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Fulda Gap - Operations

In the early days of the Cold War, the US Army directed almost all of its training, equipment, and force development toward that potential day when its troops would face Soviet divisions streaming through the Fulda Gap and into Germany. Western intelligence agencies identified three primary avenues through which an invading Soviet force might advance into USAREURs sector. The most important, known as the Hessian Corridor, ran in a generally southwesterly direction astride the Frankfurt-Kassel autobahn, where gently rolling terrain favored large-scale mechanized operations. A portion of this approach, however, passed through a narrow region about fifty miles northeast of Frankfurt that was constricted by steep, wooded ridgelines.

At the mouth of the Fulda Gap, seven American brigades held about 50 kilometers, or seven kilometers each. If the Pact concentrated 15 divisions for an attack here, on this front of only 50 kilometers, only three divisions could be wedged up front for the first assault. That would be a force ratio of only three Pact divisions to 2.3 American divisions (the seven brigades), which is far from decisive.

This potential choke point was known as the Fulda Gap. This was the most direct route from the Soviet Zone, and the Soviet 8th Guards Army was poised immediately across the border on the other side of the gap. Because the corridor was also the shortest route to France and the English Channel, and it exposed many of the major industrial cities in the U.S. Zone, the Seventh Army placed the V Corps, with its two infantry divisions and one armored division, in position to defend this approach.

Nowhere in the Central Region was a potential East-West conflict more dramatic than in the historic Fulda Gap region of Germany. The Hessian Corridor, Meiningen Gap, Vogelsberg and Spessart Mountains shape an area that had seen its share of exercises, both command post and field training exercses. The 3rd Armored Division styled itself as "America's first choice for the Fulda Gap."

In July 1960 the V Corps commander said he was dissatisfied with the available intelligence information in general, especially near the Fulda Gap area. He also questioned the adequacy of the Surveillance along the German III Corps sector of the border to his north (Hebenshausen, NB 6494, to Blankenbach, NB 7252) -- an area formerly patrolled by V Corps units, but transferred to the Germans in 1957. This "gap" existed because the Bundeswehr was not allowed to patrol on the border.

As a result of the 1967 REFORGER action and the withdrawal of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment to the United States in 1968, USAREUR had been using only two armored cavalry regiments to perform the border screening and surveillance mission in the Central Army Group (CENTAG) area of responsibility. Wartime responsibilities in CENTAG were divided among the US V Corps, from the CENTAG boundary with the Northern Army Group (NORTHAG) on a line north of Kassel to a point east of Fulda; the US VII Corps, from the V Corps southern boundary to a point on the Czechoslovak border east of Bamberg; and the German II Corps, from the VII Corps southern boundary to the Austrian border. Based on a 1964 bilateral US-FRG agreement, however; the peacetime border surveillance mission in the German II Corps sector was performed by the US VII Corps, so that the VII Corps peacetime sector extended all the way from the V Corps southern boundary near Fulda to the German-Austrian border near Passau. In 1983 the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, with headquarters in Fulda (Downs Barracks), divided up the V Corps' border sector.

Map - Fulda Gap Map - Fulda Gap

Map - Fulda Gap Map - Fulda Gap Map - Fulda Gap

The advent of Active Defense in 1976 was preceded by the emergence of a new order of weapon lethality that was dramatically revealed in the Arab-Israeli War of 1973. NATO planners concluded that nothing could blunt the initial Russian thrust. Thus, the Fulda Gap scenario called for a fighting retreat to positions near the Rhine River. NATO would then use its superior knowledge of the terrain, its advanced weaponry and superior tactics to slow and thwart the Russian invaders. NATO planned to fall back to more defensible positions. The first element of Active Defense, the covering force, engages the enemy as soon as the border is breached by invading forces. The object of the covering force is the same as the traditional tactic of "Delay/Screening" (a form of antitank guerrilla warfare) which is to harass and ambush the leading elements of the invading force. Under Active Defense however, the covering force is heavily reinforced with mechanized infantry and tank units. As the battle continues, the covering force will begin to withdraw behind the main body of the defense. This main body of defense forms the second element of Active Defense. It is called the "Defense-in-Sector" and refers to the sectors of military responsibility.

In the northern half of the Seventh Army sector, the V Corps devoted its priority of defensive effort to a possible approach from the northeast through the Fulda Gap toward Frankfurt and Mainz. Battle plans indicated an objective of delaying, neutralizing, and destroying enemy forces along their main axes of penetration in order to create conditions necessary for a NATO counteroffensive.

The region of interest in this central highland area tends to be limited by Kassel in the north, the Rotnaargeoirge to the nortiwest, the Westerwald to the west, the Taunus to the southwest, and the D.D.R. border to the east. This is a plateau of infertile nard rock which is dominated by a number of higher ranges within it and which is sharply dissected by a number of rivers. The slopes are saiu to be "crisscrossed" by countless streams. After radiating outward to the Main River or northwards toward confluences with the Weser River and thence to the sea, it is this process which has made these highlanad easier to traverse south to north than east to west.

In 1974, the US Department of Defense (DoD) hosted a Defense Science Board (DSB) study that identified the proliferation of advanced networked air defenses as a significant threat to U.S. aircraft. Wargaming a Soviet invasion across the Fulda Gap in Europe led to the conclusion that without some game-changing capabilities, U.S. and NATO forces would find victory extremely difficult. Shortly after the DSB study, Director of Defense Research and Engineering Dr. Malcolm Currie issued a memo stating that the level of innovation coming out of DoD research was inadequate, and he invited organizations to propose radical new ideas. Robert Moore, deputy director of DARPAs Tactical Technology Office (TTO) nominated the idea of a high-stealth aircraft".

After the end of the Cold War, the Polish government made secret Soviet documents open to the public, revealing possible plans for waging war. This plan, called Seven days to the Rhine River, was the basis for conducting military exercises in 1979. In the south of Germany, the Soviet Eighth Guards Army and the 1st Guards Tank Army (three tank divisions and three motorized rifle divisions) would have acted on the front lines. The Central Group of Forces located in Czechoslovakia would provide two tank and three motorized rifle divisions. The Czechoslovak National Army could have added three tank and five motorized rifle divisions. Czechoslovak forces were considered magnificent in theory, but the Soviets still considered them politically unreliable even 20 years after the Prague spring of 1968. As for the southern grouping consisting of 19 divisions, it was only about 200 kilometers from the Rhine in a straight line, but it would have to face serious military and geographical obstacles. This grouping would be opposed by 10 West German and American divisions, the equipment of which was the best in NATO, and such a combination of forces, if to use the expression popular in the Soviet army, was not in favor of the advancing forces. This area is a mixture of hills, mountains and valleys connecting them, all of which are in favor of the defending side.

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