The North Atlantic D+22 (31 July 1987) Part III (Alpha)

0405- News of the failed Badger attack on Strike Fleet Atlantic reaches Norfolk. SACLANT agrees with strike fleet commander’s assessment of the situation, which was helpfully included with the initial report. After reading over the telex, SACLANT ordered his staff to  be recalled immediately (it was 2105 hours, the previous evening in Virginia). Then he lifted his direct line to the Pentagon.

0415– In Severomorsk, SACLANT’s Soviet counterpart Admiral Gromov accepted the results of the attack with aplomb. One regiment of bombers with no support could not be expected to penetrate the multi-layered defenses of an American aircraft carrier task force and inflict heavy damage. But the sacrifices made were not in vain. Coupled with a handful of reports from the few submarines still operating in the northern Norwegian Sea, the bomber attack confirmed that the enemy carriers were moving southeast towards the Norwegian coast near Tromso. A fourth carrier and the amphibious force carrying over a brigade of US Marines were also in that area. In Gromov’s eyes, the evidence concluded that the two forces would rendezvous and then move farther north at some point in the next twelve to fifteen hours. Once the enemy force came north, Gromov planned to commit every asset under his command to trapping and destroying the NATO force before its embarked marines and warplanes could threaten the Kola Peninsula.

0730– The HMS Illustrious group is ordered to steam northwest of its present position and establish an ASW barrier to interdict any Soviet submarines that could possibly be coming south from the SSBN bastions in the Barents to hunt for Strike Fleet Atlantic and II MEF.

1000– SACLANT is ordered to Washington DC for a NSC meeting at the White House later in the morning.

1145– For Strike Fleet Atlantic, the looming bomber threat took precedence as plans for the next phase of operations were reworked. Offensive air missions against the Kola remained on hold as air defense took priority. There were now over fifty fighters, AWACs and other support aircraft flying CAP and patrol patterns over the northern reaches of the Norwegian Sea and Norway. Half of these were US Navy aircraft and the remainder a combination of USAF, Norwegian and RAF fighters. On flight decks and at airbases additional fighters sat ready for immediate launch. The Backfires were coming, this was accepted as fact. Until they were dealt with, no Tomcats, or in the case of Coral Sea, Hornets could be spared to escort air strikes against targets on the Kola Peninsula.

1207– One hundred miles southwest of Iceland,  the MV Oak Bluff, a freighter carrying war material to Europe was torpedoed and sunk by a Soviet Sierra II class attack submarine. The sub was later damaged and forced to the surface by an SH-2F Seasprite from the USS Estocin, a frigate escorting the convoy the stricken freighter was assigned to. Oak Bluff would have the distinction of being the last NATO merchantman sunk in the North Atlantic during the Third World War.

10 Replies to “The North Atlantic D+22 (31 July 1987) Part III (Alpha)”

  1. Counting the cost after the last exercise in the Badger/Backfire math. I was looking at my old copy of 2nd Fleet last night. Great story btw

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  2. USS DUNCAN FFG-10, was at that time a naval reserve force ship assigned to SurfRon One, home ported at NAVSTA Long Beach. In your scenario, did the battleship New Jersey, flagship of surface group Long Beach, steam through the Panama Canal, escorted by these NRF ships, to reinforce the Atlantic Fleet?

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    1. Right, back in 87 she was a reserve ship, figured she was homeported in Mayport though. Oops 🙂 Still, I’m glad to have given her a chance to appear.
      Yep, Battlegroup Romeo has finally transited the Canal after spending some time pacifying Nicaragua (Central American entries, not sure of the dates) So Jersey is in the Carib right now and headed northeast towards the North Atlantic. Iowa is already way up north.


      1. Tale of Two Exercises: In the summer of 1985, I was a crew member of USS LANG FF-1060 participating in Varsity Player. After Surface Squadron One, composed of Naval Reserve Force ships Roark (active duty), Gray, Wadsworth Duncan, and Racine, completed ASW drills against an old Nuclear powered submarine and an older diesel boat (USS Blueback) off Southern California, HMAS Hobart, the old Adams-class destroyer joined us to steam to Vancouver BC. HMNZS CANTERBURY and five Canadian destroyers of the MacKENZIE-class formed up with us for a naval review. Meanwhile, that summer also saw a large exercise in the North Atlantic and Norwegian Sea, Exercise Ocean Safari ’85. Normally this exercise series practices convoy escort, but the newly minted Maritime Strategy exemplified offensive action to take the pressure off the convoys. Four USN aircraft carriers participated at some level or another, representing a sortie of NATO Striking Fleet: Eisenhower, Saratoga, Coral Sea, and America (only America ventured into Norwegian waters, operating in Vestfjord off the Lofloten Islands). the Battleship Iowa reinforced STANAVFOR ATLANTIC on escort duty. She slipped through the Denmark Strait unnoticed. Their wartime mission would probably been to escort the maritime prepostioning squadron slated to bring equipment to Norway to marry up with a USMC brigade flown in as reinforcements. The HMS Illustrious task force, reinforced by ships of the Canadian Fifth Destroyer Squadron, conducted ASW ops in the GIUK gap ahead of NATO Striking Fleet. The LANG’s gunnery officer let me in on wardroom scuttlebutt that since the Maritime Strategy called for two battleship task groups in the North Atlantic, the New Jersey, would probably be dispatched in wartime (no aircraft carriers could fit through the Panama Canal at that time). I envisioned the New Jersey, with the nuclear powered cruiser LONG BEACH as air defense, being utilized as a cover force (and NGFS) for an amphibious squadron and embarked Marine brigade to conduct an opposed landing somewhere in north Norway behind the Soviet invasion force. The ships might be escorted by the NRF frigates from both the Pacific (aforementioned, plus George Philip) and the Atlantic (Perry, Sprague, Patterson, Blakely, Miller, Valdez) with the destroyer EDSON as the flagship of the close escort.

        In 1986, while the battleship IOWA participated in Exercise Northern Wedding in Norway, USS NEW JERSEY formed Battle Group Romeo with the LONG BEACH (I guessed right). They operated in the Sea of Okhotsk with the Ranger CVBG. Shifting to the Bering Sea, BG Romeo covered the amphibious excerise Kernal Potash, a landing on Adak. USS LANG was attached to Desron 13 as escort for the Tarawa group. LONG BEACH conducted the first launch of a tomahawk land attack missile (TLAM-C) from a deployed ship. Later that year Fleet Ex’86 was conducted in the Northern Pacific by the CONSTELLATION CVBG, RANGER CVBG, and NEW JERSEY BBBG. Battle Group Romeo also operated with units of the Australian navy in the South China Sea that year.

        For information pertaining to 1987, the USS IOWA made an unannounced fast sprint from the Med to the Norwegian Sea to conduct ops, before steaming to the Arabian Sea to operate there November 1987-February 1988. USS LONG BEACH joined Battle Group Sierra, centered around the battleship MISSOURI to operate in the Arabian Sea prior to the arrival of the IOWA. Check out Operation Nimble Archer in the Persian Gulf 19OCT1987. CVBG Echo, centered on the aircraft carrier RANGER also operated in the Arabian Sea that year.

        Pac Ex 1989 was billed as the largest Pacific Fleet exercise of the Cold War, with four aircraft carriers (Enterprise, Carl Vinson, Constellation, Midway) and two battleships (New Jersey, Missouri) participating. USS LANG was there, but I was no longer onboard. I was at that time assigned to SIMA Long Beach. We conducted barrel inspections of the New Jersey, and some Ord Alts on my old ship LANG. The ship seemed hollow, almost deserted. No one I knew was still part of the crew. They even had swapped out the old 5″/54 Mk 42 Mod 9 gun mount for a mod 10. Made the gun room cramped. New search radar, a towed array sonar, maybe an active jammer unit for the SLQ 32 were some of the changes. I still dreamed of rejoining her if war broke out. Little did I know the Berlin Wall was coming that November. With the Cold War over, I never put to sea again on any haze gray ship. Eventually I would be commissioned as a WO and serve as a naval gunfire spotter/ fire support coordinator with the Marines.

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        1. Well you’ve had one hell of a busy career! My Lord, so many questions. I should’ve checked this earlier when I posted the entry, instead of at midnight. Give me a day to formulate my questions and then I’ll send them. Especially about Iowa’s speed run in ’87 (Real world)


          1. I did make a few errors above. The Roark was not a part of Varsity Player ’85. The newly commissioned Rentz, in Long Beach for workups, joined in the sub hunts. It was the Knox-class frigate Stein that accompanied the squadron to Canada. Regarding the two days of ASW exercises, first up was the USS PERMIT, an SSN said to emit sound levels equal to a Victor III. Our low frequency SQS-26 sonar would pick her up at convergence zone distances. We flew a SH-2 Sea Sprite from HSL-84 Thunderbolts out to drop sonobuoys to pinpoint its location and keep track of her. The next day, USS BLUEBACK was at bat, an SS said to be quiet similar to a Soviet Tango- or Kilo-class diesel boat. The ship’s log gives no indication of flight ops nor use of active sonar. I came up to the pilothouse with the magazine temperature report and spotted a tall object off the starboard beam. I asked my DivO, who was OOD at the time if it was a spar buoy. With frustration in his voice he declared, “No, that’s the sub we’ve been hunting all morning.” Next minute I see the bridge crew break out the tactical pubs for torpedo evasion maneuvers.

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          2. Battleship IOWA speed run to the North Sea in 1987: Trying to reconstruct where I ran across that, I checked out US Naval Instituted Proceedings, the Naval Review 1987 issue (May 1988). You will find page 148 quite useful as it lists all the battle group deployments for 1987: nine aircraft carriers with their air wings and squadrons along with all the escorts and replenishment ships. The IOWA BBBG (CG-47 Ticonderoga, destroyers Dewey and Deyo, frigate Paul, oiler Canisteo) deployed for the Med. in September, left the Med 22OCT-08NOV, then on to join Middle Eastern Force via the Med. and the Suez Canal. Each Naval Review issue is different. I did not have the luxury of a precise list such as this when I attempted to reconstruct the naval ships and aircraft that might have participated in a North Atlantic/Norwegian Sea campaign in September 1985.

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          3. I erred in some small detail regarding ships participating in Varsity Player ’85. The Roark was not a participant. Rather the newly commissioned RENTZ joined in the ASW exercise, with the active-duty frigate STEIN accompanying SurfRon ONE to Vancouver. The first day of the exercise the five escorts screened the LST RACINE from USS PERMIT SSN-594. The level of noise she generated was said to be equal to a Soviet Victor III nuclear submarine. The LANG’s low frequency bow mounted SQS-26 sonar passively picked her up at convergence zone distances. We flew our SH-2 Sea Sprite (the Thunderbolts from HSL-84 as shown in the photo of the post) out to drop sonobuoys to pinpoint her location and track her. If this was combat, the helo could prosecute then contact by dropping a Mk-46 torpedo, as the contact was further than range for ASROC or surface-launched torpedoes. The next day, USS BLUEBACK SS-581 stepped up to bat. A whole different ballgame trying to catch any noise from a sub on batteries. Unless the prosecuting escorts can force her to sprint, little blade rate noise is generated. The ship’s log states we were not performing flight ops or actively pinging with the powerful sonar, so it was up to the ears of the sonar techs. When I approached the pilothouse with that day’s magazine temperate report in hand, I spotted something tall and slender off the starboard beam. I asked my DivO, acting as OOD at the time, if the object was a spar buoy. He responded in a frustrated voice, “No, it’s the submarine we’ve been trying to catch.” My first periscope sighting. Stepping into the pilothouse to hand my report to the boatswains mate of the watch, I noted the bridge crew indexing through the naval tactical procedures for instructions on executing torpedo evasion maneuvers. Nixie wasn’t streamed at the time. I don’t know if Prairie Masker was activated to cover our engine noise. It would probably be more helpful in masking noise so our own sonar techs could hear better than shielding us from an enemy sub or torpedo. The blind chess match that is anti-submarine ops.

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            1. Damn, these posts ended up in my spam somehow. I need to go through them and respond when I get some spare time. Apologies, Chief!


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