Air War on the Central Front D+4 (13 July, 1987) Part I


NATO’s surge in offensive counter air (OCA) sorties against Warsaw Pact airfields in East Germany, and Poland commenced in the late night hours of the previous night and ran through 0500 on D+4. Thanks in large part to the efforts of wing and squadron staff officers at RAF Lakenheath and other NATO airbases in the UK, and West Germany, new frag orders were worked up, posted, and aircrews fully briefed long before air operations began. Ground crews had to work a little harder to change the mission loadouts on a number of aircraft slated to head east overnight, but they also rose to the challenge.

The peak period for sorties was between 0100 and 0345. Over twelve WP airbases had been targeted, and all were damaged to one degree or another. Three bases; Sperenberg, Grossenheim, and Zagan were severely damaged. Air operations were suspended for extended periods of time at all three. Eighty percent of the munitions dropped were unguided bombs or cluster munitions. Laser guided bombs (all Paveway variants) were employed against hardened aircraft shelters at Sperenberg and Damgarten airbases, and the suspected location of 16th Air Army’s alternate headquarters near Wittstock.

Although WP air defense forces were caught off guard, they did manage to shoot down a fair amount of NATO attackers. Three F-111s were shot down, and five returned to England with battle damage to one degree or another. Six RAF Tornados were also lost, with an equal number limping back to their bases damaged.  The losses stung, but as post-strike BDA was reviewed, and the amount of damage inflicted on WP airbases realized, they were deemed to be acceptable. Even so, the 48th TFW commander, and his RAF counterpart personally called COMAAFCE in the morning and informed him that another night like this could irreparably break their combat wings. The warning was not intended to come across as an act of defiance, nor was it received that way by General Kirk. The wing commanders simply wanted their superiors at higher headquarters to be aware of how close to the edge the -111 and Tornado wings were working.

Even as NATO bombs were landing on his airbases, 16th Air Army’s commander, Lieutenant General Aleksey Goryaniov was preparing to respond in kind. From his alternate headquarters (it was not located outside Wittstock as NATO believed) planning was underway for a limited number of early morning airstrikes against the airbases in 2nd ATAF’s sector that were home to some of the the RAF Tornados that were used in the raids against him. Goryaniov could not match the number of aircraft that NATO had thrown against him, but he nevertheless wanted to pay his enemies back for the damage they’d inflicted.  In a day or so, once the reinforcing air regiments arrived he could concentrate on a larger, more effective effort against NATO airbases.

Shortly after 0600, a wave of 40 Su-24 Fencers escorted by a limited number of MiGs and jammers, screamed across the border and headed west. This time, it was NATO’s turn to be caught off guard. SAMs filled the air, and CAP fighters were vectored to meet the emerging threat. The Soviets lost a considerable number of aircraft, but enough survived to break through the CAPs defending RAF Bruggen, and RAF Laarbruch near the Dutch-West German frontier. Both bases took damage, although nothing compared to what their WP counterparts suffered during the pre-dawn hours. By the time the surviving Fencers and MiGs were outbound, NATO defenses were fully alert and they were hounded incessantly by fighters on the return leg of their journey.

2 Replies to “Air War on the Central Front D+4 (13 July, 1987) Part I”

  1. Great stuff so far, really getting into this but I noticed one mistake. RAF Bruggen was the other Tornado base, Rheindahlen was a non-flying headquarters. The 3rd of the ‘cluster’ airfields was Wildenrath which had Phantom Interceptors.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re absolutely right. Thanks for picking up on that. I’ll fix it right away. I seem to mix up those RAF fields a lot.
      I’m glad you’re getting into the blog. 🙂


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