D+23 (1 August, 1987) 0700-0900 Zulu

Moscow, USSR

0700 Zulu (1100 Local Time)

The 10 AM Politburo meeting began twenty minutes late with the delayed arrival of the general secretary. In normal times, late starts to meetings such as this were the rule rather than the exception. In times of crisis or war it occurred less often, sometimes acting as a presage to particularly negative news from the front. Some of the more seasoned Politburo members remembered this detail and as a result were on guard.

As a consequence of the general secretary’s late appearance, the morning meeting was just under thirty minutes in duration. Romanov took the opportunity to provide an update to his comrades on events of the past twelve hours. Foremost was the news from the KGB operative in Washington. The contents of his report were revealed. The possibility of a concentrated US attack on the SSBN bastions in just under twenty-four hours could not be ignored. Efforts were being made by the KGB to confirm the information and a solid confirmation was expected soon. Meanwhile, preparations were underway to deal strike the US carrier fleet with overwhelming force to maintain the survival of the Soviet Union’s ballistic missile submarines.

Nothing was said of the use of chemical agents in Europe. Romanov had chosen to keep news of these attacks from the Politburo members until later in the afternoon. Or perhaps later depending on the initial reports on the effectiveness of the attacks. As a precursor to this, Defense Minister Yazov, who was acting as little more than a figurehead at this point, spoke about rumors of a NATO disinformation campaign expected to begin soon that blamed the Soviet Union for using chemical weapons in Europe. Romanov ended the meeting on this revelation and informed the gathered body that an afternoon update would be held at 2:00 PM.

The opposition members were growing more concerned with the general secretary’s plans to bring the war to a victorious conclusion. They sensed that the foundation was being laid for a decisive moment at some point in the next day. Yet these men remained resolved, perhaps naively so, to afford Romanov the agreed allotment of time before acting.

Washington DC

0720 Zulu (0320 Local Time)

It was long before dawn in Washington DC. President Reagan was in the Situation Room and holding an initial conference with select advisers and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The National Security Adviser and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were physically present. Every other attendee was patched in securely from either their work offices or homes in suburban Washington. With the notable exception of SACEUR. General Galvin was at his wartime command center outside Mons in Belgium.

SACEUR delivered a concise, accurate account of the chemical attacks. Casualties in the Danish and West German units hit were reported to be ‘significant.’ As of 0310 there were no reports of Soviet or Pact chemical agents having been used against NATO installations or units anywhere in West Germany.  Casualties in Danish and West German units are ‘significant.’ It remained unknown if further attacks were coming but SACEUR was operating on the assumption they were. All NATO units were taking steps to increase their chemical defense postures significantly.

Offensive land and air operations in West Germany and Denmark were halted for the time being and SACEUR was considering extending this order to other theaters. Reagan agrees with this step. As the discussion went on, the president revealed he expects to eventually order General Galvin to retaliate in kind. Before giving that order, however, Reagan would have to consult other NATO leaders and consider their thoughts.

The final subject of the meeting was speculating the reasoning behind the Soviet move. By this point in the conflict, the usefulness and value of chemical weapons appeared to be rather limited. The consensus among the Americans was that the morning’s attack seemed intended to deliver a message from Moscow. The contents of the message were unknown, but neither Reagan, his advisers or the senior military officers believed it was positive.

USS Mount Whitney

0845 Zulu (1045 Hours Local Time)

Strike Fleet Atlantic was contending with competing priorities this morning. On one hand, two air wings were in the final stages of preparing for their morning missions against the Kola. The first wave of aircraft was scheduled to launch at 1105. Their targets were air defense and radar sites. Paving the way for strikes on the Backfire and Badger airfields set for later in the afternoon.

The news about chemical weapons being used in Europe was not being taken lightly. Formations were dispersing even more now, giving individual ships as much space to maneuver and decontaminate as possible without negatively affecting mutual support. On board Mount Whitney and all other warships, decontamination systems were tested, CBR procedures reviewed and personal equipment for sailors checked. Nuclear weapon use at sea was still the greatest danger facing Strike Fleet Atlantic, but chemical agents could cause major damage, casualties and mission degradation too.  

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