The North Atlantic D+11 (20 July, 1987) Part II

HMS Spartan Leaves Faslane

By early afternoon Soviet ASW forces were vigorously sanitizing the approaches to the Kola ports, and coastal waters.  Il-38 Mays dropped sonobuoy lines, and were augmented by Helix and Hormone helicopters operating from airfields ashore. The number of diesel subs operating inshore. Some Foxtrots and Tangos were recalled from patrol sectors in the White Sea to strengthen the inshore barrier.

Farther out to sea in the Barents Sea the outer defensive barriers were taking shape. ASW hunting groups comprised of patrol craft and frigates were forming and moving to designated patrol areas. The Baku/Kirov group was positioned 123 miles northeast of Bear Island, anchoring the Svalbard-Bear-North Cape barrier line. Forward of the line was a line of nuclear-powered attack submarines positioned to interdict NATO attack subs moving into the Barents.

Teams of Spetsnaz commandos and small groups of naval infantry were placed on Svalbard early in the conflict. This was the day they sprang into action. The main airfield and heliport were both secured to prevent NATO ASW aircraft from operating there in the coming days. Commandos and KGB assets also sabotaged civilian, and Norwegian government communications, thus disrupting communications between the archipelago and the Norwegian mainland. For the Soviets, the disruptive actions assured that the northern-most point of the main barrier line would remain secure through the duration of the coming battles.

A powerful ASW task group was positioned in the interior Barents Sea. It was centered on the helicopter carrier Leningrad and contained eight other warships, the majority being ASW destroyers and air defense cruisers. With the 22 helicopters embarked on the carrier, and Tu-142 Bears (the ASW variant) operating from the mainland, the group was tasked with providing an impenetrable ASW blanket for a two hundred square mile area.

The Soviet ASW effort in coastal waters started to pay off in the afternoon. Shortly after 1500 an Il-38 May picked up a suspicious return off a sonobuoy line it laid fifteen minutes earlier. After some time and investigation, a contact was established and classified as a possible submarine contact. At this point additional patrol aircraft, as well as ASW helicopters and surface ships converged on the area twenty-eight miles northwest of the point where the Kola Bay meets the Barents Sea. The hunt began in earnest and the contact was eventually re-classified as a probable submarine. A torpedo dropped by one of the Mays missed, as did three volleys of RBUs from frigates and corvettes. As a second run by the May commenced, three torpedoes were detected speeding towards the surface ships that fired off the RBUs. The May’s torpedo hit the water, immediately found the sub and guided on it. Seconds later one of the enemy submarine’s torpedoes found its mark and exploded the Kanin-class destroyer Derzkiy. Through the excitement the fate of the enemy sub was unable to be verified. No breakup noises or explosions had been heard, but the contact had disappeared. The search resumed for another two hours before being called off with Northern Fleet’s ASW forces cautiously claiming credit for a NATO submarine kill.

Thirty miles away, the captain of the USS Philadelphia presumed the chaos going on to the west had something to do with HMS Spartan, a Royal Navy attack sub monitoring the waters off the Kola for signs the Soviets were surging their boomers. Philadelphia, a 688-class  attack boat was performing the same mission from a point east of where the Kola Bay met the Barents. Spartan’s fate was unknown, but Philadelphia’s skipper used the opportunity to move closer to the coast undetected. It would pay off in the late afternoon when the first Soviet SSBN, a Delta III, was detected making his way north. A short while later, the American submarine radioed the news in.

Meanwhile, in Faslane, Scotland at 1930 hours it was noted that HMS Spartan had missed her scheduled 1915 check in time.

14 Replies to “The North Atlantic D+11 (20 July, 1987) Part II”

  1. Poor old Spartan. Good to see some of the underwater action featuring – I suspect they’re in for a busy time over the coming days…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. She went down fighting. As Churchill said once, “Take one with you.”

      Yep, the action beneath the waves is going to be heavy for a while.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree. Those subs would be the last line of defense for the Soviet Union. Lose them and there goes a large chunk of their nuclear forces and the ability to go more than one round in a nuclear exchange.

      Like

  2. For those who are interested, at this point in history, the Soviet SSBN fleet looks something like this:

    Hotel-class: K33(54), K40, K16 were decommissioned and broken up in 1987. It is not specified when that year they were, but if they were decommissioned, I would imagine that there was a removal of missiles and critical systems well prior to that year. However, K19, K145, K149 and K178 are still as of 1987 still in service.

    Yankee-class: The USSR has 32 operational Yankee class boats; one was lost “last year”. Their hull numbers are too numerous to mention here!

    Delta-class : K51, K54, K84, K114, K117. K14 and K407 are building but will not be available for two years of peacetime; I imagine exigencies of warfare could slow that down. The whole remaining class however has 36 boats operational in ’87.

    Typhoon-class: 5 boats are available; the 5th of the class won’t be in commission until 1989.

    That’s a hell of a lot of missile submarines.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So on the BluFor side of the fence, here’s what the USN can put to sea in terms of nuclear deterrent.

    George Washington-class: The five (and only) of this boat’s class were decommissioned “two years” ago. None currently in service.

    Ethan Allen-class: Five of these boats were commissioned. By 1987, however, only two were still in commission. The Ethan Allen (SSBN-608), Thomas A. Edison (SSBN-610) and Thomas Jefferson (SSBN-618) were all on their way to being decommissioned.

    Lafayette-class: All 9 Lafayette class boats are still in service.

    James Madison-class: 9 of 10 constructed of this class were in service in 1987; one had been decommissioned in 1985 (SSBN 636, Nathaniel Greene).

    Benjamin Franklin-class: all 12 are in service in 1987.

    Ohio-class: 10 Ohio-class boats are still building; only eight are in service in 1987.

    Columbia-class: only notional, none in service or even planned in the 1980s, and none in service at the time of this writing.

    A few footnotes to consider: while the balance of SSBN’s seems to tip towards the Soviet Navy in sheer numbers, what we now know of their questionable maintenance practices and reliability issues may limit how many are actively on patrol. Also, I am unaware of what Soviet/Warpac navy patrol schedules were like (and they likely wanted it kept that way!)

    In addition to the US forces, unlike the Soviets, NATO can also rely on French and British SSBNs. The Soviets were the only game in town in the WarPac when it came to SSBNs.

    Mike would have to tell us how much of the SSBN fleet is in Kola vs. already on patrol or in the Pacific.

    This last note is personal opinion that may or may not be something Mike’s considering, but either way I will appreciate his take: the sinking of one, two or even three Soviet SSBNs over the course of the entire war *may be* viewed by the Kremlin as the cost of doing business. E.g., one Sunday, another next week, and a third two or three weeks later. A concerted effort by NATO to destroy as much of the Red Banner Fleet’s SSBN strength *could very well trigger a nuclear escalation*.

    Now I’ve run my yap likely as much as Mike wants me to in his back yard, back to the “book”!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Most of the Soviet boomers were with the Northern Fleet. I actually have the numbers and will look them up but please feel free to contribute more info anytime! 🙂 Awesome so far

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It occurs to me now I accidentally the second-to-last sentence! :O

    “A concerted effort by NATO to destroy as much of the Red Banner Fleet’s SSBN strength *could very well trigger a nuclear escalation*.”

    Should read as “A concerted effort by NATO to destroy as much of the Red Banner Fleet’s SSBN strength, in a short period of time, could very well trigger a nuclear escalation.”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. First off thanks again, pace of reading has slacked off with the working week but still loving this binge experience.
    Intrigued by Leningrad in the Barents – I’d always thought she and Moskva spent their careers in the Black Sea / Mediterranean – or is that the long shadow of VG 6th Fleet colouring my memory?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No worries. During the workweek both the pace of reading, and sometimes of my writing drops off a bit. It happens.

      Early in their careers, both ships spent most of their time in the Med. Then by the mid-80s at least one was up north more often than not. I remember them from 6th Fleet too. Used to send A-6s to sink them whenever the opportunity arose.

      Liked by 1 person

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