For the Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Southern Europe (CINC-SOUTH) Admiral James Busey USN, the bulk of 6 July was spent on the telephone with Norfolk attempting to pry an aircraft carrier away from SACLANT for use in the Mediterranean theater. As it stood, the Sixth Fleet had only one carrier in the Mediterranean at present with the Saratoga. Constellation was supposed to have steamed up from the Arabian Sea and made the transit through the Suez Canal but hadn’t yet. Chopping that carrier group to Sixth Fleet was transforming into a formidable task. Seventh Fleet was complaining loudly that the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean would be naked of carrier support. Busey knew that was true, however, he was also aware that Seventh Fleet could afford to transfer one of its other carriers to fill the void if necessary.
SACLANT was sympathetic, but his cupboard was bare at the moment. The carriers in the Atlantic were going to be needed there, so he was reluctant to even consider moving one of them east to the Sixth Fleet and AFSOUTH’s AOR. Yard workers in Norfolk were hustling to put the carriers there for overhaul back together and ready for sea as quickly as possible. It would be another week at the earliest before one of those decks became available and there was no guarantee that it would wind up being sent his way anyhow.
So, as it stood, CINC-SOUTH had two traditional carriers available in the Mediterranean: Sara, and the French carrier Clemenceau. Doctrine called for at least three carriers (two of them at least being US) to fight and survive in the Eastern Med. Busey now had two, but the air wing aboard Clemeneau was nowhere near as powerful as the one on the US flattop. AFSOUTH’s main wartime mission at sea was to retain control of the Eastern Med and prevent it from turning into a Soviet lake. To do this, Busey’s command had developed a maritime strategy revolving around using the US Sixth Fleet and accompanying NATO units aggressively right from the start of hostilities.
Busey envied his AFNORTH counterpart somewhat. NATO’s Northern Flank had a laundry list of reinforcements from outside the theater already packing and preparing to move. AFSOUTH and NATO’s vulnerable southern flank lacked the pre-positioned equipment and specifically assigned units AFNORTH had. His reinforcements would be more of a scratch force depending on what was available and the situation at a given moment.
His intelligence staff was working feverishly to develop a picture of what the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies might do in Southern Europe and the Med if war began. There were strong indications of a major build up going on in Buglaria, indicating a potential Soviet/WP plan to move into Thrace to cut off Turkey from the rest of Europe. The consequences of a successful Thrace offensive were almost too dire to contemplate. Therefore, keeping both Turkey and Greece from being driven out of the war also was positioned high on Busey’s priority list. The two nations were bitter enemies as well as NATO allies. The tense relationship nearly led to open war between the two back in March when the Greeks began exploring for oil in disputed waters. How well they would function together now was anybody’s guess.
The primary threat he was concerned with was that posed by Soviet Long Range Aviation, Naval Aviation and tactical air. From bases on the Black Sea coastline, Backfires and Badgers would waste little time in streaming down across Turkey to attack his ships in the Eastern Med. Satellite photos also indicated that Soviet aircraft were arriving in Bulgaria, and Syria. If the Turkish and Hellenic air forces were not up to the challenge of stopping these attacks, or at least inflicting moderate casualties, Saratoga’s battlegroup and air wing were going to have an exciting, and likely short life if the shooting started.
As late afternoon turned to early evening in Naples, Admiral Busey was contemplating a quick meal when the phone on his desk rang. He lifted it up.
“Jim?” The voice on the other end belonged to SACEUR in Brussels. “Sorry to bother you. Have you got a second?”
“Evening, sir. What can I do for you?” Busey was immediately on guard.
“I’ll be brief. Peter Carington is making a statement within the hour.” Carington was the NATO secretary general. “He is going to publicly announce that NATO is officially mobilizing.”
“God,” Busey breathed. “What took him so long?”
“I know,” General John Galvin chuckled. “Just a formality at this point, really. But I thought you should know.”
“Thank you, sir. I appreciate it. Since I have you on the line, is there anything new happening anywhere that I should be aware of?” The direct line from Brussels to Busey’s office was one of the most secure telephone lines in the world.
SACEUR was quiet for a long moment before responding, “The diplomatic efforts have shut down almost entirely. No progress was being made anyhow. Ready your command for action, Jim,” Galvin spoke slow and deliberately. “I’m guessing we have maybe forty-eight hours of peace left if we’re lucky.”