The North Atlantic D+21 (30 July, 1987) Part I

At 0035 hours local time, SACLANT’s new orders and revised rules of engagement were transmitted to Strike Fleet Atlantic. With the new set of orders, the reasons behind the suspension of further air attacks against targets on the Kola Peninsula was revealed. A handful of consequential factors were coming into play that necessitated a temporary halt to air attacks against Soviet territory and the redeployment of Strike Fleet Atlantic’s three US carrier battlegroups into the northern Norwegian Sea by late in the morning of D+21.

The first factor was the anticipated increase in Soviet reconnaissance in the Barents Sea. Communications intercepts suggested a major effort was going to commence around dawn. The Red Banner Northern Fleet was increasing the number of aircraft dedicated to the reconnaissance mission to locate the US Navy dominated strike fleet and unleash the Backfires and Badgers in force. SACLANT presumed the air attacks against Kola airfields on D+20 had unnerved the Soviets and Severemorsk was intent on neutralizing the carriers now before their air wings were able to inflict heavier damage on Kola.

Another element now playing a role was the political situation in Moscow. The Soviet government had made it clear that it considered further conventional strikes against its homeland to be a redline and promised to retaliate. The US government did not want to push the Soviets into escalating the conflict, which remained at a very delicate stage in the aftermath of the nuclear exchange three days before. So, at the direction of the Pentagon, Strike Fleet Atlantic was now on a 12 hour hold for air operations against the Kola Peninsula.

The most significant reason for the revised orders and rules of engagement was the expected arrival of the amphibious task force carrying II MAF, and the USS Coral Sea battlegroup in the Barents Sea in the early hours of D+22. SACLANT wanted Strike Fleet Atlantic to begin moving southeast to screen the task force and carrier group on their trek north. The movement of these ships was one that had been cloaked in secrecy. The same held true for II MAFs mission.  Outside of II MAFs commander and a handful of people in Kolsas and Brussels, no one on this side of the Atlantic was in the know. That was destined to change in the coming hours and days though. What wasn’t known was if the Soviets were aware of the large amphibious task force now steaming in the direction of its northern coast. SACLANT suspected the enemy realized something was afoot but lacked the details needed to reach a viable conclusion.

When the Commander, Strike Fleet Atlantic was informed Coral Sea was journeying north along with the ‘phibs, he was encouraged. The oldest carrier in US Navy service was too small to conduct air operations with F-14s. As a result, she had soldiered on with F-4 Phantoms while her younger and bigger counterparts upgraded to the Tomcat. This changed in 1985 when CVW-13 traded in its Phantoms and Corsairs squadrons and received four F/A-18 Hornet squadrons in exchange. The Hornet was an effective multirole fighter that had cut its teeth over the Gulf of Sidra in 1986 and earlier in this conflict with Constellation’s air wing in the Arabian Sea. The addition of four Hornet squadrons would add invariably to the fighter and attack punch currently held by Strike Fleet Atlantic.

As the three carrier groups made the turn southeast and began steaming towards the northern Norwegian Sea, air wing staffs were already making plans to incorporate the Hornet squadrons and the rest of Coral Sea’s airwing into the next phase of air operations in the north.

12 Replies to “The North Atlantic D+21 (30 July, 1987) Part I”

      1. It’s actually “USS OORAL SEA” because they couldn’t get the naming rights to the real carrier, but the intention is clear. Apparent was a joking reference to Spielberg liking to wear official baseball caps.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s interesting. Never knew you needed naming rights for a US government asset. But hey, I learned something new today! 🙂


    1. My uncle was a redshirt on the Coral Sea in the vietnam era. We arnt vert close but id like to hear more about it.

      Very delicate balancing act, isnt it? Another thing that remind me of the current situation. Like they attacked the west, but the west cant fight back with both arms, because the russians are sore losers and will end humanity if they cant win? Like really wtf, i just cant understand how people start wars when theres no possible positive outcome for anyone involved. In 87 and 22, the russians would have come out totally unscathed, had they just stayed home.

      In a way, once NATO got their act together post vietnam, mid 80s, russias conventional army is useless for any kind of symmetrical conflict. As we are seeing in 85 when you gamed it out, and now, theyd get crushed by nato and would end the world to save face.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m sure your uncle has some very interesting stories about Coral Sea back during Vietnam.

        With the performance of Russia’s military in recent months, I really do wonder how they would’ve done in 1987 against a peer enemy. They can’t even handle Ukraine now and apparently their much vaunted military modernization has been nothing but smoke and mirrors


        1. Admittedly, the Russian Army has done very poorly, so it makes you wonder how much of that vaunted modernisation has been sapped away by corruption, fudging the figures, procurement malpractice, and people pocketing the budget.

          I’d be VERY wary of equating today’s Russian Army with the Soviet Army (the exception being at the very end) …. the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and USSR resulting in the loss of empire and internal upheavals have all taken a massive toll.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Very good point. The Russian Army in 2020 is nothing like what the Soviet Army was back around, say, 1985 or ’87


  1. A nice twist to add the Coral Sea, and introducing the Hornets. Not only did they get their first combat ops during El Dorado Canyon, but they made the combat debut of HARMs against Libyan SAM sites. I went and did some quick reads on the Coral Sea, and it had a more storied career than I knew. I built a model of her when I was a kid.

    Liked by 1 person

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