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.