D+4 marked the first time in the conflict that the combined power of the Soviet submarine, and long range bomber threats were unleashed on the North Atlantic sea lanes simultaneously. Over the course of the day, the Soviets sent three waves of bombers out from bases on the Kola Peninsula. NAS Keflavik, and NATO convoys in the North Atlantic were their targets. The first wave included two aircraft groups. The first one consisted of thirty Tu-16 Badgers, and there was an equal number of Tu-22 Backfires making up the second. The other waves that came later in the day were made up exclusively of Backfires.
Two hundred miles separated the bomber groups, with the Badgers set up front. These older, less capable bombers angled southwest across the Norwegian Sea. Keflavik was their intended target. The USAF E-3 Sentry loitering over Iceland had little trouble detecting them as the bombers approached the northern coast of the island. F-15s on CAP were vectored towards the group, as the rest of the 57th FIS began to scramble from Keflavik. The CAP Eagles engaged the Badgers before they were in range to launch their ASMs. The fighters killed eight bombers before having to disengage and head to their tankers.
As the fighters from Keflavik sped north and began to engage the Badgers with AIM-7s, the bombers launched their payloads. Fourteen AS-4s streaked south as the first Sparrows arrived, exploding more Soviet bombers. Once free of their payloads, the surviving Badgers increased speed and headed north with a gaggle of F-15s in pursuit. Only ten of the ASMs wound up impacting within the perimeter of Keflavik, and caused more damage than previous raids.
With the attention of Iceland’s air defenses focused on the Badgers, the Backfires proceeded south towards their target unmolested. This was how it had been planned out, with the Badgers served as sacrificial lambs for the Backfires. It had worked to perfection. Convoy 28-1, a Norwegian-bound assemblage of merchant ships and escort warships, was the intended target. The Soviets had cobbled together a good idea of the area where the convoy should be at the moment from bits and pieces of data acquired over the previous days. A major deficiency in the Soviet plan was the absence of a Tu-95 Bear D positioned out ahead of the bombers to search for ships. The Bears had taken heavy casualties from Iceland-based fighters thus far in the war. However, their preclusion from the first wave that morning was due to none being available at the time. They would be present in the follow on waves later in the day.
Confident that there were no NATO fighters in the general area, the Backfires activated their radars and went on the hunt. For two hours the bombers spread out and searched for emissions, and other telltale signs of the convoy. Without the Bears out ahead of them, the Backfire crews had their work cut out for them. Unfortunately for them, their efforts turned up nothing. After two hours of searching, fuel constraints forced the bombers to return to base without having fired a single AS-6 missile in anger.
Author’s Note: I wanted to finish the entire North Atlantic D+4 summary today, but I ran out of time. I’ll finish it up by the end of the week.