On board the command ship USS Mount Whitney Strike Fleet Atlantic’s commander reminded himself that although the war could not be won in Norwegian Sea, it could easily be lost there. The strike fleet he commanded was the most powerful assemblage of naval power since the end of World War II. Along with the four aircraft carriers that were the heart of this fleet, there were five cruisers, ten destroyers, twelve frigates, and four combat support ships divided into a pair of groups positioned approximately 265 nautical miles apart. Task Force 20.5 consisted of the Forrestal and Eisenhower battlegroups, and Task Force 21.3 of the Kitty Hawk and Foch groups. Mount Whitney was attached to TF 20.5. Strike Fleet Atlantic was largely a US Navy endeavor, but there were a number of allied ships sailing north as well. Aside from Foch and her escorts were the ships of STANAVFORLANT which had been absorbed into Strike Fleet Atlantic, as well as a handful of British frigates and destroyers.
The initial phase of operations was focused on neutralizing the Red Banner Northern Fleet and gaining physical control of the Norwegian Sea. SACLANT believed the Soviets would follow their doctrine and strategies to the letter. This meant that the moment Strike Fleet Atlantic’s carriers were detected, the enemy submarines, and surface groups would proceed south at full speed, and engage the NATO carrier groups with waves of anti-ship missiles, and torpedoes. Soon thereafter, the Backfires and Badgers would be unleashed and come bearing down on the fleet in large numbers.
SACLANT and Strike Fleet Atlantic’s commander never intended to let the situation reach that point. The game plan was to kill the Soviet surface groups long before they could even pose a threat. Kitty Hawk’s airwing was prepared to launch a Sierra strike within thirty minutes of the order being given. Foch’s airwing was in a similar status. As soon as the enemy was found and its locations confirmed, a maximum effort would be launched by the two air wings. Forrestal and Ike’s aircraft were not going to take part in the first attacks. The plan was to keep TF 20.5 hidden for as long as possible in order to expand the options available for future operations.
The Strike Fleet Atlantic commander was generally satisfied with the array of forces available to him. One nagging area of concern for him was inshore ASW. In the original plan for operations in the Norwegian Sea, Invincible and her escorts were supposed to be positioned between the west coast of Norway and Strike Fleet Atlantic. Vince and her compliment of ASW helicopters would screen the larger carriers from Soviet attack subs lurking closer to the coastal waters. Unfortunately, Invincible was now at the bottom of the ocean and no replacement carrier could be brought north in time. As a result, instead of a baby carrier and heavy ASW cover, the screen was being provided by a modest number of Norwegian surface ships and diesel subs.
Reconnaissance continued through the morning on both sides. At 1007 hours, southeast of Jan Mayen, two US F-15 Eagles bounced a Tu-95 Bear and shot it down. Before crashing, the aircraft commander radioed a warning, and mayday call that were heard and acknowledged by a nearby Bear, and interestingly enough by a Ka-27 Helix. The radio traffic was picked up by four different US aircraft, and soon enough the F-15s were searching for the Bear, and if possible, the Helix too. At the same time, the tactical coordinator on board a P-3C patrolling 100 miles south of Jan Mayen realized a Ka-27 had short legs. The helicopter’s mother ship had to be relatively close. And given the current circumstances, he was sure that no Soviet ships would be operating in the area by its lonesome.
He wasn’t the only one to reach this conclusion. Within a short period of time P-3s, and an EA-6B Prowler from Kitty Hawk were moving to conduct search patterns east and southeast of Jan Mayen. The senior controller aboard the Sentry coordinated the effort. More Orions and Eagles were launched from Keflavik. The F-15s that were already airborne turned and flew southwest to the tanker track to refuel.
The hunt was on for real now.
3 Replies to “The North Atlantic D+8 (17 July, 1987) Part II”
WooHoo!! Go get ’em boys (and girls)!
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Where are American and British SSNs these would have been in the thick of hunting USSR Sub Fleet. The 594s 637s and 688s would have been at every key location ready to put Mark-48s up the cans of Alfa, Sierra, Akula, Victors, Charlie II and Oscar IIs
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They’re out there. I’ve talked a bit about them in past entries but haven’t gone into detail. You’re bringing up a good point, I should go back and talk about them a bit more. They are going to play a big role in the coming days though in the Norwegian Sea though. That’s already been outlined and written up.