Defensive operations at the GIUK barrier were underway in earnest by dawn on 11 July. The tempo of operations increased through the morning, and afternoon, peaking at some point around 1600 Zulu. The first wave of Soviet SSNs and SSGNs heading south encountered an aggressive, well-coordinated, multi-layered defense made up of MPAs, surface ships, and even SSNs. Thirty Soviet submarines approached the GIUK gap between 0000 and 1300 hours. Of these boats, twenty were confirmed as sunk or damaged, although the specific number were not revealed until after the war ended. NATO kill claims were somewhat inflated, and the Red Banner Northern Fleet would not know for certain how many subs were lost until they failed to check in upon reaching their designated patrol stations.
NATO was aware that not every Soviet sub in the first wave had been sent to the bottom. There were leakers, and as more P-3s arrived in Iceland, and Greenland, it was hoped they could be handled. The SURTASS ships proved quite useful in assisting the effort to track down the subs that had run the GIUK gauntlet successfully. Although the number suggest that 11 July was a turkey shoot of sorts for NATO, nothing could be further from the truth. Many Soviet sub captains maneuvered and defended their boats fiercely. When the opportunity to lash out at their attackers arose, they did so without hesitation. Seven NATO MPAs were downed by SAMs. The hand held SAM system that had been mounted to the periscopes on a number of Soviet submarines was proving to be quite an unwelcome surprise for NATO aircrews. Two surface ships taking part in GIUK operations, a US frigate and a British destroyer, were sunk as well.
The GIUK battle was far from over. SOSUS data, reports from NATO SSNs in the Norwegian Sea, and other intelligence sources placed two additional groupings of Soviet submarines in the Norwegian Sea proceeding south towards the Iceland-Scotland gap and Denmark Straits. P-3 patrols from Iceland, and Nimrods out of Scotland intensified. NATO naval commanders made adjustments to the ASW tactics and overall strategy during the brief intermission. Similar workings were going on in Severomorsk at the same time.
The commander of the Red Banner Northern Fleet Admiral Kapitanets was advocating loudly for a major effort to be initiated against Iceland. The rocky island in the middle of the North Atlantic was proving to be every bit the NATO redoubt that pre-war analysis warned it would be. The gates to the North Atlantic were defended by SOSUS warning stations located there, and by aircraft operating from Keflavik. Long range bomber attacks against that particular base over the past two days caused nothing more than temporary delays in air operations there. Now, Kapitanets was losing subs at an unacceptable rate. If this kept up, the anti-SLOC campaign in the North Atlantic was going to be severely handicapped before it commenced. P-3s were not the only menace flying from Iceland. USAF E-3 Sentries and F-15 Eagles were fully capable of inflicting heavy losses on his bomber formations, as they’d already proven. Iceland had to be neutralized fully before the next phase of the naval war began.
The dilemma facing Kapitanets was to figure out how to bring that about about without causing delay to other operations now underway in the theater.
(Authors note: Part 2 will be posted Thursday evening)