The North Atlantic D+13 (22 July, 1987) Part I

In June, 1987 the Soviet doctrine for direct attacks against a US Navy carrier taskforce called for the commitment of 2-3 bomber regiments per carrier. This translated to roughly one hundred Badgers and Backfires with two-thirds of them armed with anti-ship missiles. The remainder would primarily carry decoys, chaff, and jammers. For a multi-carrier enemy task force the numbers would inflate to include at least six regiments, breaking down to a commitment of around 200 bombers. This pre-war doctrine had also called for the direct attacks against US carriers to begin when they were in the vicinity of the GIUK line, and increase as the enemy formations sailed north. The Soviet objective was to destroy the carriers before they could conduct strikes against military targets on the Kola Peninsula.

As is the case with practically all pre-war doctrine, this one did not survive first contact intact. Unforeseen circumstances, and a fluid situation brought on modifications. Now, on the fourteenth day of war three US and one French aircraft carrier, and their escorts sat within striking distance of the Kola. The carriers were undamaged, and intact. Their journey up through the Norwegian Sea had not drawn the 6+ regiment attack envisioned by Soviet planners and called for in the doctrine. The attacks that were launched at the enemy carrier groups had been small, infrequent, and caused neglectable damage.

This latest strike would be conducted by what remained of five regiments. Two weeks of sustained combat action resulted in considerable losses to the Soviet’s Northern force of Backfires and Badgers. Now when it was needed the most, this particular instrument of war did not appear to be as indomitable as doctrine had anticipated. Nevertheless, it remained a formidable force that posed a potentially lethal threat to the American and French aircraft carriers now sailing arrogantly in northern waters near Soviet soil. 

The attack strength was going to be 117 aircraft, over half of these being older Badgers. The strike plan had been revised at the urging of the Backfire regiment commanders. The Tu-22s would carry one AS-4 anti-ship missile per aircraft. Even though the bomber was capable of carrying three missiles (one under the belly, and two under the wings) the Backfire crews preferred the lighter load. The wing mounted missiles caused a significant increase in drag, and reduced speed. In combat conditions where the crews would be dodging Phoenix missiles and Tomcats, this was unacceptable. As a result, the forty-five Backfires would fly into battle carrying one AS-4 each. The Badgers, however, would still carry two AS-6 Kingfish each.

As the clock slipped past midnight and D+13 came into being Badgers and Backfires were lifting off from five airbases across the Kola. The reconnaissance Bears were already airborne, loitering two hundred miles north of Severomorsk over the Barents Sea waiting for the bombers to complete their takeoffs, and form up. Once this was finished the Bears would spread out and fly southwest in search of the enemy carrier taskforces. The takeoff of a bomber regiment took about 30 minutes under normal conditions. On this morning it was closer to 45 minutes until all of the aircraft were airborne and formed up. At 0035 the bombers established their cruising formations and began heading north towards their first navigational waypoints over the water. Strict radio silence was maintained.

Masking the takeoffs of one hundred plus aircraft was an impossible task. In the hills and forests around some airbases on the Kola, US Special Forces and British Special Air Service teams were lurking. These teams were tasked to provide laser-targeting for smart-bomb armed NATO fighter bombers when Operation Midnight Sun commenced later in the morning. Therefore, the commando teams were positioned in spots that offered them good views of the airbases they would be lasing.

They had been quietly monitoring the increased activity at places like Olenya, and Monchegorsk, yet maintained radio silence. When the Backfires and Badgers started lifting off from the bases it became clear just what was going on. One of the SAS team commanders decided this was too important not to radio in. The transmission burst lasted less than a tenth of a second. It went directly to a communications satellite in low-earth orbit, and in under thirty seconds the message was received at six NATO communications centers in Europe and North America.

Two minutes later the message was on SACLANT’s desk.

6 Replies to “The North Atlantic D+13 (22 July, 1987) Part I”

  1. Do the Red forces have targeting info for the Blue fleet? Or do the Bears have to winkle them out? Makes a big difference in how the Badgers and Backfires approach the carriers, especially knowing that theatre are lots of AIM-54s and fighters with long legs. Blue knows almost exactly when to launch the fighters and tankers and pretty much not a lot of room for playing around with different fthreat axes so the E-2s know where to be. Sounds like there’s another Turkey Shoot in the works

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Red has a general idea of the area but they need more accurate targeting information to launch an attack. So the Bears come out and try to obtain it, and then, if necessary, the bombers will do the same thing. If done wrong, they’ll be massacred. Lots of AIM-54 armed Tomcats sitting on the carrier decks waiting to be turned loose.


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