Hostilities in Southern Europe and the Mediterranean began at 0400 CEST. The first clash between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces came in the southwest corner of the Black Sea off of Thrace. A combined force of Hellenic and Turkish navy fast attack craft was covering minelaying operations off Limankoy when they were attacked by Soviet and Bulgarian fast attack craft. The engagement was short, yet deadly. Four NATO ships were sunk and an additional three damaged to varying extents. Out of eight Soviet and Bulgarian ships only two survived the engagement.
As dawn approached and general war got underway in Europe, AFSOUTH headquarters started receiving reports of contact, and unusual activities across the theater. Turkish and Russian fighters were engaging each other over the Black Sea. A Greek destroyer struck a mine and sunk in Souda Bay with heavy loss of life, confirming that Soviet submarines had been active sewing mines around NATO’s Mediterranean ports in the previous days. Spetsnaz teams were also positioned in theater during the build up to hostilities and this morning they struck targets almost in unison. Though the number of teams came nowhere close to replicating those in actionn on the Central Front, they made their presence felt. Airfields, ports, and communications centers from the southeastern Turkey to Spain were struck. The larger US airbases in the region were given particularly close attention. Torrejon, Aviano, and Sigonella were attacked by large contingents of Spetsnaz commandos. Every raid was defeated, though damage was inflicted. At Sigonella, six P-3C Orions were destroyed on the flight line by plastique explosives planted by Spetsnaz commandos. The raid on Torrejon failed to destroy any of the F-16 fighters based there. However, a number of USAF pilots belonging to the 613th TFS were killed when a well-placed mortar round landed on their squadron headquarters building. Overall, the Spetsnaz raids were unsuccessful in achieving their main goals. They failed to disrupt NATO enough to significantly affect operations in the Mediterranean or Southern Europe.
AFSOUTH’s preliminary wartime objectives were threefold: The prompt destruction of deployed Soviet naval forces in the Mediterranean, provide support to NATO’s Southern Flank if attacked, and lay the foundation for future air and cruise missile strikes against Soviet ports and airbases on the Black Sea coast, and Crimea.
In order to achieve the first objective, aircraft carriers were necessary. On the morning of 9 July, NATO only had two in the Med. Saratoga was west of Crete and Clemenceau positioned south of Turkey. AFSOUTH had managed to finally obtain the Constellation and she was expected to transit the Suez by nightfall. The Soviet 5th Eskadra had two surface action groups in the Eastern Med, one centered on a Slava class cruiser, the other on a Moskva class cruiser. Father west, a smaller SAG was sitting in the Gulf of Sidra. The Soviet groups were far enough away from NATO carrier groups that they were not going to pose an immediate threat. Submarines and bombers, on the other hand, were an entirely different matter.
Upon receiving the news that war was underway, the NATO carrier groups in the Mediterranean immediately sank the Soviet AGI trawlers that had been shadowing them. An Il-38 May that had been operating relatively close to Clemenceau was shot down by French F-8s. These actions might seem minor in retrospect, yet they helped set the stage for the naval actions later in the morning which would become known as the ‘Great East Med Shootout.’ The Russians had a good idea of the general areas that NATO’s carriers were operating in. NATO, in turn, was relatively certain of where the 5th Eskadra’s SAGs were. On both sides, pilots were briefed, aircraft ready and armed for this very moment. At 0600 NATO fighters and strike aircraft were screaming down the flight decks of the Saratoga and Clemenceau, while Soviet Backfire bombers and support aircraft were departing from Latakia, Syria and bases on the Black Sea.
The stage was set for an explosive morning in the Mediterranean.