The storm broke in Thrace at 0445 hours on 23 July, 1987 (D+14). The long awaited Warsaw Pact ground offensive commenced when Bulgarian forces crossed into Greek and Turkish territory. This was preceded by a moderate number of Soviet air attacks targeting NATO airbases, headquarters, and air defense sites in Greece, and Turkey. The air strikes were not as powerful as pre-war plans called for. There were multiple reasons for this. Most significant was the fact that by this stage of the war Soviet, and other WP air forces had taken significant losses. Many of the losses had not been made good. More and more of the replacement and reinforcement aircraft for the Southwestern TVD were ending up diverted to Germany. Added to this was the grim reality that for NATO its reinforcements from elsewhere in Southern Europe, and the United States had not only made good losses sustained earlier in the fighting but served to give NATO a distinct advantage in the air. The Pact air attacks that morning yielded mixed results at a considerable price. Of eight NATO airbases targeted, just two suffered damage that put them out of action for a time.
Ground operations were divided into a pair of advances. The first was being made by the 2nd Bulgarian Army along the eastern bank of the Sturma River into Greek Thrace towards Thessaloniki. This advance was positioned to cover the main attack which was coming to the east in Turkish Thrace. The main attack was being made by the 1st Bulgarian Army and the Soviet 19th Combined Arms Army (CAA). The objective of this attack was the Bosphorus.
Opposing them were two Greek corps in the west, and three powerful Turkish corps, as well as attached reinforcements in the east. The NATO land forces in Thrace had not been complacent over the past two weeks, instead taking the opportunity to dig in deeper and fortify even more. These measures, combined with the terrain of Thrace effectively neutralized the prospect of a swift Pact offensive. Both sides were aware the fighting in Thrace was going to be slow, and difficult. The Pact estimated two weeks were needed for its forces to reach the Bosphorus, a forecast made before the start of the war and already made obsolete by the flow of events in the past two weeks.
The first eight hours of the ground offensive went slow for the first echelon Bulgarian forces. Greek and Turkish troops met and engaged them far forward, in some cases less than a kilometer from the border. The terrain was decisively in favor of the NATO defenders, In Turkish Thrace the first Bulgarian assault was thrown back across the border entirely. In Greek Thrace to the west the Bulgarian 11th Tank Brigade and 2nd Motor Rifle Division advanced six kilometers though at the cost of nearly half the brigade’s combat strength, and nearly a complete battalion of men and vehicles from the reinforcing 2nd MRD.
Through the morning Pact ground forces operated largely without the benefit of fixed-wing close air support. Control of the skies over the battlefield remained firmly in NATO hands from the minute the first tanks crossed into Thrace. Flights of Romanian MiGs heading in to provide air support were bounced by Greek and Turkish Phantoms and US F-16s. The NATO fighters had the benefit of AWACS support and through the first half of the day it allowed alliance aircrews to dominate the skies.
Later in the day, once Soviet air power in Bulgaria recovered from the morning’s missions it would be a different story altogether.
5 Replies to “The Southern Flank D+14 (23 July, 1987) Part I”
I expect an even-ing up of the Air Balance- Romanian and Bulgarian Migs backed by some Russian air giving Nato some fits.
The Italians should be getting involved in this mess soon- its on their doorstep, after all.
IIRC, the Turks in this time frame had some pretty good gear, if dated, and knew what they were about. I can imagine how much a problem they gave the attackers.
I do not expect much of an advance… not with two weeks to prep the ground. Stupid stupid stupid…
Mark- Did you commit the the US Army Airborne Battalion in Italy yet?
They were based in Vicenza in peacetime. I think they had contingencies to deploy as part of the AMF-L southern option or to help with defense of Italy. Small unit, but if they went into either area they would be a significant portion of the early arriving US ground forces. In Hackett’s book the paratroopers and the 6th Fleet MAU fight the first US/Soviet clash.
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They’re part of the theater reserve. Keeping them held back in case they’re needed in Austria, northern Italy or even Yugoslavia
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Pact tardiness bodes ill for them here. That terrain is bad, leaning toward terrible for the attacker. Even with total surprise and air superiority they would have a difficult time, airmobile leapfrog is the way to go. Lacking those two advantages the Bulgarians are not going to have much fun.
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Agreed. They have the unclean end of the stick, so to speak. I wouldn’t want to be up front with them