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

Vice Admiral Feliks Gromov was the new commander-in-chief of the Red Banner Northern Fleet. He served in the capacity of deputy commander of the fleet until the removal of his former superior Admiral Kapitanets. Gromov inherited the same damaged Northern Fleet and deteriorating circumstances his predecessor had labored to reverse before the KGB arrived and led him from the fleet headquarters building in Severomorsk. Now it was Gromov in the crosshairs, so to speak, and the heat was increasing with every passing hour.

Coming into D+21 the Northern Fleet’s primary objectives were to preserve the integrity of the SSBN bastions, and to keep the US Navy’s carrier fleet at arms-length from the Kola Peninsula. If the opportunity presented itself, he also intended to strike the carrier fleet and inflict severe damage to it. Gromov was satisfied with keeping the enemy force out of range of his airbases for the time being. He felt that the heavy reconnaissance effort being put forth in the Barents and northern Norwegian seas was keeping the Americans off balance and forcing them to play an intricate game of cat-and-mouse with Northern Fleet’s Tu-95s and Tu-16s.

Detection was guaranteed to bring a visit by Gromov’s long-range bombers, and the Americans did not want that. Despite successfully fending off Soviet bomber attacks earlier in the war, the US Navy still respected the Soviet bomber force. Gromov believed there would be at least one more carrier-bomber battle before the conflict ended. When it came, the Americans would find out that Soviet bomber crews had learned some lessons and developed new and effective tactics.

After the previous day’s air attacks on several Long-Range Aviation and Naval Aviation bomber bases, the force was temporarily moved to bases in the White Sea area. The repositioning increased the distance the bombers had to travel to reach the enemy carrier fleet, but since any hypothetical battle was going to take place in the Soviet front yard, the added distances and time were negligible.

As for the bastion, NATO navies were wisely keeping a wide berth from it for the time being. The Soviet government had stressed to the West that any attempt to neutralize its strategic forces was going to bring about immediate nuclear retaliation. Wisely, neither the Americans, or their NATO allies seemed prepared to test the Soviet Union’s resolve on this issue. Gromov had dedicated a large portion of the Northern Fleet’s remaining attack submarines and warships to protecting the ballistic missile submarines now positioned in the bastion. But not every attack sub was dedicated to this mission.

One of Gromov’s submarines was continuing to shadow the large NATO amphibious task force in the Norwegian Sea. The most recent report received from that sub placed the enemy task force up against the Norwegian coast southwest of Andoya. It was unknown if the information in the report was obsolete or not since the submarine was not following a regular contact schedule. For that matter Gromov did not even know if the submarine was still there or not and this made him uneasy. The fact that an amphibious task force was now in the Norwegian Sea and gradually making its way north was a growing concern.

If this particular force did continue north, Gromov expected it to deposit its naval infantry in Northern Norway and turn that area into a lock-bolt to the Soviet military. That possibility would greatly increase the threat to the seaborne strategic nuclear capacity now in the bastion. Something Gromov could not allow.  If it came down to choosing which target to unleash his bombers against, the Red Banner Northern Fleet’s commander leaned towards the amphibious task force at present.

At 0100 hours Gromov issued orders to establish a screen of  five conventional-powered attack subs from Bear Island to the northern coast of Norway. This screen, supported by air reconnaissance assets was expected to give Gromov and the Northern Fleet enough early warning to stage and position its forces if the enemy amphibious task force started moving north in the next twenty-four hours.

Or the American carrier fleet, for that matter. Whichever one revealed its position first, Gromov was determined to destroy it.

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