Hostilities between NATO and the Warsaw Pact began at 0103 hours Central European Summer Time (Zulu +2) on 9 July, 1987. For a war that would spread around the world in a matter of days and involve millions, the opening clashes between the combatants were largely limited affairs. The first shots rang out in West Germany, just inside the perimeter of the NATO airbase at Gielenkirchen. KGB-trained saboteurs attempting to gain entry to the base were discovered and engaged by NATO security troops. Their effort to penetrate the base failed, resulting in the deaths of all seven saboteurs. After the war, it would be learned that this particular group began its operation twenty-seven minutes ahead of schedule. The initial wave of Soviet Spetznaz, airmobile, and saboteur attacks against targets around Western Europe was not supposed to commence until 0130 CEST.
As it was, the premature attack gave NATO valuable time to get the warning out and bring its installations and security forces to a higher state of readiness before the initial wave of attacks came. Some bases, which might not have been ready otherwise, were. The extent of the attacks and the results will be explored and discussed in later posts. Suffice to say, the opening hours of hostilities were defined by explosions, helicopter landings, and small unit actions across West Germany, Denmark, the Low Countries, and even the United Kingdom and Norway to an extent. Before the first Soviet tanks had even crossed the Inner-German Border the Third World War was already underway in many locations.
At sea, the first contact between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces came in the Barents Sea at 0219 hours local time. Soviet and Norwegian fast attack craft clashed in the North Cape area. The first casualties of the war at sea were the Norwegian Storm-class patrol boat Brask and a Soviet Nanuchka class patrol boat. Fighting around the North Cape continued through the early morning hours as a running battle developed between units of the Royal Norwegian Navy and Soviet Red Banner Northern Fleet.
In the North Atlantic, Soviet submarines drew first blood by sinking a pair of merchant ships northwest of the Azores. The Foxtrot class diesel submarine responsible for one of the attacks escaped the area, only to be discovered and sunk by US Navy P-3 Orions operating from Lajes later that day. The identity of the submarine which attacked the second vessel has never been determined.
The Mediterranean and Black Sea remained quiet until right before dawn when fast attack craft of the Soviet navy made contact with elements of the Greek and Turkish navies in the Black Sea. The rest of NATO’s Southern Flank remained precariously quiet in those first few hours of hostilities. It was not destined to last longer than that though.
As the sun rose lazily into the morning sky, the storm was breaking across Europe and the Mediterranean.