Baltic Approaches D+5 (14 July, 1987) Part I


The naval picture in the Baltic at daybreak on D+5 was best described as a stalemate that neither side was willing to break for fear of  causing irreparable harm to their respective strategic positions in the Baltic region in the event of failure. The absence of a WP amphibious effort against Denmark thus far in the conflict was the prime factor causing the impasse, ironically enough.

Soviet and WP pre-war planning had envisioned amphibious landings on the Danish coast as the centerpiece task of the Red Banner Baltic Fleet, as well as the East German and Polish navies. The subsequent objectives of preventing enemy naval forces from entering the Baltic, and severing the lines of communication through the North Sea to Western Europe had been predicated on early landings in Denmark. That amphibious assault itself, was dependent on a swift WP advance up Schleswig-Holstein and into Jutland, as well as obtaining air superiority in the skies above Denmark and the Baltic early in the conflict. By D+5 neither had happened.

NATO’s naval war plan for the Baltic region was also largely based on defending Denmark and the Baltic approaches from Warsaw Pact landings. Once the threat was neutralized, NATO naval forces would move east into the interior Baltic to prevent a break out effort by the Red Banner Baltic Fleet.

The first twelve hours of D+5 moved along the same lines that the previous day had. Skirmishes between NATO and Warsaw Pact naval, and air forces occurred every few hours, and both sides conducted reconnaissance missions in preparation for future operations. Around 1300 hours things began to change. On land, Polish and Soviet forces were coming perilously close to breaking through NATO defenses and entering Jutland. Western TVD was largely focused on events going on farther south in Germany at the time, however, it did issue orders for the amphibious effort to begin on D+6. Preparations began right away in ports across East Germany and Poland. By the late afternoon, Warsaw Pact warships and aircraft were vigorously sanitizing the approaches to Gdansk, Gdynia, Wismar, and Rostock.

From the bits and pieces of news arriving on COMNAVBALTAP’s desk, he came to the conclusion that the Warsaw Pact amphibious forces were preparing to sortie for real. This only increased his determination to launch air attacks against Polish and East German ports now while the enemy amphibious ships were in port. The original intention for COMNAVBALTAP, and his air counterpart had been to launch strikes against the WP ports early in the day. The WP advance in Schleswig-Holstein had picked up significantly in the morning hours though, forcing the West German squadrons based at Leck to move north to Danish airbases in Jutland. As a result, air missions against WP ports did not begin until 1700.

The first strikes reported  heavier than anticipated combat air patrols over the port cities, and heavy SAM and triple-a on the ground. Five Tornados, and F-4s were lost, and six came back with damage, yet the returning pilots reported ships burning at the docks in Wismar, and Gdansk. The unexpectedly heavy losses persuaded the commanders of AIRBALTAP and NAVBALTAP to cancel the second wave of strikes scheduled for 2100. By that time it was apparent a major sortie was coming soon, and the defenses around East German and Polish ports had been strengthened considerably. The next NATO air effort against the WP amphibious force would come only after the ships had sailed and were in the Baltic.



Colonel-General Korbutov had planned to unleash the 20th Tank Division at 0500 hours on D+5. His intelligence picture indicated the 6th Panzergrenadier Division was continuing its retreat north behind a covering force provided by the bulk of the British 1st Infantry Brigade.  With the 20th Tank Division set as the Operational Maneuver Group (OMG) Korbutov’s  intention was to push it through the British unit and then maneuver two of its three tank regiments into position to cut off and pocket the retreating West Germans. Orders were issued after midnight and the division commander was moving his forces into position to be ready to go at the designated time. Unfortunately, neither he, nor Korbutov anticipated the reintroduction of NATO airpower in the pre-dawn hours. USAF F-16s and A-10s struck the columns of the Soviet division’s lead regiment  as they advanced north on Autobahn 7 past Schuby. RAF Harriers joined the effort as the skies brightened. The resulting confusion delayed the 144th Motor Rifle Regiment’s movement but did not disrupt it completely. The regiment’s columns continued north, but at a slower pace.

The British 1st Infantry Brigade’s battalions were positioned forward of the retreating West Germans and Danish forces, covering the area roughly from Bollingsted north to Oeversee. LANDJUT’s intent was to use the Brits, along with a small number of Danish and West German territorial units to delay the Soviet and Polish push north long enough for the next defensive line to be prepared. The early commitment of the 20th Tank Division forced LANDJUT’s commander to accept the possibility that he’d have to sacrifice the British brigade in order to save his entire command.

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