The Warsaw Pact advances into Thrace on D+16 closely resembled those of the previous day: Strong resistance by the Greek and Turkish defenders and minimal gains by the Bulgarian 1st and 2nd Armies. The lack of progress by Pact forces since crossing the border two days earlier appeared to indicate a likely failure of the offensive into Thrace. Yet this appearance was only skin deep, as both sides understood fully. As discussed previously, the geography and lack of a modern road network in Thrace set the tone for combat operations there. Warsaw Pact commanders were entirely aware that their Thrace offensive would not be a modern-day blitzkrieg type of operation. It was estimated that up to two weeks would be needed for the 1st Bulgarian Army and follow-on Soviet divisions to reach the western suburbs of Istanbul. At that time, amphibious and airborne operations aimed at the Bosphorus and Dardanelles were expected to take place. Only now it appeared the seaborne operation was permanently on hold after the successful strike on the Soviet amphibious group in the Black Sea earlier in the morning by US Navy aircraft.
The more pressing crisis for Pact commanders was the loss of air superiority over much of Bulgaria during the day. The airspace over Thrace had already been largely under NATO control. Now the same held true to the north and with even more NATO warplanes expected to arrive in Greece and Turkey in the coming days, the air situation was going to become more critical. Pact air forces in the south had no more reinforcements or replacements available. That pipeline was now bone dry. Airbases, rear areas and supply lines in Bulgaria were becoming more brittle instruments as NATO fighter-bombers inflicted a growing amount of damage.
Romania was supposed to be an active participant in the war by now. This was not the case though. Nicolai Ceausescu was dragging his heels and displaying less enthusiasm for the war as the days went by. Moscow was becoming more alarmed by Ceausescu’s behavior with each hour that passed. Conditions in many of the Warsaw Pact nations continued to deteriorate. The prime concern in the Kremlin was that by failing to contain the Romanian leader, it raised the chances of Romania becoming ground zero for the breakup of the alliance. Action had to be taken and taken quickly. The Ceausescu regime needed to be removed by midnight and replaced with a government closely aligned with the Soviet Union. Preparations for this management change had started in the later hours of the previous day. By 1000 hours local time on D+16, the operation was set to begin.
(Author’s Note: The Romanian coup will be discussed in a Politics of Global War entry next week)
The dismembering of the amphibious group in the Black Sea by US carrier aircraft opened up a new area of concern for Southwestern TVD. If the carrier air wings could reach the southern Black Sea with little issue, did the same hold true for the large number of Soviet naval installations and airbases arrayed along the Crimean and southern Soviet coastlines? Air defense of the region running from Odessa southeast to Krasnodar became a main priority for SWTVD that morning. Finding and destroying the US carrier groups was a close second. Although the Black Sea Fleet and Naval Aviation had little success in their previous searches for the carriers, Soviet territory was now threatened. And unlike their counterparts up north, SWTVD’s senior officers and commander had no intention of allowing a single US bomb to land on the area of the Soviet Union they were tasked with defending.