The first half of D+10 in the Norwegian Sea resembled the end of a boxing round that had included a furious exchange of punches, teeth-rattling impacts, and embarrassing misses. Now the fighters were returning to their respective corners to recover, change tactics, and come out swinging again with blood in their eyes, and looking for the opportunity to unleash a knockout barrage.
Task Force 21.3 dashed for the safety of the fjords south of Bodo. The plan was for the carriers, and their escorts to hole up there for the next twenty-four hours. By that time, the air picture over northern Norway should be decided one way or another. If it swung in NATO’s favor, TF 21.3 would steam north and begin attacking military targets on the Kola Peninsula. Because land-based NATO fighters were likely to be busy with the air battle up north, Kitty Hawk staged its Tomcats, Hawkeyes, and some Intruders out of Bodo to provide air cover for her, and Foch as they sat anchored in the fjords.
Task Force 20.5 remained at sea and hidden through much of the day. A combination of passive and active measures had helped turn the carrier force into a ghost fleet of sorts. The Soviets were looking for the carriers too, though their efforts were more cautious compared to those of the previous day. The Bears were hunting for the NATO ships, and being hunted themselves by US F-14s at the same time.
In order to remain masked, Task Force 20.5 curtailed its own search for the Baku/Kirov anti-carrier group. Strike Fleet Atlantic’s commander was less concerned about the surface threat compared to 24 hours earlier. It was the Backfires that worried him more now. The attack against TF 21.3 had been defeated, but it was only a matter of time before the Backfires came back, and likely in greater numbers. That was the main reason why TF 20.5 remained concealed. AFNORTH had requested a twenty-four hour hold before Strike Fleet Atlantic’s planned offensive against the Kola commenced. The air balance in northern Norway was leaning in NATO’s favor, and an extra day might win air superiority. SACLANT had agreed and as a result, Strike Fleet Atlantic’s carrier groups were on ice for most of D+10.
SACLANT did give permission for a single, small strike against a military target on the Kola to be conducted by Kitty Hawk’s Intruders. An ammunition depot 20km from the Finnish-Soviet border was selected. Four Intruders conducted the attack and returned safely to Bodo. The purpose for the attack was to show the Soviets their homeland was no longer invulnerable to US carrier aircraft. That message was received clearly in both Severomorsk and Moscow.
The Red Banner Northern Fleet was preparing for the defense of the Kola Peninsula. Its remaining anti-carrier group was moving northeast at high speed, along with most of the Soviet subs still in the Norwegian Sea. Admiral Ivan Kapitanets, the fleet commander, intended on establishing a barrier between Bear Island and the North Cape to prevent the NATO carriers, and submarines from entering the Barents Sea. This would keep the enemy ships at arms length from the Kola, and away from the ballistic missile submarines should they sortie. Moscow remained undecided on the issue though the alternative was for the subs to remain in port and possibly be destroyed in NATO air attacks in the coming days. The Kremlin would not take such a gamble, Kapitanets hoped.
As ships moved about the Norwegian Sea and Barents, the pressure was on the Bears to find the enemy carriers before any further attacks on the Kola were made. The situation in northern Norway was going from bad to worse, however, the destruction of one or more American carriers would even the playing field and give the Soviets an opportunity to recover. The Backfire and Badger bombers were deadly instruments of war in their own right, but vulnerable while they sat at their airbases waiting for targets to be found.