In the pre-dawn hours, Strike Fleet Atlantic’s three carrier air wings had completed preparations for the day’s planned missions against targets on the Kola Peninsula. The morning strikes were scheduled for a 0630 launch with another wave of strikes and supporting missions set for later in the day. Each air wing commander had private concerns about the restrictions that their crews had to fly under. Politically motivated considerations to be exact. The three CAGs were all veterans of Vietnam and experienced firsthand the difficulties aircrews had in operating under binding restrictions. There were glimmers of those days past becoming evident now. However, the present restrictions were quite sensible given the circumstances.
Three airbases on the Kola would be visited by US carrier aircraft: Umbozero-South, Olenya and Afrikanda. The first two bases were locations where Backfire and Badger bombers were located. The objective was to disrupt the bomber regeneration as much as possible. The bomber regiments were back to their pre-war numbers after having stripped every other military district in the Soviet Union of every spare Backfire and Badger. By all indications, the bomber regiments were nearly ready to go back into action. Strike Fleet Atlantic wanted to hit their home airbases, cause as much damage as possible and hopefully destroy a number of bombers on the ground. Afrikanda was the last major fighter base that was still fully operational and judged worthy of a place on the target list.
There was no political restriction in these targets. They were apparent in those left off the list, such as Severomorsk-1, a large airbase that was home to at least one regiment of Backfires. Its exclusion was due to the airbases location and classification. Severomorsk-1, predictably, was in close proximity to the city of the same name, home to the Red Banner Northern Fleet’s headquarters. The fact that Severomorsk-1 was also the home to a regiment of Tu-95 Bear bombers classified it as a strategic target. The White House had personally restricted Severomorsk-1 and all other military installations deemed to be of high strategic value from being attacked by US or NATO aircraft for fear of causing an unintended escalation of the war. Unfortunately, for the moment the list also included regional air defense sites, long-range radars and essentially anything of value located in the Polyarny, Murmansk, and Severomorsk areas.
Strike Fleet Atlantic’s senior officers understood the reasoning behind the restrictions and accepted them. Yet the unease remained as launch time approached.
Around the same time that morning, a CH-53 Sea Stallion lifted off from the USS Guam operating with the USS Iowa/II MAF task force a short distance from the northwestern Norwegian coast. Twenty minutes later, the bulk helicopter landed at Andoya Airbase. The single passenger it was carrying emerged from the massive Sea Stallion and strode across the ramp towards a waiting group of US Marine Corps, Royal Marine and Norwegian officers. The man was Major General Dan Murphy, USMC, commander of the 2nd Marine Division. He had come to Andoya to conduct an inspection and discuss the present state of the campaign with his NATO counterparts. He was scheduled to remain at Andoya until 1000 when a US Navy P-3C Orion would whisk him from Andoya to Oslo. Murphy was set to meet with CINC-AFNORTH in the early afternoon to brief him on what the 2nd Marine Division’s mission would be when it arrived in the Barents Sea in 36 hours. Murphy also intended to explain to the theater commander just how he could best support Murphy’s marines when they came ashore at some point in the next 48-72 hours.