Reconnaissance efforts were underway as D+8 began. As the hours crept by, more platforms and assets joined the respective searches that were in progress. The Soviets started the day with three Tu-95 Bears, and an equal number of Il-38 Mays patrolling the Norwegian Sea. They searched passively with radars off, unwilling to reveal their own locations unless it became absolutely necessary. As the morning progressed towards dawn, more Bears were expected to join their comrades, but the air battles taking place over the northern region of Norway delayed the arrival of additional aircraft for a considerable period of time. Soviet attack subs in the Norwegian Sea were on the hunt for the US and French aircraft carriers as well. However, these boats now had to deal with the advance line of NATO attack subs that had entered the central Norwegian Sea late on the previous day. Four Soviet subs were already missing and presumed to be sunk by Severomorsk. The loss of the subs was bad enough, yet the fact they had failed to find the carriers made their deaths even more in vain. Satellites were also utilized. A RORSAT would come over the Norwegian Sea in the afternoon, provided the Americans did not try and shoot it down first. As insurance against that possibility, a brand new RORSAT was expected to be launched into orbit from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at some point in the next twelve hours.
NATO had its own land-based aircraft out too. P-3s scoured the Norwegian coastline from Bodo to just south of Andoya, looking for signs of Soviet warships. Diesel submarines ranged slightly farther out to sea, keeping watch for indications of an enemy task force moving south. In the central and western Norwegian Sea, US Orions out of Keflavik patrolled, and hunted, while an E-3 Sentry kept watch on the skies. F-15C Eagles guarded the valuable AWACS, while KC-10s, also from Iceland, established a tanker track for aircraft in need of refueling. At 0400, the first US carrier-based aircraft joined the effort. An E-2C Hawkeye and two EA-6B Prowlers were launched from Kitty Hawk. The Hawkeye took up station 140 miles southwest of its parent carrier’s current position and activated its radar, hoping to draw Soviet attention away from the western-most NATO task force. The Prowlers headed north at low altitudes, passively seeking emission signals, and other telltale signs from enemy warships in the area.
Each side was intent on finding the other’s warships, however, both moved carefully, unwilling to reveal the position of its own forces in the process.
In Severomorsk, Admiral Kapitanets, the Red Banner Northern Fleet’s commander-in-chief, waited anxiously for word from his search aircraft, and submarines. He knew there was a major fleet of US and NATO warships steaming north right now somewhere in the Norwegian Sea. Three, or perhaps four aircraft carriers carrying hundreds of aircraft, some of them nuclear capable, were moving into position in order to launch attacks against the air and naval bases on the Kola Peninsula.
To prevent this from happening, Kapitanets had a number of attack submarines deployed forward in the Norwegian Sea, and three powerful task groups arrayed between Jan Mayen and Tromso. Two of them were dedicated anti-carrier task groups. One was centered on the aircraft carrier Kiev, and the other on the Baku, a modified Kiev-class carrier, and the nuclear-powered battlecruiser Kirov. A third group made up mainly of ASW frigates and destroyers was positioned in the Barents Sea acting as a backstop to any NATO submarines that might attempt to slip north through the confusion and launch their own attacks.
The anti-carrier groups were the second line of defense, and the submarines the first. Kapitanets had never really put much faith in the ability of either to prevent the enemy strike fleet from entering the northern Norwegian Sea. At best, they could slow it down and the admiral would be satisfied with that since the overall defensive strategy for the Northern Fleet assumed its surface groups would die in the Norwegian Sea, but only after inflicting some damage on the enemy. It would fall to the long-range bombers to effectively destroy the NATO carriers. Kapitanets was relying on them to keep the Norwegian Sea in Soviet hands. But before he could unleash them, his forces first had to find the enemy.
As the NATO force came farther north in the Norwegian Sea it would alleviate a host of concerns, Kapitanets hoped. The demands on his fleet’s command and control, and communications system should lessen as the operating area narrowed, and allow the array of diverse platforms under his control to be integrated properly. Communications between forward deployed subs, reconnaissance and his headquarters needed to be as streamlined as possible. Contrary to popular belief, finding a collection of ships on the open ocean is not simple. Especially when trying to mount a major attack on those ships. When the carriers were finally found, the Northern Fleet needed to respond quickly and decisively in order to trap and destroy them, as per the battle plan.
But as 0700 approached, there was no sign of the massive enemy armada. Kapitanets was certain they were out there though, and remained determined to find them before the Americans and their allies found the Northern Fleet.
Author’s Note: The posts about Strike Fleet Atlantic and its battles in the Norwegian Sea will be kept in the North Atlantic category. I considered moving them to the Northern Flank category but decided against it. There is already enough happening there with fighting in Finland, and Norway. Adding to that will only transform the category into a quagmire of events and information. So, for now all Strike Fleet Atlantic/Norwegian Sea posts will be available in the North Atlantic category. Also, North Atlantic D+8 looks as if it is going to be made up of around four or five posts. I’ll try to narrow it down some, but not at the expense of leaving out significant events and background information.
9 Replies to “The North Atlantic D+8 (17 July, 1987) Part I”
Don’t narrow it down at all – I’m loving the start of this! I’ve found my eye drifting back to the bookshelves for a read of RSR later in the year …
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No narrowing then. 🙂 Autumn is a good time of year to read RSR. Foliage, pumpkin spice, and World War 3. Perfect together.
Those Yak-38 Forgers aboard the Baku and Kiev aren’t going to fare very well, are they?
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I’d say the odds are against them, but stay tuned to find out. 🙂
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I am in anticipation of the next few chapters…
I’ve enjoyed all of these so far though I’d like to know more about the Middle East and Asian theaters.
I’d wager neither the Baku nor the Kiev themselves are going to fare very well.
The US Navy has the best damage-control program in the world for its carriers (thanks, WW2 and the Forrestal Fire!). I’m questioning whether or not the Soviets observed and learned. If not, the Kiev and Baku are going to have brief, painful combat lives before being sunk.
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Against Tomcats? Nope. Against French Crusaders? Maybe.
Damage control has been a priority in the US Navy for a while, you’re right. Given what we’ve seen from Soviet submarines, the same probably wasn’t true for them.
“I understood that reference.” 😀
Still, I think by ’87 the bulk of the fleet should be using the (superior) A6E – they and E2C’s are going to be hunting down the Baku and Kiev shortly. I wonder how many Harpoons it’s going to take to sink them.
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Yep, by ’87 the A-6E was pretty much the standard variant of the Intruder in carrier air wings. Always one of my favorite aircraft.