The North Atlantic D+15 (24 July, 1987) Part I

Political developments late in the evening of D+14 necessitated an abrupt halt to SACLANT’s planned operations for the following day. At 0100 on D+15, Admiral Lee Baggett Jr, USN took a phone call directly from President Reagan. The president summarized the hotline conversation he had recently completed with the Soviet general secretary. The situation at present was, in a word, delicate. For the time being, the intended operations against Soviet SSBNs in transit to, or already operating in their bastion areas were forbidden. Further, the number of air attacks on targets in the Kola Peninsula was to be cut by sixty percent. Moscow was becoming quite alarmed at the intensity of attacks being made against Soviet soil by Strike Fleet Atlantic’s carrier air wings. Conventional air attacks on US military and civilian targets in North America as a form of retribution was mentioned by Romanov. Baggett likened the Soviet threat to bluster, but he understood the president’s position. Reagan was determined to keep the war away from the United States and her people. Increasing the tempo of air attacks on Soviet territory was certain to invite a Soviet reprisal.

Baggett did query the president about preparations to move into the bastion and attack Soviet SSBNs if that became necessary. Could he continue to position his surface and sub-surface forces in the Norwegian Sea to react promptly should the order to move in be given? Reagan was agreeable but the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs wanted more particulars before supporting Baggett’s request. For the moment, a compromise was reached. US and NATO attack submarines were permitted to continue positioning. Surface and air assets though, had to maintain their distance until a more comprehensive set of orders could be worked out.

Before the call was terminated, President Reagan asked SACLANT about conditions in the North Atlantic and how the sea lanes were holding up.

“We own the North Atlantic, Mr.President,” Baggett answered confidently. “From Norfolk to the English Channel. There are still Russian subs to contend with, but nowhere near the numbers we saw earlier in the war. They’ve been whittled down considerably. We’re still going to lose some ships from here on in,” he warned. “But the overwhelming majority of merchantmen carrying war material are making it to Europe.”

As this conversation was taking place, Admiral Ivan Kapitanets, commander of the Red Banner Northern Fleet was receiving news that the Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Navy Admiral Vladimir Chernavin had been sacked. The move was long overdue, given the less-than-stellar overall performance of the Soviet Navy thus far in the conflict. The fact that Chernavin had remained as fleet commander for this long bespoke of his political connections and reputation among the current national leadership.

More alarming to Kapitanets was the stark realization that his head was likely next on the cutting board. American aircraft were attacking the Kola with growing regularity. Carrier aircraft no less! The flight decks from which they flew were now positioned in the northern Norwegian Sea despite the best efforts of his ships, submarines, and aircraft to sink them. His own days were numbered unless he could neutralize the enemy carriers and push them away from the Soviet doorstep. Unfortunately for Kapitanets, that task was becoming more impossible with every passing hour.

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