Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Southern Europe (CINC-SOUTH) Admiral James Busey USN, spent an inordinate amount of time on 6 July on the telephone with Norfolk attempting to pry an aircraft carrier away from SACLANT for the Mediterranean. The US Sixth Fleet only had one carrier in the Mediterranean at present with the Saratoga. Constellation was supposed to be coming up from the Arabian Sea but that had not happened yet. Chopping her to Sixth Fleet was fast becoming an exercise in futility. Seventh Fleet was complaining loudly that such a move would leave Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean would be naked of carrier support. Busey knew that was true, yet, he was also aware that Seventh Fleet could transfer one of its other carriers to fill the void if necessary.
SACLANT was unable to help. His own cupboard was bare at the moment. The carriers in the Atlantic were going to be needed there. Moving one of them east to the augment AFSOUTH was out of the question. Yard workers in Norfolk were hustling to put the carriers there for overhaul back together and ready for sea as fast as possible. Another week was going to be needed before one of those decks became available and even then, there was no guarantee one was going to be sent Busey’s way anyhow.
As it stood for the time being, 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 had two, but the air wing aboard Clemeneau was nowhere near as powerful as the one on the US flattop. AFSOUTH’s first objective at sea once the shooting started would be to take control of the Eastern Med and prevent it from becoming 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. Carriers were the centerpiece of those plans.
Busey envied his AFNORTH counterpart. NATO’s Northern Flank had a laundry list of reinforcement units from outside the theater already packing and preparing to move. AFSOUTH and NATO’s vulnerable Southern Flank lacked much of the pre-positioned equipment, and specifically assigned units AFNORTH had. His own reinforcements would be more of a scratch force dependent upon what was available and what the situation was at a given moment.
His intelligence staff was working feverishly to develop a revised picture of what the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies might do in Southern Europe and the Med if war came. There were strong indications of a major build up of forces taking place in Buglaria. That suggested a potential Soviet/WP swoop into Thrace to secure the Dardanelles and 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 early also was positioned high on Busey’s priority list. The two nations were bitter enemies as well as NATO allies. Their tense relationship nearly led to open war back in March when the Greeks began exploring for oil in disputed waters. How well they would function together now was anyone’s guess.
The threat he was concerned with, however, 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 battle group 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?”
“Afternoon, sir. What can I do for you?” Busey was immediately alert.
“I’ll make it fast. Peter Carington is releasing 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 laughed softly. “It’s only a formality at this point, really. But I thought you should know.”
“I appreciate it, sir. Since I have you on the line, is there anything else going on 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 thirty seconds crafting his reply and then spoke. “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.”