The Central Front: D+0 (9 July, 1987) 0545-0800**


The first wave of Soviet and Warsaw Pact aircraft launched against targets in West Germany, and the Low Countries was mainly consisted of anti-radiation missile-armed MiG-27 Floggers, and Su-17 Fitters weighed down with gravity bombs. Overhead, a regiment of MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters flew cover on the strike force. Fifty miles east of the border, offensive jammers were going to work degrading NATO’s line of ground based radars closest to the border. The jamming, however, did not have the desired effect on the NATO and USAF E-3 Sentries orbiting over the far western fringes of the Federal Republic. Operators on board these aircraft vectored defending fighters towards the inbound bandits. The coordination was excellent, to the point that some NATO aircraft actually began engaging their Warsaw Pact counterparts on the eastern side of the border!

The first wave’s target concentration was air defense: ground based radars,  sector air defense centers, and SAM batteries. Their goal was to disrupt NATO’s forward air defenses and open the door for follow-on waves of WP combat aircraft to hit airbases and command posts without significant resistance from enemy air defenses. Upon crossing the border they broke formation and flew towards their individual targets, in many cases with NATO fighters actively pursuing them. The Fulcrums had done an admirable job defending their charges, but the advanced fighters couldn’t be everywhere at once. Some of the Soviet attack pilots found themselves being bounced by F-15s or Tornadoes when they were still a long way away from their targets. The choice they had was simple: press on towards the target and hope they could release their weapons before being shot down, or jettison their bomb loads now and evade. Some chose properly  and lived to fight another while their comrades made the wrong selection and paid the ultimate price.

The air battle over the central front on 9 July would eventually grow to include hundreds of aircraft of various types and expand from the airspace over East Germany to the Low Countries. Many NATO radar stations and SAM sites received at least some damage, and others were knocked out entirely. Yet the air defense system as a whole held together. By 0700 as the second and third waves of Soviet/WP warplanes crossed the border, the focus of the air attacks was shifting from air defense sites to airbases in the 2nd ATAF (Allied Tactical Air Force) region. By afternoon, airbases in the heavily defended 4th ATAF region were also being targeted. The first day’s air actions will be discussed and analyzed in future posts, however, when all was said and done, the day did not go the way 16th Air Army’s commanders and planners intended for it to go.


MiGs and Sukhois were not the only Soviet aircraft in action that morning. As the air offensive commenced, large formations of attack and transport helicopters carrying airmobile troops crossed the border. Soviet airmobile forces were highly regarded by NATO and their use early on in the conflict was anticipated. In this case, the Soviets did not disappoint. Airmobile company-sized units had been assigned to hit a wide variety of targets in NATO’s rear area this morning ranging from headquarters to crossroads. A handful of battalions were also going into action as whole units. Their use was restricted for the most crucial targets: bridges spanning the Weser River and parts of the Kiel Canal.

Simply transporting the heliborne troops to their intended targets was hazardous enough. NATO fighters, when able to, engaged and tore into some formations, destroying a large number of Hip transport helicopters. Ground fire also became a great peril the farther west the helicopters traveled. Many of the targets being struck had air defenses of some sort. Cumbersome transport helicopters had to dodge anti-aircraft fire and handheld surface-to-air missiles as they approached their targets. Accompanying Mi-24 Hinds helped to suppress some of the defensive fire, but not all of it. More casualties were inflicted.

From 0630 through 0730 Soviet airmobile forces made landings at 20 separate locations from the West German-Danish border south to VII Corps staging areas in Bavaria. In spite of losses endured, the attacks on the Kiel Canal and bridges spanning the Weser River, and crossroads between Kassel and Hanover were successful. Resistance on the ground was light, surprise was gained, and the objectives taken. Attacks on more heavier defended locations fared differently for the most part, especially headquarters sites.

Much like the air battle, chaos and confusion reigned supreme around the airmobile strikes. Neither NATO or Soviet higher headquarters had a clear picture of what was really happening for some hours. Communications had gone silent on both sides in many instances. The first sign of Soviet airmobile troops on the ground in some areas was when civilian cars or an approaching supply convoy was attacked in an area supposedly protected by NATO troops.

By 0745 the attention of NATO and Warsaw Pact general officers shifted again to the big picture. The main Soviet/WP was just fifteen minutes from jumping off.  Preparatory artillery strikes were beginning. Reports were sent up the NATO chain of command  and it rapidly became apparent what going on.

The battle for Western Europe was about to begin in earnest.







2 Replies to “The Central Front: D+0 (9 July, 1987) 0545-0800**”

  1. Attack helicopters are very vulnerable to even light fighters with agility and a reasonable weapons load. Suicide mission to fly into a hostile air environment

    Liked by 1 person

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