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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The North Atlantic: 10 July, 1987 Part III

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Of the twenty Backfires that made up the Iceland strike group four were shot down by F-15s before reaching their launch points. A further three were destroyed  after launching their air-to-surface missiles. Another pair suffered battle damage but managed to return safely to their bases on the Kola Peninsula. Of the sixteen ASMs launched by the bombers, only four landed in the area around Keflavik’s runways, flight line and support facilities. A hangar was destroyed along with the P-3 it had housed, however the rest of the damage was mostly superficial. Air operations would continue undisturbed, and the lost aircraft was soon replaced by reserve Orion from NAS Brunswick.

The Soviets lost nearly half of their bomber force in return for causing less damage than the previous day’s raid had. For two straight days the bombers used similar attack profiles and tactics and had little to show for it aside from horrendous losses at the hands of Keflavik’s Eagles. New tactics had to be devised even quicker, the raid commander realized bitterly. Better yet, Iceland needed to be taken in order to be fully neutralized. Unbeknownst to him, that very argument was being made by senior officers in Severomorsk even before he landed.

 

There were four NATO convoys at sea at 0800 EDT. Another was expected to depart from Norfolk by dusk. After that there would be a twenty four hour pause as the second wave of convoys was formed and prepared for movement. The escorts and merchant ships that were to make up these convoys were still making their way to US east coast ports. SACLANT intended for the next convoys to be larger and better protected than those currently at sea. The almost instant transition from peacetime conditions to a period of heightened tension, and then war forced NATO to adopt a running start convoy strategy. Hostilities were underway and there was no time for a set piece plan to be devised and put in place. With fighting underway in Europe NATO forces there were in urgent need of reinforcement and resupply.

Convoy 27, the easternmost NATO convoy at sea, came under attack in the late morning. The convoy was 471 nautical miles northeast of Newfoundland and heading northeast at eighteen knots when a Charlie II class SSGN fired three SS-N-9 Siren anti-ship cruise missiles from a position twenty two miles northeast of the formation. All three missiles were intercepted by SAM-equipped escort ships and immediately ASW helicopters from the convoy, along with a land based P-3 began hunting for the sub. After two hours of unsuccessful searching the effort was called off. Later in the afternoon, a second Russian sub struck the convoy. Of four torpedoes launched only one found its mark, striking the Canadian destroyer HMCS Algonquin and sinking her. This time, the attacking sub, a Victor I, did not get away. ASW helicopters leapt into action once more and sent the Russian boat to the bottom of the Atlantic.

The other eastbound convoys remained untouched over the entire day, although a host of false contacts and unconfirmed reports of periscopes in the vicinities of convoy ships made matters interesting and tense. Westbound merchant ships and escorts sailing for their ports of embarkation on the eastern US coast found themselves contending with some enemy subs that were looking purely for targets of opportunity. An occasional torpedo was loosed or solitary cruise missile lofted and then the sub would run away. The Soviet intentions to keep their subs concealed until the main convoys entered the area was clear. Nevertheless, a handful of red boats did get lucky. Two NATO ships, a Greek merchant ship and Portuguese frigate were sunk, and a small number of allied ships suffered damage to one degree or another. One Soviet sub was killed three hundred miles northwest of the Azores. At the time it was believed to be a Foxtrot class sub, though records accessed after the war seem to indicate the stricken submarine was of the Tango class.

 

In the Western Atlantic, the second day of the war marked the end of a constant Soviet sub presence. Three submarines were destroyed within the space of ten hours. Two Yankee class ballistic missile boats were dispatched by US attack submarines shortly after 0200 hours. The USS Jack sank K-426 one hundred miles east of the Outer Banks, and the USS Tunny put two Mk-48 torpedoes into K-451 and sent her to the bottom one hundred and twenty nautical miles off of Gloucester, Massachusetts. The presence of the missile subs was no surprise to SACLANT and both were continuously tracked.  The delay in prosecuting them was the result of a debate in the White House. Some of President Reagan’s advisers were opposed to destroying strategic assets of the Soviet Union after the informal agreement on missile sub deployments was reached between Moscow and Washington. The close proximity of the Yankees to the US coast, however, and their ballistic missile armaments settled the debate. Reagan ordered them to be destroyed immediately and the US Navy obeyed this order with particular speed.

ASW efforts in the Western Atlantic continued. Close in to the coast the efforts were redoubled when a Kilo class submarine was caught laying mines off the Chesapeake Bay. P-3s were called in and made short work of the boat while mine countermeasure units were dispatched to clear the sea lanes. The possibility of a Soviet sub getting in close and launching a cruise missile attack on Norfolk or another east coast port was too alarming to discount. A respectable number of MPAs, frigates and destroyers, and ASW helicopters sanitized the coastal waters around the clock.

As the second day of the war ended in the North Atlantic, the attention of both sides was being focused on the waters in and around the GIUK gap. For the moment it appeared to SACLANT in Norfolk, and his counterpart in Severomorsk that the Third Battle of the Atlantic would be won or lost there.

The Southern Flank: 9 July, 1987 0600-2359

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Authors Note: I seem to have misplaced the original entry for this date somewhere. I thought I placed it on a flash drive but after scouring every one that I have, as well as my hard drive I cannot find it. So, instead of going back and rewriting it I decided to put it forward in a timeline format instead. Apologies.

 

Southern Flank 9 July Timeline 0600-2359

 

0639– French Super Etendards from the Clemenceau attack the Slava SAG, damaging a frigate.

 

0700– The Slava SAG launches a salvo of SS-N-12 missiles at the Clemenceau group sinking a frigate and a destroyer.

 

0715– In a loosely coordinated effort, Soviet Tu-22 Backfires based in Syria follow up with a second strike against the Clemenceau group. The carrier, along with her surviving escorts, are all sunk. Search and rescue efforts begin immediately from Turkey and RAF Akrotiri.

 

0745– A Hungarian merchant ship sinks mysteriously in the Suez Canal, effectively blocking the waterway.

 

0800– The Moskva SAG launches its own SSM attack on the Saratoga carrier battlegroup. All Soviet missiles are intercepted by SAMs and Phalanx gun systems, or lured away by defensive countermeasures.

 

0900Saratoga’s airwing conducts a Sierra strike against the Moskva group. Moskva, and four accompanying escorts are sunk. Two others are heavily damaged. Only one undamaged warship remains. Greek A-7s operating from Crete will sink the surviving ships later in the day.

 

0915– Soviet diplomats meet with Turkish and Greek officials in a last ditch effort to keep the rival nations on the sidelines of the war. The Soviet Union promises to respect the boundaries and sovereignty of both nations in exchange for them declaring neutrality. Ankara and Athens both refuse.

 

0945– In response to the Greek and Turkish refusals, Soviet warplanes begin systematically striking military targets in Turkey and Greece. These attacks will continue through the entire day, effectively tying down much of the Turkish and Hellenic air forces.

 

1100– Yugoslavia declares its neutrality.

 

1300– Skirmishes break out on the Thrace frontier between Warsaw Pact and Greek and Turkish ground forces. The intermittent fighting continues off and on for the day, but so far there is no indication of a Warsaw Pact offensive into Thrace taking place.

 

1320– HMS Superb sunk in the Eastern Med

 

1340– Soviet Backfires from airbases on the Black Sea coast attack the Saratoga battlegroup. Raid warning is established early and US Navy F-14s from the carrier meet the bombers over the Aegean and inflict severe losses. A number of ASMs are launched though. Most are intercepted, but two make it through the layered defense and hit the destroyer USS Preble. She sinks almost immediately with all hands.

 

1415– In the Western Med, a Soviet Foxtrot class SS and a Charlie class SSN are sunk respectively by a US attack submarine and Italian ASW forces.

 

1500– In its second Sierra Strike of the day CVW-17 targets the Slava SAG. Slava, a Kresta II cruiser, two Udaloy class destroyers, and a Krivak III friate are all sent to the bottom of the Eastern Med. A Kashin class destroyer survives the attack with some damage. He begins making his way towards a friendly anchorage in Syria but is later destroyed by French Super Etendards now flying out of RAF Akrotiri.

 

2045- USS Pogy and a Soviet Victor II SSN are sunk in the Eastern Med.

 

2300- NATO reconnaissance flights pick up  on heightened activity in southern Bulgaria, including the movement of Warsaw Pact armor and infantry towards the Greek and Turkish borders.

The North Atlantic 9 July, 1987 Part II

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The Russian attack on Keflavik accentuated the importance of the facility, and of Iceland as a whole, to both sides. The Russians were not going to be able to successfully fight a naval war without Iceland being knocked out of action for an extended period of time. For NATO, mounting a successful defense of the North Atlantic without Iceland would be extremely difficult, but not impossible. The timing of the  first attack also underscored the emphasis that the Russians had placed on closing Keflavik air base down. The early morning air raid on 9 July cannot be considered a smashing triumph or defeat, though it did provide some useful lessons for both sides to consider and apply to later operations.

For the Russians, the bombers that made up the Keflavik attack force took off from bases on the Kola peninsula and detoured far northwest before making the turn south into the Norwegian Sea. The longer flight time had a significant effect on fuel consumption and ordnance loadout. Instead of the Tu-22 Backfires carrying a pair of AS-4 missiles each as the mission profile called for, they could only carry one. The reason for the dogleg in the mission course was simply that the battle for air superiority over northern Norway had not begun at the time. If the bombers had been able to cut across northern Norway it would’ve cut flight times, given them a greater fuel reserve, and allowed the Backfires to carry two ASMs each instead of one.

Of the original thirty Backfires to launch, two had to abort because of mechanical and avionics issues. The remaining twenty-eight approached Iceland from the north and northeast, spread out on a line one hundred and twenty miles wide and into seven flights of four aircraft each. US Air Force E-3 Sentries patrolling over central Iceland and off the northern coast detected the bombers and directed the F-15s on combat air patrol to intercept the nearest ones. Warnings were flashed to Keflavik and the remaining F-15Cs of the 57th Fighter Interceptor Squadron were scrambled. Surprised by the swift NATO reaction, the Russian mission commander did not waver. He ordered his bombers to increase speed past Mach 1 sooner than he’d planned to. The moment the bombers were in AS-4 range, they popped up, launched their missiles and then turned back to the north, in many cases with Eagles in pursuit.

When all was said and done US fighters claimed eight Backfires and five AS-4s. Of the remaining twenty-three missiles only seven impacted inside of Keflavik’s base perimeter. The amount of damage done was not overwhelming, but three missiles struck the air bases runways, causing damage which would take some time to repair. Keflavik was closed during the repair time.

For the Russians, it was made clear that air superiority over northern Norway would be essential. Once this was accomplished, larger raids could be sent south against Iceland, NATO convoys at sea, and, most importantly, against the US carrier groups that might be steaming north at that very moment. The sting of Keflavik’s defenses also made an impression. Long Range and Naval Aviation commanders would ensure that future raids had accompanying ECM aircraft and jammers if they were available.

 

In the Norwegian Sea on the first day of war, the major NATO naval maneuver was the movement of STANAVFORLANT northeast to a position closer in to the central Norwegian coast. From there, the multinational collection of frigates and destroyers could better provide support for the convoys carrying the equipment of Royal and Dutch Marines, which would begin arriving in the area early the next day. SACLANT decided on the move after reviewing the progress of the air battle over northern Norway. Casualties were extremely high there, and he was anticipating that the Soviets might gain air superiority over the area for a 24-36 hour period of time. Should that happen, the air threat to NATO ships in the Norwegian Sea could double for a stretch of ti me. STANAVFORLANT’s ships could contend with both air and sea threats.

SACLANT’s third major concern on the first day of war was keeping a lid on the whereabouts of his carriers. Forrestal and her battlegroup was in the mid-Atlantic boring circles in the mid-Atlantic. Eisenhower was a day behind, and Kitty Hawk three to four. Until all three carrier groups were in the same staging area, they’d remain under EMCON in an attempt to keep their presence hidden. To avoid the RORSAT satellites searching for them from high above the earth, the carriers were undertaking periodic course changes whenever a Russian satellite was expected to be in the area. Thanks to USAF efforts early on 9 July, F-15s armed with ASATs were unleashed against some RORSATs in orbit. Two out of three targeted birds were destroyed, giving NATO convoys and carriers in the North Atlantic a brief respite.

 

The North Atlantic: 9 July, 1987 Part I

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Senior NATO commanders understood and accepted the fact that they would, in all likelihood, be forced to spend the first twenty-four to thirty-six hours of the war reacting to Soviet moves and intentions. NATO was, after all, a defensive alliance, and this conflict had been precipitated  by the Kremlin. For at least one day, the Warsaw Pact would have the initiative until NATO was able to identify their intentions on the battlefields, begin to exploit weaknesses, and inevitably, bring its own power to bear.

SACLANT accepted the reality of the situation for what it was. His command’s most pressing priority was to keep the SLOCs open and functioning. Every order given, and action taken revolved around that objective. In this war, the fate of Europe was invariably tied to the fate of the Atlantic. If the NATO navies could not keep control of the Atlantic and ensure the reinforcement of Europe, all was lost.

Predictably, it was a Soviet submarine that drew first blood. At 0430 Zulu, a Spanish merchant vessel was torpedoed 150 miles northwest of Lajes. Over the next six hours or so, another seven civilian registered freighters and ferries in the Eastern Atlantic were torpedoed or struck by missiles launched by Russian diesel or nuclear powered submarines. Across the rest of the North Atlantic, on 9 July, a further six merchant ships sailing independently were sunk or damaged, in every case by a Russian submarine. In each case, the targeted ship was steaming towards a port in either Western Europe or on the east coast of the US to join the pool of vessels gathering for convoy duty.

There were some thirty four Soviet submarines in the North Atlantic south of the GIUK line on 9 July, 1987 with nearly eighty two still surging southward towards the open Atlantic from the Barents Sea. NATO maritime patrol aircraft were out hunting Russian subs around the clock. From bases in Iceland, the Azores, Scotland, France, and the northeastern portion of North America, US Navy P-3 Orions, Canadian CP-140 Auroras, French Atlantiques, and RAF Nimrods ranged out into the North Atlantic. Hostile submarines that had been detected through SOSUS and tracked in the hours leading up to hostilities were the initial focus. Some were reacquired relatively quickly and dispatched to the bottom of the sea by air-dropped torpedoes. Others took more time and ultimately more resources. When all was said and done, NATO ASW aircraft were responsible for killing four diesel, three nuclear powered red submarines, and damaging a further three in the first eighteen hours of open hostilities. The total would have likely been higher if air operations out of Keflavik had not been disrupted for a three hour spell following the morning’s Backfire attack.

In the Western Atlantic, the first NATO convoy bound for Europe was approaching the southern tip of Newfoundland. This group was under the command of a US Navy commodore and made up of twenty four ships. Eight were escort warships and the remainder merchant vessels of one type or another. Six of the escorts were US Navy warships, with the other two coming from Canada. Behind the first convoy were others that had just left other east coast ports. In 24-36 hours the majority would be past Newfoundland and approaching the open Atlantic. Helicopters and land-based aircraft were sanitizing the waters around and ahead of each convoy, searching for signs of enemy submarines.  Although the main threat still lay ahead, submarines could still be inshore or tasked with trailing behind a convoy and waiting for the right moment to pounce.

 

 

 

 

 

Strategic Considerations: Red Banner Northern Fleet 8 July, 1987

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Commander of the Soviet Red Banner Northern Fleet Admiral Ivan Matveyevich Kapitanets looked down at the stack of yellow message forms on his desk and shook his head tiredly. He did not bother to even glance at them when they’d arrived, already aware of the disappointing news they carried. Each one was a report detailing the position, speed, and course of a ship under his command as of one hour ago. His operations chief had delivered a summary of those reports fifteen minutes earlier. To put it bluntly, the Northern Fleet’s timeline lay in shambles.

The majority of Kapitanets’ attack submarines were a half day north of where they should have been by this point. His largest, and most powerful surface groups were supposed to be steaming south and entering the Norwegian Sea at this very moment. Unfortunately, the ships were still gathering in the Barents Sea and would not be in position to open hostilities as per the fleet’s battleplan until M+12 hours at the earliest. This particular setback was going to cause the most havoc with the operational timeline, but there was nothing Kapitanets could do about it.

The fleet had sortied much later than he intended. Doctrine called for the Red Banner Northern Fleet to sortie fully seven to eight days previous to the outbreak of fighting. Because of vacillating on the part of Moscow, Kapitanents, as well as his counterparts in the Black Sea, Baltic and Pacific fleets, did not surge their forces as quickly as they wanted to. The delay would adversely affect his fleet more than the others because of distances between the main fleet bases on the Kola Peninsula and the Norwegian Sea, and North Atlantic. His attack submarines had gotten off at a moderate pace instead of one massive surge as doctrine had also called for.

Luckily, his NATO and US Navy opponents were responding sloppily to the tensions and this afforded Kapitanets precious additional time to move his assets into position. NATO convoys bound for Europe would not be in range of his submarines and, potentially, his bombers for at least three days. The amphibious assault groups carrying reinforcements into the Norwegian Sea would be struck as they came into range too. The admiral also wondered if the reports about the vaunted US aircraft carriers were true as well. Intelligence estimated it would be at least ten days before enough carriers were massed together to begin a move north into the Norwegian Sea. By that time, even after contending with early setbacks, the Red Banner Northern Fleet would be ready to do battle with them.

There were other strategic issues to contend with. Foremost was Moscow’s decree to keep all Soviet ballistic missile submarines in port for the time being. The Kremlin appeared reluctant to make any moves that might be considered as signs of escalation by the United States. Kapitanets understood the reasoning by his political masters. Unfortunately, they did not sympathize with the problems this decision had on his fleet and its war plans. Obviously, the US Navy would be gunning for his ballistic missile submarines. He intended to place them in a bastion, defended by an impenetrable wall of submarines, ASW forces, and aircraft as a counter. By rights, those ballistic missile subs should be under guard in the White Sea and beneath the ice pack right now. As it was, Moscow’s decree meant they would remain in port for the time being. As long as they stayed there, a sizeable portion of his ASW units, and some attack submarines did too.

Looking out of the large window in his Severomorsk office, Kapitanents thought about how dependent his command would be on airpower, especially in the opening days. Success or failure of the entire Norwegian Sea/North Atlantic campaign might very well be determined by the heavy bombers of Naval Aviation and their Long Range Aviation comrades. He was intimately familiar with what advantages land based airpower brought to the table, but having to rely so heavily on it went against his very nature. It was a necessary evil though, and one he could support for the moment. Thirty six hours from now if northern Norway and Iceland were not pacified, Kapitanets take on airpower might be entirely different.

 

 

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.