Strategic Considerations: Red Banner Northern Fleet, D-1 (8 July, 1987) **


Commander of the Soviet Red Banner Northern Fleet Admiral Ivan Matveyevich Kapitanets looked down at the stack of yellow message forms on his desk and shook his head tiredly. He was already aware of the disappointing news they contained. Each message was a report detailing the position, speed, and course of a ship under his command as of one hour ago. His operations chief had delivered a summary of those reports fifteen minutes earlier. To put it bluntly, the Northern Fleet’s pre-war timeline lay in shambles.

The majority of Kapitanets’ attack submarines positioned at least a full day north of where they should have been by this point. His largest, and most powerful surface groups were supposed to be steaming south and entering the Norwegian Sea at this very moment. Unfortunately, the ships were still only now beginning to leave their ports now. They would not be in position to open hostilities as per the fleet battle plan until H+12 hours at the earliest. This particular setback was going to cause the most havoc with the Northwestern Theater of Operations timelines and plans, but there was nothing Kapitanets could do about it.

The fleet had sortied much later than he expected. Doctrine called for the Red Banner Northern Fleet to sortie seven to eight days prior to the outbreak of fighting. Because of vacillating on the part of Moscow, Kapitanents could not surge his forces as fast as they wanted to.  The commanders of the Baltic, Black Sea, and Pacific fleets faced similar problems. The delay would adversely affect his fleet more than the others though, owing to distances between the main fleet bases on the Kola Peninsula and the Norwegian Sea, and North Atlantic. His attack submarines had gotten off at a moderate pace instead of the single, massive surge that Soviet war-at-sea doctrine had also called for.

Luckily, his NATO and US Navy opponents were responding  just as badly. This afforded Kapitanets much-needed additional time to move his assets into position. Even though a number of subs were already in position, his main sub force had would not be in position in the North Atlantic for some days. The first NATO convoys bound for Europe would not be in range his bombers for at least three days. The convoys carrying reinforcements into the Norwegian Sea were to be struck as they came into range of his air and sea forces. The admiral also wondered if the reports about the vaunted US aircraft carriers were true as well. Intelligence estimated it would be at least ten days before enough carriers were massed together for a move into the Norwegian Sea. By that time, even after contending with early setbacks, the Red Banner Northern Fleet would be ready to do battle with them.

There were  strategic issues to contend with too, of course. Foremost was Moscow’s decree keeping all Soviet ballistic missile submarines in port for the time being. The Kremlin appeared reluctant to make any moves that might be considered as signs of escalation by the United States. Kapitanets understood the reasoning by his political masters. Unfortunately, they did not sympathize with the problems this decision had on his fleet and its war plans. The Americans would be gunning for his ballistic missile submarines as soon as they left port. He’d intended to place them in a bastion, defended by an impenetrable wall of submarines, ASW forces, and aircraft as protection. By rights, his fleet’s ballistic missile subs should be under guard in the White Sea and beneath the ice pack right now. As it was, Moscow’s orders meant they would remain in port for the time being. As long as they stayed there, a sizable portion of his ASW units, and even some attack submarines did too.

Looking out of the large window in his Severomorsk office, Kapitanents considered just about how dependent his command would be on air power, especially in the opening days. Success or failure of the entire Norwegian Sea/North Atlantic campaign might very well be determined by the heavy bombers of Naval Aviation, and their Long Range Aviation comrades. He was intimately familiar with what advantages land-based airpower brought to the table, but having to rely so heavily on it went against his very nature. It was a necessary evil, he decided, and one he could support for the moment. Forty-eight hours from now, however,  if northern Norway and Iceland were not pacified, Kapitanets take on air power could be entirely different.



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