The Sixth Fleet carriers continued flying combat sorites against targets in Bulgaria through the early morning hours of D+13. At 0400 the last aircraft trapped aboard Kennedy and a short time later the two-carrier task force was steaming west. Carrier Air Wing 3 had received its baptism of fire and acquitted itself well. Its two A-6 Intruder, and single A-7 Corsair squadron had struck two heavily defended fighter bases in central Bulgaria and returned home without loss. Post-strike BDA indicated that the Intruders and Corsairs had inflicted significant damage to all three bases. Not to be outdone by their mud moving counterparts, Kennedy’s two F-14 squadrons racked up eight MiG kills by dawn, Saratoga’s Tomcats, in comparison, scored only three kills in the same time period.
The carrier air wings would return to strike targets in Bulgaria once night fell. Until then their mission was to remain concealed. The Soviet were continued to search for the two carriers with reconnaissance aircraft and submarines. There were a respectable number of Backfires and Badgers at airbases on the Black Sea coast, and in Syria armed and waiting to be unleashed. However, after the events of the previous day in the skies above the Norwegian Sea the Soviets weren’t about to launch any more attacks on US aircraft carriers without accurate targeting information.
The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was living on borrowed time. Croatia’s breakaway was becoming the potential catalyst for the collapse of Yugoslavia as a nation-state. Pro-independence demonstrations were breaking out and spreading across Bosnia and Slovenia. Violent clashes between Muslims and Serb in Sarajevo served to underscore the delicate ethnic house of cards that Yugoslavia rested upon. The situation was growing increasingly volatile, and Slobodan Milosevich was coming to the realization that he was running out of time to save the republic before it broke apart permanently.
His options were limited. Croatia was becoming a warzone less than thirty-six hours after its declared independence. Serbs and Croats were openly fighting. The Yugoslavian Army column heading for Zagreb was enduring countless delays, and ambushes. Yugoslavian warships continued to shell Dubrovnik, while MiGs roared overhead. A swift crackdown now would probably deter the other republics from seeking independence. Unfortunately, as time went on Milosevic, his government and military seemed incapable of bringing that about. That left two unpalatable options to choose from: Request Soviet assistance, or turn the struggles for independence into full-blown ethnic conflagrations.
In the afternoon of D+14 Milosevic called upon the Soviet ambassador in Belgrade. In a passionate 45 minute meeting he made an official request for Soviet military assistance to ‘end the NATO-sponsored rebellion in Croatia.’ The ambassador listened patiently and then informed the Yugoslavian leader he would present the request to Moscow. At this point Milosevic saw the writing on the wall and realized the Soviet Union was not about to lift a finger to help him preserve Yugoslavia.