The Central Front D+20 (29 July, 1987) Part IV

General Bill Kirk, USAF was the Commander of Allied Air Forces in Central Europe (COMAAFCE). Thus far, he had run an almost flawless air war, having achieved air superiority and overcome Warsaw Pact advantage in aircraft numbers, as well as the much-vaunted effectiveness of enemy air defenses. That is not to say NATO losses in the air had been light, however, pilot and aircraft losses were nowhere near the levels some experts had predicted they would be at by this point in a war. Kirk categorized them as moderate although he never used this term in the presence of anyone outside of his most senior staff officers and air commanders. There is no way to avoid casualties, yet Kirk refused to publicly describe NATO air losses as moderate. Doing so would minimize the ultimate sacrifices made by hundreds of pilots already and serve no purpose.

Since the limited nuclear exchange on D+18, air operations were curtailed considerably. Ground attack aircraft continued to fly sorties against Soviet formations, supply depots and suspected headquarters on West German soil, but no missions had been flown against targets in East Germany, Poland or Czechoslovakia in nearly forty-eight hours. The risk of the enemy misinterpreting the appearance of NATO warplanes over Pact territory was too great to chance. Tension was still high following the destruction of both Madrid and Gorki. As a result, interdiction and other deep strike missions were off the table for the time being.

The last-minute delay in launching the NATO counteroffensive was welcomed by Kirk. The pause allowed him give 2 ATAF a brief period of rest. The ground attack squadrons assigned to the Second Allied Tactical Air Force had started flying sorties against Soviet targets on the North German Plain the previous day as preparation for the coming attack. Now that it had been postponed, Kirk wanted his aircrews up north to take advantage of the unexpected downtime while ground crews and logistics officers went about making certain the aircraft were ready and there would be enough fuel, ordnance and spare parts on hand to sustain these squadrons through the first forty-eight hours of the NATO ground attack.

In the afternoon of D+20, Kirk took advantage of the lull to leave his headquarters at Ramstein Air Base to make an unscheduled visit to Bitburg Air Base. He arrived quietly without drawing unnecessary attention and briefly with the commander of the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing. Next, he spent an hour inspecting battle damaged aircraft and talking with maintenance personnel, sky cops and numerous other Bitburg personnel. Then, Kirk spent another hour talking shop with the pilots of the 22nd and 53rd Tactical Fighter Squadrons. These informal discussions were the true purpose for COMAAFCE’s visit to this particular base. He wanted to hear firsthand from the pilots about their experiences and how they thought the air war was going. The 36th had racked up an impressive number of MiG kills. There were now five F-15 pilots at Bitburg with at least five confirmed kills, making them aces. Twenty years earlier, Kirk had two MiG kills himself while flying with Robin Olds and the 8th TFW over Vietnam.

As he departed from Bitburg in the early evening, Kirk was impressed by the quality of the Eagle Drivers he’d spent time with. The investments made by the Air Force in the late ‘70s on new training methods such as Red Flag were paying off handsomely now in the skies above Central Europe.


As the helicopter carrying his air boss was landing at Ramstein, SACEUR was concluding a secure telephone conversation with President Reagan at the White House. After hours of wrangling, he had finally managed to bring Kohl and Thatcher around. The attack would commence with whatever British and West German units were on hand. More would be attached to offensive operations in the NORTHAG area as they became available. SACEUR was grateful and relieved. He now had Reagan’s permission to start the attack at a time of his choosing. All that remained was determining when the time would come.


9 Replies to “The Central Front D+20 (29 July, 1987) Part IV”

  1. The comment about minimizing the sacrifice of hundreds of pilots is on point and very telling. The public and press reaction to a few hundred pilots would probably be far more dramatic than the tens of thousands lost in the various armies, thousands at sea and possibly the casualties from Madrid.

    Easier for the average person to relate to a few shining knights losing their lives than the thousands of other casualties which are either too hard to comprehend or too easy to ignore.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s sad but true. Thousands of troop and civilian casualties is just a number in many people’s eyes. But the deaths of few hundred pilots….highly trained specialists who are revered in our society….would hit hard.
      Crazy world we live in.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. 0330 hours.

    Normal human downtime…. and from a former grunt, its smack in the middle of the timeframe when the hyper-ness of the day is most likely not to be functioning. Especially when one is on perimeter duty and you are waiting to get attacked all fucking day…

    It’s when the mind plays tricks on you… and you tend not to see the 65 ton behemoth quietly coming towards you until its almost too late, especially if you have any background noise.. (yes- true fucking story there)

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Ideally the cavalry should have been unhinging the pact security zone through the past few days of probing/zone reconnaissance. At this point, the Abrams/Bradley/AH/Doctrinal combo “own the night” as it looks like select elements of the NATO air forces also do.

    If III (US) Corps can commit against the main defensive belt and achieve a breach(es) during limited visibility, that will allow UK/WG/NL forces to conduct a forward passage and exploit the breach during daylight with the full weight of NATO CAS/BAI assets in support.

    V (US) Corps also looks like it may be in a position to attack as well. It may not have the weight of a main effort, but can definitely hazard the flanks and rear of the pact defensive position.

    NATO forces may well find themselves in a pursuit and exploit type situation against a ruptured enemy defense!

    Liked by 3 people

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