The Southern Flank D+3 (12 July, 1987) Part II


In the central Mediterranean the task force centered on the Giuseppe Garibaldi spearheaded NATO ASW efforts from the Straits of Sicily to the Ionian Sea. US Navy P-3s and Italian Atlantiques out of Sigonella supported the operations. In large part, the strait was sanitized, yet the first NATO convoy carrying war supplies bound for Greece, and Turkey was expected to reach it in 24 hours. The narrow waterway was the lifeline for NATO forces in the east and had to be held open at all costs.

As the day went on, the Libyan Air Force made its first real show of force in the conflict. Pairs of fighters took off from Benina airbase near Benghazi, as well as fields around Tripoli through much of the daylight hours. The fighters sped north towards Sicily, and the suspected location of the Garibaldi Group. In each instance, NATO ground-based radar sites detected the inbound flights and Italian fighters were scrambled, or called in from their CAP stations to intercept. Every time, the Libyans turned back at a predetermined navigation point and no engagements materialized.

The cat-and-mouse game in the air highlighted the Garibaldi group’s reliance on land-based air cover. Although classified as an aircraft carrier, Garibaldi did not carry fixed-wing aircraft. The close proximity of its task force to Libya demanded a heavy combat air patrol be perched overhead. The Libyans had a large number of fairly capable combat aircraft available, to say nothing of the Soviet aircraft currently based in Libya. Garibaldi and her escorts made for a tempting target. AFSOUTH believed it was only a matter of time before the Colonel threw his air force at the Garibaldi, and perhaps Sicily too.



The timetable for the US 6th Fleet’s planned air and cruise missile attacks against WP targets inside of Bulgaria was suffering delays. Two of the TLAM-capable attack subs would not reach their stations until 12 hours past the intended time. The strikes had been set to begin in the pre-dawn hours of D+3. Now, having to wait longer for the undersea shooters meant offensive strikes could not start until around midnight, perhaps even after. COMSIXTHFLT, Vice Admiral Kendall Moranville, USN considered going now with what he had on hand. The effectiveness of the Tomahawks in daylight hours was questionable, however. Limited stocks of the cruise missile demanded extra prudence in their employment. Also, Moranville was not entirely thrilled about his one available aircraft carrier having to sit out a full day of the war waiting for a pair of submarines to arrive.

At the same time, neither COMSIXTHFLT, or his superiors in Naples and Norfolk wanted to see the single US carrier in the Mediterranean to be sent to the bottom of the sea. The Soviets were hunting for Saratoga and still had a large force of Backfires available at airbases on the Black Sea to use against her. Reluctantly, Moranville ordered Saratoga’s battlegroup to a position south of Crete and hopefully away from prying eyes until the strikes against Bulgaria were ready to begin.


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