D+18 0401-0800 Zulu, 27 July, 1987 Part I

North Atlantic

Norfolk, Virginia, 0430 Zulu, 27 July, 1987 (0030 local time)

As was the case with the majority of flag officers around the world in July of 1987, SACLANT was keeping strange hours. The ships and submarines he commanded were spread from the east coast of the US to the fringes of the Arctic Circle. An expanse of blue that crossed through seven time zones. When the carrier groups in the northern reaches of the Norwegian Sea were greeting a new sunrise, it was after midnight at SACLANT headquarters in Norfolk. In roughly three hours when Convoy 87-22 reached the Western Approaches it would be 0330 or so. The early morning hours of the day were busy periods of time. Admiral Lee Baggett, USN preferred to be fully awake as the first act of the day’s drama played out on the other side of the Atlantic.

Overall, Baggett, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic, believed his command was having a good war. He was also confident this trend would continue in the coming days. He was presently operating three carrier battle groups on the front doorstep of the Kola Peninsula. There had been four originally until the loss of Foch. Her sinking at the hands of the Backfires was regrettable, but not catastrophic to Strike Fleet Atlantic. Even the loss of one of the American carriers would not have put the fleet out of business or dramatically reduced its combat power. Eisenhower, Forrestal and Kitty Hawk remained on station and their air wings were essentially intact. But for the moment, the carriers and their aircraft were restricted from their primary mission of attacking military targets in the Soviet Union. This change came about due to strategic and political considerations. Baggett understood and respected the reasons behind the decision. But it still frustrated him to have three carriers up north and not accomplishing much of anything. Strike Fleet Atlantic’s commander complained to Baggett. Baggett complained to the CNO and the griping continued on up the chain of command. Whether anything useful would come from it remained to be seen.

SACLANT fervently hoped his strike fleet would be back to work soon. In a matter of days there would be a fourth carrier, USS Coral Sea, operating up north and an amphibious task force carrying the bulk of the 2nd Marine Division. Accompanying the ‘phibs was the USS Iowa. When the amphibs departed from Little Creek, the mission of the Marines on board was to force a landing in Northern Norway and expose the rear area of the Soviet forces advancing deeper into Norway. Unfortunately for the enemy, that advance never got beyond Andoya. Right now most of Norway was clear of Soviet troops and equipment, meaning the Marines needed a new task. That was being worked on right now in the form of a plan to land the Marines on the Kola Peninsula, supported by a second advance by NATO forces from Northern Norway. However, the working plan’s approval would depend on the strategic picture. Right now, Baggett did not believe the planned landing was going to become reality. US Marines landing on Soviet beaches would mark a dangerous escalation in the conflict and possibly lead to nuclear weapons being used against the landing sites.

The problem for Baggett and his operations staff was that aside from the Kola and Norway, there were no promising employment opportunities for the Marines on those ships in the Norwegian Sea right now. Keeping them embarked and the amphib group out in open ocean would only invite trouble. Ivan’s remaining subs and Backfires would find them at some point and bring about a disaster. This point also supported the argument in favor of unleashing Strike Fleet Atlantic against the Backfire bases on the Kola again. Unfortunately, Baggett knew all too well, Washington viewed the situation from a different perspective altogether.

16 Replies to “D+18 0401-0800 Zulu, 27 July, 1987 Part I”

  1. Landing a Marine division on Kola would be a good thing, might make the Politburo drop dead from shock.

    Of course if that didn’t happen they response would be bad, and by bad I mean they’d go ape shit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, barring a massive, Politburo-wide coronary, they’d go insane if LCACs and Amtracks were seen approaching the northern beaches

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  2. Landings on Kola would be interesting. You’d isolate what’s left of the Soviet forces in Norway from their main supply and support base. You could also cause commitment of reserve assets away from Germany.

    But, even with the previous damage done to Kola defenses, there are a lot of coastal ssm, guns, facs, and mines that can contest the littoral space where amphibious ships minesweepers and naval gunfire support ships operate. The amphibious force will also be static, presenting a target for diesel subs and remaining strike aircraft.

    Once ashore, a marine division is probably going to find itself outclassing in terms of troop quality, leadership, and supporting arms integration. They’ll need it. The static defensive forces (Army, Navy, and MVD) in Kola will be fighting from known positions on familiar ground with a friendly populace. An unopposed landing will require movement to seize key points; Kola tends to become boggy in summer which will restrict marine wheels and tracks to roads in some areas. An opposed landing may leave the division unable to conduct follow on maneuver unless reinforced by marines from Norway or other forces.

    Political/military consequences aside, “wrecking” kola with a ground maneuver force may be feasible, but not worth the risk.

    Liked by 1 person

          1. Well I was thinking more 1987, but, yes. A suddenly resurgent USSR would probably find a few thousand “VC” (they’ve already got the black uniforms and a hatred of the middle class) ready and willing to fight for them…ahem, anyway, the point being, Soviet landings on US soil would cause people to freak the heck out (and rightly so). Unless you’ve got something up your sleeve, Mike, I don’t foresee landings in the Kola…

            Liked by 1 person

  3. As an aside, does anyone know if there has been any research into the levels of sleep deprivation on men in combat vs. efficiency? Why I ask is, when you consider the circumstances (fighting to stave off the literal end of the world), getting 5-8 hours of sleep might not even be on the plate for anyone. From an admiral all the way down to a private. But the less you sleep, the worse you perform, and the more crisis situations that could create that would require more attention at hours when you need to be sleeping, which gives you less sleep, which impacts your performance…etc.

    How can a captain of even a frigate, or a tank commander, or a platoon leader, etc., say “Yes the Russians are ‘x’ threat, I need six hours of sleep. Goodnight.”?

    I recall a scene in Team Yankee where after 24 hours of near constant combat (culminating in the destruction of a double-strength Soviet motor-rifle company), Bannon and everyone else in “A” literally fall asleep inside their perimeter. As Coyle put it, when Bannon starts awake after dawn, and rouses his men, “Oh, shit!” became the standard greeting instead of “good morning”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s interesting. I can’t speak for ground operations but on the air side, from personal experience, crew rest is a very real thing. In the 12 hours leading up to flight duty, at least 8 were required to be spent in uninterrupted rest. AKA sleep. And if you had trouble sleeping or something similar, the flight docs could get you some help for fatigue management. Go and No-Go Pills are very real.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can give a ground perspective- at least from Desert Storm… and a little from anecdotes of a buddy for the latest wars.

        For us in my unit, there was no “uppers” unless you counted ranger pudding… and down time was fleeting. Granted, memory is fuzzy but for the 100 hours of the ground war, there really was no sleep.

        A cat/combat nap of thirty to forty-five minutes here and there at night between midnight and four am- it was not what I would call sleep…and as the driver on my track, I think during the course of the war I left my hatch a whole four times.to piss or shit.

        And yes…. that sucked.

        Incidentally, when the Ceasefire was announced for folks in the US on 28 Feb, it was already 1 March for us poor slobs… We found out that morning somewhere around 05 or 06… Within ten minutes, after the cheering dies down, there was very few troops awake. I remember our FDC kept someone alert but that track was overmanned so someone always got sleep there.

        But yeah… just about everyone took a nap. I wanna say at least an hour to two hour of ZZZ before orders came down to dig in.

        In theory… I had been up for roughly 110 hours counting the hours before the start of the ground war. If you factor in the cat naps, it was a hundred.

        Either way… Not my idea of a Good Time. Won’t trade the experience… but not my idea of a good time. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

        1. A buddy used to drink ripits and monsters like mad to help him manage staying up during his 2k5 tour for two or three days at a shot. That and menthol cigarettes.

          Its no wonder he developed a heart condition that eventually helped kill him in 2019

          Liked by 2 people

  4. According to CDC 18 hours of being constant wakefulness produces reaction, cognitive, and emotion impairment equivalent to 0.05 BAC; 24 hours is equivalent to a BAC of 0.1. Nervous reactions, memory loss, and visual impairment can begin after 24 hours. Hallucinations and irritability can start by 36 hours depending on other stressors, compounded by sleep deprivation psychosis by 72 hours.

    Rest plans are an important factor that didn’t get as much attention as it should have during this time. The US ground combat forces had experienced a technological revolution in night operations capabilities with the widespread introduction of AFV and ATGM thermal sights, increasing issue of night vision goggles for ground and rotary wing use, and FLIR on attack and scout helicopters. Doctrine had also changed, with the air-land battle concept emphasizing continuous operations to overwhelm the enemy decision cycle, while tactical doctrine advocated the use of superior night combat technology overmatch against “threat” forces to make them fight asymmetrically.

    Doctrine and technology were reinforced in training exercises, both at the NTC and through the ARTEP program, with the “100 hour war” being a common expression. Units maximized these training opportunities by compressing timelines and minimizing non-training (rest) time. Rest plans were often set aside or truncated during these events, despite many leaders having firsthand experience of the effects of sleep deprivation during training, schools, and combat operations.

    These practices were also manifest in operations just cause and desert storm/saber. Superior night combat technology, doctrine, and experience allowed US forces to achieve outstanding success during night combat while maintaining a tempo of operations that achieved psychological ascendancy. The downside of this was an increase in fratricide as the war continued, increased accident rates, and most units “going to sleep” once the cease fire was ordered. This indicates that if the war had continued the lack of rest plan would have likely led to rapidly reduced combat effectiveness, and errors.

    During a general war, rest plans will depend on the security situation- rest plan falls last on standard lists of priorities of work. Units “on the line” may be lucky to be at 75-50% security once rest plans are implemented; 6 hours is probably an exceptional night with 3-4 more likely. Naps a available will be the order of the day on the line. Off the line, units in reconstitution or reserve will likely get more rest, with 25% security and fewer priorities of work allowing for 6 or more hours of uninterrupted sleep. Not enough to recharge fully, but enough to restore effectiveness when combined with better feeding, clean clothes, and chances for bathing.

    If you’re interested, reading any of the multitude of accounts of Army Ranger School students experiencing sleep deprivation should be enlightening.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. During extreme sleep and food deprivation, people have been seen trying to put quarters (small rocks) into a vending machine (tree) to get a coke. They’ve also been seen giving the challenge or password to a tree in the middl of the night. Or falling asleep on a knee at a short halt.

    That’s just in training.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. More thoughts: it’s not combat but the “pace of operations” that the crab boat crews on Dangerous Catch went through was hellish: 30-50 hour “seasons” that require literal nonstop work. The seasonal help that would show up came up there with the idea of “Work for four days, make $24000!”…without fully comprehending that it could be four to five days *nonstop physical labor* which is why they subsist on cigs, chocolate, and coffee for the duration of the tour, and an “old man” on the boat (not the skipper) is in his early 30s, and they don’t take guys of that age as seasonal workers. The regular crews do that once or twice or three times a year, depending. It can make you real old, real fast.

    Plus having a shitty sleep cycle can wear holes in your limbic system, and cause early onset dementia, which is in itself a horrifying prospect.

    Liked by 1 person

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