Airbase Angst: 8 July, 1987

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Airbase commanders on either side of the Iron Curtain breathed a collective sigh of relief as the sun rose in the eastern sky on the morning of 8 July, 1987. In NATO and Warsaw Pact air forces alike, the lessons of the Six Day War had been scrutinized incessantly ever since. The pre-emptive strike Israel launched against Egyptian airfields in the early morning hours of 5 June, 1967 destroyed over 300 combat aircraft and irreparably damaged its military infrastructure. The Egyptian Air Force was paralyzed and subsequently was unable to support Egypt’s ground forces in the fighting to come. Since then, the possibility of a massive series of predawn airstrikes against airbases, Command and control sites, and radars became the nightmare scenario for air commanders around the world. NATO expected a Warsaw Pact offensive to begin with a concentrated effort against its airfields, while Warsaw Pact commanders expected NATO to begin counter air operations as soon as possible should their own strikes not produce enough damage to NATO airbases and combat aircraft first.

After Israel destroyed the unprotected Egyptian Air Force, airbase protection became a priority. Hardened Aircraft Shelters quickly became a standard feature of Western airbases, while the Soviet Union and its allies turned to a variety of SAMs and self-propelled anti-aircraft weapons to protect its air forces on the ground. Eventually, the Soviets came around to the HAS concept, but nowhere near as fast as NATO. On the eve of war HAS construction was still underway at nearly every Soviet airbase in East Germany and Czechoslovakia.

NATO airbase commanders accepted the reality that their bases would receive immediate, concentrated attention from Warsaw Pact air forces, and possibly from Soviet airmobile forces as well. Base defenses were readied, and aircraft were dispersed and spread out as much as possible. Pilots, staff officers, ground crew personnel and security troops alike worked, slept and ate with their cumbersome NBC gear nearby. It was anticipated that Pact forces would be using chemical weapons from the outset. The farther forward a NATO airbase was located, the more apprehensive the base commander was.

Their Soviet and Warsaw Pact counterparts were of a similar mindset. The greatest unknown on the eastern side of the Inner-German Border was the accuracy and effectiveness NATO aircraft and air-delivered weapons. The consensus among the more senior base commanders was NATO air forces held the edge in the quality of aircraft and weapons. If air superiority was lost over East Germany, round-the-clock airstrikes could be expected. Therefore, it was no surprise that fighter regiment and base commanders from Magdeburg to Vilnius were screaming for additional air defense assets.

What no NATO, and most Warsaw Pact air officers recognized at the time was that the morning of 8 July would be the last morning of peace for a while.

 

Romanov Reflects 8 July, 1987

1986-1987: Moscow, Red Square

General Secretary Grigory Vasilyevich Romanov stared hard at the men seated around the conference table with him. Together, they made up the leadership core that would reenergize the rapidly failing Soviet Union and ascend the CCCP to new heights of power and global leadership. These men were all subordinate to Romanov, willfully accepting their places and roles in the new hierarchy of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. There was to be no sharing of power. When Romanov began planning for his eventual seizure of power shortly after being ousted by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986, he deliberately kept his intentions from being known even by these men who were all close to him. Nothing was said until minutes before the bold undertaking was launched. As Romanov had fervently hoped, these men immediately realized the opportunity presented to them and gave their support without a second thought.

Now, here they were less than three months since Romanov took power, in a position that none of them, including the General Secretary, anticipated would come so quickly. He understood the precarious position the Soviet Union had been placed in, largely due to Gorbachev’s attempted reforms. Glasnost and Perestroika would only serve to speed up the demise of the Soviet Union. Romanov recognized this and it motivated him to move decisively to prevent his predecessor and rival from sending the motherland into an irrecoverable tailspin.

Lamentably, Romanov quickly discovered the true condition of his nation upon assuming control. The Soviet Union was essentially on life support. The degeneration of the state’s power had advanced farther than anyone outside Gorbachev’s circle fully understood. The nation had been sedentary for far too long. Its economic strength had been allowed to atrophy, and Soviet military power would not lagging very far behind. Support for the Party was diminishing, and for good reason, Romanov believed. The Party was doing nothing for its people! Animosity was reaching the critical level in the Southern and Baltic republics. And of course, there was still Afghanistan to contend with.

Outside of the CCCP, the situation was more desperate. The Eastern European satellites were in even worse condition. All that was needed for a complete collapse was one errant event. Poles, East Germans, Hungarians, and Czechs were frustrated and despondent. Their living conditions steadily diminished while to the west, their counterparts in West Germany, France, the Low Countries and beyond were enjoying unprecedented economic prosperity.

The writing on the wall was clear: Nothing short of extreme measures was going to save the Soviet empire from being consigned to the dustbin of history. Those measures were less than 24 hours in coming, Romanov noted with some sadness. He certainly had not wanted it to come to this. At least not this quickly. Regrettably, time was against him. The Romanov coup had instigated a chain of events that would consume the State if left untreated. World opinion was decidedly against him. Many governments refused to recognize the legitimacy of his government. The United States had denounced the coup and demanded that Gorbachev be reinstated. Beneath the surface, the US was licking its chops and preparing to use the situation to its advantage, Romanov was positive. Sure enough, evidence of US military preparations around the world began to trickle in after he was in power. In response, Romanov took a hard stance and challenged the US and Reagan, hoping to dissuade any opportunistic moves while the Soviet Union was undergoing transition.

That was not to be, and it became clear very rapidly the US was not going to give Romanov the time needed to consolidate his hold on power, and begin repairing the dry-rot that had become so prevalent in the Soviet Union.

Security was inextricably linked to expansion, Western scholars liked to contend. Romanov agreed, though the current position was more akin to security being linked to a consolidation of power. Conversely, that would not be possible until NATO and the United States were forced into compliance with the Soviet Union’s intended course into the future. And to bring that about meant war, while the Soviet military still held the advantage over the armies, navies, and air forces of the West. An advantage which would cease to exist come 1988.

Therefore, action had to be taken immediately.

 

 

 

Strategic Considerations: SACLANT 7 July, 1987

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Inside of the operations center at his headquarters in Norfolk, SACLANT studied the large, computerized map display of the North Atlantic and Norwegian Sea intently. Blue NTDS symbols indicated the current positions of NATO surface ships, submarines, and air units. Red symbols showed the known or suspected positions of their Soviet counterparts. At the moment, it was the Soviet subs not visible on the map that concerned him most.

The Red Banner Northern Fleet had not yet sortied en masse. Admiral Baggett was not surprised. The crisis had exploded in a flash and was evolving at a near reckless pace. Diplomats and general officers on both sides were having a difficult time keeping pace with events, let alone try to slow them down. His counterpart in Murmansk was doubtless contending with his own problems and would have preferred to have his surface ships and submarines at sea already. The Soviets had their own designs for the Norwegian Sea and North Atlantic. If the Northern Fleet’s assets were out of position when hostilities kicked off, their wartime tasks would be that much more difficult.

SACLANT’s intelligence chief estimated that the Northern Fleet would begin putting to sea within the next eight to ten hours. The latest satellite intel showed the main surface elements of the fleet preparing to get underway, and activity at the main submarine base at Polyarny was extremely high, with a large number of Red submarined getting ready to sail. When it happened, the news would reach Norfolk quickly. Baggett had three submarines operating in close to the coast up there.

It was widely believed in Norfolk, Brussels, and Washington that once the Northern Fleet sailed, hostilities would begin forty-eight hours from that point. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and SACEUR checked in with Baggett at the top of every hour for an update. Admiral Crowe had another reason for making frequent calls. One major component of Maritime Strategy, the playbook which the US Navy and its NATO partners would use to fight the Third Battle of the Atlantic, was being hotly debated in the White House and Pentagon; Taking out the Soviet SSBNs operating under the Arctic ice pack. There was growing question inside of the Reagan administration about the prudence of targeting Soviet strategic assets directly from the start of hostilities. Doing so could invite a disproportionate response which in turn might dangerously escalate the conflict. Right now, a number of US and British SSNs were moving north towards the Barents Sea exclusively for this mission.

SACLANT would not be disheartened if the SSBN hunt were postponed. Operationally, a delay would give him more subs to interdict Soviet surface ships and submarines heading into the Norwegian Sea and North Atlantic. As the situation stood, his command would need every additional asset it could get its hands on to keep the Soviets bottled up in the Norwegian Sea until Baggett was ready to move Strike Fleet Atlantic north and take control of the sea. To do this, he needed two or more carrier battlegroups to form the vaunted strike fleet. Forrestal and Eisenhower were steaming northeast through Atlantic waters right now. However, it would be at least four days until both were in position. Kitty Hawk was expected to leave from Philadelphia tomorrow. When the time came, he could move north with two decks if the situation called for it, though he was admittedly not comfortable with the possibility.

SACLANT was in ‘transition to war’ phase of Maritime Strategy, more commonly referred to as Phase One. It involved the marshalling of naval forces and their movement into the forward areas, specifically the Norwegian Sea, and to a lesser extent the Barents as well. The time frame of the phase served as preparation for Phase Two: seizing the initiative and taking the fight to the enemy.

Baggett’s forces were not ready to move north at the moment and would not be ready when the shooting began. Therein lay the first strategic problem of the war for SACLANT: To go north with what was available, or wait until significant forces were massed and ready. The Norwegian Sea, as well as northern Norway were a cornerstone of the alliance’s SLOC defense. If NATO was forced to withdraw from the waters north of Iceland, and cede control of them to the Soviets, the pressure then placed on convoys crossing the Atlantic could be overwhelming.

It was a race, Baggett realized, of which side could muster the needed forces, and begin its operations first. For the moment, neither SACLANT or the Red Banner Northern Fleet was in the position it wanted to be. With every hour that passed, the equation changed. However, for every hour that went by with the Soviets still in port, NATO benefitted.

 

 

 

 

 

America’s Awakening 7 July, 1987 (Part 2)

Ronald Reagan

President Reagan addressed the nation from the Oval Office again at 3PM Eastern Time. This was the greatest speech of Reagan’s presidency and the one which will forever be attached with the man’s legacy. Quotes from the speech have appeared practically everywhere in one form or another in the post-war years, from memorial statues, to countless textbooks. The address has been immortalized, and rightfully so. Reagan’s words came at a pivotal moment. The gravity of the crisis was now sinking in, and for most Americans the realization was traumatic and horrifying. Reagan acknowledged this and through his words essentially told his fellow Americans that he was feeling similar emotions. Hearing the president admit he was every bit as worried as the average American was had a tremendously affirmative effect on people. They realized that they were not alone.

The heart of the address was, of course, the ‘choice we make today’ portion. Reagan laid out the two choices facing the United States. The country could stand aside, ignore its treaty commitments and allow the evil entity that was the Soviet Union to overrun Western Europe without lifting a finger to help. In that scenario, no American blood would be spilled on the battlefield, Europe would likely be spared a major war, and the horrors of nuclear war would not become reality. But at some point in the future, the enemy would arrive on America’s shores, likely after the rest of the world had been enslaved.

Or, the United States could assume its proper place as the leader of the free world, stand up for its ideals, and lead the defense of Western Europe. If war came, Reagan warned, it would be deadly, and wrought with destruction, and peril. Thousands would perish on the battlefield, and there was no guarantee the nation would be kept safe from the ravages of modern war. Despite the unknowns, and danger, Reagan believed we were compelled to defend Europe. Standing aside guaranteed the world would slide into the abyss once and for all.  “Europe,” he concluded bluntly and correctly, “Is worth fighting for.”

At the tail end of the speech, the president announced the immediate call up of 300,000 reservists, but stopped short of declaring a national emergency for the time being. Doing so would have contradicted the purpose of his speech. He wanted Americans cognizant and able to function, not consumed with fear and thus incapacitated. In this regard, Reagan was doubling down on his faith in Americans to do the right thing when it mattered the most.

That afternoon at Wrigley Field, the San Diego Padres were in town to play the Chicago Cubs. The game was delayed so the speech could be played over the stadium’s sound system for the sold-out crowd. Once it was over, a long moment of reflective silence followed. Wrigley had likely never been so quiet with a capacity crowd in attendance. It was to be temporary. The silence was broken by the PA announcer asking the crowd to rise for the national anthem. What followed was the most inspiring recital of the Star Spangled Banner ever by a sporting event crowd. After the anthem, an ear shattering cheer rolled through the historic stadium, sparking a seven minute long “USA! USA!” chant which was probably heard in Milwaukee.

Ronald Reagan had set the tone of the moment and America was responding. As the afternoon went on, a national resolve began to grow. The peace protests that had cropped up were soon dwarfed by anti-Soviet and pro-USA rallies. By 5 PM on the east coast, flag waving citizens began converging upon many military installations in spontaneous shows of support for the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen who would soon be leaving for Europe. For officers and NCOs who served in Vietnam, the sight was almost overwhelming. This war…if it evolved to that…was not destined be another Vietnam. Troops were not going to be spat upon, or labeled as ‘baby killers.’ It was clear the American people would support the troops and the mission.

Unlike Vietnam, this war would be about national survival, and that made all the difference in the world.

America’s Awakening 7 July, 1987 (Part 1)

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In late July of 1914 when the governments of Europe’s main powers made their respective mobilization announcements, the public reactions in each nation were strikingly similar. An atmosphere of celebration descended upon national capitals. Jubilant crowds streamed into public squares, waving flags and banners. Emotional embraces and bottles of wine and liquor were shared among stranger and friend alike. Patriotic songs and national anthems were sung with passionate zeal and heart. Tears of joy were shed, and talk of glorious victories in the days ahead streaked through the crowds with lightning speed. In 1914 mobilization meant war, and the coming war was generally viewed as an adventure. The horror, misery, and destruction which would define the First World War were in the minds of but a few influential people in Europe during this time. They wisely kept their opinions to themselves, and mourned silently as the masses frolicked in blissful ignorance of what the future truly held. This was their moment and they were not to be denied.

It was noon in the eastern US, and 9 AM on the west coast when special report bulletins preempted regularly scheduled television programming. News anchors, some visibly fighting to keep their composure, informed the nation that NATO nations were ordering their armed forces to mobilize and begin moving to their wartime staging areas and positions. President Reagan was expected to address the nation for the second time in less than 48 hours later that same afternoon. Speculation ran high in media circles that Reagan would announce a full-scale US mobilization.

The response of the average American citizen to the news from Brussels was a stark contrast to how Europeans responded in similar news on the eve of World War I. Collectively, Americans were entirely aware of how severe the situation was in Europe. For the past two days, a number of peace marches and protests had taken place in a number of major cities. The marches mirrored the fears of most people concerning the possibility of this crisis leading to eventual nuclear war. This fear had a sobering effect on almost everyone in North America and it was evident in the lack of pomp and circumstance surrounding the addresses of national leaders and announcements of mobilization.

Public opinion polls indicated a large amount of support for President Reagan’s actions and the US position thus far. Americans realized this was not a crisis of their own government’s making, and the majority of people polled laid responsibility square on the Soviets. Ironically enough for the Reagan administration, the heightening tensions in the past two months had served to deflate the growing cauldron of public interest and concern in the Iran-Contra matter. The Reagan administration had allegedly sold arms to Iran in violation of an embargo then in place, and subsequently used the money from the sales to fund the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. News had broken in November of 1986 and following the release of the Tower Report joint House-Senate hearings were scheduled and got underway in May. Public attention had waned as the international situation worsened. On the previous day the Senate announced the postponement of the hearings underway, effectively erasing the Iran-Contra affair from the American psyche.

 

(Apologies for splitting this post in two parts. Work commitments for this afternoon have to take precedence)

 

 

Group Soviet Forces Germany 6 July, 1987

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When the Commander-In-Chief of Group Soviet Forces Germany (GFSG) General Boris Snetkov informed his aide that he was retiring to his quarters for six hours, he made it clear that he was not to be disturbed for anything short of war. He had gone thirty-six straight hours with no sleep whatsoever and realized that this was simply not acceptable. Commanders needed their rest, especially now. Snetkov smartly decided to take advantage of a quiet period now while he could.

For Snetkov, the past month had been a whirlwind of activity. Shortly after the new General Secretary had assumed his duties in the Kremlin, the Minister of Defense began a reshuffling of senior military commanders. Ousted or transferred were men known to be supportive of, or sympathetic to the policies of Mikhail Gorbachev. Snetkov was neither. He was originally scheduled to take command of GFSG from General Lushev in November of 1987. Romanov’s ascent to power changed that and Snetkov took command in early June instead.

From that moment forward he was a general officer preparing his command for a potential war. As June went on, Snetkov familiarized himself with his staff and the commanders of the army groups assigned to GFSG. The more he learned, the better position he managed to take it determining his how ready his command would be if the order to move west came from Moscow. One army group commander had been replaced and Snetkov’s own staff had experienced a moderate turnover. The general was more confident now than he’d been a month ago. There was more work to be done though.

The question was whether or not he would have the time. Frankly, Snetkov doubted it. He did not know for certain what was going on in the Kremlin, but the general had been told to prepare his forces for possible offensive action by mid-July. Even going at the current pace, he was not certain GFSG would be completely ready by then.

At 0300 local time he was abruptly woken up by his aide who then informed Snetkov that the minister of defense was waiting on the phone. The general took a moment to gather himself before nodding to his aide who handed over a bulky cordless phone.

“Boris Ivanovitch,” the voice of Marshal of the Soviet Union and current Minister of Defense Dimitri Yazov came through surprisingly clear.

“Good morning, Comrade Minister,” Snetkov replied, shaking away the cobwebs as best he could.

“Are you at your headquarters right now?”

“No, I am not. Do you need me to go there?”

Yazov paused briefly, considering. “Yes, it would be for the best.”

Snetkov started to get a sickening feeling in his stomach. “Has something happened?”

“The Americans have announced they will begin reinforcing Europe. I will meet with the politburo later this morning and recommend immediate full-scale mobilization. Begin your preparations now, Boris Ivanovitch. If the General Secretary is in agreement with my recommendations your tanks will begin crossing the border in seventy-two hours.”

 

Denmark’s Home Guard Prepares

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Gert Madsen, like dozens of other Danish Home Guard officers, received the telephone call he had been dreading, but subconsciously anticipating to come at any time, as he was preparing to leave his office in Holstebro on 5 July, 1987. The thirty-five year old Home Guard captain was a barrister in civilian life. He was an associate in a mid-sized firm in Holstebro which dealt with insurance claims. Madsen had joined the Home Guard after his conscription time in the Royal Danish Army came to an end. He did so out of a sense of obligation to his fellow citizens. It was only fair that he contribute something back to the country that had given him so much. So, on weekends, and select other times of the year, Madsen trained with the Home Guard.

The telephone call was short and curt. Madsen picked up, verified who he was when asked and was told by a voice he did not recognize, “The Van Gogh exhibit at National Gallery opens in three weeks.” The code was one of seven that Home Guard officers had to memorize. Each one had its own meaning that was known to the recipient. For anyone who might have been eavesdropping they would have heard mindless chatter. This particular coded message instructed Madsen, and other Home Guard officers in the district to arrive at his local Home Guard depot at 9 o’clock that evening. He checked his watch. It was approaching 4:30 now. There was enough time to go home, spend some time with his wife and two boys, have dinner and then be at the depot in time.

The phone call had been expected for days, since US and Soviet warships exchanged fire in the Mediterranean. Each passing day brought a new deterioration in the crisis, and growing alarm in Western European nations. In Denmark, the tension was palpable. Citizens made a large effort to go about their regular daily routines and pay little attention to the growing menace to the east or the preparations for war taking place to the south and north.

When he arrived home, his wife Jane was waiting expectantly. The wife of a fellow Home Guard officer had called her with the news about the message going out. Madsen tried his best to calm and reassure her. A phone call and resultant meeting did not quite mean mobilization and imminent war. His wife, though, was not swayed. She understood what was happening, yet this moment was when the real world violently collided with hers. The insulation that kept Jane’s mind padded from the foul truth of the international situation was stripped away. She broke down and cried. Gert brought her into the bedroom, away from the kids, and consoled her. He assured her that he would not be packing up and leaving for war that evening, though in reality, he could not rule the possibility out entirely. In time, Jane came around, and dinner that evening was not the tense, subdued meal that Gert had begun to think it would be. Quite the opposite actually.

Madsen arrived at the Holstebro depot a little after 8 PM. The normal Elk’s lodge type of atmosphere that permeated weeknight meetings like this one was gone. In its place was quiet determination and concealed anxiousness. The Home Guard depot at Holstebro was larger than its counterparts in other towns across Denmark. Equipment and supplies for a battlegroup belonging to the Jutland Division was located nearby. In the event of mobilization, many of the reservists in this district would fill out that formation. Home Guard officers and enlisted personnel knew what their unit’s place would be in the Danish military’s order of battle in the event of mobilization. Madsen’s own company of 100 was specifically trained for and assigned to airbase security.

The senior officer for the district was Colonel Kruse, an affable, soft spoken civil servant in Ringkobing. He had been in this post for seven years now and proved himself as a capable officer in more than one field exercise. He normally spent the pre-meeting minutes socializing with the officers. Tonight, that was not the case. Kruse was nowhere to be found. His absence only amplified the restless air now permeating the depot. Madsen and his fellow officers speculated in hushed tones about where Kruse might be. Arne Dahl, a short, solidly built lieutenant mentioned that the colonel’s car was outside in the parking lot. This only fueled the speculation.

At 8:55PM an NCO directed the twenty-four officers into the large conference room. Madsen and the others filed in. He was fortunate enough to find a seat, many officers had to stand. Once everyone was settled, the narrow door at the front of the room swung open and Colonel Kruse strode in. The men rose and snapped to attention but Kruse waved them down. He informed the officers that the first steps towards a national mobilization were about to get underway. The government in Copenhagen was determined to ensure that Denmark was prepared to fulfill its NATO commitments and meet its own national defense needs. All active duty military personnel would be recalled to their bases, and leaves cancelled at midnight. The next morning at 6 AM all Home Guard personnel would be ordered to their depots and mobilization was to begin officially at 12 noon on 6 July.

For the evening, Kruse told the officers they would be given the assignment and orders for their respective units. He, and a pair of active duty officers who’d arrived during the meeting handled the matter. An Army major briefed Madsen when it was his turn.

“Madsen,” he began. “Your company is trained for air base security and defense, correct? Good. You will be assigned to Karup and augment the base security there. When your men are gathered here tomorrow, equipment will be issued. Trucks will arrive shortly thereafter to transport you to Karup.”

In the blink of an eye, Denmark, and Madsen’s transformations from peacetime to war were kicked into overdrive.