The Southern Flank D+21 (30 July, 1987)

AFSOUTH planning for offensive operations accelerated when word was received from Brussels that the NATO counterattack in Northern German was underway. Debate raged in Naples over what shape NATO’s counterblow on the Southern Flank would take. Sixth Fleet was pressing for a campaign against Soviet ports and airbases on the Black Sea coastline while officers from other NATO nations favored an amphibious landing on the Bulgarian coast that would inject a US Marine Amphibious Brigade directly into the rear areas of the Pact’s offensive in Thrace.

Each approach held dangers and drawbacks that needed to be dealt with effectively before operations commenced. The largest problem with an amphibious landing was the lack of amphibious assault ships needed to carry the 5th MAB to Bulgaria. Most of the brigade’s equipment and stores were transported to Turkey early in the war aboard cargo ships belonging to a Maritime Prepositioning Squadron. The Marines flew to Turkey from their bases in the US and married up to the equipment. Pre-war plans expected the MAB to be employed primarily in defending Turkish Thrace from a Warsaw Pact attack. As a result, there were few amphibious ships available to support offensive operations.

An air campaign against Soviet bases on the Black Sea held its own challenges, the first of which was political in nature. Nuclear weapons had already been used in the conflict and Moscow had warned that any future conventional attacks against its homeland would trigger a Soviet nuclear response. NATO was not taking this threat lightly, though up north Strike Fleet Atlantic had been launching air strikes against targets on the Kola Peninsula in the past 24 hours. Moscow did not react to that with nuclear retaliation. Nevertheless, a great deal of apprehension was attached to the idea of attacking the Soviet territory. Operationally, two carrier groups were not enough firepower to take the fight to the Russian homeland. From the northern Aegean Sea, Saratoga and Kennedy would be able to hit Odessa, Sevastopol and the Backfire bases on the Black Sea coastline with no trouble. The problem was that this position also put them in range of Soviet and Pact airpower. The debate and planning continued without a resolution throughout much of the day.

In Thrace, Greek and Turkish ground forces launched a series of limited counterattacks against Warsaw Pact forces through the course of the day. The objective was to bait the Bulgarian and Soviet formations into a larger engagement and bring about a decisive engagement where NATO airpower could be brought to bear. Pact commanders were wise enough to avoid breaking the defensive posture their ground forces in Thrace were in at the present time. The result was a number of intense but short-lived battles across the breadth of Thrace that resulted in little if any movement in NATO and Warsaw Pact lines.

In the evening of D+21, representatives of the Yugoslavian government requested a meeting with the provisional government of Croatia. Through the United Nations it was revealed that Belgrade wanted to declare a ceasefire and open negotiations with Croatia to explore a permanent, amicable conclusion to the fighting. Slobodan Milosevic was coming around to the notion that the Soviet Union was not going to end this war as the victor. Once peace returned, and provided it was not a radioactive peace, Yugoslavia would be faced with the prospect of a very messy territorial breakup. Croatia had already broken off and was involved in a major war with Yugoslavian troops. Bosnia looked to be next, edging closer and closer to abandoning the sinking ship with each passing day. Yugoslavia’s breakup was imminent, and Milosevic was moving to make the impact as soft as possible and avoid a civil war.  

Author’s Note: Short entry for Southern Flank as I get back into the 1987 war blog mindset. Tomorrow looks to be a workday of sorts so I might need to hold off on the Russian Airmobile/Airborne post until Saturday. Instead, I’ll post an entry of some other Ukraine-Russia War news and observations I’ve picked up on as the conflict enters its third week either tomorrow night or on Friday. –Mike

8 Replies to “The Southern Flank D+21 (30 July, 1987)”

  1. *makes popcorn and ponders the Marines getting stuck in anyway on the Ground.*

    You know, that scenario has an interesting potential- USMC circa 1987 versus the Soviet/Bulgarian troops on that front.

    I know I cannot be the only curious person on that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I’ve thought about it a few times. Either in Thrace or defending the Dardanelles. An MAB would be a good matchup against the Pact around there


  2. D+12 …. ?

    An amphibious op with just a single MAB would be pretty risky unless you could quickly reinforce it (Italian San Marco Marine Bde, French 9 Marine Division, Spanish Marine Bde) – but it would be getting the shipping to do it … any WP commander worth his salt will have some mobile reserves (from the Kiev MD’s 3rd or 6th GTAs or perhaps the Carpathian Front’s 13th Army) to counter such a move.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. D+21. Fixed it. 🙂

      Well, at this point, AFSOUTH wants to be part of the bigger picture and contribute to NATO counterattacks going on in other theaters. I think a landing on the Bulgarian coast is the lesser of two evils. Going after the Russian Black Sea bases brings some inherent dangers into play

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There’s no way Nato can project that much CAP into the Black sea without those Marines being sunk before they can get to Sevastopol. Even getting to Varna would mean major losses. And in your scenario airstrikes on the Kola are one thing but American boots on the ground quite another?

        Liked by 1 person

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