Labor Day Interlude

This blog was planned to be free write of sorts. Fortunately, it has evolved into so much more. I have always wanted to do a project revolving around a hypothetical NATO-Warsaw Pact war in the mid to late 1980s. There have been many false starts, however this time the project has gotten off the pad and is progressing nicely.

I’d like to thank everyone for taking the time to read this blog. It’s gratifying to know that more and more people are reading Third World War: 1987 and appear to be enjoying it. I would also like to give a sincere thanks to the folks who listed my blog on their websites. I am quite grateful and have not forgotten. Once the revisions to my blog are completed, I will include a comprehensive list of links and return the favor.

With this being Labor Day weekend, I’m going to spend it with my loved ones and shy away from the writing for a few days. So there will be no new postings until Tuesday afternoon. I’ll pick up from there move forward. With luck, the revisions to the blog’s layout will be finished by Tuesday. I had hoped to have them wrapped up a few weeks ago, however, I really haven’t found the theme or combination of edits on WordPress that I have been looking for. Therefore, it’s time to break out the credit card and pay for a more high end theme, provided it has what I am looking for. If not, I’m sure I’ll muddle through somehow. 😊

So, here is hoping that you all have a wonderful Labor Day weekend. Enjoy the last weekend of summer and the company of good friends and family. Hopefully the weather will work out in everyone’s favor. On Tuesday we’ll dive back into World War III. 😊

PS- If anyone would like to chat about any aspect of the blog, feel free to get in touch with me.

 

 

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The Central Front: 9 July, 1987 0130-0400 Part III

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0300– The first non-stealth NATO aircraft into East Germany that morning were USAF F-111F Aardvarks and a mixed force of RAF and Luftwaffe Tornadoes. As the last GBU-27 impacted on the 20th Guards Army’s bunker complex at Mohlau, the fighter-bomber were breaking formation as flights headed off for their assigned ground targets. The primary targets were bridges across the Elbe River that were to be used by the second echelon of the Soviet armies now arrayed to attack West Germany. The destruction of the bridges would prevent those armies from being reinforced for a period of time. Other targets included air bases, railheads, and logistical centers. The majority of targets being struck were in the 3rd Shock Army’s sector. This was the army NATO and US planners feared the most. The more damage that could be caused to it before crossing the border meant less pressure on the NORTHAG formations in the opening hours of fighting.

Behind and above the strike aircraft F-15 Eagles and other NATO fighters were engaging the MiGs that had been loitering on CAP stations over East Germany. Radar operators aboard E-3 Sentries over the western reaches of the Federal Republic vectored the fighters towards intercepts. Their Soviet counterparts aboard two A-50 Mainstay aircraft north of Berlin were shocked to find their screens suddenly filled with NATO fighters. As the aircraft they controlled began dropping from the skies, scramble orders were transmitted to every fighter base in East Germany.

It would be too late, however. Even as the additional MiGs rose into the pre-dawn skies to challenge the intruders, the F-15s now augmented by F-4 Phantoms, and air-to-air Tornadoes were waiting in ambush and took a horrifying toll of the Soviet defenders.

 

0335– General Snetkov was a man consumed by rage. Around him, the sounds of battle were finally dying off. For the last half hour he heard the roar of combat aircraft to the south and west. The sound of explosions, and flashes of light on the horizons had confirmed to him that the command bunkers were not the only sites being targeted by NATO on this morning. It was bad enough that 3rd Shock Army’s commander and all of his people were dead. Now Snetkov’s contact with 20th Guards and 8th Guards Armies was disrupted. Calls to both of their command posts were going unanswered. The fact that 2nd Guards Tank Army in the far north remained in touch was of little solace.

Snetkov’s worst fears were coming true. NATO air forces were in the midst of successful pre-emptive air strikes. He was stranded in Stendal, forced to take cover in a shelter on the edge of the now-immolated bunker complex while NATO fighters ran roughshod overhead. Now, the general needed to gain a clear picture of the temporary disaster unfolding around him. That could not be done from here, though. He ordered his aide to arrange helicopter transportation back to Wunsdorf. The aide did not even remind the general that enemy fighters might still be in the area. Snetkov’s glare was enough to deter him from verbalizing any objection.  Once that was done, the general told his chief of staff to get in contact with CINC-WEST, the theater commander immediately. The general was going to personally inform him of the situation and recommend a two to three hour delay before the attack commenced. He assumed at least that much time was going to be needed to unscramble the mess that NATO air power had caused.

0359– In Brussels, SACEUR was busy dealing with the aftermath of the Spetsnaz attacks. For the most part the attacks had failed, except for two places. The port of Rotterdam was a fiery mess. Two ships had been scuttled in the harbor, and another was burning at the dockside. The second success had come in northern Germany at the I Netherlands Corps field headquarters. A group of Soviet commandos dressed in Dutch military uniforms had penetrated the headquarters and killed the corps commander before they were killed themselves. It was bad, he reminded himself, but it could’ve been far worse.

Through the excitement, SACEUR had nearly forgotten that NATO aircraft were in action over East Germany. His air commander had provided bits and pieces on the progress of the air strikes. Judging from those reports, the air strikes seemed to have gone off well. An in-depth briefing was set to take place in less than thirty minutes.

For the moment, SACEUR looked at the large electronic map mounted on the wall of his operations center. Successful air strikes or not, at any moment now he expected to begin receiving word that Soviet fighters, helicopters, and tanks were storming across the border. As chaotic as the last few hours had been, General Galvin knew it would be nothing compared to what was to come. The fate of an entire continent now lay squarely upon his shoulders.

It was 0400 hours, 9 July, 1987.

The Central Front: 9 July, 1987 0130-0400 Part II

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The post-Vietnam years were a time of reconstruction for the US Air Force. The service’s Vietnam experience was best regarded as a stark example of how not to run an air war. Restrictive rules of engagement, micromanagement, and a cumbersome, almost ineffective process of changing tactics and strategy once it became apparent that what was being used at the moment was failing and costing aircraft and pilots. The Air Force took Vietnam to heart and in the mid-70s, the men who’d fought the air war and remained in the service, vowed to transform the US Air Force, how it trained, thought, and fought.

By 1987, many of the reforms were embedded and producing results. The US Air Force was once again a world class air arm and its doctrine reflected a new era of offensive thinking. Dark Comet was a result of this thinking. In the early 80s USAFE planners recognized that their counterparts on land would need every possible edge to halt a Red Army push into West Germany. Airland Battle 2000, the basis of the US Army’s European warfighting doctrine, involved using US air power to pulverize the second echelon Soviet divisions before they could reach the front and influence the battle there. With that in mind, USAFE planners, along with a handful of Luftwaffe, and RAF counterparts, began putting together the foundation of a plan that could possibly even the playing field before the first tanks crossed the border. For five years the plan had been revised and updated as needed, especially as new intelligence became available, and US aircrews stationed in Europe practiced it regularly.

In 1986 the entire operational concept was almost scrapped entirely. The release of the Tom Clancy novel Red Storm Rising raised some eyebrows in NATO and made more than one senior air officer believe they had a security problem to contend with. In Clancy’s book, NATO air forces launched a major air strike against sites in East Germany when it became apparent that war was imminent. The air plan in the novel was strikingly similar to Dark Comet, right down to the use of the secretive stealth aircraft. A major investigation was launched to determine if any US Air Force officers had given Clancy any sensitive information to use as research. Ironically, enough the investigation had come to an end in June of ’87 and concluded that the Clancy’s air plan was simply the product of a creative imagination and detailed research from public sources.

In an ironic twist, reality was about to mimic fiction in the skies above East Germany.

At 0130, SACEUR ordered Dark Comet to commence. Most of the aircraft that would be involved were already airborne and loitering over the North Sea, or central Germany waiting for the word to execute. When it came, the long rehearsed act began immediately. The first aircraft to cross into East Germany were six F-117A stealth fighters. Their individual ingress corridors were spread out along the northern Baltic coast from Wismar to east of Rostok. Each aircraft carried two GBU-27 Paveway III smart bombs inside of their internal weapon bays. The -27 was a laser guided bomb designed and built specifically for use by the F-117. It was basically a GBU-24 Paveway attached to the warhead of a BLU-109, giving the weapon a deep penetrator capability.

Their targets for the morning were three bunkers that intelligence expected to be used by the commanders and staffs of three Soviet army groups now poised to strike west. The bunker locations were at Kossa, Mohlau, and one outside of Stendal. Intelligence had been aware of the bunkers existence for some time now and estimated that 3rd Shock Army’s bunker was outside of Stendal, 8th Guards Army at Kossa, and 20th Guards at Mohlau. Each bunker was targeted by a pair of F-117s.

 

0200-  the pilot of Wrench 21, the lead F-117  performed a “fence check”– a final detailed check of the aircraft. From then on, things would happen rapidly. He made sure all external lights were switched off. Sometimes, under the stress of combat, the most obvious things are left undone. A single wingtip light, visible to enemy gunners, could mean disaster

Inside the cockpit, the only light came from the dimly glowing multi-function displays (MFDs) arrayed before him. Using switches on the throttles and pushing actuator buttons near the video displays, he could call up target information on one MFD while keeping aircraft status information, such as airspeed, attitude, and altitude, on another. Another display gave the pilot the data his sensors were gathering on the enemy’s radar system. He could call up almost any combination of data he wanted.

He selected the next checkpoint on the INS and checked the latitude and longitude readout. The auto pilot turned the aircraft.

He changed his heading frequently, as all F-117 pilots do, to complicate target tracking by an enemy radar that might get some slight return from the stealthy aircraft. On-board sensors told him where the probing radars were, and he flew a course to avoid them.

To complete the fence check, he compared the amount of fuel remaining with the level that a precomputation said he should have. He again made sure his warning and caution lights were out.

The pilot now concentrated on his displays, hearing only the hum of the cockpit as he sped through the night. He prepared to drop the first of two laser-guided, hardened, improved, 2000-pound bombs, designed to penetrate deep into enemy bunkers before detonating. He then punched up the armament display on an MFD. It told him that both bombs were operative and that the release system was ready. He armed his weapons and switched the armament system to “weapons armed, off safe” to prevent accidental release.

 

0220- As time drew on, and the extent of the Spetsnaz attacks became apparent, SACEUR was growing anxious about the air missions. Somewhere over East Germany were six highly advanced, yet untested F-117s  heading towards their targets and he had no clue about their progress. Hell, he had no clue about the aircraft themselves, having seen one for the first time just days before. Were they on schedule or had there been delays? Had Warsaw Pact air defenses claimed any or all of the aircraft? Two questions of the many that were in his mind. Unfortunately, he had no answers. All he could do was wait and pray for the best.

 

0245- As his F-117 neared Stendal, the pilot switched his computer system from “nav” mode to “weapons delivery” mode. He turned to a new heading over the pre-initial point, then passed over the IP.

He then called up the target position on the INS and watched as aiming cross hairs positioned themselves over the computed position of the target. He was now scrutinizing the infrared picture on one of the MFDs. The F-117’s infrared sensors gather heat emanations from the ground, and an MFD displays their image, which closely resembles a black-and-white television picture.

As Wrench 21 approached the release point, the pilot’s pulse rate quickened, and he breathed fast and heavily. He set the autopilot to keep the F-117 steady on the target run. He checked the MFDs to ensure that his altitude, heading, and airspeed were correct for this delivery, checked his armament system one more time, and then flipped the master arm switch to “arm.”

Outside, only one or two lights from the town were visible. The F-117’s infrared sensors, however, picked out buildings, railroad tracks, and roads. He could see these clearly on his MFD.

 

0250- The nondescript GAZ, sandwiched in between a pair of armored cars carrying CINC-Group Soviet Forces Germany traveled down the two lane road west of Stendal. General Snetkov  was starting to grow discouraged by concerns of his senior commanders. Now, just hours before the offensive would begin, they wanted to make changes in the plans. When he heard about the request, Snetkov hit the roof.  He was now on his way to confer with the commander of 3rd Shock Army personally. Considering the time of morning, he would remain with 3rd Shock’s commander through noon and monitor the progress of his most powerful army group as it crossed into West Germany.

 

0254- He had studied his target intently beforehand, so he knew exactly where the bunker was in relation to the sparse terrain features. He compared what he saw on the MFD with an aerial photo strapped to his legboard. As he flew closer, he could see the outline of the bunker and some of its support structures for positive target identification.

The pilot moved the fingertip target designator (TD) button on one of the throttles, slewing the cross hairs until they were precisely over the aimpoint, which is called the “designated mean point of impact” (DMPI). Depending on size, hardness, and other considerations, a target may have more than one DMPI. In this case, the single aim-point was the center of the top of the bunker.

By depressing and then releasing the TD button, he told the computer exactly where he wanted to aim. Immediately the F-117’s laser designator began to shoot a continuous, invisible, pinpoint laser beam at the DMPI. The laser energy, reflecting from the target to the aircraft, provided guidance for the bomb.

Symbology on the MFD and on the head-up display in the wind-screen cued the pilot to fly left or right to correct for crosswinds. More symbology told him when he was in range of the target. Once he had passed the “max range” point, the bomb would have enough energy, imparted by the forward motion of the F-117, to arc into the target. F-117 pilots refer to such a shot as “putting it into the basket.”

he saw the “in range” symbology, checked his position in relation to the target, decided he agreed with the computer, and depressed the red button on the top of his control stick. The weapons bay doors snapped open. He heard a “clunk” as the huge bomb was released from its shackles in the weapons bay. The doors snapped closed.

As the weapon dropped away, its nose sensor homed on the reflected laser beam and sent signals to the guidance system, which moved vanes on the side of the bomb to control the arc of flight. The pilot watched the IR display intently. The plunging bomb appeared at the bottom of the display just before it hit.

 

0254- To  the west, two brief flashes of light caught Snetkov’s eye. He looked in that direction wondering what it had been. An anxious anti-aircraft crew firing a round at a shadow in the sky perhaps? He would inquire with his air defense commander when he arrived at the bunker in a few minutes.

He was wrong. 3rd Shock Army’s command bunker no longer existed. The flashes had come from Wrench 21’s GBU-27s. Both had hit within six feet of each other, less than five seconds apart. As his vehicle drew closer, the flashes of light were orange blossoms set against the early morning sky.

0256- 0255- Snetkov’s convoy was five kilometers away when Wrench 22’s  bombs hit. A massive explosion rocked the countryside.  The car screeched to a halt as the driver responded to the large burst of light and then noise to their front. The bunker where General Snetkov was scheduled to arrive in less than five minutes was gone. With it, went the commander of the 3rd Shock Army and his battle staff of 200 officers and NCOs.

Before the echo from the bomb impacts reverberated across the nearby valley, anti-aircraft guns were erupting all over the area. Too late, as the case would be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Central Front: 9 July, 1987 0130-0400 Part I

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News of the raid at Geilenkirchen reached NATO headquarters in Brussels shortly after it began. SACEUR wasted no time in getting the word out. Less than a minute after giving the order, flash messages were going out to every NATO installation across Europe warning them to be prepared for the sudden appearance of Spetsnaz commandos or saboteurs soon. General Galvin expected to be swarmed with incoming reports of facilities under attack beginning at any moment. When it didn’t happen he was unsettled. What was going on?

Another seven minutes of silence passed by before it occurred to him that the attack on Geilenkirchen might’ve gone off prematurely. And that thought was a fleeting one. The uncertainty of the situation around 0120 placed SACEUR squarely between two chairs, so to speak. Unbeknownst to everyone except for his deputy and a handful of other senior officers, SACEUR had been approached by his air commanders a week earlier with a plan for a series of offensive air strikes targeting a core group of high value enemy targets in East Germany. The intent was for the missions to launch at the first concrete sign of hostilities; the moment that the Russians showed their hand.

SACEUR expected that moment to be the start of Spetsnaz attacks in the NATO rear. But with only one attack underway so far, Galvin faced a moment of truth. If he ordered his air commander to begin what they referred to as Operation Dark Comet without more validation that the Soviet offensive was imminent he ran the risk of handing Moscow a justification for hostilities. If he wavered and the offensive emerged as expected, a golden opportunity to maybe even the playing field would be lost. Aware that time was running out, SACEUR made what many historians now consider to be one of the most pivotal decisions of the war. Dark Comet would commence immediately.

While fighter bombers and support aircraft assigned to the missions were taking off from NATO airbases in the UK and Federal Republic, Spetsnaz attacks began going off across the Central Front region. Explosions, and the rattle of small arms fire punctured the quiet pre-dawn hours. From the North Sea to the Austrian border firefights were breaking out in and around almost every NATO military facility, and at select points in the major Western European cities. Soviet commandos, and KGB operatives found, much to their astonishment, that NATO security troops were alert and prepared for them. In spite of their high degrees of training and  rugged mental preparedness, a number of Spetsnaz teams could not recover from the shock of losing the initiative so abruptly. From the intelligence each team was privy to, NATO was not expected to be ready.

The size and qualities of the security contingents at individual target sites depended on the size of the target and its significance. Predictably, POMCUS, nuclear weapon storage sites, and dispersal locations for GLCM and Pershing II missiles. On average, the size of a NATO security unit was a platoon sized unit, 30-35 men. Spetsnaz teams, in contrast normally had between 4-6 troops, and in some instances upwards of 10-12. The attackers relied on speed, and slinkiness. The defenders, on firepower and numbers.

Bulletins started reaching Brussels minutes after 0130. Word was working up the chain of command about an increasing number of NATO military and civilian sites coming under attack. A POMCUS compound in Holland, GLCM dispersal sites north of Wuschheim, and an air defense radar site west of Hanover were among the first places to be hit. SACEUR was digesting those reports as even more news arrived. A major explosion had occurred in the port of Bremerhaven. Two West German cabinet members were assassinated in their own homes.

As his aide informed him of these attacks, SACEUR took some solace in the fact that he had made the right decision in authorizing Dark Comet.

 

The Northern Flank: 9 July, 1987 0100-0400 Part II

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Norway Continued

The first naval contact of the Third World War came off of the North Cape shortly after 0200. A trio of Norwegian Storm-class fast attack boats patrolling the approaches to inland waterways stumbled across three radar contacts moving southwest at moderate speed north of Svaerholt. The contacts would turn out to be two Soviet Nanuchkas class fast attack craft escorting a minelayer. The Soviets had detected the Norwegians too. Fearful of other Norwegian ships or subs in the area, the commander of the tiny Soviet task group decided to turn and run back towards the southeast and friendly waters. As the group made the turn to starboard, the Nanuchkas loosed a volley of SS-N-9 anti-ship missiles at the Norwegians, who promptly responded by launching their own Penguin missiles at the Soviets. The end result was a draw. Both sides lost one fast attack boat and roughly thirty men each. But this was not fated to be the only clash between naval forces in the area that morning. A running skirmish between Soviet and Norwegian ships and subs would break out at 0550 and last into the early afternoon.

 

Denmark & The Baltic Approaches

From the early days of the alliance, Denmark was always a vital piece of the NATO jigsaw. Geographically, the modest sized nation-state served as the bridge between NATO’s central and northern regions. Even more significant was Denmark’s role as the gatekeeper of the Baltic Sea. Whichever side controlled Denmark also had control of the Baltic. If NATO retained its hold on Denmark during wartime, the Soviet Baltic Fleet would be unable to break out into the North Sea, as war plans called for.  On the flip side, a Soviet occupation of Denmark would be a potentially irrecoverable blow to NATO. The defeat of a member nation-state so early in the fighting could shake the alliance’s political foundation to its core. Operationally, the loss of Danish airspace, and the Danish Straits would be have a decidedly negative effect on the battlefield in West Germany.

In the early morning hours of  9 July, 1987, Soviet commandos and KGB operatives were on the move in Denmark. As in the case of the rest of Western Europe, raids here were planned against civilian and military targets, though the emphasis for Denmark was on the civilian type. The intent here was to weaken Danish resolve and possibly force the government to rethink its commitment to NATO in the short time span between the first morning, and the scheduled start of the Denmark phase of military operations. It was a long shot, yet the possible reward was worth the effort.

The first action came at 0220 hours. A twenty man team made up of Spetsnaz commandos, and KGB operatives broke past security and entered the Radiohuset, the headquarters of the Denmark Broadcasting Company’s radio operations. Engineers, DJs, and other staff on duty at the time were rounded up, and Denmark’s most popular radio channel went off the air temporarily before returning a bit later. An announcement was made claiming the station was now under the control of the Danish Workers Army of the People. For the next thirty minutes, a recorded statement was played repeatedly, extolling the dangerous waters that NATO membership had placed their native homeland in. Citizens of Denmark were urged to reclaim their government before it was ‘too late.’ Soon after, the two largest radio transmitters in Denmark exploded and collapsed with the help of Spetsnaz plastique explosives. The airwaves around much of Denmark went silent and remained that way for much of the morning.

After 0300 a similar attack took place at the Denmark Broadcasting Company’s television studios. A rapid response by team of Danish Huntsman Corps troops that happened to be heading to Radiohuset prevented the TV network from sharing the fate of its wireless counterparts. By now, radio and television weren’t the only targets under fire. In Copenhagen, bombs were exploding in the Frederiksstaden district, and near the palace.

Spetsnaz teams were also busy in other parts of Denmark. A large raid was launched against the Allied Forces Baltic Approaches headquarters in Karup. Casualties were inflicted and damage caused, but COMBALTAP and his staff survived, thanks to the reinforced security detail that had been placed at Karup the previous week. Road junctions, munitions depots, and oil storage facilities were also paid attention by the Soviets. Some attacks were successful, while most were not.

On the waters around Denmark, the sting of the intruders was also being felt. The Danish mine layer Lossen  struck a mine that had been quietly placed by a Swedish-flagged fishing trawler after midnight. The trawler was not Swedish, of course, but Soviet, crewed by Russian sailors with a contingent of naval infantry commandos aboard. The boat laid six mines in an area of the Danish Straits that COMBALTAP had restricted from being sewn with mines. Lossen sank with the loss of nearly her entire crew.

A Naval Home Guard vessel patrolling near the shore of the island of Bornholm was struck by two AT-3 Sagger ATGMs fired by a KGB team staked out ashore. The ship ran aground shortly after and burned brightly in the early morning shadows.

 

In those pre-dawn hours chaos descended on Norway, and Denmark and their populations as the extent of Spetsnaz sabotage and covert actions became clear. For AFNORTH’s senior officers, the chaos was but a precursor to what was surely about to fall upon them. As apprehensive as those hours were for civilians and soldiers alike in the Northern Flank countries, it paled in comparison to what their counterparts in Central Europe had to face at the moment, or would have to face in the coming hours.

 

 

 

The Northern Flank: 9 July, 1987 0100-0400 Part I

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As was the case on the Central Front, the Soviets planned to make use of their special operations assets in the opening hours of hostilities on the Northern Flank. There were unique obstacles facing the Soviets in the northern region, however. Foremost was the meteorological restriction brought on by the midnight sun. During this time of the year, a sizeable portion of northern Norway was bathed in long periods of constant sunlight. The farther north one traveled from the Arctic Circle, the longer the period of midnight sun days extends. Cities and towns nearer to the Circle were receiving three or so hours of sun per day while the North Cape area was still ensconced in 24 hours of sunlight on 9 July, and would be for some time yet.

These conditions were not conducive to successful employment of special operations forces like Spetsnaz. Special operations soldiers prefer to cloak their movements, and operations in darkness, and early morning shadows. This was clearly not possible in key areas of the Northern Flank and the Soviets were aware. Thus, the Soviets did not intend to employ special operations forces here to the same degree that they were going to be used in Central Europe. They could not have done it even if they had wanted to. The Northwestern TVD’s pool of available Spetsnaz teams was a fraction of what the Western TVD had available. West was the military district responsible for operations the Central Front, which was the primary theater of operations. It had priority on reinforcements during the buildup of forces. Northwest would simply have to make do with what was on hand.

At 0100 on 9 July, as their counterparts in Central Europe were getting underway, or in some cases beginning operations prematurely, Soviet special operations groups, and KGB operatives in Norway remained concealed for the most part. Most of their missions were planned to take place between 0500 and 0700 to coincide with other operations scheduled for the Northern Flank.  A select group of operatives and Spetsnaz types had been tasked with particularly critical, or time sensitive missions, however, were already in position or awaiting the final order to proceed.

At AFNORTH headquarters in Kolsas, a brief report on the Spetsnaz attack at Geilenkirchen arrived from Brussels at 0115 as it was still in progress. Although the attack’s outcome was not yet known at the time, SACEUR thought it prudent to transmit a message to all NATO commands apprising them of the situation, and warning them that hostilities could be expected to begin at any moment. CINC-AFNORTH, General Geoffrey Howlett was of a similar mind. He was in his operations center already, quite confident that the line between peace and war would be crossed in a matter of hours.

Howlett was satisfied that he’d done everything possible to ready his command for war. Every military installation in Norway and Denmark was on maximum alert. Status reports from the field were arriving at a brisk clip. Air and sea patrols were out and searching the Norwegian Sea, Baltic, and North Sea for signs of approaching trouble. So far, there was nothing. As 0200 approached, all was quiet on the northern front and remained so even as things in Germany appeared to be coming to a head.

AFNORTH’s first indication of trouble came at 0213 when the Norwegian Coast Guard passed along news of an explosion on a Norwegian oil platform in the North Sea. The coast guard copied a distress call and was preparing to mount a rescue effort. Howlett ordered SAR helicopters stationed at Sola air station to assist in the operation. Less than ten minutes had passed before a second report told of a second platform on fire in the vicinity. The British general was watching his operations group go about their tasks when his aide rushed into the room and informed him that there had been an explosion outside of Victoria Terrasse, the building that housed the Norwegian foreign ministry in Oslo.

Ignition on the Central Front: 9 July, 1987 0100 Hours Local

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At 0100 hours local time (GMT+2 hours) on 9 July there were two dozen Soviet special operations teams in place across West Germany. The majority of them were moving towards their mission objectives by this time. Some were already in position and simply waiting for the right time. Most teams were made up of anywhere between eight and twenty Spetsnaz soldiers, and one or two KGB operatives. A handful of groups consisted solely of KGB personnel. These were the ones tasked with political assassinations and the like. When the time came, most of the teams and groups would act independently of one another. Only in a handful of instances was more than one team assigned to the same target.

The Red Army’s infatuation with special operations teams was well known within NATO military circles. It was assumed that a Soviet offensive would kick off with raids by these groups against NATO targets deep behind the lines. The primary purpose of the strikes was to sew confusion, and chaos in the early hours of fighting. Quite possibly, if the stars lined up properly, one or two of the strikes might succeed in causing enough damage to tilt the balance in favor of the Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces at a critical moment somewhere down the line.

The list of potential Spetsnaz targets was staggeringly large. The grim reality facing NATO was that its security forces were stretched to the limit already. It could not defend every possible target at one time. Many fixed targets such as airbases, headquarters, and POMCUS sites had their own security forces and that helped to ease the burden. Unfortunately, an equal number of important locations had no indigenous security forces of their own. Their defenses would be dependent upon on recently called up reservists, or units taken from the rapidly diminishing pool of NATO’s specially trained security forces.

In a previous posting, the first contact between NATO and Soviet troops in West Germany in the war was briefly touched upon. KGB-trained saboteurs charged with destroying the NATO E-3A Sentry detachment at Gielenkirchen Air Base began their effort at 0100. The initial wave of Spetsnaz, and saboteur attacks behind the lines was not supposed to commence until 0130 hours. They encountered alert NATO security troops almost immediately and after a furious firefight were all either killed or wounded.

The premature attack gave NATO valuable time to get the warning out and bring security to a higher state of alert before the initial wave of attacks began a short time later. Some sites which may not have been ready were. In other cases, the additional time gained made little difference to the end results. In any event, it did not matter in the larger scheme of things. The war that millions of soldiers, politicians, and civilians around the world had been waiting for had become a reality, even if very few of them were aware of it at the moment. By dawn, the rest of the world would be fully aware that the Third World War was underway.