For the moment, the Soviets and their allies had reluctantly ceded naval control of much of the Mediterranean to NATO. Their naval presence in the Eastern Med was now limited to a few submarines, and a handful of damaged surface warships docked in Syria. The remainder of the 5th Eskadra sat at the bottom of the sea. Libya’s naval and air forces had been shattered and the remnants would not be ready for action again for some time. The Central Mediterranean was firmly in NATO’s grip. The surviving Soviet and Libyan submarines there could continue to harass the NATO convoys bound for Greece, and Turkey, but not very much was expected from them.
Despite the naval imbalance, Saratoga remained a coveted target for the Soviets. Surviving submarines, and Tu-95 Bears were actively searching for her. Two full regiments of Backfires were on standby, fueled, and armed with anti-ship missiles. When the American carrier was found, they would be unleashed. It was becoming less likely for the Soviets to claim a naval victory in the Mediterranean, but sinking the only US aircraft carrier in theater would at least force a draw.
Saratoga had moved east again and was positioned south of Crete. Sixth Fleet and AFSOUTH knew the Soviets were actively looking for her and elected to keep her in a position where land-based fighters could support her airwing if and when the Backfires came calling. Until Kennedy arrived in the region, NATO naval commanders were keen to be overly protective with Sara.
Eastern Turkey continued to be an area of concern for AFSOUTH. Activity on the Soviet side of the frontier continued to attract close NATO scrutiny. The troop buildup continued, with least two motor rifle divisions still massing. Enemy air attacks against targets in Eastern Turkey on D+7 proved to be heavier than on the previous day. Sixth ATAF wanted additional fighters to bolster the air defenses of Eastern Turkey. AFSOUTH was considering the request, but a final decision had not yet been made. Some NATO commanders, and staff officers were not quite convinced the enemy activity on the Eastern Turkish frontier was genuine. A growing number of officers believed it was nothing more than a diversion, aimed at diverting NATO’s attention away from another area in theater. Bulgaria seemed most likely.
Their suspicions were valid. The Soviets were continuing to move three divisions to staging areas in southern Bulgaria, and the activity on the Turkish border was indeed a diversion to keep NATO distracted. It had been expected to have three motor rifle divisions from the Odessa Military District in place in Bulgaria and ready to conduct operations by 1800 hours on D+7. This timetable was turning out to be unrealistic. Only one division had yet to cross the border into Bulgaria, and its pace of movement was slow to say the least. Its sister divisions did not yet even cross the border. They were being held in northern Romania as the Southwestern and Western TVDs bickered over where the units would eventually end up. Things were not going too well in Germany and West was making an attempt to poach divisions belonging to other fronts and theaters. Moscow would make the final decision and until it came down, the two motor rifle divisions would remain in limbo.
Along with Eastern Turkey, and to a lesser extent Bulgaria, AFSOUTH was becoming concerned with Soviet forces in Hungary. The Southern Group of Forces, and its accompanying air arm had been in a defensive posture since the start of the war. The four combat divisions remained uncommitted. In Naples, there was growing speculation about when and where they would eventually be committed. Pre-war analysis of possible Soviet wartime moves in Southern Europe suggested the SGF would likely be used in concert with the Hungarian army to invade Austria, or open an advance through the Ljubljana Gap and into Northern Italy.
Neither scenario had come about yet, but as the day progressed, and reports on the fighting in Finland made their way to Naples, AFSOUTH was growing worried the Soviets might be preparing to open up a new front on the Southern Flank.
The most intriguing development for AFSOUTH on D+7, however, was news that a delegation of Libyan diplomats was expected to quietly arrive in Sicily the next day. They were requesting a meeting with NATO representatives to explore the possibility of a ceasefire between Libyan and NATO forces. It appeared as if the Colonel had seen the writing on the wall and wanted to make the best deal he could for his country.
Provided the Libyan request was genuine.