The Southern Flank: 10 July, 1987 Part II

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It was generally accepted that the Southwestern Theater of Military Operations (SWTVD) would constitute a secondary theater in the opening days of a war against NATO. The Western TVD (WTVD) was the theater of highest priority and understandably so. SWTVD objectives in the first 3-4 days of hostilities were to halt any NATO air or land countermove against WTVD, and prevent a major conflict in the SWTVD while preparations for offensive operations were underway. The preparatory phase for land operations against Thrace and the subsequent battle for the Dardanelles was still underway on the second day and was expected to continue for another 24-48 hours. The Bulgarian Army was fully deployed on that country’s border with Turkey and Greece, along with a limited number of Soviet units. The main Soviet ground forces allocated to SWTVD were still deploying into the region. When the time came, the bulk of the initial Warsaw Pact thrust into Thrace would be made up primarily of Bulgarian forces.

SWTVD air operations on the second day continued to be chiefly focused against Turkish air defenses, radars, and airbases. With more air assets becoming available as elements of the 24th Air Army arrived in theater, the attacks were becoming focused and intense. The airstrikes were not limited to targets only in the western half of Turkey. A portion were being directed against Hellenic Air Force bases and radar sites, but the center of attention was Turkey. The Commander, Sixth Allied Tactical Air Force (COMSIXATAF) was becoming more concerned about his losses as the day went on. From his headquarters at Izmir, Turkey he monitored the air battle and directed the air defense of Turkey. Twice he and his staff had to head to the shelters when installations around Izmir were targeted by Soviet aircraft.

Sixth ATAF’s fighter squadrons and air defenses were inflicting losses on the attackers, but it was costing them. As the day went on and the tempo of air strikes peaked, Turkish F-4 Phantoms, F-16s, and F-104s allotted to defending Turkey were almost fully committed. Losses in aircraft and pilots were heavy and climbing. Almost as disconcerting was the grim fact that, as losses climbed, COMSIXATAF was losing its ability to take the fight to enemy forces in Bulgaria. He concluded, quite correctly, that without a swift infusion of NATO air reinforcements, air superiority over Thrace and much of Turkey could not be guaranteed for more than the next 24 hours.

In Naples, CINCSOUTH was fully aware of the situation in Turkey. He agreed with COMSIXATAF regarding the reinforcements equation and was working to get additional squadrons to Turkey rapidly. Unfortunately, CINCSOUTH could not begin moving squadrons from 5th ATAF in Italy east until reinforcing squadrons from the US arrived in significant numbers. As desperate as the situation in Turkey was becoming, CINCSOUTH couldn’t afford to strip 5th ATAF of fighters right now and leave Northern Italy naked. Thus far, Soviet forces in Hungary, and their Hungarian comrades had not moved into Austria or Yugoslavia. A move into Yugoslavia was not anticipated, however, a thrust into Austria would pose a grave danger to AFSOUTH.  Italian forces guarding the Gorizia Gap, and corridors in the Austrian Alps were going to need air cover and close air support. For the moment the Northern Italian subregion was quiet. Moving fighters and attack aircraft from Italy to Turkey could inspire the Soviets to move and take advantage of the situation. For the moment, 6th ATAF was on its own.

 

 

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The Northern Flank: 10 July, 1987 Part II

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The loss of air superiority over Northern Norway brought immediate ramifications for NATO’s entire Northern Flank defensive strategy. Air and sea surveillance of the Norwegian coast and Barents Sea would now be severely limited. The same was true for subsequent air and naval operations north of Tromso and Bardufoss. NATO land units in the northern areas, primarily elements of Norway’s Brigade North, were now faced with the grim reality of operating without friendly air support for the time being. It did not take very long after the air raids against Andoya and Bardufoss for AFNORTH to appreciate that NATO’s position in Northern Norway was on the verge of unravelling entirely.

Losing air and sea surveillance in the Barents was perhaps the most consequential development of the second day. It was known that the Soviets had multiple surface groups at sea in the Barents. Two, perhaps three were surface action groups (SAG) making up the bulk of the Red Banner Northern Fleet.  This would be the force responsible for breaking out into the Norwegian Sea and seizing control of it. The remaining group was built around a quartet of amphibious assault ships. This was the group NATO was most concerned with for the time being. A Soviet landing somewhere along the Norwegian coastline was anticipated, however, without accurate intelligence there was no way to determine when or where the event might take place. The last known position of the amphibious group was  71° 52 North 26° 14 East at 0800 CEST.

AFNORTH, with SACLANT’s reluctant approval ordered all Norwegian and attached allied surface ships operating in the northern Norwegian Sea and Barents to speed south and regroup in the waters off of the central Norwegian Coast. Their survival in northern waters was doubtful without air support. Only nuclear powered attack submarines were exempt from the orders. NATO fast attack boats operating in the Barents Sea were undertaking vital missions separate to the action going on in Norway and had to continue. They could not be diverted to support the Northern Flank right now regardless of how dire the situation was becoming.

AFNORTH’s plan was to concentrate most theater air and sea power in and around central Norway for the moment. Three convoys carrying equipment of the Royal Marines 3 Commando Brigade, and a Dutch Marines unit were approaching their disembarkation ports. Troops of the US 4th MAB were arriving at a steady pace, marrying up to their prepositioned equipment as air reinforcements from the US Marines, and RAF were beginning to arrive at airbases in southern and central Norway. This defense of this area was essential at the moment to allow NATO forces additional time to arrive and prepare ahead of an effort to reestablish control in Northern Norway.

The Soviets, for their part, were making every effort to consolidate their hold on the northern region as rapidly as possible. Paratroopers were dropped on the airfields at Kirkenes, and Hammerfest in the afternoon and by the evening both facilities were secure and under Soviet control. Closer to Norway’s border with Russia, air strikes were now being launched against the Norwegian Army garrison at Sor-Varanger. As the remainder of the day and evening went on, additional strikes were made against garrisons at Alta, and Porsanger. Their purpose was clearly to keep the Norwegian forces there pinned down, unable to disrupt Soviet operations at the airfields.

By 2100 hours Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Northern Europe, British General Sir Geoffrey Howlett had grown increasingly frustrated by his command’s inability to directly affect the situation in the north. Howlett understood it was simply a matter of time before the Soviets began deploying combat aircraft to the captured airfields. Then there was the prospect of Soviet motorized forces crossing the border at any given moment. The limited reconnaissance photos and reports from the area painted a picture of growing activity on the Soviet side of the border. That evening, Howlett’s opponents in Murmansk started making use of their newly established air corridor through Norwegian airspace. A large force of Backfire bombers was reported to be transiting the area on a southeast heading. Raid warnings were sent out to naval units in the region, but as time went on it became obvious the Backfires were heading for Iceland. The incident unnerved Howlett and pressed home the urgency of closing off the air corridor before its existence could have an adverse effect on NATO’s efforts to keep the sea lanes across the Atlantic open.

Unfortunately, there was little AFNORTH could do about it for the moment.

 

The Northern Flank: 10 July, 1987 Part I

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10 July, 1987 began with redoubled Soviet efforts to establish air superiority over Northern Norway and pave the way for future air and sea operations farther south. The  Northwestern TVD, like its sister commands, was contending with sizable delays to its  timeline of operations. The air situation over Norway especially was a half day behind schedule in spite of the gains made against NATO air defenses in the region on 9 July. With NATO convoys a day or so away from entering range of Long Range Aviation and Naval Aviation heavy bombers, it was imperative that an impervious air corridor be established over Northern Norway and the Soviet air defense perimeter be expanded to cover the northern third of Norway and the Norwegian Sea.

Losses in aircraft, namely tactical fighters, had so far been higher than anticipated. The experiences and lessons learned on the first day of war underscored the strengths and shortcomings of the Soviet Quantity vs NATO Quality argument. Soviet air commanders had openly expected NATO’s fighters, sensors, and weapons to be technologically superior to their Soviet counterparts. Nevertheless, they were still shocked by the loss ratios and the stories that surviving Soviet pilots were bringing back after their missions.

It was evident that a maximum effort had to be made to break what the Soviets viewed as a deadlock in the skies. On the morning of the 10th, that effort commenced.

NATO’s assessment of the situation was strikingly different. The Royal Norwegian Air Force was hanging on by a thread in the northern counties. The reinforcements reluctantly dispatched to AIRNON from airbases in the south were a welcomed addition, however, their numbers were  nowhere what was needed to plug the hole in Norway’s air defenses.  Difficult decisions were made regarding priorities and assets were allocated accordingly. Airbases and radar sites essential to NATO’s overall defensive plan for the North Flank would be defended extensively for as long as possible. Other less critical installations were to be left practically naked.

Right after dawn, the first formations of Soviet fighter-bombers and their escorts crossed into Norwegian airspace virtually unmolested. Air defense radars that survived the first day’s effort, and forward airfields in Finnmark were the first priorities. The northern-most radars had already been written off by AIRNON. Minimal effort was made to intercept the attacking MiGs and Sukhois. Ground based SAMs in the area did manage to inflict some losses before they too were silenced by air-defense suppression missions. Banak air station was a different story. F-16s and NF-5s defended Banak as much as circumstances allowed. Unfortunately, in most cases the Norwegian fighters expended their ordnance against Soviet aircraft that had already expended their air to ground ordnance. The hit and run type tactics employed by the Norwegians minimized their losses, however, the damage done to the air station was too great to warrant further effort. Banak was declared ineffective and surviving support personnel and the few aircraft to survive the morning’s airstrikes were evacuated to bases in the south. By midafternoon, two companies of Soviet heliborne troops assaulted Banak and after a brief firefight with Norwegian security troops that had been left behind, took control of the base.

Later that morning much larger Soviet air attacks were launched against the airbases at Bardufoss. and Andoya. Both suffered major damage, though the HAWK missile batteries at both acquitted themselves quite well. At Andoya, five of 333rd Squadron’s six P-3C Orion aircraft were destroyed on the ground. The survivor was in the air at the time of the attack and survived. It was these attacks that brought AIRNON to accept the bitter reality that the Soviets had achieved air superiority over the whole northern area of Norway.

 

 

Vital Peripheries: Central America & the Caribbean 7-8 July, 1987

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*Author’s Note: I forgot to add this post in the Pre-War section over the summer. Better late than never*

Central America and the Caribbean was a potential tempest in a teapot for the United States with Nicaragua and Cuba, two firm Soviet allies, situated squarely in the geographic backyard of the US. Fidel Castro was still running Cuba despite decades of US efforts to remove him from power, while in Nicaragua, leftist strongman Daniel Ortega ran the nation. It was believed in Washington that both of these men would take their marching orders directly from Moscow if war broke out. If left unchecked, Castro and Ortega could cause major damage to United States at a critical time.

Cuba’s close proximity to US shores called for an increased military presence in and around Florida to deter Castro from possibly launching military action against the US. Guantanamo Bay was another prickly issue for the US to contend with. As tensions rose, the Pentagon wrestled with what to do with the base. There were three realistic choices available to select from; Reinforce Gitmo with additional US Marines and aircraft, evacuate dependents and non-essential personnel from the base, or undertake a mass evacuation of everyone, civilian and military. The Cubans, for their part, were behaving very cordially with regards to the US base on their soil. Cuban MiGs and other aircraft gave Gitmo a wide berth. Regular troops stationed in close proximity to the base were replaced by the local militia. In the Caribbean, Cuban naval vessels were not straying far from home waters.

The behavior by the Cuban military was curious, to say the least. Some voices in the Reagan administration wondered if the low activity was part of a ruse. A much smaller group of advisers and aides suspected the drop in activity was due to a rift between Havana and Moscow. Publicly, Fidel Castro had welcomed the coming of Romanov to power. The General Secretary had a history of making anti-Castro remarks when he had been a member of the Politburo. The US State Department was making preparations to reach out quietly to Havana and attempt to decipher where the relationship between Cuba and the Soviet Union stood at the moment.

Until that was clarified, precautionary steps had to be taken. On 7 July, the evacuation of non-essential personnel from Gitmo began. The Florida Air National Guard began dispersing fighters to a number of locations around South Florida. The US Navy could not afford to spare an aircraft carrier to station in the Caribbean at the moment, though it did part with a handful of reserve frigates and destroyers which were originally expected to head north to take part in convoy duty.

Nicaragua was another matter altogether. Daniel Ortega and his Sandinistas would blindly follow Moscow to hell and beyond. He could cause trouble in a variety of ways if he chose to and Washington was fully aware of this. The fattest target for Nicaragua in Central America was the Panama Canal. Disabling it would severely delay the transfer of US Navy ships from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Instead of transiting the canal, they would be forced to take the long trip south around Cape Horn and up the eastern coast of South America. The methods available to disable the Panama Canal were varied. A bomb exploding at one of the locks would put the canal out of commission indefinitely. A Sandinista attack on the canal could cause equal amounts of damage. Just as effective would be scuttling a merchant ship or other vessel of a similar size somewhere in the waterway.

To prevent either from happening, security at the canal was redoubled. US Southern Command doubled the number of troops it currently had guarding the canal and a number of Panamanian workers were sent home for the duration of the crisis. These men and women were soon replaced by US Navy civilian workers from the United States. Ships belonging to Eastern Bloc and Soviet allied nations were denied permission to transit for the time being. On 7 July, less than 48 hours before war broke out, the US military officially took control of the Panama Canal Zone and would maintain that control until the end of fighting in Europe.

 

 

 

The Southern Flank: 9 July, 1987 0400-0600

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Central Front: 9 July, 1987 1200-2359

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CENTAG was an army group blessed with a number of inherent advantages. It was made up of NATO’s best trained, and equipped divisions. The US V and VII Corps, as well as the West German II and III Corps contained well trained, and motivated officers, NCOs and soldiers. Their equipment was second to none, in most cases the best that the United States and West Germany were capable of producing. As if this weren’t advantage enough, CENTAG’s four heavy maneuver corps guarded the central and southern areas of the Federal Republic, regions consisting in large part of hills, mountains, and other defensible terrain, supplemented by a first class network of roads which was expected to make the movement of units and supplies flow smoothly in a time of war. The Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces facing CENTAG opposite the border were also well equipped and trained, but  it was widely expected that the main Soviet/WP effort in a war would be made against NORTHAG farther north. This is not to say the danger facing CENTAG was trivial or minimized in any way. The III West German Corps defended the vital seam between the two NATO army groups, an area expected to receive significant Soviet pressure. To its south, the US V Corps protected the gate to Frankfurt and beyond it the Rhine. If the Soviets had any significant success in either area it could be catastrophic to the overall NATO plan for the defense of West Germany.

When Soviet forces crossed the frontier on 9 July, CENTAG’s covering forces were deployed in close proximity to the border, spread out in small, yet powerful clusters and supported by air and artillery support. Engagements began almost immediately and carried on with a growing intensity in some areas through the early afternoon and beyond. By 1500,  the entranceways to theFulda Gap and Hof Corridor looked like high tech junkyards littered with the burning hulks of dozens of tanks and armored vehicles, the overwhelming majority of which were Soviet. The initial Soviet thrusts had been halted with a minimal loss of territory. Elements of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment fought two regiments of the 57th Guards Motor Rifle Division to a bloody standstill before Gersfeld. North of there, West German reconnaissance forces, supported by armor were keeping the Soviets busy in front of Hunfeld. Similar situations were being reported near Hof, where the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment was positioned as VII Corps covering force.

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The second echelon regiments were expected to begin moving forward by 1700, however this didn’t happen. NATO air attacks, communications jamming, and the leadership crisis earlier in the day were taking their toll on 8th Guards Tank Army. The pace of the general Soviet offensive was falling farther behind schedule, something that was not lost on higher headquarters. General Snetkov and his aides managed to select replacements for the fallen army group commanders and install them, as well as new staffs by late afternoon.  Considering the fact that he also had an offensive to run at the same time, it should come as no surprise that the process took so long.

As dusk grew closer, Snetkov was haranguing his air commanders on the importance of air superiority over the battle line and rear areas. The NATO air forces had already displayed a prowess for night fighting. So much so that if the second night of the war went anything like the first one had, NATO airpower would be on the cusp of controlling the night skies over the Central Front.

Snetkov informed his newly minted ground commanders that he would tolerate no major delays in resuming forward progress once they were adjusted and had assumed full command of their army groups. He cautioned them on remaining stationary for too long at night, however, he need not have bothered. The fates of their predecessors had made an impression that would not be washed away anytime soon. Coordinating and issuing orders was not a simple task when mobile in command vehicles, yet it was the best option until the alternate command posts were up and functioning.

 

As darkness fell, a brief lull set in over theater before covering forces began withdrawing from their forward positions and passing through friendly lines. At 2200 NATO strike fighters went back into action flying offensive counter air missions against airfields in East Germany and Czechoslovakia, and interdiction strikes against targets deeper in the Warsaw Pact rear. The attacks were made mostly by US F-111s, Luftwaffe and RAF Tornados in the first part of the evening. As midnight approached, the F-117 stealth fighters was added to the mix,  make their second appearances over the GDR in twenty four hours. Rumors of  the aircraft’s stealth capability -real and imagined- were coursing through Soviet and WP air defense units like wildfire all day.

And so ended the first day of hostilities on the Central Front.

 

 

The Central Front: 9 July, 1987 1200-2359 Part I

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Through the course of the afternoon, the covering force battles raged on with no Soviet breakthrough coming about. Pressure was starting to build up in some areas though, namely in the NORTHAG area and to the north of it. The mission of NATO covering forces was to buy time for the main forces to deploy and prepare. When mobilization began the expected surge of forces  heading for the border commenced within hours. Regrettably, in some sectors the pace of the surge more closely resembled a slow crawl, while in other sectors units moved quicker and were close to being fully manned and deployed by the time hostilities began. Divisions in CENTAG fell into this column, and their NORTHAG counterparts the former with the notable exception of the British Army of the Rhine.

Fortunately, NATO had anticipated such a possibility and worked revisions into the latest concept of operations for corps and their assigned army groups. An excellent example of this new thinking was in the changes made to the I Netherlands Corps covering force TO&E in 1985. The bulk of the corps troops and equipment were positioned in the Netherlands even though it came under NORTHAG’s command.  During a time of emergency the Holland-based units would move into West Germany and join the rest of the corps. Recognizing that this situation likely meant the corps needed additional time to mobilize and move, the size of its covering force was increased considerably. On 9 July, 1987 it comprised the Dutch 103rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 41st Armored Brigade, German 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, and the US 2nd Brigade/2nd Armored Division. This collection of units was essentially a covering force on steroids for the most part and was under the command of the German 3rd Panzer Division. Its coverage area ran from the Inner German Border west to the Elbe Lateral Canal, and planners expected this covering force to fight a delaying action there for 24 hours to allow for the forces in I Netherlands Corps ( Note: this formation will be referred to as I NL Corps for the duration of this blog) sector to finish deploying to their battle positions.

While its covering force was holding firm after fighting two regiments of the 21st Motor Rifle Division to a standstill in the morning and afternoon, I NL Corps was hastily reorganizing from a devastating Spetznaz raid before dawn. A group of Soviet commandos dressed in Dutch Army uniforms had penetrated the perimeter of the corps field headquarters and attacked the command post, killing the corps commander and severely wounding its deputy. None of the attackers survived the effort, but the damage had been done: I NL Corps was decapitated at the worst possible time. The command structure was reorganized as fast as events allowed. By 1000 the commander of the 1st Division had assumed command of the corps and was actively directing the battle.

North of I NL Corps, NATO forces situated north and east of Hamburg were enduring a determined push by elements of the 2nd Guards Tank Army. In this sector of the line allied forces were under the command of LANDJUT, not NORTHAG. Soviet forces were moving northwest and west from the Inner German Border against West German and Danish forces, and making headway. Lubeck would fall by dusk and  the main axis of the Soviet’s initial advance showed signs of focusing near Mölln, indicating the 2nd Guards Tank Army’s (Note:  initial objective could be to swing south of Hamburg, this isolating the city and everything north of it from the rest of the Federal Republic. This prospect was causing concern at NORTHAG headquarters as well as Brussels. A successful south swing by the bulk of 2nd GTA (Note: this formation will be referred to as 2nd GTA for the duration of this blog) would threaten the left flank of NORTHAG as well as indicate Denmark as the target for follow-on Polish and Baltic Military District divisions.

To the south of I NL Corps, the covering force battles in the I German Corps (I GE Corps), I British Corps (I BR Corps), and I Belgian Corps (I BE Corps) areas continued. Heavy casualties were being inflicted on the Soviet first echelons , but it was coming at a price. Losses in the covering force elements were increasing as the afternoon drew on. All three corps commanders hoped to wait until the cover of night to hand the battle off from their respective covering forces to the main forces, but it wasn’t realistic for each corps.

The Belgians were under the heaviest pressure. On his own, the I BE Corps commander ordered his forward forces to begin pulling back at 1630. The Belgians were facing a similar dilemma to that of the Dutch farther north. The entirety of the I BE Corps was not yet fully in the field and more time was needed before that task was complete. The premature disengagement of its forward elements put the corps commander in a bind. In order to buy more time for his main force, and to prevent his covering force from being overrun and smashed he requested as much air support as was available to cover the withdrawal. 2nd ATAF , its resources already stretched thin, allocated two squadrons of ground attack fighters to the effort and made a desperate request to 4th ATAF for help, which was given in the form of A-10 Thunderbolt IIs and a mixed force of F-15s and F-16s flying top cover and support.

The British and Germans opted to wait until nightfall to begin the withdrawals of their covering forces. They’d fought the Soviet first echelons of the 3rd Shock Army to a bloody standstill. In the case of both corps, however, the second echelons had yet to appear. The afternoon moved towards early evening and all that appeared in the east were signs of Soviet BRDMs and other reconnaissance vehicles prowling and searching for the next line of defensive positions for the covering forces. The movement of the recon elements appeared hesitant and even pained to an extent. British and German commanders passed these reports and observations up the line, not sure what to make of them. NORTHAG’s thinking was along similar lines. It was not until word reached Brussels that SACEUR and his staff were able to connect the dots. The slow movement of follow up forces in 3rd Shock Army’s area, combined with other reports on strange happenings in front of CENTAG forces that will be discussed in Part II led SACEUR to conclude that the events were directly connected to the results of the early morning F-117 strikes. The Soviets, General Galvin suspected, had been hurt far worse than they were letting on.