Baltic Approaches: 9 July, 1987 1000-2359

45535

The Soviet air mobile assault earlier in the morning on Rendsburg nearly succeeded in decapitating LANDJUT’s senior leadership. The town, for all of its previously mentioned importance, was also the peacetime headquarters for the Commander, Allied Land Forces Schleswig-Holstein and Jutland (LANDJUT). When the warning of Soviet helicopters approaching Rendsburg was received, LANDJUT’s commander, a West German lieutenant general, was at his forward headquarters in Dobersdorf.. Much of his staff, as well as LANDJUT’s deputy commander, were still in Rendsburg and had to hastily depart via helicopters to Denmark once the extent of the Soviet attack became apparent. Their evacuation was successful largely due to the headquarters security troops, who bought their superiors the time needed to leave. Allied troops based around Rendsburg fought fiercely to delay the Soviets for as long as possible. Eventually, surviving troops either surrendered or retreated north of the Kiel Canal to link up with friendly forces in the area. By late afternoon, LANDJUT’s commander had rejoined his senior staff and deputy commander at their new, temporary headquarters in Aarhus. Once he arrived, he ordered his staff to begin laying plans for the immediate retaking of Rendburg.

Forward deployed elements of the West German 6th Panzergrenadier Division bore the brunt of the fighting in LANDJUT’s sector through most of the daylight hours. On a front extending from Scharbeutz on the Baltic south to the Elbe River, LANDJUT’s forces were engaging the Soviet 2nd GTA. Despite putting up fierce resistance and inflicting heavy casualties on the first Soviet echelons, the enemy was moving northwest and westward into the Federal Republic by late afternoon. The commander of the 6th was reluctant to pull his forces back as the situation had worsened. He was determined to defend forward as long as possible, yet was now looking at the possibility of one of his brigades being outflanked south of Lubeck. Reluctantly, as dusk fell, he ordered a withdrawal, ceding the city to the Soviets.

 

***

With the exception of Nordholz no other NATO airbases in the BALTAP area of operations, or farther north in Denmark were targeted by Soviet and Warsaw Pact air forces on the morning of 9 July. Six Su-24 Fencers made a low level approach towards Nordholz before being intercepted by West German F-4s. Three of the fighter-bombers were shot down. The surviving trio made one pass over the NATO base, dropping cluster munitions and fuel air explosives over the flightline and taxiways. Some damage was inflicted, including destroyed aircraft, but the airbase continued functioning throughout the rest of the day.

The primary focus of Soviet and Warsaw Pact air forces on 9 July was the battle raging to the south. Most frontline air regiments were committed to operations south of Hamburg, with the exception of air support missions for 2nd GTA, though these were few in number and not very effective thanks to the presence of NATO fighters in the area.

In the late afternoon the first raids against Denmark were launched. To the surprise of AIRBALTAP, the incoming formations of enemy aircraft were made up entirely of East German MiG-21s, and MiG-23s. No Soviet aircraft took part in strikes against Danish targets on that first day, mainly owing to priority tasking. The main targets were airbases and radar stations on the Jutland peninsula. Danish F-16s rose  to challenge the intruders and a large air battle materialized in the skies over the Baltic Sea and Denmark. The Danish F-16s outclassed their East German opponents in every category except quantity. The maneuverability of the Falcon, coupled with its highly advanced electronics, and weaponry outshined the Fishbeds and Floggers they engaged, to say nothing of the superior capabilities of the Danish pilots. The Danes scored 24 kills that afternoon for the loss of just 5 F-16s. Some East German fighters managed to get through to their targets, though the numbers were low and the resulting damage and disruption to AIRBALTAP operations was minimal.

From dusk through to the early hours of 10 July, West German RF-4 reconnaissance flights of the GDR coast. The search was on for signs of a coming Pact amphibious move against Denmark. The RF-4s took losses, and the film they brought back revealed no conclusive evidence of preparations. After the ambush earlier in the day NATO was gun shy about committing strike aircraft against a possible Warsaw Pact amphibious task group without solid intelligence that the target was genuine.

 

***

The Denmark straits and accompanying sea space was becoming one large, interconnected minefield. NATO minelayers, under the watchful eye of escorting fast attack craft and frigates, laid their explosive cargoes along predesignated paths. Concurrently, allied minesweepers, and other MCM assets were equally as preoccupied with their task of sweeping the seas of mines that had been laid by Soviet/WP submarines, minelayers, and aircraft. The Baltic approaches were being turned into a jigsaw puzzle of offensive and defensive minefields, safe travel corridors, and hunter killer groups of surface warships and submarines stalking the seas.

Hit and run tactics were utilized by both sides missile-armed warships to probe the other’s defenses, and create an air of anxiety. As NATO awaited the imminent body blow against Denmark in the form of an amphibious landing, the Soviets and their allies were doing their best not to telegraph where that punch would land, or from what direction it would come from.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Baltic Approaches: 9 July, 1987 0600-1000

76576586756545

To the surprise of a good number of senior NATO officers in Brussels and Kolsas, as well as the government and citizenry of Denmark, the first day of World War III was remarkably quiet around the Baltic approaches in comparison to other parts of Europe. It had been expected that the Warsaw Pact offensive into West Germany would be accompanied by a second determined effort against Denmark, and the Baltic approaches. An invasion of Denmark was almost certainly included in Warsaw Pact war plans, and the assumption was that Soviet paratroopers would be dropping across Denmark as Polish and East German troops came ashore simultaneously at first light with both efforts largely supported by Soviet/WP airpower.

This did not happen though. Instead, the real war around the Baltic approaches and Denmark began in a haphazard fashion after dawn. At 0600, the Commander Baltic Approaches (COMBALTAP) ordered all NATO ships under his command to sortie. COMBALTAP was a NATO commander less sure of Soviet designs on the Baltic than most of his peers. He did not expect there to be a major action taken against Denmark within the first 24 hours of the war. His conclusion was drawn from solid intelligence received between 6 and 8 July indicating the formations expected to take part in an invasion of  Zealand were not yet in their staging areas. If there was to be an invasion early on then these staging areas should have been filled with troops, and equipment early on in the Warsaw Pact’s mobilization. They weren’t and it gave COMBALTAP pause.

He ordered the remainder of his ships to sea partly because they were safer at sea than they were in port. Soviet air attacks against ports and naval bases in the Baltic were expected at any time. The other reason for the mass sortie was to reinforce the forces already at sea in the Baltic and around the approaches. Most of his subs were patrolling the Kattegat, and Skagerrak where Soviet submarine activity was expected to be high as diesel-powered, and a handful of nuclear subs prepared to clear a path for the eventual breakout of the Soviet Baltic Fleet. Minelaying efforts in the Danish Straits were more than sixty percent complete and he hoped it the effort would be finished by the coming evening.

In the morning, skirmishes between NATO and WP fast attack craft took place at various points around the Baltic. The engagements happened mainly by chance rather than being deliberate. As of 0900 there was no sense of importance tagged to the enemy’s actions although losses were being inflicted by both sides. At 0930, a West German RF-4E Phantom flying out of Leck Air Base photographed a large formation of barges, along with a pair of small merchant vessels apparently carrying equipment, and an assortment of East German fast attack craft and two frigates in accompaniment departing Peenemunde. Suspecting this was the first wave of an amphibious effort against Denmark or perhaps Bornholm, COMAIRBALTAP decided to strike fast and hard. A squadron of twenty-four Tornado IDS belonging to the West German Navy’s air arm were tasked with attacking the convoy. They departed from Schleswieg Air Base shortly after 1030, yet because of the demand for air assets farther south and the Dane’s early reluctance to release its F-16s to missions not related to air defense of their nation, the strike force did not have escort fighters. Not having them along proved to be a costly mistake.

Over the Baltic, just north of Rostok, a squadron of East German MiG-23 Floggers, with heavy jamming support ambushed the Tornados as the West German fighters screamed east less than 100 meters above the water. The MiGs had surprise on their side, seeing  their opponents first on radar and getting the first shots off. The first indication of trouble for the Tornado crews was when their threat receivers blared the first warnings of inbound missiles. Although the Tornado was a superior aircraft to the MiG-23, the element of surprise gave the East German pilots the advantage over their Federal Republic counterparts. Eight Tornados were shot down and another three damaged. The East Germans lost two MiGs, a price they were perfectly happy to pay.

It had been a simple, yet overwhelmingly effective trap. The honey trap was convoy. The ship and barges carried farm equipment with tarps draped over them, not military equipment. The escorting warships had purposely kept their air search radars activated in order to attract the attention of nearby NATO reconnaissance aircraft or warplanes armed with anti-ship missiles. This was one of the nasty little secrets the Warsaw Pact sprang on NATO on the first day. The East Germans had been perfecting the ambush for years, having dedicated an entire squadron of MiGs, and specific ships to the effort. They’d manage to successfully pull the ambush off once more before NATO would catch on.

The start of the Soviet/WP land offensive in West Germany was preceded by a number of airmobile strikes against targets in the allied rear areas. One of the largest attacks made was against the Kiel Canal, a waterway situated in the LANDJUT area of responsibility. Two reinforced Soviet airmobile battalion was helicoptered from East Germany to Rendsburg, a town strategically located on the canal and adjacent to a critical north-south highway junction. One battalion secured Rendsburg, and the other focused on capturing the junction. Both objectives were secured swiftly and with low casualties. By the time the first elements of 2nd Guards Tank Army crossed the border, LANDJUT’s supply line between Denmark and West Germany was cut, and the Kiel Canal was partly under Soviet control, denying NATO the ability to shift naval forces from the Baltic to the North Sea or vice versa very rapidly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Central Front: 9 July, 1987 0500-0545

5678908978675643

By the time he arrived back at Wunsdorf, General Snetkov had a fair idea of what was happening. NATO had defied all expectations and launched a number of daring airstrikes against the command bunkers of his most powerful army groups. How NATO was even aware of the existence of some of these bunkers was beyond him at the moment. This was only one of a thousand questions raging in his mind. The most prevalent one, though, was how the NATO bombers managed to penetrate into GDR airspace without being detected on radar. There were rumors that the Americans were working to develop an aircraft invisible to radar, but it was not yet in operational service. Or was it? If so, what did that mean for his command? Nothing good. Snetkov was certain of that.

The attacks on command bunkers were not the only instances of preemption that morning either. Scattered reports from across the western half of the GDR spoke of further NATO air strikes against bridges spanning the Elbe river, fuel depots, and a small number of Frontal Aviation airbases.

Before boarding the helicopter in Stendal, the general had sent a coded message to the theater commander explaining the situation and requesting a temporary moratorium on future operations.  Much to his surprise, there was an answer from CINC-West waiting for him when he touched down. CINC-West agreed to a two hour delay on all land operations scheduled to go off at 0600, but everything else would go off as planned. There was not enough time to delay the offensive air operations, and airmobile raids that had been planned to precede the ground offensive. In fact, some of those missions were already inbound to targets in West Germany. Snetkov argued that these operations should also be delayed, but CINC-West would not entertain the notion. His comrades in Frontal Aviation were going to be dealing with a lot soon, if they weren’t already. Their blow would fall shortly.

Snetkov’s problems were more immediate and critical to the overall outcome of the war. Two, possibly three of his army group’s had been decapitated and were now without commanders, and battle staffs at a moment when their divisions were approaching inner-German border. His own battle staff was frantically contacting every one of 3rd Shock, 20th and 8th Guards Armies divisions to order them not to begin offensive operations until 0800. 1st and 2nd Guards Armies commanders, alive and untouched by the devastation brought upon their comrades earlier, acknowledged the order from Wunsdorf and went about passing the word along. It took time, and unorthodox effort in some instances, but Snetkov’s staff succeeded in halting the subordinate units of the affected armies. With that urgent task completed, Snetkov could worry about selecting new commanders for the affected army groups.

 

As all of this was taking place in Wunsdorf, Frontal Aviation and the air forces of other Warsaw Pact allies went into action. While it was true that some units and installations belonging to  the 16th Air Army had been in action since 0300 or so, this action was part of the long planned air offensive against NATO. The offensive was originally intended to begin less than an hour before the first Soviet tanks crossed the border, but that timeline and battleplan no longer existed. Snetkov’s thoughts about Frontal Aviation having their own woes was right on the mark. NATO’s own preemptive airstrikes had thrown the morning’s planned air operations into chaos. USAF and Luftwaffe low level fighter-bombers had visited Mahlwinkle and Cochstedt, causing damage to facilities and aircraft. MiGs had also seen in the pre-dawn hours engaging NATO fighters over East Germany as well.

What all of this translated to was that the first blow struck from the air was not going to be as powerful as intended. The morning’s events so far had punched holes in the Soviet/WP’s master target list. Some NATO airbases and radar sites slated to be hit early on would not be struck until. The aircraft tasked for those missions had been damaged or destroyed outright on the ground. Defensive counter-air now took on a heightened priority as well. Some fighter regiments assigned to provide protection for the attack aircraft and fighter-bombers heading west were reassigned to defend the suddenly vulnerable skies over East Germany.

For years, Soviet and Warsaw Pact air commanders had speculated about this very moment, should it become reality. Now that it was, the situation was far different than most of them had imagined. And tt was destined to get worse.

The NATO air forces were ready and waiting as the first MiGs and Sukhois approached the border.

 

 

 

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

3445764876545243

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

65898997654

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soviet Air Mobile Forces on the Eve of Battle: 8 July, 1987

Боевое_Знамя_35-й_огдшбр.JPG

 

Both NATO and the Warsaw Pact had fairly solid notions about what moves the other side would make in the opening hours of a conflict. Awareness does not automatically translate to an assured defeat or neutralization of those moves on the battlefield, however. Countermoves and defenses were created, worked into pre-existing operational plans, and practiced. However, their value would not be known until the balloon went up and the shooting starts.

NATO had a high regard for Soviet air assault forces and their capabilities after seven years of observing their use in Afghanistan. Alliance planners also had a keen idea of how the Soviets would decide to employ these forces in the first phase of a Soviet/Pact offensive against Western Europe. In the confusion of those first minutes, with the skies over West Germany and Denmark filled with hundreds of Warsaw Pact and NATO aircraft, heliborne troops would probably land at dozens of sites spread across NATO’s rear areas. Their objectives would range from seizing bridgeheads on the Weser and other rivers, to assaulting forward division and corps headquarters.

The Soviets had many specialized air assault battalions and regiments available to them for these tasks. The 35th Guards Air Assault Regiment was GFSG’s main air assault component. A number of additional air assault battalions had taken part in the June exercises and remained in Eastern Europe instead of returning to the Soviet Union. As tensions rose, and diplomacy broke down, company, and battalion-sized air assault forces began preparing for their wartime tasks.

NATO, in turn, was preparing to defend headquarters, air defense sites, bridges, REFORGER and nuclear weapons sites against possible Soviet air mobile assaults. Security was increased practically everywhere it might be needed at a time when every available soldier was desperately needed farther forward. West German, Dutch, Belgian, and Danish reserve units that should’ve been moving to join their parent active duty brigades and divisions were instead finding themselves watching over bridgeheads on the Weser or Rhine, and babysitting road intersections hundreds of kilometers away from the border. USAREUR focused its best security units on REFORGER sites and the field locations of its GLCM and Pershing II missiles. USAFE contributed to the later but its main security focus was the defense of its fixed installations across Europe.

At forward airbases across East Germany on 8 July, Soviet paratroopers were reviewing plans and making the final preparations for their coming missions. The commander of the 1185th Air Assault Battalion was confident his unit would achieve its objectives. The confidence did not come from hubris or arrogance. All of his company commanders, and a majority of the NCOs were, like him, veterans of Afghanistan. When he took command of the battalion the previous year, he made it a point to bring in as many experienced men as possible. That experience would be needed in the coming days.

The 1185th had a crucial role to play in the coming offensive. It would be transported as a whole unit to secure a number of bridgeheads on the Weser River and hold them until relieved by the armored spearheads of the 3rd Shock Army. The battalion commander was assured that his forces would be rescued within 3 days. He was not prepared to stake his life and that of his men on the promise of an arrogant tank general. In all likelihood it would be twice that amount of time before his battalion was rescued, if at all. In war there are no guarantees, he knew all too well. Therefore, he was bringing as much ammunition, rations, and other essential supplies forward as he could.

As he stood sweltering in the mid-afternoon heat, watching one of his assault companies go through calisthenics, he hoped other air assault unit commanders were thinking along similar lines. In fifteen hours or so they would all be on the ground behind NATO lines, and cut off from resupply. The mere thought was enough to send a chill up his spine.

The colonel took one last look at his men and walked away, wondering just how many of them would be alive at the same time tomorrow.

Airbase Angst: 8 July, 1987

325452543

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.