The Southern Flank: 10 July, 1987 Part I


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.




The View From The Flanks: AFSOUTH 6 July, 1987


For the Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Southern Europe (CINC-AFSOUTH) Admiral James Busey, the bulk of 6 July was spent on the telephone with Norfolk, attempting to pry another aircraft carrier away from SACLANT for use in the Mediterranean. As it stood, the Sixth Fleet had only one carrier in the Mediterranean at present with the SaratogaConstellation was supposed to have steamed up from the Arabian Sea and made the transit through the Suez Canal but hadn’t yet. Chopping that carrier group to Sixth Fleet was turning into an impossible task. Seventh Fleet was complaining loudly that the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean were now naked of carrier support. Busey knew that was true, however, he was aware that Seventh Fleet could afford to transfer one of its other carriers to fill the void if necessary.

SACLANT was sympathetic, but his cupboard was quite bare at the moment. The carriers in the Atlantic were going to be needed there, so he was reluctant to even consider moving one of them east to the Sixth Fleet and AFSOUTH’s AOR. Yard workers in Norfolk were hustling to put the carriers there for overhaul back together and ready for sea as quickly as possible. It would be another week at the earliest before one of those decks became available and there was no guarantee that it would wind up coming his way anyhow.

So, as it stood, CINC-SOUTH had two traditional carriers available in the Mediterranean: Sara, and the French carrier Clemenceau. Doctrine called for at least three carriers (two of them at least being US) to fight and survive in the Eastern Med. Busey now had two, but the air wing aboard Clemeneau was nowhere near as powerful as the one on the US carrier. At sea, AFSOUTH’s main wartime mission would be to retain control of the Eastern Med and prevent it from becoming a Soviet lake. To do this, Busey’s command had developed a maritime strategy revolving around using the US Sixth Fleet and accompanying NATO units aggressively from the second hostilities commenced.

Busey envied his AFNORTH counterpart somewhat. The north flank had a laundry list of reinforcements from outside the AOR that were already packing and preparing to move. AFSOUTH and NATO’s vulnerable southern flank lacked the prepositioned equipment and specifically assigned units AFNORTH had. His reinforcements would be more of a scratch force depending on what was available and the situation at a given moment.

His command’s intelligence staff was working feverishly to develop a picture of what the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies might do in Southern Europe and the Med if war began. There were strong indications of a major build up going on in Buglaria, indicating a potential Soviet/WP plan to move into Thrace and cut off Turkey from the rest of Europe. The consequences of a successful Thrace offensive were almost too dire to contemplate. Therefore, keeping both Turkey and Greece from being driven out of the war also was positioned high on Busey’s priority list. The two nations were bitter enemies as well as NATO allies. The tense relationship nearly led to open war between the two back in March when the Greeks began exploring for oil in disputed waters. How well they would function together now was anybody’s guess.

The primary threat he was concerned with was that posed by Soviet Long Range Aviation, Naval Aviation and tactical air. From bases on the Black Sea coastline, Backfires and Badgers would waste little time in streaming down across Turkey to attack his ships in the Eastern Med. Satellite photos also indicated that Soviet aircraft were arriving in Bulgaria, and Syria. If the Turkish and Hellenic air forces were not up to the challenge of stopping these attacks, or at least inflicting moderate casualties, Saratoga’s battlegroup and air wing were going to have an exciting, and likely short life if the shooting started.

As late afternoon turned to early evening in Naples, Admiral Busey was contemplating a quick meal when the phone on his desk rang. He lifted it up.


“Jim?” The voice on the other end belonged to SACEUR in Brussels. “Sorry to bother you. Have you got a second?”

“Evening, general. What can I do for you?” Busey was immediately on guard.

“I’ll be brief. Peter Carington is making a statement within the hour.” Carington was the NATO secretary general. “He is going to publicly announce that NATO is officially mobilizing.”

“God,” Busey breathed. “What took him so long?”

“I know,” General John Galvin chuckled. “Just a formality at this point, really. But I thought you should know.”

“Thank you, sir. I appreciate it. Since I have you on the line, is there anything new happening anywhere that I should be aware of?” The direct line from Brussels to Busey’s office was one of the most secure telephone lines in the world.

SACEUR was quiet for a long moment before responding, “The diplomatic efforts have closed down almost entirely. They weren’t making progress anyhow. Ready your command for action, Jim,” Galvin spoke slow and deliberately. “I’m guessing we have maybe another two days of peace left at best.”