The Southern Flank D+5 (14 July, 1987) Part I


Saratoga’s air wing went back into action in the pre-dawn hours. The morning’s target list included POL facilities and staging areas in southern Bulgaria. CVW-17s airstrikes were not preceded by cruise missile strikes as they had been twenty-four hours earlier. The Los Angeles class attack submarines that had fired most of the TLAMs against targets in Bulgaria on D+4 had expended the cruise missiles on board. Many of the subs were off on other missions now, but two boats were heading west to Naples to reload TLAMs.

These submarines weren’t the only naval units in the Mediterranean needing replenishment. After a week of intense combat operations, the Saratoga battlegroup  and CVW-17 were scraping the bottom of their ammunition, and fuel barrels. Once the last of Sara’s aircraft had been recovered after the early morning strikes, the battlegroup was joined by the fast combat support ship USS Seattle and her two escorting frigates. For most of the day the group went through a long, but necessary underway replenishment. By the late afternoon, Saratoga had completed her UNREP. As she broke away from the Seattle, the Motley Crue song ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ was broadcast loudly from the carrier’s PA system. Even in wartime the US Navy tradition of breakaway music lived on.

CINC-SOUTH, and ComSixthFleet were both hoping to have a second carrier operating in the Med within five or six days. Kennedy had left Norfolk the previous day and the carrier was unofficially tagged for the Sixth Fleet. Where she eventually ended up, however, would greatly depend on what happened in the Atlantic in the coming days. If Kennedy went north instead of east, USS Coral Sea would be slated for the Med. She was scheduled to depart from the US the next day. So, one way or another, AFSOUTH and the Sixth Fleet would eventually have a second carrier on hand.

Saratoga’s effectiveness was but one issue causing uneasiness in the Soviet Southwestern TVD. The first week of the war had produced a number of unpleasant surprises in the Eastern Mediterranean for SWTVD and its Warsaw Pact allies. SWTVD constituted a secondary theater in this early stage of the war. It’s main role was to protect the southern flank of the Western TVD’s offensive in Central Europe.  To bring this about, SWTVD had intended to disrupt NATO’s political unity on its southern flank by forcing either Greece or Turkey to seek a separate peace, occupy the Aegean Sea, deny NATO access to the Eastern Med, and also restrict its access to Persian Gulf oil.

Of those pre-war objectives, the only one that had been successfully achieved was restricting the flow of oil to Western Europe. Greece, and Turkey remained firmly entrenched in the NATO camp. The Aegean Sea was not yet under Soviet control, and this would likely remain unchanged until the Black Sea Fleet broke out. The Eastern Med was dominated by NATO naval and air forces. To make matters worse, NATO airpower was growing stronger as reinforcing USAF squadrons arrived in theater.

For D+5 SWTVD’s main goal was to inflict severe damage on NATO airbases in Turkey, and Greece before those reinforcements from the US began arriving in large numbers. Soviet and Pact airpower went to work. Heavy raids were launched throughout the day, however, unlike in the first forty-eight hours of the war, on D+5 NATO was more prepared. Some airbases were struck and damaged, but a larger number were not. Soviet air losses today were also significantly  heavier than they’d been only a couple of days earlier. The air superiority enjoyed by SWTVD’s air forces was slipping away. Perhaps for good.

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