North Atlantic: Death Of The Backfires D+24 (2 August, 1987) Part III

Takeoff of the Badger and Backfire regiments commenced at 1140 Zulu on D+24. The process ate up forty minutes. As the bombers cruised north towards their formation rally points over the Barents Sea, the Bears were going to work attempting to find the exact locations of the American carrier formations and relay accurate targeting data to the raid commander. Finding the carriers would not be a simple task, especially with no support from RORSAT or other support elements. Added to the difficulty was avoiding discovery by enemy combat air patrols and airborne early warning aircraft in the skies over North Cape area and the Norwegian Sea.

The Bears soon discovered the number of US Navy fighters on patrol was greater then anticipated.  There were other aircraft in the air, consistent with the make up of an Alpha Strike. This caused concern among the Bear crews. Were the Americans about to launch new attacks on the Kola?

The aircraft were EA-6B Prowlers and A-7E Corsair IIs. A limited number of these planes were up and loitering in fuel efficient racetrack patterns northeast of the carrier fleet. If the nuclear curtain went up, these aircraft would go in ahead of the nuclear gravity bomb-armed A-6 Intruders and clear a path through the radars and ground-based air defenses. Along with the Prowlers and Corsairs was a heavy blanket of F-14 Tomcats. Eighteen interceptors were flying combat air patrols and another twelve were attached to the ground attack aircraft. The CAP fighters took their cues from the E-2C Hawkeyes serving as their eyes and ears. For the NATO fighters over northern Norway, a USAF E-3 Sentry served as their conductor.

As the Soviet bombers were completing their form up to the east, the first Bear was detected by an F-14 and dispatched, leaving seven of the lumbering bombers-turned reconnaissance aircraft to continue on with their missions. The death of the first would go unnoticed for a further five minutes until a second Bear came under attack from Phoenix-armed Tomcats and broke radio silence to transmit a warning.

By now the game was officially underway. CAP F-14s were hunting for Tu-95s as the first aircraft of two additional Tomcat squadrons were launching from the bow catapults of Forrestal and Kitty Hawk. The Badgers and Backfires were settled in their formations and beginning to move northwest. With the exception of the raid commander and his crew, no other Soviet bomber pilot or crewman was aware of the drama building to the west, or how rapidly it would affect both them and their mission.

Author’s Note: Since I took the better part of a week away from the Backfires to do a book review, I now find myself without enough free time to conclude the series of posts. And since I want to move forward on some other entries, I’m going to hold off on finishing up and posting the conclusion for Death of the Backfires until late in October. I’ll select a day or two as Halloween approaches and post a few loose ends that have been lingering: Backfire post, Part 2 of the APPG Conflict Modeling Tools and a revision to a handful of earlier posts in the war. On Tuesday I’ll put up a summary of what subjects I’m hoping to present through the next two weeks. – Mike

4 Replies to “North Atlantic: Death Of The Backfires D+24 (2 August, 1987) Part III”

  1. Two comments.
    First, it would be interesting to see a history of US Navy planning for forward carrier air wing strikes on the Kola Peninsula. This idea came into layman awareness (or Lehman awareness if you prefer) in the 80s. I remember hysterical Op-Ed columns in the New York Times in high school: OMG, Reagan is actually planning to use our carriers against the Soviets in the event of war, isn’t this just awful? I bet people were thinking about it much earlier, maybe even back to the doomed attempts to build a strategic nuclear role for the carriers during the whole Revolt of the Admirals business in 1949….

    Second, my hat is off to anyone who flew Bears or Backfires in an anti-surface role against the US Navy. As a private instrument pilot, I get nervous just flying to offshore vacation islands like Catalina or the Bahamas or between the Hawaiian islands. The ocean is so vast, it is easy to get lost once the land fades into the distance, especially in pre-GPS days. Now do it within somebody actively trying to kill you. Too much for me. I’ll stick to landing at night in thick fog. Much safer and less harrowing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, Lehman intended to take the war directly to the Soviets. I’d assume the idea was percolating all the way back to the Revolt of the Admirals. For a naval war in the Atlantic in the 80s, hitting the Kola was a logical progression.

      I think the Backfire and Bear pilots would’ve been akin to Kamikaze pilots in WW2. Most weren’t coming back and they knew it.

      Flying at night is fun. Doing it over Indian Country…or Indian Waters…just adds more excitement and challenge. 🙂 But yeah, once land fades, its an entirely different ballgame for the pilot and aircrew.


  2. Just a minor point of contention with a previous post, in one of the D+24 posts you had mentioned Kitty Hawk got hit by Minskiy Kosmolets’ P-700s at 1257Z – if the bombers didn’t even finish forming up until 1230Z then was she struck mid-battle ?

    Just wondering ! If she was struck mid-battle it would make sense how an Oscar managed to penetrate the screen, since everyone was so focused with the Backfire raid coming in.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Tyler. I’m going to go back and check. I think I might’ve miscalculated the times when I was writing up this post. It wasn’t very long between the Backfire attack and the Oscar’s missile volley though. Not mid-battle but relatively close in time.
      Thanks for picking up on this. Otherwise, I never would’ve noticed 🙂


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