The Southern Flank D+6 (15 July, 1987) Part II

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The massing of Libyan warships in the Gulf of Sidra late in the day on D+5 did not go unnoticed by NATO. Aircrews returning from missions had noted the presence of Libyan warships tucked into the coastal waters and reported the findings when debriefed. ELINT aircraft flying missions far to the north had also picked up on signs of a large naval group gathering. From the data gathered, it appeared the Libya’s navy was preparing to launch a major sortie to interdict NATO convoys in the Central Mediterranean with its main target being the convoy now transiting the Strait of Sicily.

COMSIXTHFLT and CINC-SOUTH both expected a move like this to come about. Now, as the moment approached, NATO was ready and waiting. Following its UNREP the day before, Saratoga and her battlegroup moved to a new position slightly west of Crete. From there, the carrier’s attack planes, and fighters could reach the waters from the Gulf of Sidra to Sicily with relative ease. The battlegroup was operating under total EMCON. USAF E-3 Sentries provided radar coverage for the group while other platforms, including EP-3 Aires aircraft, searched for the Libyan Navy’s remaining surface fleet.

By 0200 hours three Libyan surface action groups (SAG) had been detected and were being tracked for three hours. Two of the groups were positioned roughly 140 nautical miles northwest of Benghazi and heading northwest at roughly thirty knots. Each of these groups was made up of four ships, a mixture of fast attack craft and corvettes. A third group, the main Libyan SAG had sortied from Misrata and was approximately 133 nautical miles north of the port city. This group contained Libya’s most capable warships; the Koni class frigates Al Hani, and Al Ghardabia, the Vospers Mk 7 class frigate Dat Assawari, and three Osa III class fast attack craft. COMSIXTHFLT designated this group as the greatest threat to NATO convoys in the area. The Libyan Air Force was maintaining a heavy presence of MiG-25 Foxbats, and MiG-23 Floggers in the vicinity of the three SAGs. These CAP fighters were guided by shore-based GCI, adding another slight complication to CVW-17’s attack plan. It would be a maximum effort.

At 0405 the operation kicked off. VF-103 and VF-74 Tomcats engaged the MiGs. The Slugger F-14s engaged with AIM-54 Phoenix missiles from long range, and their sister squadron’s fighters moved in and launched AIM-7 Sparrows from a shorter distance. While the Tomcats kept the MiGs occupied, A-6 Intruders, and A-7 Corsairs came in low to strike their assigned targets, supported by jamming provided by EA-6B Prowlers. The Intruders went for the Al Hani SAG, attacking it with Harpoons and sinking all but one ship. One squadron of A-7s targeted the other two SAGs with AGM-65 Mavericks and cluster bombs, while the other hit radar sites and SAM batteries ashore that were supporting the MiGs and the warships.

An hour later, only two Libyan ships remained afloat and these were both heavily damaged and burning. Sixteen MiGs had joined their naval comrades at the bottom of the Mediterranean, and the coastal radar and SAM sites had taken a considerable amount of damage too. The raids cost CVW-17 two aircraft: one A-7, and one F-14. By dawn, Saratoga had recovered the last of her aircraft and was steaming east again as the air wing was turned around in expectation for further operations against Libya later in the day.

Libyan and Soviet submarines would remain concern for some time, but the Libyan navy, for all intent and purposes, ceased to exist as the sun rose on D+6. By noon, AFSOUTH declared the Central Mediterranean to be secure and firmly under NATO control.

2 Replies to “The Southern Flank D+6 (15 July, 1987) Part II”

  1. I’ve been enthralled reading your blog through from the beginning these past few days. I’ve been meaning to ask, Do you have any plans on examining the situation on the homefront? Is there a vocal antiwar movement going on in the universities in US and the UK? Are folks at home scared that the conflict might go nuclear? Are civil defense preparations being made? Are the Protect and Survive videos being run on the BBC? Does the KGB have any surprises up their sleeve for the British and American homefronts, and are the FBI and MI-5 up to the challenge?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Evening! I’m happy to hear that you’re enjoying the blog enough to have read it through from beginning to now over the span of a few days. I humbly thank you. I do plan on examining the homefronts. I should have dabbled in them a little by this point, but haven’t. That’s my fault. Since you’ve mentioned it though, I think I can squeeze an entry about the homefront in sometime soon. To answer your questions without revealing anything prematurely, since it’s the summer months, most colleges in the US are relatively empty so there probably won’t be a very vocal anti-war movement. Not sure about the UK, although I’d expect some vocal protests there. Folks are worried about the chances of the conflict going nuclear, but it’s not a panic yet. Civil Defense in the US was in horrible shape in the 80s but I’d expect some work to be going on there and in England. Protect and Survive videos would probably be running. The espionage on the homefronts will be discussed too. I touched on it a little in the pre-war section with the F-117s secret arrival in England. If you have any ideas about other areas on the homefront I could discuss, feel free to drop me a message here or send an email to ww31987blog@gmail.com

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