The Southern Flank D+8 (17 July, 1987)


The tug of war over control of the Southern Group of Forces (SGF) continued into D+8. On one side, Western TVD wanted the bulk of the four Soviet divisions and attached air army based in Hungary to be committed to the Central Front without delay. The battle in Germany hung in the balance and the addition of four additional Soviet divisions to the effort could wind up being enough to tip the scales in the Warsaw Pact’s favor. On the other side of the coin, Southwestern TVD was determined to keep SGF in place to act as a theater reserve. Potentially for use in an invasion of Austria, or to intervene in Yugoslavia to bolster the central government. The TVD commanders were demanding a final decision from the defense minister who appeared content to continue prevaricating on the subject.

As Yazov dithered, the Yugoslavian state continued its march towards dissolution and civil war. The socialist republics of Croatia and Slovenia, already on the verge of secession, were stepping closer to announcing their breakaway from the central government in Belgrade. Backchannel talks between officials of the fledgling Balkan socialist republics and NATO officials were starting to make progress, spurred forward partly by recent NATO successes on the battlefield. It remained to be seen if the talks were going to go anywhere. However, the simple fact that discussions were underway spoke volumes about the present situation in the Balkans.

Croats and Slovenians were not the only people NATO was holding clandestine discussions with on the Southern Flank. The Libyan delegation that arrived in Sicily on the evening of D+7 spent the morning and afternoon in talks with a group of high-ranking NATO civilian officials, and military officers. Foreign Minister Kamel Maghur led the Libyan delegation. He informed the NATO officials that he was speaking on behalf of Colonel Gaddafi. In short, Libya wanted out of the war on favorable terms. Gaddafi was requesting a temporary ceasefire that would eventually pave the way to a more formal Libyan declaration of neutrality, expulsion of Soviet forces from Libyan territory, and an immediate exit from the war in exchange for security and economic incentives. As a sign of Gaddafi’s good faith, Maghur went on to explain, Libyan troops were placing Soviet military personnel presently based in Libya into ‘protective custody’ pending the outcome of the negotiations. Libyan air and naval forces were also standing down for the time being, and Gaddafi hoped NATO would suspend hostilities against Libyan territory in response.

Politics aside, D+8 was a quiet day across the theater. Soviet preparations opposite the eastern Turkish frontier were concluded to be a feint by NATO. Intelligence estimates were divided concerning where the next Warsaw Pact blow would fall. The Dardanelles, and Thrace seemed to be the most probable choices.

Soviet efforts to find the USS Saratoga continued, though without success.  The Soviets suspected the US aircraft carrier was presently moving east towards Cyprus to begin an effort against Soviet forces in Syria. The estimate was wrong. Saratoga was actually moving southeast from the waters around Crete to take up station in close to the Egyptian coastline. With the Kennedy now moving towards the Med, COMSIXTHFLEET wanted to keep Sara hidden and protected for the time being. Once he had two carriers available, the US admiral planned on taking the war directly to the Soviets on his own terms.

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