The Southern Flank: D+0 (9 July, 1987) 0400-0600**


Hostilities in Southern Europe and the Mediterranean began at 0400 CEST. The first clash between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces came in the southwest corner of the Black Sea off the Bulgarian coast. A combined force of Hellenic and Turkish navy fast attack craft was covering minelaying operations off Limankoy when they were attacked by Soviet and Bulgarian fast attack craft. The engagement was short, violent, and bloody. Four NATO ships were sunk and an additional three damaged to varying extents. Out of eight Soviet and Bulgarian ships only two survived the engagement intact.

As dawn approached, general war came to Europe. Immediately, AFSOUTH headquarters started to receive reports of contact between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces, as well as unusual activities across the theater. Turkish and Russian fighters were engaging each other over the Black Sea. A Greek destroyer struck a mine and sunk in Souda Bay with heavy loss of life, confirming an earlier suspicion that Soviet submarines had been active sewing mines around NATO’s Mediterranean ports the previous day. Spetsnaz teams had been positioned in theater during the build up to hostilities, and this morning they struck targets around Southern Europe almost in unison. Although the number of teams in this theater was far less than those in action on the Central Front, the Spetsnaz teams nevertheless made their presence felt. Airfields, ports, and communications centers from the southeastern Turkey to Spain were struck. The larger US airbases in the region were given particular attention. Torrejon, Aviano, and Sigonella were all attacked by large contingents of Spetsnaz commandos. Each one of these raids were defeated by USAF security personnel, but not before damage was inflicted on base facilities, aircraft, and infrastructures. At Sigonella, six P-3C Orions were destroyed on the flight line by plastique explosives planted by Soviet commandos.  The raid on Torrejon failed to destroy any of the F-16 fighters based there. However, a number of USAF pilots belonging to the 613th TFS were killed when a well-placed mortar round landed on their squadron headquarters building. Despite of the damage done, the commando raids failed to disrupt the airbases enough to significantly affect air operations in the Mediterranean, and Southern Europe.

AFSOUTH had three preliminary wartime objectives: The prompt destruction of deployed Soviet naval forces in the Mediterranean, provide support to NATO’s Southern Flank if attacked, and lay the foundation for future air and cruise missile strikes against Soviet ports and airbases on the Black Sea coast, and Crimea.

Aircraft carriers were necessary to achieve the first objective. On the morning of 9 July, NATO only had two carriers available in the Med. Saratoga was west of Crete and Clemenceau positioned south of Turkey. AFSOUTH had managed to finally obtain the Constellation and she was expected to transit the Suez by the evening. The Soviet 5th Eskadra had two surface action groups (SAG) in the Eastern Med, one centered on a Slava class cruiser, the other on a Moskva class cruiser. Father west, a smaller SAG was  in the Gulf of Sidra. The Soviet groups were far enough away from NATO carrier groups that they were not going to pose an immediate threat. Submarines and bombers, on the other hand, were an entirely different matter.

Upon receiving the news that war was underway,  the NATO carrier groups in the Mediterranean immediately sank the Soviet AGI trawlers that had been shadowing them. An Il-38 May maritime patrol aircraft operating relatively close to Clemenceau was shot down by French F-8s. These actions might seem minor in retrospect, but they helped to set the stage for the naval engagements later in the morning that would become known as the ‘Great Eastarn Med Shootout.’ The Russians had a good idea of the general areas where NATO’s carriers were operating. NATO in turn, was relatively certain of where the 5th Eskadra’s SAGs were. On both sides, pilots were briefed, and aircraft prepared and armed for action.  At 0600 NATO fighters and strike aircraft were screaming off the catapults aboard Saratoga and Clemenceau, while Soviet Backfire bombers and support aircraft were departing from Latakia, Syria and bases on the Black Sea.

The stage was set for an explosive morning in the Mediterranean.






2 Replies to “The Southern Flank: D+0 (9 July, 1987) 0400-0600**”

  1. I’m sensing that Nato are going to lose a carrier or two here. But those Soviet surface ships in the Med are also toast in the face of too much naval-aviation/land-based air.

    Liked by 1 person

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