- Kriegsschauplatz Deutschland: Erfahrungen und Erkenntnisse eines NVA-Offiziers by Siegfried Lautsch
What does the North Vietnamese Army have to do with a battlefield in Germany? Nothing, of course, though “NVA” is also the acronym for the National People’s Army of the former socialist state in East Germany. This point of linguistic confusion may be of minor importance, but it does touch on the crux of this book, which is nothing less than the first detailed description of actual operational plans drafted for the Warsaw Pact. Unfortunately, it is available only in German. This is why many potential readers will likely avoid it and will thus be deprived of its plethora of interesting maps, tables, and charts. Even so, readers with an affection for the military history of the Cold War will now ask themselves where this material and the plans actually come from. They come from Siegfried Lautsch himself: Until 1990, Lautsch was a coronel in the East German NVA and thereafter until his retirement a lieutenant-coronel in the Bundeswehr. As an East German officer he studied at the famous Frunse Military-Academy in Moscow, and in the mid-1980s he drafted the operational plans for the 5th East German Army. Side-by-side with its Soviet pendant, the 3rd Guard Tank Army, this unit was meant to storm across the northern German plains to the Dutch border and beyond, to the coastline of the North Sea and down into France. The 5th East German Army would have faced in all probability a combined Danish-West [End Page 268] German corps, the 1st Dutch Army Corps, the 3rd U.S. Army Corps, and parts of the 2nd British Army Corps. Hence, Lautsch’s recollections are of direct relevance to many countries and individuals involved in the conflict between East and West, not just on the Warsaw Pact side. Until now, the global audience interested in operational planning within the Eastern bloc was forced either to try to deduct operational goals and doctrine from material on Warsaw Pact maneuvers or to try gleaning operational “truth” from memoirs and oral history collections. The reason for this lies in the archival situation in the former Pact member states. At the end of the Cold War, Soviet and then Russian authorities negotiated deals for withdrawal that included all operational plans to be handed to Moscow (material related to mere maneuvers remained in the respective national archives). Most of the newly formed governments in these years were all too happy to agree to these provisions, which seemed a fair price for independence and freedom in the wake of the withdrawal of Soviet forces.
Since then, however, the operational plans of the Warsaw Pact have remained a well-guarded secret in the Russian archives. Additionally, little light has been shed on this important segment of the Cold War as the small number of military planners from within the former Warsaw Pact have by and large stuck to their oath of silence. With his book, Lautsch has broken the silence at least with regard to one sector of the prospective front—and not an unimportant sector at that. On behalf of the Center for Military History and Social Sciences of the German Armed Forces, Lautsch has reconstructed three operational plans from 1983, 1985, and 1988. Although this reconstruction-by-recollection might not uphold acknowledged historiographical standards, a letter from the former head of operational planning of the Soviet 20th Army confirms that these reconstructed plans correspond with the Soviet specifications at the time.
The plan developed by Lautsch in 1983 seems to confirm both the offensive tank-centered doctrine of the Warsaw Pact and the preparations made by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) to withstand it. Like many war games and operational plans in the preceding decades, this operational blueprint foresaw the 5th Army advancing through northern Germany to the Dutch border within seven days—from the Elbe River via Hanover and Osnabruck to Enschede and Bocholt and on to Brussels and...