The North Atlantic D+1 (10 July, 1987) Part II


Deployment and preparation of the forces dedicated to defense of the GIUK gap continued through the afternoon and into the evening of 10 July. US Orions from Iceland and RAF Nimrods out of Scotland had already been patrolling non-stop since the start of hostilities and had scored a respectable number of kills already. The tempo of these operations was increasing as much as time and available resources would allow.  By mid-afternoon, the US Navy had additional P-3s operating out of Greenland to support the convoys, as well as GIUK operations, and more aircraft were scheduled to arrive at Keflavik within twelve hours. The RAF was working to free up more Nimrods for the North Atlantic. However, availability and commitments in other areas were likely going to keep the current numbers unchanged for at least the coming twenty four hours. To make up for any shortfall of maritime patrol aircraft in Scotland, the Invincible group and STANAVFORLANT were moving to support the Faroes-Shetlands gap. Defensive minefields had been laid in the same area in the days leading up to war. Now these were being reinforced and expanded at a rapid rate.

South of the Iceland-Faroes gap NATO was gathering  a formidable collection of ASW assets to backstop the Orions and Nimrods. Three nuclear powered attack submarines (two British and one American) were hurrying to take up positions to interdict the surge of Soviet subs heading towards the open waters of the North Atlantic. From US 2nd Fleet Task Group 24.3, an ASW surface group consisting of four frigates (two Knox, and two short-hulled Perry class)  and two destroyers (both Spruances) had formed and was moving towards the gap. 2nd Fleet was hoping to have a second ASW task group formed and positioned in near the Denmark Straits by this point as well, but with the convoys desperately needing every available escort ship it had not happened. For now the Denmark Straits would be defended solely by US Navy P-3s.

The SOSUS system hydrophones planted on the floor of the Atlantic could not be expected to detect every single Russian sub heading south, though it was expected, by both sides, to pick up a large majority of them. Backing up SOSUS were two Stalwart class ocean-going surveillance ships fitted with the SURTASS system. The exact position of these ships during the war remains classified, though it is fair to deduce that both of these vessels were in the North Atlantic. Even the names of the Stalwart class ships that took place in North Atlantic operations during the war have not been made public yet. Various third party sources, however, believe Triumph and Assertive were the ships directly involved with GIUK operations at the time.

By early evening SOSUS control in Norfolk was becoming a busy place. Data from the ocean hydrophones, sonobuoys and SURTASS was streaming in via FLTSATCOM. As the data arrived it was fed into the computer for processing and once this was accomplished, the end product was analyzed by career ASW officers and senior chiefs. Contact and potential target tracks were plotted and monitored with the information going to an ASW battle staff. These were the men who were responsible for working up an overall defensive strategy, and vectoring NATO ASW forces towards their Soviet prey. By good fortune, the US Navy’s Fleet Satellite Communication system did not sustain damage from Soviet anti-satellite weaponry the previous day and was functioning perfectly.

As NATO ASW forces in the vicinity of the GIUK line were going into overdrive, word of a possible downbound Backfire raid over northern Norway reached SACLANT. From the information provided by AFNORTH, Iceland looked to be the most likely target. The E-3 Sentry patrolling over central Iceland was ordered to a position farther north in the hopes of its powerful radar detecting signs of the Backfires over the Norwegian Sea. The four ship flight of F-15C Eagles on CAP at the time were sent to refuel from orbiting KC-135 tankers over Hellissandur. A second flight of fighters was launched from Keflavik and the remaining Eagles there were quickly being prepared for action if the Backfires were actually heading for Iceland.

Twenty minutes later, the AWACS detected the first radar signatures denoting a possible large group of contacts just east of Jan Mayen on a southwestern heading.


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