Author’s Note: Going to have split North Atlantic into 3 parts. Real world commitments have cut my blog writing time down this week, so we won’t finish North Atlantic until Friday. Not a terrible setback, but still. 😊 –Mike
0632– Sixty miles southeast of Bear Island, the USS Kitty Hawk turned into the wind and began launching aircraft. The morning strikes would be flown entirely by Kitty Hawk’s CVW-9. Forrestal’s airwing was slated to handle the afternoon strikes and Eisenhower’s aircraft would be responsible for air defense above Strike Fleet Atlantic for much of the day. The launch cycle took just over twenty minutes. Once it was over, the collection of aircraft headed southeast towards the northern Norwegian coast.
0730– The ingress routes for Kitty Hawk’s aircraft took them southeast over northern Norway and then into Finnish airspace. Once over Lapland, the strike package turned east at a pre-designated point and started descending as they approached the Kola. Accompanying the Intruders and Corsairs were four EA-6B Prowlers. As the formation passed above Lake Inari, the Prowlers activated their powerful jammers, causing havoc with the western-most line of Soviet air search radars.
0740– With heavy jamming coming out of the west, air defense commanders suspected a raid was inbound from that direction. SAM batteries and radar sites around other parts of the peninsula were brought to maximum alert while klaxon alarms went off in the ready shacks of interceptor bases.
0745– Over Lapland, Two squadrons of F-14 Tomcats activated their AWG-9 radars and took stock of the air picture. The Soviets had three combat air patrols up. Two over the Severomorsk area and one above the central area of the peninsula. The morning’s targets were Olenya and Afrikanda airbases. The mission commander, flying onboard an E-2C Hawkeye now approaching Norway, ordered the Tomcats into action. The first squadron volleyed AIM-54 Phoenix missiles at the airborne CAPs while the second, armed with AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, bore in to cover the Intruders and Corsairs now approaching their target fields. As they did so, the E-2 warned of more fighters rising from Afrikanda, nearby Kirovsk and other fields to the north.
0750– The Phoenix missiles dispatched roughly half the Soviet fighters flying combat air patrols. The survivors failed to respond how the Americans expected. Instead of darting in the direction of the inbound Tomcats and other aircraft, the MiGs and Flankers kept station over Severomorsk and Murmansk in the north and the airspace around Olenya to the south. It was clear what the Soviets had in mind. They wanted to force the Tomcats to close and engage them over the targeted airbases. Minutes afterward, as the Intruders and Corsairs entered the same patch of airspace, the scene would become bedlam. Then the SAMs and AAA would come next. The American mission commander orders one squadron of Tomcats to reposition north of Olenya to prevent any Flankers around Severomorsk from coming south to join the air battle that was only minutes away from commencing. He sends the second squadron, VF-24, towards Olenya and Afrikanda with orders to clear the airspace and keep the MiGs off the attack planes as they make their runs.
0752– Even though the long-range search radars arrayed around the Kola, and so-called ‘strategic surface-to-air assets’ such as the SA-5 were deliberately left off the targeting list, the shorter-range radars and SAM sites in closer proximity to Olenya and Afrikanda were targeted. Of the two squadrons of A-7E Corsair IIs, one was armed with Shrike and HARM anti-radiation missiles and cluster bombs while the other hauled iron bombs. The first squadron went for the radars and SAMs, as the second descended even lower and headed for its target this morning: Afrikanda Airbase. Just to the north, eight A-6E Intruders from VA-165 approached Olenya at tree top level from three different directions.
0755– It did not take long for the airspace over the central Kola to become a confusing mass of aircraft blazing past, missiles streaking and explosions. The Tomcats meshed with an equal-sized force of MiG-29s and MiG-21s, engaging in a series of dogfights that mostly kept the Soviet fighters occupied. While this was happening, radars and SAM sites on the ground far below were being hit by A-7s as a second squadron of the snub-nosed fighters arrived over Afrikanda. Moments later, the first Intruders streaked over Olenya Airbase.
0814– The last US carrier aircraft departed Soviet airspace, leaving behind two smoking airbases, multiple destroyed SAM sites and radars, as well as the wreckage of twenty-eight Fulcrums, Fishbeds and Flankers. The actual amount of damage inflicted on the airbases was unknown and would remain that way until post-strike reconnaissance missions were flown, and satellite data analyzed. The Intruder crews reported good hits on the Backfire hangars as well as destroying a number of bombers in revetments and on the ramp. These claims were taken with a grain of salt until they could be verified. The results did not come cheaply for CVW-9. Seven aircraft were lost and a handful returned to the carrier with moderate battle damage. The morning missions were considered a success and rightfully so. But pilots, other aircrew members, squadron COs and air wing staff all understood that a better job needed to be done in the next round of strikes.