. For strategic purposes, the E63 and E70 highways are regarded as a single highway, connecting the garrisons of the Soviet Eighth Guards Army with the Fulda Gap. Pivoting on Eisenach, the Soviets may drive directly down the main axis, or advance on a broad front from the east across the valley of the upper Wera River.
Behind Bad Hersfeld the road network branches out in a wide arc, and here NATO will probably resort to a defense in depth, based on the main hill features. The Knuellgebirge (elev. 2087 ft.) provides a forward flanking position to the north of the corridor. The sprawling Vogelsberg (elev. 2533 ft.) extends across the center of the avenue, and to the south another volcanic massif, the extensive and heavily wooded Rhoen (elev. 3117 ft.), forms the buttress on the right flank. The responsibility for defending the area of the Fulda Gap is shared between the West German III Corps and the US V Corps. The V Corps’ sector comes to about 81 miles, which is fairly lengthy. The first of its formations to get into action will be the 3rd Armored Division, whose screening force is the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. Depth is provided by the US 8th Infantry Division (Mechanized), which has to move from the far side of the Rhine.
Allied Forces Central Europe is a NATO Command of comparatively narrow geographical area, but of crucial significance. It takes in Benelux, and West Germany south from Hamburg to the borders with Austria and Switzerland. The commander (CINCENT), a German general, has his headquarters at Brunssum, in the southeast corner of the Netherlands. He directs a unified air command (Allied Air Forces Central Europe, AAFCE, with headquarters at Ramstein, West Germany), and the two component Army Groups of the Land Forces, (1) Northern Army Group (NORTHAG), HQ at Moenchengladbach, West Germany; & (2) Central Army Group (CENTAG), HQ at Heidelberg, West Germany.
Information on this page is from Jim Chorazy CCB 2nd Bde 3rd AD
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