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

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It had taken longer than expected but on D+11 SACLANT secured HMS Illustrious and her escorts for operations in the Norwegian Sea and Barents. After the loss of Invincible, the British government became extremely reluctant to risk another Royal Navy aircraft carrier. Morale in Great Britain had taken a hit when news of Vince’s sinking was made public. Whitehall, and 10 Downing Street did not want a repeat of the public morose, and the hue and cry that came from Parliament in the days following. The needs of the war effort finally won out and London quietly gave its approval. Now the Illustrious group was departing the North Sea, set on a course for the northern reaches of the Norwegian Sea. The original plan for Strike Fleet Atlantic’s ingress, and offensive operations had called for an ASW group led by Invincible to cover the right flank of the carrier groups. After she went down Illustrious was expected to assume the role but was instead kept in the North Sea to support operations on the eastern end of the GIUK line. Now it was Lusty’s turn to head back up north. SACLANT estimated the baby carrier and her ASW-heavy airwing and escort ships to be positioned north of Andoya in thirty-six hours at the latest and prepared to start operations.

This was not the only group of Allied warships moving north at the time. Back when the Soviets captured Andoya it forced the surviving Royal Norwegian Navy ships and submarines operating in the north to redeploy into southern Norwegian waters. With the airbase now almost entirely back in NATO hands, a Norwegian naval task group made up of two frigates and six fast attack craft was preparing to move north and contest Soviet control of the waters off the North Cape. Two of the Royal Norwegian Navy’s surviving diesel subs were already moving to establish a screen ahead of the group.

At 1600 in the afternoon aircraft from CVW-6 flew the air wing’s final missions in support of US Marines at Andoya. The 2nd Marine Air Wing then assumed full responsibility for close air support and other missions in the Andoya region. The carrier-borne aircraft were preparing to return to sea with their home ship. USS Forrestal and the French aircraft carrier Foch were moving out of the fjords back into the Norwegian Sea under the watchful eye of their escorts. F-14s flew cover over the formation as it made its way farther out to sea. By 2000 the first group of CVW-6 aircraft took off from Bodo and started recovering aboard Forrestal less than an hour later. The recovery process for the whole air wing took slightly under ninety minutes. When it was time for the Tomcats to trap, US Air Force F-15C Eagles took over top cover for the battlegroup. When the last fighter caught the three wire the formation turned northwest, heading for deeper water and a rendezvous with the Eisenhower/Kitty Hawk force around 0900 the next morning.

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