Death Of USS Kitty Hawk D+24 (2 August, 1987) Part I

The Soviet Navy’s greatest tactical victory of the war occurred on the final day of the Third World War with the destruction of USS Kitty Hawk in the far northern reaches of the Norwegian Sea. Its effect on the outcome of the war, though, was minimal. The Red Banner Northern Fleet was unable to capitalize on the sinking of the American supercarrier since the Backfire and Badger force had met their final demise only a few short hours earlier. There were no cruise missile-armed attack submarines in close enough proximity to Strike Fleet Atlantic to launch a further strike against the surviving collection of American and allied sea power on the doorstep of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, Minskiy Komsomolets succeeded where Long Range Aviation and the rest of the Northern Fleet’s vaunted attack submarine force had failed. A US Navy super carrier had fallen victim to the SSGNs anti-ship cruise missiles and although Minskiy Komsomolets did not survive to celebrate its victory, naval history has preserved the event in detail for future generations of sailors and historians to study.

The cruise missile attack had come at a busy moment. Earlier in the day tactical nuclear weapons were exchanged between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces in Europe. At sea, Strike Fleet Atlantic was preparing for possible escalation in the coming hours. On Kitty Hawk, Coral Sea, Eisenhower and Forrestal, quartets of A-6E Intruders were armed with B61 nuclear bombs and spotted on the flight decks for immediate launch. The carriers rotated keeping a flight of four airborne along with tanker support around the clock through most of D+24. At the time of the attack on Kitty Hawk, it just so happened that the flight of Intruders airborne was from her own air wing. They were recovered aboard Forrestal.

Just ninety minutes or so previous to the launch of SS-N-19 Shipwrecks the final Backfire/Badger attack of the war ended. Although no carriers were damaged or sunk and the Soviet bomber formations took murderous losses, a number of escort ships were either damaged or destroyed. Of Kitty Hawk’s group, the Knox class frigate USS Barbey had been lost and a Spruance class destroyer put temporarily out of action due to a near miss by an AS-4. With these two ships out of action, the ASW capabilities of the group were reduced considerably. This was fated to play a critical role in Minskiy Komsomolets penetrating the outer screen and remaining undetected until it launched the first missile. 

Of the eight Shipwrecks fired, six were destroyed by SAMs or decoyed by countermeasures. The surviving two struck Kitty Hawk, one between the #3 and #4 catapults and the other just aft of elevator #4. The amount of damage inflicted ended up being fatal. Despite immediate and courageous damage control efforts, the carrier’s fate had been sealed upon first impact. In the second and third parts of this post we will examine the attack and its aftermath.

Author’s Note: Part II will be posted in the near future, probably in between the next two tournament rounds. I will try and get Part III up by the end of it, but this will depend on free time and some other factors. Round Two of WWIII March Madness starts tomorrow night.

4 Replies to “Death Of USS Kitty Hawk D+24 (2 August, 1987) Part I”

  1. ITS HERE !!! Three minor questions !

    Numero Uno ! How long did Kitty Hawk take to sink in the end, considering how massive she is, we know the order to abandon ship was given after about two hours of firefighting, but how long did she linger ?

    Numero Dos ! Was the cruiser and the other frigate lost in the attack part of the Eisenhower/Forrestal Group ?

    Numero Tres ! How bad did Kitty Hawk’s crew suffer in the hits ? She’s a big girl, but with six thousand men aboard, I don’t imagine the losses were very pretty…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Finally! It took forever 🙂

      These questions will be answered in the second and third parts of this entry. Sorry, not going to divulge them early. 🙂


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