The Red Banner Northern Fleet’s intelligence projection of the NATO convoy picture in the North Atlantic was remarkably accurate in many regards. Convoy 27-1, NATO’s first wartime Atlantic convoy was approaching Le Havre on the morning of D+5 and by mid-afternoon its merchant vessels were starting to disembark material. Behind it, two more convoys were now in range of friendly aircover from the UK and France. These were expected to arrive at their assigned ports early the next day and begin unloading immediately.
Five convoys were currently steaming east in the North Atlantic shipping lanes. Four of these were bound for Europe, and the destination of the other one was Norway. Sub attacks against them continued through D+5, and as Admiral Kapitanets in Severomorsk surmised, the attacks were predominantly uncoordinated, and initiated when the opportunities presented themselves. One area where the Soviet estimates were less than accurate was in the number of NATO warships, and merchantmen damaged or sunk by submarine-launched torpedoes, and anti-ship missiles. With the exception of the two positioned farthest west in the sea lanes, every other convoy had seen at least one of its ships sunk, or damaged during its crossing. The losses were well within the range of acceptable though, especially for the merchants.
The convoys had been facing a mainly one-dimensional threat for the duration of the war so far. This factor contributed significantly to the light losses. The Backfires were not striking the sea lanes south of Iceland yet. Unless this changed, submarines would continue to be the main threat the convoys had to contend with. Thus far, it was a threat they were handling well.
Around noon on D+5, SACLANT received a phone call from the Pentagon. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger wanted to know when Strike Fleet Atlantic was going to start its trek north. The secretary was eager for the offensive at sea to start as soon as possible given the deteriorating situation in Norway. Taking control of the Norwegian Sea would go a long way towards halting Soviet progress in Norway, and decisively securing the North Atlantic sea lanes for the duration of the conflict.
SACLANT explained the reasons behind his decision to slow the movement of the carrier groups north. He emphasized the need to keep the carriers masked for as long as possible to prevent their punch from being telegraphed when it was thrown. Weinberger understood and commended the sea commander. However, he then informed SACLANT, an increasing number of civilian, and military officials on both sides of the Atlantic were prodding him about when the offensive at sea would begin. So far in the war NATO was holding its own, and performing far beyond most expectations. But the alliance had been on the defensive in every theater of operations since the first day. The time had arrived to change that, and with it, possibly the face of the entire conflict as well. Weinberger also informed him that a major Warsaw Pact thrust had begun in Germany and it appeared that his counterpart in Brussels was going to need every edge he could get. Upon hearing this, SACLANT informed the secretary that the carriers would be heading north by the end of the day.
After the matter was settled, SACLANT took the opportunity to bring Weinberger up to speed on the overall situation in the North Atlantic. He explained the significance of Iceland, and the role it would play as Strike Fleet Atlantic moved into the Norwegian Sea. He followed up by telling the secretary about his desire to bring more F-15s to Iceland, and the resistance Tactical Air Command was putting up regarding the matter. The 57th FIS was performing magnificently, yet it needed to be reinforced. RAF Tornados and Phantoms were acquitting themselves well over the North Atlantic, however, the F-15 was the undisputed air champ of the war so far. SACLANT wanted another squadron of Eagles operating from Iceland, along with additional tankers and AWACS as soon as possible.
Weinberger agreed and placed a call to TAC HQ at Langley AFB next. By 1700 Eastern Time, the 101st Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Otis AFB on Cape Cod had been informed that it would not be deploying to Turkey in the coming days as the contingency plans had called for. Instead, the squadron was ordered to prepare for deployment to Iceland and to have the first of its aircraft on the way within thirty-six hours.