The Southern Flank: 10 July, 1987 Part I

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The destruction of the Soviet surface action groups in the Eastern Mediterranean marked the end of the 5th Eskadra. Every major surface combatant belonging to the Soviet Navy’s Mediterranean squadron was at the bottom of the sea, along with their escorts, and a number of submarines. The squadron’s commander, Rear Admiral Vladimir Yegorov had perished aboard his flagship. The fact that the 5th Eskadra had taken a French carrier group down with it was of little consolation. Saratoga had survived and it was the US carrier which was almost singlehandedly responsible for the destruction of the 5th Eskadra. When all was said and done, the shootout between NATO and Soviet naval forces on the first day of hostilities had been won and lost decisively. Surviving Soviet submarines in the Eastern Med were ordered to go defensive and evade NATO ASW forces for the time being.

Saratoga was the undisputed champ of the East Med, though she would not be rewarded with reinforcements any time soon. The Suez Canal was blocked indefinitely following the scuttling of a Bulgarian freighter on the 9th. USS Constellation was now prevented from joining Saratoga in the Mediterranean as planned. Connie was returning to the Arabian Sea where the Seventh Fleet would be glad to have her. Sixth Fleet was in a pinch, though. Kennedy was being hurriedly prepared to depart from Norfolk and be sent to the Med. It was going to be at least ten days until her and her battlegroup arrived east of Sicily. And that was only if SACLANT did not steal her away.

For the time being Sixth Fleet, and AFSOUTH had to make do with one flattop. France was keeping its last remaining aircraft carrier in the Bay of Biscay and out of harm’s way. The loss of Clemenceau was regarded as a national disaster. The French were mourning, however, beneath the sadness was a burning desire to settle the score. The French Navy would return to the fight. The Italians had the baby carrier Garibaldi available, but no fixed wing aircraft to fly from her deck.

Syria remained on the sidelines for now, even as Soviet warplanes flew missions from its territory. Israel had adopted a purely defensive posture for the time being at the urging of Washington. Following the Suez Canal incident Egypt was stringently patrolling its airspace and waters and this did not appear likely to change. President Mubarak did not want to be dragged into a conflict where he might find his country on the same side as Israel. The situation in the Persian Gulf was a different story entirely. Egypt would aid the United States in keeping the Soviets away from the Saudi oilfields if necessary. As far as the Eastern Med went, Cairo wanted nothing to do with the fighting there.

In the Central and Western Mediterranean surviving Soviet submarines were making their way to the Gulf of Sidra and Libyan waters to regroup and prepare for future operations in conjunction with Libyan naval forces. So far, the Libyans had yet fired a shot in anger. The time for their forces to make their presence felt had not yet come. In the near future, the Colonel’s ships, submarines, warplanes, and anti-ship missiles would play a role.

With Saratoga slated to remain south of Crete for the moment, units of the Italian and French navies were moving to cover the Strait of Sicily. US, Italian, and French maritime patrol aircraft and fighters operating out of Sicily would support them, as were a handful of NATO attack submarines. AFSOUTH was satisfied that the combination of forces in the Central Med was sufficient to handle what the Soviets and Libyans had in the area.

 

 

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Vital Peripheries: Arabian Peninsula/Persian Gulf 8 July, 1987

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On 8 July, 1987 CENTCOM was in the best possible shape possible. A brigade of paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division was on the ground at Cario West Air Base in Egypt. A detachment of E-3 Sentries, along with two fighter squadrons, one of F-15s and the other of F-16s, and accompanying tankers were at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The Maritime Prepositioning Ships carrying the equipment of a Marine Amphibious Brigade had left their anchorage at Diego Garcia and were steaming towards the Strait of Hormuz with the Constellation battlegroup taking up position to support its transit. Marines from the 7th Marine Amphibious Brigade based at Twentynine Palms in California were moving to Saudi Arabia by air to mate up with the equipment now at sea. A large contingent was on the ground already, and CENTCOM expected to have the brigade’s manpower entirely in Saudi by 11 July at the latest. It was a matter of available airlift assets and priorities. There simply were not enough transports and CRAF aircraft available at the moment to satisfy everyone’s needs. Europe was the priority, and CENTCOM simply had to deal with it.

The brigade from the 82nd was in Egypt as a compromise of sorts. AFSOUTH was loudly complaining about the lack of ground reinforcements available for his command. He wanted to take the entire 82nd and use it as a fire brigade of sorts wherever it might be needed in his command’s area of responsibility. General Crist, CINC-CENT came down hard on the idea, complaining quite correctly that the 82nd Airborne was tagged for his command’s use in wartime. Admiral Crowe personally settled the matter and ordered the 82nd to stage at Cairo West for the time being. If it was needed in the Med or Southern Europe it would go there. If it was needed in Saudi, the force would be sent there. Through negotiations with the Egyptians, a deal was reached where the Egyptian Air Force would handle airlifting the unit wherever it needed to go.

The rest of the division was still at Fort Bragg and would not move until the first brigade was committed. The entire 101st Airborne Division was operating under the same principle. Behind those two units, the 7th Light Infantry Division and an assortment of Marine units were on the deployment list. They were prepping now, yet it was anyone’s guess when they would actually be ready to deploy.

The US Air Force was preparing to move more of its elements tagged for CENTCOM to the Middle East. The remainder of the 49th TFW (F-15s) and 388th TFW (F-16s) were hurriedly packing, and A-10s from Myrtle Beach and F-111s from Mountain Home had received warning orders to move. With just another five days of peace, Crist would feel better.

Unfortunately, five days did not appear likely. Five hours of peace was a more realistic estimate. Throughout the day, the situation had been progressively moving from bad to worse on a number of fronts. Crist had not paid that much attention, but nevertheless heard rumblings. In his command’s theater things were quiet. The Soviet forces in Yemen were doing nothing outside of routine patrols. In the Arabian Sea, naval activity was minimal. Most significantly, the Northern Caucus Military District was not making any moves to suggest operations against Iran or Saudi Arabia were imminent. That, however, could change at a moment’s notice, Crist was aware.

As was the case for general officers around the world at that moment, he had more than enough to occupy his mind. Yet, unlike the majority of his American peers, General Crist was, for the moment, a man without a war on the horizon. Strangely enough, instead of providing comfort to him, the thought filled him with apprehension.