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

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In the last moments of twilight, 2nd ATAF’s ground attack fighters made the last sorties against the Leine bridges, and targets of opportunity in the vicinity. Post-attack reconnaissance missions brought back photographs that revealed another temporary bridge destroyed, and heavy damage to the tank regiment then in the process of crossing the river. For the majority of tactical fighters in Central Europe, the curtain had closed on operations for the day. Now, with darkness upon the region, aircraft equipped with targeting pods, and smart munitions emerged to conduct their missions. The overwhelming majority of these planes belonged to NATO, though the Soviets did have a small number of Su-24 Fencers available with similar capabilities.

The original Air Tasking Order for the night of D+11/12 saw the majority of NATO’s conventional night and precision attack aircraft fragged to strike airbases, railheads, POL storage sites, and C3 bunkers deep in the Warsaw Pact rear areas. As COMAAFCE’s directive to provide more support to 2nd ATAF became a reality this changed. The land force commanders at NORTHAG communicated their battle plans, and the role air operations would play to 2nd ATAF, which passed it up the line. The ATO was reworked to work some of 4th ATAF’s assets into the plan as smoothly as possible. For the coming night of air operations, this meant a reshuffling of missions and targets.

The 493rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, an F-111 unit based at RAF Lakenheath, along with six F-117A stealth fighters were refragged from their original missions. Their new targets would be the Leine bridges, and a number of high value targets in the vicinity of them. Exactly what these high value targets were would remain a mystery until shortly before takeoff. The aircrews wondered to themselves if this was the result of a need for secrecy, or if the mission planners just needed more time to find acceptable targets. Unbeknownst to the -111 crews, and Stink Bug drivers at the time, it was a combination of the two. Takeoffs were set to begin just after midnight.

The next day would see at least eight 4th ATAF squadrons refragged to support operations in the NORTHAG sectors. These were all USAF squadrons. Two A-10, two, F-15C, two F-16C, and one Air National Guard squadron of A-7 Corsairs recently arrived in theater. The squadrons would remain based in central Germany, but their sorties would take them north instead of east. 2nd ATAF was glad to have the help coming, especially the A-10s. The specialized ground attack plane had developed an almost mythical reputation since the war began and there wasn’t a NATO ground commander in all of Europe who didn’t want A-10s supporting his troops. In the coming days, troops of the British Army of the Rhine and US III Corps were destined to become intimately familiar with, and in some instances reliant upon, the capabilities of the A-10 Warthog.

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