COMBATLAP’s naval commander believed otherwise. Bornholm possessed no true strategic value for the Warsaw Pact. It was unable to support offensive operations against Denmark and the Baltic approaches. The island’s airport was small and its port facilities were severely limited for that. The attack on Bornholm was a feint, he judged, aimed at distracting his command’s attention while WP forces finished their last minute preparations for the eventual invasion of Denmark.
Danish and West German diesel submarines operating close in to the East German and Polish coastlines were encountering increasingly heavy ASW patrols as the day went on. Enemy surface combatants were keeping their distance from the Baltic approaches, as well as the NATO fast attack craft, and small number of destroyers tasked with defending them. Soviet sub activity had dropped off too, though a Foxtrot did sink a West German minesweeper east of Fehmarn in the early afternoon. Efforts to locate and sink the sub were unsuccessful.
Late afternoon NATO reconnaissance flights brought back evidence of growing activity in Rostock, Gdynia, and Gdansk. NAVBALTAP’s commander, a West German vice admiral, resisted pressure from his superiors to begin mounting air strikes against the ports and naval facilities. His primary reason for wanting to hold back was to wait until the amphibious ships, and their escorts had sortied and were in open waters. Once there, they would make much easier targets for his strike aircraft to engage and destroy. The other matter was the fact that his surviving naval strike aircraft were in the process of shifting locations. The frontlines in Schleswig-Holstein were coming perilously close to the NATO airbases situated there. The squadrons assigned to these bases were largely in the process of moving to alternate airfields for much of the day, leaving few strike aircraft readily available for combat operations. As night fell, the situation started improving, though it was not until around 2200 hours that NAVBALTAP had a respectable naval strike capability back on line.
After 12 PM, Danish airbases came under heavy attack. The WP strikes against radar stations, and SAM batteries earlier in the day succeeded in damaging the detection and defense capabilities, but the integrated air defense system continued to function, albeit at a somewhat diminished capacity. The Royal Danish Air Force once again sent its fighters into the skies to defend Denmark’s airspace and again, the F-16s and Drakens acquitted themselves very well.
Unfortunately, the deck was stacked against them. The sheer numbers of East German, Polish, and Soviet fighters, and bombers entering Danish airspace was simply too large. Danish fighters could not be everywhere simultaneously. For the first part of the afternoon, WP efforts seemed to be centered on airfields and bases in Zealand and the surrounding areas. As later strikes moved west and began targeting airbases in Jutland, AIRBALTAP was forced to stop sending his fighters too far forward. His surviving Drakens and F-16s reestablished themselves in force over the Jutland airbases and maintained air superiority over them from 1600 through till the next morning when the first contingent of USAF F-16Cs arrived.