Baltic Approaches D+1 (10 July, 1987) Part II


10 July saw the beginning of a major effort by the Pact to secure air and sea supremacy in the Baltic. The focus of this effort was on Danish airbases. Of the fifty NATO airfields that were hosting combat aircraft in Central Europe, six were located in Denmark. The Royal Danish Air Force was a relatively small, well-equipped force with a respectable number of F-16 Fighting Falcons forming the core of its inventory. USAF F-16s were also anticipated to begin arriving in Denmark within the next forty eight hours to reinforce AIRBALTAP. When WP amphibious and airborne operations against the Danish homeland were inevitably launched, it was anticipated that they would be taking place in uncontested airspace. In order for that to happen, Danish airbases, radar sites, and air defenses had to be dealt a knockout blow before then.

Aircraft availability was becoming a greater obstacle for Pact planners to overcome. Losses and expanding commitments on the Central Front was limiting the number of combat aircraft available for air operations against Denmark. To make up for the temporary shortfall, Pact air commanders were forced to use a significant number of Polish and East German warplanes to make up for the shortfall in first-line Soviet aircraft. It was not an ideal solution, but for the moment it would have to suffice.

During the night, USAF F-111s,  as well as RAF and Luftwaffe Tornadoes  a number of heavy airstrikes against airfields deep in East Germany and western Poland. The damage and confusion caused by the attacks delayed the first wave of WP sorties by three hours. The first raids were launched at 0615 in brightening skies much to the dismay of aircrews and commanders alike. Sixty fighter-bombers and attack aircraft, supporting jammers, and thirty escorting fighters took off from bases in Poland and headed northwest over the Baltic before separating and heading for their respective targets, not all of which were located in Denmark proper. Under the protective overhead cover of MiG-21s,  a squadron of Polish Su-17 Fitters struck the NATO radar station located on the Danish island of Bornholm, south of Sweden and north of the Polish coast in the Baltic. No defending fighters rose to challenge the Poles. The small detachment of Danish Drakens that was stationed on the island had been withdrawn the day before hostilities began. The Danes did leave behind some air defense weaponry to protect the island though and it was put to good use. Four Fitters were shot down by SAMs, and another two damaged. The radar station suffered significant damage and the radar itself was knocked out entirely. Perhaps more important than the damage inflicted was the sense of shock that the attack generated in Copenhagen, as well as Brussels. It was, for some Danish politicians and generals, a clear sign that the Soviets and Poles would be landing soon. Today it was air attacks on Bornholm. Tomorrow, it could be enemy naval infantry landing on the island, or perhaps Zeeland itself.

Radar stations and SAM sites in Denmark proper made up the rest of the early morning target list. Danish fighters began scrambling at the first sign of heavy jamming activity to the east and southeast. Fighters already on CAP began converging on the area as well. WP escorting fighters pushed forward of the main strike groups to engage the F-16s and Drakens and a number of air battles broke out in the skies over the Baltic.  The WP fighters were doing their job of keeping NATO fighters occupied and away from the ordnance-laden attackers, though it was coming at a heavy price. As the strike aircraft drew closer to their targets they were engaged by Danish Hawk sites. Losses were inflicted but the attackers pushed forward. Soon those same Hawk batteries, and accompanying radars were on the receiving end of iron bombs and anti-radiation missiles.

The end results of these first WP strikes of the day were mixed.  Losses had been heavy, and Denmark’s air defenses had suffered moderate damage. Holes were punched in the nation’s protective radar and SAM screen, however, the blow had not been a fatal one. Subsequent strikes against Danish airbases later in the day were not going to be a walk in the park.


*   *   *

COMBALTAP was concerned by the lack of coordinated Warsaw Pact naval movement overnight and into the morning. The brief, violent engagements between NATO and WP ships that had occurred the previous day were not repeated. Efforts to interdict NATO mine laying operations had diminished too. The Baltic Sea became quiet on the morning of 10 July, even as battles being fought in the skies overhead, and ashore in Schleswig-Holstein. The calm, he suspected, was indicative of a storm gathering in East German and Polish ports. When reports of the air attack against Bornholm reached his desk, he was convinced that a WP amphibious assault on the island, as well larger landings on the beaches of Denmark proper would be launched in the next 24 hours.


*Author’s Note: Part III will be posted on Monday*


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