At 0125 hours EEST, the Sixth Fleet went to work. Less than an hour before, twenty TLAMs (Tomahawk Cruise Missile Land Attack Variant) were launched from a trio of Los Angeles class attack submarines, and the single TLAM-armed destroyer in the Saratoga’s battlegroup. The missiles approached the Greek-Bulgarian frontier in a staggered pattern, less than one hundred feet off the ground. Their targets were two air defense sector headquarters, and three radar sites located in southern Bulgaria. Twenty minutes behind the cruise missiles was the bulk of Saratoga’s air wing. The main targets for CVW-17 this morning were the largest airbases in southern Bulgaria. These fields were being used heavily by Warsaw Pact and Southwestern TVD (SWTVD) tactical air units. A-6E Intruders and A-7E Corsair IIs were assigned to strike the three airbases, with the rest of the airwing supporting the effort. HARM-armed Corsairs provided SEAD and flak suppression. Farther out, EA-6B Prowlers covered the strike force with a blanket of ECM that severely degraded the surviving Bulgarian air defenses. F-14 Tomcats flew top cover, and ranged out to engage MiGs as they rose up from airbases in central Bulgaria to intercept the invaders. All of this was coordinated and led by the air wing commander flying aboard a well-protected E-2C Hawkeye over the Aegean.
The Soviets and Bulgarians were caught entirely off balance by the air and cruise missile attacks. Radar sites in southern Bulgaria did not even detect the cruise missiles until they were less than twenty miles from their targets. The confusion sewn by the TLAM attacks, as well as jamming from the Prowlers, handicapped the WP response substantially. Alert fighters were not scrambled until the first bombs and missiles were already impacting. The MiGs that did manage to get off of the ground found the airspace around their bases to be prime hunting grounds for roving F-14s. The air battle was something akin to a turkey shoot with twenty-four Bulgarian, and Russian MiGs shot down with no US fighters lost in air-to-air combat. Two A-7s were lost to anti-aircraft fire, and eight Corsairs and Intruders were damaged to varying degrees. CVW-17 spent an hour in the skies over southern Bulgaria before withdrawing south to air-refueling tracks over Crete, and from there back to Saratoga.
Before daybreak, the Hellenic Air Force took part in a number of follow up raids. In what was truly the first offensive action for the Greeks in the Third World War, Hellenic A-7s and F-4s struck targets in southern Bulgaria. The raids had SWTVD, and the Bulgarians wondering about NATO’s intentions, however. Concern was creeping in regarding the true intentions of NATO. All of the sudden, the prospect of a NATO land offensive out of Thrace in the near future did not seem so far-fetched.
D+4 also marked the arrival of the first USAF reinforcements in theater, further heightening WP angst. The twenty-four F-16Cs of the 69th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) arrived on Crete, and the 17th TFS, another F-16 squadron, arrived at Akinci, Turkey. The Turks and Greeks welcomed them with open arms. More US squadrons would be arriving in the Eastern Med over the coming days. It had taken four days or so, but the USAF was now joining the battle raging on the Southern Flank in significant numbers.