Air War on the Central Front D+11 (20 July, 1987) Part I


At this point in the war, the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies were unable to secure control of the skies over the entire front, even for a brief period of time. This stark reality was a harsh pill to swallow, but Pact commanders begrudgingly accepted it as fact. However, the ability to attain air superiority over a specific sector of the battlefield for a limited amount of time remained intact. This was what Western TVD directed its air commanders in Germany to do on D+11. The Leine crossing was getting underway, marking the start of what would be a critical day in the Battle for Germany.

16th Air Army’s plan was to keep a thick fighter blockade in place over the river for as long as possible. Realistically, this would probably translate to an 8-12 hour period of time. Whether or not this would be enough time or not depended on the troops on the ground. If the situation was favorable enough, ground attack missions would also be flown against NATO forces in the afternoon.

Three regiments of MiGs were committed initially, two of MiG-23 Floggers and one of MiG-29 Fulcrums. The appearance of three successive waves of MiGs taking off from airbases in East Germany and moving west caught NATO air commanders in the north entirely off guard. The latest intelligence data had led 2 ATAF to expect no more than sixty Soviet fighters being committed to this sector. Now there was over twice that number in the air coming at them. NATO’s opening move was limited. British Phantoms, and Belgian F-16s initially tasked with air defense over the forward edge of the battle area moved east to meet the MiGs as the call went out for additional fighters. The numbers favored the Soviets in the first hour. As time went on, however, more NATO fighters joined the growing air battle in the skies above the Leine. The Soviets also threw reinforcements in. A regiment of Su-27 Flanker fighters were detected by NATO E-3s rising from multiple airbases in East Germany. This prompted 2 ATAF’s commander Air Marshal Sir Anthony Skingsley to order the commitment of the 32nd TFS, a USAF F-15 squadron based at Soesterberg in the Netherlands. Skingsley followed up with an immediate request to COMAAFCE for additional F-15s from the 4 ATAF. The request was approved and soon a squadron of Eagles was leaving Bitburg and heading north.

As the air battle raged, NATO ground attack fighters were flying missions against the bridgehead and Soviet units approaching the river. Occasionally, MiGs broke free from the melee and chased after the NATO fighter-bombers. More often than not, NATO fighters followed them down too. Soviet SAM crews were operating under strict rules of engagement, restricted from engaging targets below 2,000 meters altitude. Anything beneath that height was considered fair game. As a result, more and more MiGs fell victim to fratricide as the afternoon continued on.

By 1730 when Soviet troops were nearly in complete control of the western bank of the Leine the skies overhead were almost entirely empty. 16th Air Army, and 2 ATAF were licking their wounds and preparing for the next round of fighting. NATO ground attack squadrons were set to conduct a continuous, high intensity effort against the bridges to make the crossing as expensive for the Soviets as possible, while their air-to-air brothers kept the sky clear of MiGs and Flankers. At bases in East Germany around the same time, Soviet aircrews were making similar plans.

8 Replies to “Air War on the Central Front D+11 (20 July, 1987) Part I”

    1. It would be too high. U Boats wouldn’t last very long with all those mobile SAMs and Zeus guns around. We lost one in Desert Storm around the time of Khafji. It flew over an area with a lot of guns and SAMs in daylight.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. To be fair, the Soviets had a different meaning of “air superiority”, having never, not even in late WWII, really bought the “Big Blue [Red?] Blanket” approach to air power.

    While they’d have obviously liked to have greater control of the skies, having local superiority or even standoff in the right place at the right time would be more important.

    Liked by 2 people

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