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Refight of Fulda Gap
M1A1 Abrams Overview

Easter, April 9th 2004, Natcon Convention, St Patricks, Silverstream, Wellington, New Zealand:- Six people convene to refight the battle that never was: Fulda Gap.

In the early 1980's, NATO thinking revolved round the threat of a Warsaw Pact invasion of West Germany from the East. While such an attack never eventuated, it was certainly a possibility. The USSR had attempted to overwhelm West Berlin in 1948 by closing the overland route to the city. The city was supplied by air from June 1948 to September 1949, at which time the blockade was abandoned. In 1956 Hungary attempted to leave the Warsaw Pact, and in response the USSR invaded. This pattern was repeated in Czechoslovakia in 1968, during a political period known as the 'Prague Spring'.

Conventional thinking on the feared Soviet thrust into West Germany suggested the attack would occur suddenly, with as many as nine Warsaw Pact Armies invading West Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark simultaneously. Soviet air assets would be expected to gain air superiority, and the use of chemical weapons was expected.
In the north, Russian forces were expected to occupy Hamburg, Hanover and Bremen, before pushing through to Denmark and the Netherlands, and pressing through the Teutoberger Wald towards the Rhine.
In the south, troops in Czechslovakia were expected to advance and occupy Munich and Stuttgart.
In the centre, Warsaw Pact forces were expected to press through the physical barrier of the Thuringen Wald from the area east of Kassel via the Fulda Gap - a low area cut by the Fulda River - and press on to the Rhine River and occupy Frankfurt.

Location of the Fifth Corps map is shown. Direction of Soviet attack is marked with red arrow. Orientation of Fifth Corps map is NE to SW. Click on this image to enlarge (Warning: this image is large!)

The refight of this famous battle was performed over a period of three days. Strategic movement of forces was performed on the map from the game "Fifth Corps" (manufactured by SPI games), with each map turn equalling twelve hours. When forces met on the map, the conflict was resolved using the boardgame rules, or, if the engagement looked interesting, it was transferred to the wargaming table and fought there, using the Modern Spearhead Rules. Many of the boardgame rules (particularly stacking limitations!) were ignored. Figures were from the collection of Rhys Batchelor.

The Battlefield

The region round Fulda is chacterised by deeply scoured glacial valleys, separated by steep sided hills topped by forests. The valleys often have a stream or river running through them, and frequently a road as well. Where valleys meet, roads intersect, and there is normally a village or town at the junction. In modern warfare, urban areas are the graveyard of armoured formations, and are to be avoided at all costs.
Overall, the terrain round Fulda consists of impassible hillsides, wooded hilltops (often with fire breaks through them), narrow valleys with frequent bridges and river crossings, and with many urban areas to plug exits to the maze. It is not good terrain to attack.

Fifth Corps Map. Kassel and the Soviet start line at the bottom of the map (NW), Frankfurt and the Rhine River at the top (SE). Click on this image to enlarge (Warning: this image is large!)

As a consequence, the US and West German forces in the area are likely to defend by holding road junctions, urban areas, and stationing armour on the hilltops. Soviet doctrine would lead to combined arm assaults, the frequent use of chemical weapons on built up areas, and attempts to bypass NATO roadblocks wherever possible.

The Forces Engaged

In the scenario played, the Soviet forces consisted of elements of the 8th Guards Army, and the 1st Guards Tank Army: 7th Guards Division, 20th Guards Division, 39th Guards Division, 57th Guards Division, 79th Guards Division, 9th Mechanised Division, Army level artillery, attack helicopter and engineering assets, and the 103rd Airborne Armoured Division.

The NATO forces consisted of elements of the US Fifth Corps and the West German Third Corps, primarily the US 3rd Armoured Division, US 4th Mechanised Division, US 11th Cavalry, the West German 2nd Jaeger (Light) Division and the 5th Panzer (Tank) Division.

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