Had a little time over the weekend, so here's the next installment.
Day 2 begins with the French recce Mirage zooming up the Red Sea to overfly the small islands where I need to set up observation posts. It turns out that a few of them have enemy OPs in place already, so the French attack helicopters set out to destroy the nearer ones, passing Mirages provide strafing support, and the Lancaster uses naval gunfire to destroy the one in the north. With the islands clear, Puma helicopters land some infantry sections on the nearest three observation objectives. The furthest islands are occupied shortly before dusk by a few of my valuable paratroops.
The Soviet naval base turns out to be poorly defended, with only a scattering of infantry and technicals visible on the island. I should be able to take it without too much difficulty, presumably by para-drop, provided I can spare some forces to deal with it. I expect the attack on the Bab will take most of my resources. Speaking of the Bab, the E-8 makes another pass, and it looks like the regiment has parked in a very dense concentration just east of the peninsula. It will take a lot of work to get rid of it, and the dense concentrations of what are presumably AAA emplacements along the shore won’t make things any easier.
Overhead the morning fighter sweep goes very well, and the six Mirages head north to tackle Sana’a. Four more Mig-29s come up to fight, but they’re spaced out enough that they can be tackled individually. While some Mirages are fleeing from enemy missiles, others can close in and make successful engagements. A dangerous surprise comes when enemy aircraft start appearing behind me, and I realise they are coming from the airbase on the Red Sea shore, which I had assumed was empty. This means they have an unobstructed path to the E-8 (which is only ~ 125 miles away over Eritrea), and if they go to burner I am on the wrong side to intercept them! My last Mirage scrambles from Djibouti, the E-8 turns off its radar and flees south, and the other Mirages turn to close in. Fortunately, the enemy (which turn out to be Mig-21s) join the general engagement, rather than chasing the E-8. They’re badly outclassed by the Mirages, and four of them die in short order. The Mirages then head home, where most of them will re-arm for air-to-ground missions.
Over in Socotra a few more Harrier strikes from the Pelilieu deal with the last of the enemy in the Port Mori area. There are still a few technicals dotted around the east cost, but I’m not overly concerned with them at the moment. The minesweepers continue closing in from the west, and the (now jobless) NGFS column closes in from the east, as minesweeping helicopters arrive from Thumrait. These start doing a very good job finding and sweeping mines in front of Port Mori. They will refuel on the Pelilieu, rather than flying back to base, so they should have some effective time on station. It looks like the minesweeping ships may have nothing to do.
My initial landings on Socotra come from the Marine AAVs, which reach the Port Mori and the airfield without opposition, and actually manage to capture some enemy flying boats and a fighter on the ground. (Apparently you can’t use heavy machine guns to engage a tarmac space, so you can’t actually destroy the aircraft in this situation. I simply deleted them when the runway was eventually repaired and they took off.) At first, with the opposition entirely gone, I don’t see any need to unload the main body of the marines. However, later in the day a column of communist rebel troops starts arriving to shoot up the airfield. My helicopters make swift work of them, but when they spot a second column a couple of hours later it becomes obvious that the fighting on the island won’t be over quickly. The marines deploy and set up defensive perimeters, while I go scouting (again) for an enemy headquarters or base area. Nothing turns up, and the marines continue to fend off enemy columns day and night.
The amphibs anchor off Port Mori, where they are joined by the remaining supply ships that continue to arrive over the course of the day. Most of the escorts are detached, and head west towards the Bab in two groups at very high speed, to support operations there. Once the Ark Royal has finished resupplying she picks up speed and heads that way too. My MPA are working on the corridor all these ships will be passing through, so hopefully there won’t be any submarine surprises en-route. Port Mori is left guarded by the Trenchant, providing distant ASW patrol, MPA in the general area, and the Lupo doing a close-in ASW patrol banging away on her active sonar. Shortly after she starts patrolling the Lupo meets a proximity-fused mine, which caves in some plating and knocks out some electrical connections, but fortunately the blast does not cause any flooding. The minesweepers hurry over, but find nothing else, and the chastened Lupo resumes patrolling until she is joined by a Knox later in the day.
The bulk of my air effort switches to the Perim Island and Bab al Mandeb area, where my forces start engaging ground troops. Priority goes to the pair of nearby SSM sites picked up by reconnaissance overflights, then air defences, and artillery. After that, it’s a matter of pounding away at ground troops again and again, and there are a lot of targets. The Thumrait Harriers move over to Djibouti, which should significantly improve their availability (provided the C-141 from Diego can keep up with the demand), but the Jaguars stay at Thumrait. Their ordnance is less capable, and I don’t think I have room for them as well.
Also in the Bab area, my minesweeping helicopters begin clearing more mines in the straits in the afternoon, gradually working their way towards Perim Island as its defences were reduced. There are still plenty of mines there, but none in the cleared channel yet. (I had feared more sub-laid mines in that area.)
One thing I want to do is get a clear path to bring in the Mirage’s cargo flights directly from Sheikh Isah to Djibouti, so I make an effort to knock down the SAM and surveillance radars of the two main Yemeni airbases at Sana’a and Ataq. With those down they probably won’t be able to spot or react to any overflights. I think I’ve already dealt with their fighters, since I’ve killed an even dozen of the Mig-29s out of Sana’a, and I doubt there’s more, and the Mig-21s and 23s don’t seem to be active any more.
The attack starts with TLAMs after dusk, which manage to knock down many of the radars and take chunks out of a few of the Yemeni SAM sites. The attack is hampered by numerous weapon failures. Evidently these TLAMs were carefully stored on a pile of mouldy rags under damp newspapers in an open seaside shack. Some follow-up attacks by night-vision Harriers do more damage to the SAM sites, and the attack at Sana’a presses on to bomb some Su-24s which were spotted in open tarmac spaces. That’s when the hidden SA-6 lights up, and, despite an immediate shower of HARMs, one of the fleeing Harriers is cut down before my missiles arrive. Despite that setback, I think the enemy is radar blind now, and I essentially have clear skies for operations over Yemen.
Up north in the Red Sea, the Lancaster turns and heads for the old Soviet base at high speed. Launching one if it’s night-vision equipped helicopters to act as a spotter, it proceeds to steam around the island, blasting enemy emplacements with gunfire. By the time its magazines are empty there are only a pair of isolated technicals left on the island, and the Lancaster hurries away at flank speed to hide in the darkness again. Once the Lancaster sends reports of the successful mission, two C-130s lift off from Djibouti, and arrive in the middle of the night to drop the bulk of my valuable paratroopers on the island. Milans are used to deal with the technicals, and the base facilities are occupied in short order.
Down at Perim Island, continuous air attacks eliminate the last of the defenders, and helicopters from Djibouti land enough infantry to seize the island. Two CH-53s have ferried in from Thumrait, and they begin hauling my 155mm and 105mm artillery batteries over to the island, where they will form a secure fire-base and help with the reduction of defences on the peninsula. Air attacks with night-capable units transition to the peninsula and regiment. The air attacks were using munitions at such a rate that I was down to using napalm, and even had some Harriers waiting on reserve with no munitions available until the C-141s arrived to make things right again.
PLANS FOR DAY 3
I think Socotra is secure, and I don’t expect any further developments there.
I need to work hard at clearing the peninsula and damaging the waiting regiment. There are so many targets there that I don’t know if I will be able to destroy them all. Therefore, I will try and clear the tip of the peninsula, and then land there immediately after dark on Night 3, when my night-vision advantage is greatest. My landing force will be armour heavy, screened with all my ATGMs inserted by helicopter, and backed up by artillery on Perim Island. Hopefully that will let me deal with the damaged regiment if/when it advances to engage while it is blind at night.
I’m also supposed to be striking Eritrea, so I will switch the efforts of my long-range strikers (F-15E, Tornado) to hit some of their bases. They’re staying radar silent with their SAMs for now, which may make it awkward to deal with them, and who knows what’s lurking deeper in Khartoum, etc.
We shall see!