The North Atlantic: 10 July, 1987 Part III


Of the twenty Backfires that made up the Iceland strike group four were shot down by F-15s before reaching their launch points. A further three were destroyed  after launching their air-to-surface missiles. Another pair suffered battle damage but managed to return safely to their bases on the Kola Peninsula. Of the sixteen ASMs launched by the bombers, only four landed in the area around Keflavik’s runways, flight line and support facilities. A hangar was destroyed along with the P-3 it had housed, however the rest of the damage was mostly superficial. Air operations would continue undisturbed, and the lost aircraft was soon replaced by reserve Orion from NAS Brunswick.

The Soviets lost nearly half of their bomber force in return for causing less damage than the previous day’s raid had. For two straight days the bombers used similar attack profiles and tactics and had little to show for it aside from horrendous losses at the hands of Keflavik’s Eagles. New tactics had to be devised even quicker, the raid commander realized bitterly. Better yet, Iceland needed to be taken in order to be fully neutralized. Unbeknownst to him, that very argument was being made by senior officers in Severomorsk even before he landed.


There were four NATO convoys at sea at 0800 EDT. Another was expected to depart from Norfolk by dusk. After that there would be a twenty four hour pause as the second wave of convoys was formed and prepared for movement. The escorts and merchant ships that were to make up these convoys were still making their way to US east coast ports. SACLANT intended for the next convoys to be larger and better protected than those currently at sea. The almost instant transition from peacetime conditions to a period of heightened tension, and then war forced NATO to adopt a running start convoy strategy. Hostilities were underway and there was no time for a set piece plan to be devised and put in place. With fighting underway in Europe NATO forces there were in urgent need of reinforcement and resupply.

Convoy 27, the easternmost NATO convoy at sea, came under attack in the late morning. The convoy was 471 nautical miles northeast of Newfoundland and heading northeast at eighteen knots when a Charlie II class SSGN fired three SS-N-9 Siren anti-ship cruise missiles from a position twenty two miles northeast of the formation. All three missiles were intercepted by SAM-equipped escort ships and immediately ASW helicopters from the convoy, along with a land based P-3 began hunting for the sub. After two hours of unsuccessful searching the effort was called off. Later in the afternoon, a second Russian sub struck the convoy. Of four torpedoes launched only one found its mark, striking the Canadian destroyer HMCS Algonquin and sinking her. This time, the attacking sub, a Victor I, did not get away. ASW helicopters leapt into action once more and sent the Russian boat to the bottom of the Atlantic.

The other eastbound convoys remained untouched over the entire day, although a host of false contacts and unconfirmed reports of periscopes in the vicinities of convoy ships made matters interesting and tense. Westbound merchant ships and escorts sailing for their ports of embarkation on the eastern US coast found themselves contending with some enemy subs that were looking purely for targets of opportunity. An occasional torpedo was loosed or solitary cruise missile lofted and then the sub would run away. The Soviet intentions to keep their subs concealed until the main convoys entered the area was clear. Nevertheless, a handful of red boats did get lucky. Two NATO ships, a Greek merchant ship and Portuguese frigate were sunk, and a small number of allied ships suffered damage to one degree or another. One Soviet sub was killed three hundred miles northwest of the Azores. At the time it was believed to be a Foxtrot class sub, though records accessed after the war seem to indicate the stricken submarine was of the Tango class.


In the Western Atlantic, the second day of the war marked the end of a constant Soviet sub presence. Three submarines were destroyed within the space of ten hours. Two Yankee class ballistic missile boats were dispatched by US attack submarines shortly after 0200 hours. The USS Jack sank K-426 one hundred miles east of the Outer Banks, and the USS Tunny put two Mk-48 torpedoes into K-451 and sent her to the bottom one hundred and twenty nautical miles off of Gloucester, Massachusetts. The presence of the missile subs was no surprise to SACLANT and both were continuously tracked.  The delay in prosecuting them was the result of a debate in the White House. Some of President Reagan’s advisers were opposed to destroying strategic assets of the Soviet Union after the informal agreement on missile sub deployments was reached between Moscow and Washington. The close proximity of the Yankees to the US coast, however, and their ballistic missile armaments settled the debate. Reagan ordered them to be destroyed immediately and the US Navy obeyed this order with particular speed.

ASW efforts in the Western Atlantic continued. Close in to the coast the efforts were redoubled when a Kilo class submarine was caught laying mines off the Chesapeake Bay. P-3s were called in and made short work of the boat while mine countermeasure units were dispatched to clear the sea lanes. The possibility of a Soviet sub getting in close and launching a cruise missile attack on Norfolk or another east coast port was too alarming to discount. A respectable number of MPAs, frigates and destroyers, and ASW helicopters sanitized the coastal waters around the clock.

As the second day of the war ended in the North Atlantic, the attention of both sides was being focused on the waters in and around the GIUK gap. For the moment it appeared to SACLANT in Norfolk, and his counterpart in Severomorsk that the Third Battle of the Atlantic would be won or lost there.


2 Replies to “The North Atlantic: 10 July, 1987 Part III”

  1. I’m curious – why would the Yankees have been so close to the US during hostilities? Wouldn’t they be in bastions by the outbreak of hostilities?


    1. Back during the 70s and 80s the Soviets usually kept a few Yankees close in to the US coast. One of them even collided with a US attack sub once. We knew they were there and tracked them. Their patrol box was east of Bermuda, but during hostilities they were expected to move in even closer to the coast and sit.


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