The North Atlantic D+20 (29 July, 1987) Part II

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.

14 Replies to “The North Atlantic D+20 (29 July, 1987) Part II”

    1. Thanks! Yeah, back in ’87 the Navy was still flying A-6Es from carriers. In this attack only 8 Intruders were used. The other handful remained on the carrier, loaded with nukes in case the war goes nuclear.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Ive been thinking about the 7 lost aircraft and crews. Thats like 8 percent of the airwing, and likely more since this is their 7th(?) day of combat. So thats pretty serious losses. Now that said, flying right into some of the most heavily defended airspace on earth, and with 28 kills, 7 doesnt sound as bad. The value will come down to the effects of the strike; if it took the teeth out of another bomber strike, then great. If the CVBG lost 7 planes and will still face a regiment or more of backfires anyway, thats a different story. Regardless, thats not sustainable.

    I wonder what the airwings look like at this point. Combat losses, operational losses, are the maintainers able to keep up, do they have the parts they need? Is there ordnance shortages of any type? Will the fleet be able to bring in replacement airframes and crews from stateside in a timely fashion?

    I always have so much to think about after reading your posts. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Let me break down the losses and damaged aircraft numbers from just this raid. CVW-9 lost two F-14s, two A-6Es and three A-7Es. Another five aircraft were damaged to one extent or another but all made it back to the carrier and should be available again within 36 hours. You’re right though, it’s a heavy price.

      At this point each of the three (soon to be four) airwings are pretty much intact. Losses have been minimal and some of the lost aircraft have been replaced with airframes and crews from the East Coast RAGs. So, all in all, the systems in place are working. But they won’t hold out forever, or if losses suddenly spike in the coming days.

      I’m glad my posts give you food for thought. Hearing that means I’m succeeding. 🙂

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  2. Let’s see… 28 Soviet A/C for 7 USN, with the Reds fighting like crazy to protect their bases and I’m sure half the losses were to AAA/SAMs. All that being the case, the Navy got away clean. Attacking the most heavily defended real estate since Hanoi is definitely a varsity move. The next strike is going to be even worse

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    1. The Navy lucked out with the Russians reluctant to pull fighters away from Severomorsk. But planting MiGs over the bases under attack certainly didn’t help the situation over the airbases. MiGs, SAMs and AAA…..not very welcoming.

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  3. If losses get too bad in the air wings there are the two reserve air wings (CVRW-20 and 30) back in the states. Same kit as regular air wings and should be fully worked up. One seems to be aligned on each coast, with CVRW-20 on the east coast. They were fly qualified and had sailed aboard a carrier by squadron or wing.

    Allegedly, there were plans for CVWR-20 to deploy forward to the UK to provide additional shore based naval air support. Maybe at Lossiemouth or Kinloss. So, they could already be in theater.

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    1. They’ll suck the RAGs dry before the reserve air wings get touched. Which never made sense to me really. Reserve squadrons are full of crusty, experienced pilots for the most part. Use them first

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  4. Great post! I think Afrikanda and other Kola interceptor bases would have still had a lot of Su-15s in the interceptor role back then (as Korean Air Lines discovered at least twice….)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mike does the USMC have any Skyhawks or have they all moved over to Harriers on LHAs at this point? I know the Skyhawk was retired in the mid 80s from the USMC inventory but I’m not remembering if it was ’85 or ’87…

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  6. The USMC still had F-4S models in regular service and EA-6As in the reserve. So, theoretically at least you could have a 1987 carrier deck putting up a package of F-4s, A-4s, A-6s, EA-6As, all tanked by EKA-3s! How’s that for nostalgia.

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