Return to Hidden Stories

  Shared Dreams of Other Men

Can you still fight your initial GDP position in the squadron sector? Without doubt, your walked the terrain, did the map studies and the sand table exercise countless times. You may have formally briefed the battle to your boss or explained it to your crew at the Snack Bar over a burger using the salt and pepper shakers as the scout and ITV team. It doesn't matter whether you were in an M41 or M3, chances are you were much younger, probably had more hair and a few less pounds and, in classic armored cavalry tradition while on a training exercise, you leaned forward in the open hatch, looked down at the map and overlay, looked north across the German terrain, the rolling farm land, the red tile roofs, the darting tree lines and exclaimed in a barely audible voice, " ... what the f....?!".
  Map Sheet: Fladungen
Seen here in 1 / 100 000 scale, the area between Ober Fladungen and Sondheim that was much considered in Eaglehorse GDP planning in the 1970s and 1980s.  The border between the DDR and the FRG is the red hatch line running southeast to northwest.  In my recollection, the three cavalry troops were deployed close to the border, Volkershausen to Ober Fladungen with H Company in the vicinity of Hausen  and HOW located by Roth, due west of Stetten. 

Your scope of concern may have been a single vehicle in a fighting position, a platoon spread out over several kilometers, a troop in wide zone or perhaps the whole squadron. In your mind, all those grease pencil marks on the map, that calm German terrain, all that training and everything you had ever seen or done in the Army, your commander's guidance and your gunner's skill had to come together at, (choose the range to fit your years) 1000 meters, 1800 meters, 3200 meters and somehow put hot US steel on cold Soviet steel.

The mandatory semi annual terrain walk of the GDP. On a peaceful afternoon you would look at the map, look at the German cows grazing, the local bus snaking north on Road # 285 towards Fladungen / Ober Fladungen, watch the sun catch the gold crosses on the steeples while the horizon lay dark and heavy with coming rain, close your eyes, squeeze them shut, clear your mind and visualize how ... to ... do ... this ... job. In the soul of a soldier, past the leader, past the organizer, past the killer and past the praying supplicant, you must visualize the battle before it happens; at the heart, you must at least in some small but important part, be ... a ... dreamer.

Words not Deeds:

First Battle of the Next War

Over the years, while you were pondering the closing speed of a Soviet recon company, those troublesome wood lines around Stettin and Hausen and whether you could get off two accurate shots before dashing to the next battle position, a surprising number of authors were pounding the keyboards to answer those very questions ... and they got paid for it. On the non fiction side, nothing beats Sir John Hackett's, The Third World War, and almost everyone has read at least one Tom Clancy novel but there were others works as well. Here, a selection of where the First Battle of the Next War slipped out of your "battle book" crawled into print and found its way to a used book store near you. This is by no means an inclusive survey on the topic, but it's fun to see where the "shoot out at Schluctern" still turns up.

  Armor at Fulda Gap
John L. Cook
Avon Books
July 1990
ISBN: 0 380 75843 1

This "graphic novel" of 220 pages is basically a comic book brought to life. On the "how long would it take me to read this in the Cleveland Airport" meter, this one rates as a fifty-five minute layover between New York and Minneapolis. The book is heavily illustrated with photos, charts and diagrams harvested from seemingly every Armor Magazine, Janes Fighting Systems and Army Times printed during a five year span; the illustrations occupy over 55% of the available page space!

  Sample page showing Sov armored hover craft, Tom Swiftski Design Bureau, Moscow.  

The story of the desperate fight of the crews of Company D, 2-52 Armor, 3 AD unfolds at the speed of a sabot round, blood and steel are flying by page 57 and the battle never really lets up. For some unknown reason, the 11th ACR and the Eaglehorse have had their names changed although clearly the units fighting are in the V Corps covering force. (a criticism we note in all books we read on this topic) The men of Company D are on the forward edge attached to the "first squadron" and the action is tightly focused on just a few tank crews and the company tactical operations center. Don't look for foreshadowing, irony, plot twists or fully developed characters, this is fast and furious, red meat served quick. An enjoyable read but stand by to groan when seemingly every Tom Swift-Fort Knox Dream Book project ever postulated and then thrown in the trash winds up on active duty in the plot. Tracked re-supply vehicles driven by computers and operating without crews, automated anti-tank ambush devices and robotic "wing-tanks", battle along side M60A3s, M1 tanks and M2s. A few selections from this heady blend of fact and fantasy.

  Here is the map area where the battles in Armor at Fulda Gap occur.  

Page 57
(the world situation has already deteriorated, US forces are in the final hours of battle position prep, Company D is approximately 11 Ks NE of Fulda, in the rough terrain S of the German town of Mackenzell)

"The scars were of fresh obstacles surrounding Mittelashenbach as the combat engineers withdrew under the watchful eyes of the D Company sentries. Fighting berms for the tanks, newly cut from the dark forest soil, cast their long, eerie shadows through the trees."

"Daylight was just beginning to cut through the cold, penetrating drizzle as SP4 Martinez returned to his camouflaged and dug in M1A3. He had just spent the last three hours guarding the M35 mine field to the south of his platoon's position. ... The Cav took their job much more seriously than the battalion and had forced the D Company tankers to work two straight nights-all night-to strengthen their positions."

A few pages later ... you know what happens ...

"It wasn't trains he heard, it was massed Soviet artillery. Martinez never saw the BR-472 armor piercing high explosive projectile that blasted Sergeant Tom Jenkins. It was the first of 500 to slam into his platoon positions in the next five minutes. The red, white and black flashes of the explosions blasted D 33. The tank rocked ..."

"The 7th Guards Tank Division led the assault. Close behind the barrage came the two lead regiments of Soviet T 90 battle tanks, buttoned down and blazing away with their auto loading 125mm main guns. They and the new infantry assault hover craft were the best the Soviets had in their inventory."

By page 79, Troop A is in a desperate fight ... so much for the "run and gun" delay mission ...

"By 1000, the Soviets breached the main belt of obstacles and were forcing the squadron to pull back from its initial screening positions overlooking the north-south road between Haselstein and Morles. The southern Soviet regiment had almost destroyed Troop A, but the troop commander had escaped the trap by sacrificing his wing tanks in a delaying action. The wing tanks, operating in the totally automatic mode, fired at anything that moved and created a feint toward the north. When they ran out of ammunition, they were easily destroyed, but not before they killed twenty Soviet tanks, infantry carriers and air defense systems."

A night time lull in the battle, page 104 ...

"Derick (XO Company D inside the TOC) ' A lot of good men died today, ' he said flatly. ' I think that's the hardest part; knowing that I had to order men to die today. I just can't believe the destruction we saw today. Bodies blown all over the insides of vehicles. Men screaming and dying. Vehicles exploding in front of me. Killing the enemy, I know I killed some but not how many.' He sat down on a stool, the weight of the day's combat taking its toll at last. ' But the men fought well, I'm damn proud of them.'"

By page 126, the Soviet attack has lost momentum and ...

"The darkness of the night hid the exhaustion and terror of Soviet survivors resting on the ground. Astute commanders attempted to reroute convoys around the worst of the devastation to spare the fresh, young soldiers of the second echelon division from the human wreckage that covered parts of the day's battlefield. After all, how could an eighteen or nineteen year old soldier even begin to comprehend that over 6000 men lay dead in a 25 mile square box and that it took only 25 hours to turn pristine German countryside into a horrible wasteland of gray smoke, fire and the putrid smell of death?"

We start kicking ass again on page 142 (and they are about ready to board that flight to Minneapolis) ...

"Inside his tank, Harris acquired moving targets with the CITV and the fire control computer memorized their positions. Then Harris punched his ' go' button that fed the target to Martinez tracking system. Martinez acquired the same target, the computer automatically applied the lead and he fired. The target was destroy. Martinez punched the button on his left cadillac. Control of the gun was transferred to the tracking computer and it locked onto the next target. Martinez applied final small adjustments, then fired. The main gun recoiled as the round blasted downrange at super high velocity."

The killing finally stops on page 220, the smoke clears and the dust settles, we win and I look for my briefcase.

Ian Slater
Fawcett Books
ISBN: 0 449 14562

On the airport layover- meter, Ian Slater, provides sufficient words to accommodate a full aircraft engine change while trapped in Kansas City enroute to Los Angeles, or, if the blizzard that threatens to end humanity as we know it ever strikes and you're trapped for a week, you can read the entire eight book WWIII set while living on airport vending machine candy bars. Volume 1 checks in at 441 pages, the complete series is an astounding 3300 pages! I don't know if Mr. Slater was paid by the word or by the weight of the manuscripts.

Volume 1 of the set establishes the characters and story lines that then play out through the other novels. The scope is global as the story bounces from the President's War Room to the pitching deck of a destroyer to F16 dog fights to ground operations on the central German plain and in many respects this is Tom Clancy all over again. In Blackhorse territory briefly, the action at the Fulda Gap is used to tell the story of tank on tank combat, although the characters and the action here are not central to the plot. Slater leaves the dream weapons, techo-talk and diagrams of Cook behind; this is a standard pot boiler for guys, the North Koreans have trigged the war and it is breaking out at a global level ...

OP Alpha, First Squadron border observation post is overrun on page 191 and 192:

"At Alpha HQ the infantry troops had come through the door of the metal hut as if there were a fire, the lift-up counter slamming back, held down by the sergeant as he kept intoning, ' Let's go Let's go! ' The M1s were coughing, then there was a deep, throaty purr, surprisingly quiet to infantry used to the old M60 Pattons. No one questioned whether it was a drill or not. ... Outside as they moved beneath the pines into the Bradley armored personnel carriers, thirteen men apiece, the column started off for the trace near the tower."

"The East German fired back at Alpha's tower, but by then Meir and Malvinsky were halfway down the staircase and into the jeep, pulling back into the next position in the pines on their side of the strip. East German rockets missed the tower, crashing into the pines above them, setting the trees afire and throwing long shadows across the dugout. Mier fired three scarlet emergency flares."

Briefly back near Fulda on page 319 ...

"At the Fulda Gap, where the Russians had been unable to use their jellied gas bombs, the latest British Challengers, Leopard IIs and American M1s lasted much longer in battle where foam filled self sealing fuel tanks took many direct hits without bursting into flames. "

While it was a good read, it was not a great read and I only went as far as the first book in the series but if you are looking for a low cost way to take up a lot of time, plow in with Slater. Maybe the tank on tank stuff gets better in the later books.

  Team Yankee
Harold Coyle
ISBN: 0 89141 290 5

This is the pick of the litter so save it for the Friday flight back to your home city. Cell phone and lap top off and locked in their cases, maybe a beer or two if it fits in with the driving plan; if you were in the cavalry / armor anytime in the 1980s or 90s, you will recognize much in this book and checking in at 300 pages, it surprisingly can be done in one sitting. The tank action starts early and never quits. Written, at the time, by an active duty armor officer, it seems at times much less a novel and more the running account of a bad day at the NTC. The locations and units are fictionalized, no Fulda, no Hersfeld, not even a Schluctern but there are some simple maps to help you visualize the battle.

By page 45, all the key characters are introduced, primarily CPT Bannon, the officers and NCOs of Team Yankee, oil and the Middle East have stoked the fires for war and what is left of the armored cavalry (unnamed) is streaming out of the covering force area.

"The cavalry had not lasted long as expected. The fresh battalions of the Soviet's second attacking echelon broke the worn and severely weakened cavalry like a twig. ... The passage was not the neat parade like processions practiced during training. Vehicles would come down singly, in pairs, sometimes in groups as large as fifteen. Some were dragging damaged vehicles. Some were limping or wobbling along like drunks, all showed signs of damage. Trucks had their canvas tops shredded. Tracked vehicles that had gear stowed on the outside now had it scrambled and tossed about on top, with articles of clothing hanging from the sides. There were even a couple of trucks running on their rims, unwilling or unable to stop to change tires."

A few pages later, steel on steel.

"Bannon popped his head up to get an overall picture of what was going on. Just as he did, the 33 tank fired a HEAT-T round at a BMP. He watched the tracer streak towards the target and impact with a bright orange flash and black ball of smoke. The BMP lurched forward another few meters then stopped, quivered, and began to burn. ... He watched as two BMPs, scrambling to avoid being hit, rammed each other and stopped. This calamity only made it easier for Team Yankee's gunners, and both BMPs died within seconds of each other, locked together. "

The battles rage back and forth, there is heroism and slaughter on both sides, now and then, the point of view changes to the Russian side. Page 241:

"Six kilometers to the east on the other side of the hill, a Soviet tank battalion commander was in the middle of a raging fit. As the lead tank of his second company raced along the narrow trails to catch up with the company already engaged, it had thrown a track making a sharp turn. Now it blocked the trail. ... Both the battalion commander and the political officer heard the report from the lead company that they were being engaged by American tanks in the flank, and the attack had to be broken off. The political officer leaned over and said ' Well, comrade, what are we going to do? The attack seems to be failing. '"

Some pages later ... the final battle is joined.

"Amidst the noise of the Soviet artillery fire, the US artillery delivered mines arrived almost unnoticed. That is, until Soviet tanks began to run over them. The Soviet officers knew about scatterable mines, and they knew their capabilities. There wasn't anything the Soviets didn't know about the American military. But to have knowledge about a weapon system does not always mean that you know what to do about it when you encounter that weapon. ... Tanks began to hit the mines and stop, as more tanks hit the mines, the other tanks began to slow down. ... the tank crews in Team Yankee began to engage the Soviet tanks in their assigned sectors of responsibility. Firing rapidly, the tanks began to methodically take out the Soviet tanks starting with those closest to the Team's positions. Above the din of battle the shouted orders of tank commanders could be heard: ' FIRE! ' ' GUNNER-SABOT-TWO TANKS-FIRE!! ' ' TARGET-NEXT TANK-FIRE!! ' ... Like a wolf smelling blood on a crippled and dying animal, the Scout Platoon swung around to the rear of the Soviet regiment and began to engage. The people who started the battle rushed forward as the battalion began the final stages of its killing frenzy."

By page 300, the Sovs sue for peace after a month long war and for Team Yankee, survival for some and medals for many. The novel ends in an odd scene. Back from the fight, CPT Bannon lets himself into his deserted and wrecked family quarters at his home barracks. His wife and kids have long ago been evacuated ... "Honey , I'm home ... did you pick up any beer?!".

Actually he doesn't say that ... but whether its been a long business trip or a brutal fight in the covering force area, once it's over, you know that's what's on your mind. Happy reading!!


Return to Hidden Stories