The Southern Flank D+11 (20 July, 1987) Part II


USS John F. Kennedy and her escorts cleared the Strait of Gibraltar at 0025 local time. Spanish frigates and US Navy P-3 Orions sanitized the area ahead of the battlegroup. Even though the Western Med was officially secure there was always the possibility of a Soviet sub lurking in the worst possible place at the worst possible time. It didn’t pay to take chances when it came to the safety of an aircraft carrier. The plan for the Kennedy battlegroup remained unchanged. It would rendezvous with Saratoga and her escorts off Sicily, and conduct an underway replenishment before steaming to the Eastern Med.

What took place beyond that point was yet to be decided. In Naples the debate between Bulgaria and the Black Sea continued on without resolution. Sixth Fleet’s commander Vice Admiral Kendall Moranville, USN remained adamant about utilizing the Kennedy-Saratoga force as the centerpiece of a maximum effort against targets on the Soviet Black Sea coast. Along with a second carrier, four TLAM shooters were also coming into theater as well. Two of the Kennedy group’s escorts were equipped with armored box launchers which housed eight of the land attack version of the Tomahawk cruise missile. Two cruise missile-equipped  Los Angeles class attack submarines were also entering the Med, giving the Sixth Fleet, and AFSOUTH an effective deep strike capability once again.

AFSOUTH’s commander Admiral James Busey, USN was leaning towards utilizing the carriers against the Warsaw Pact forces inside of Bulgaria. The outbreak of fighting in the border region of Thrace was a reminder that the main operational threat to the Bosporus and Dardanelles was the buildup of Soviet divisions in Bulgaria. Greece and Turkey, with their frontiers now directly threatened, felt similar and continued to put pressure on NATO’s secretary general and SACEUR to give the Soviet formations and airbases in Bulgaria priority targeting. By late afternoon, SACEUR informed the commander of Allied Forces Southern Europe the choice was his to make and Brussels would support him either way. Busey wasted no time in making the decision: Sixth Fleet’s carriers, and the bulk of NATO airpower in the Eastern Med was to be concentrated on Warsaw Pact targets in Bulgaria with an emphasis on airbases, supply depots, and the main Soviet motor rifle and tank divisions moving south to staging areas near the border.


In Croatia, Serbian nationalist groups were working to disrupt any Croatian attempt to break away from Yugoslavia. Demonstrations in a number of pro-Serb Croatian towns occurred throughout the day. Some of these turned into riots. Darker activities were also taking place in the shadows or behind the scenes. Three police stations in eastern Croatia were bombed, and in Zagreb two of the more well-known Croatian politicians speaking loudly for independence were gunned down in front of their homes.

Yugoslav People’s Army tanks and infantry had entered eastern Croatia and positioned outside some of the larger towns in the region. In the waters off of Dubrovnik Yugoslav Navy frigates and gunboats patrolled with their guns kept aimed in the direction of the historic, walled city. Low level flights of Yugoslav warplanes continued over Zagreb at regular intervals throughout the day. Slobodan Milosevic was content displaying a show of force around the province for the time being. His hope was that Croatians would come to their senses and see the folly of their desire to break away from the mother country.

The Croatian government was incommunicado all day. In Zagreb the debate on declaring independence continued in the parliament. As this was going on, in the afternoon a small contingent of high-level Croatian politicians was arriving in Brussels for discussions on what NATO’s position would be in the event of Croatia seceding from Yugoslavia.

2 Replies to “The Southern Flank D+11 (20 July, 1987) Part II”

    1. Exactly right. There’s not much left to commit so whatever happens in Yugoslavia won’t involve Western or Pact forces for the moment


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