And now, the conclusion of Syrian Surprise!
FEB 13 – PLANS FINALIZE
After extensive discussion among the command staff, the decision is made shortly before midnight. We will launch a simultaneous all-arms attack on Latakia airbase, the Latakia port area, and the Soviet surface group. Participants will include the Greeks and Americans from Souda, tankers from distant Sigonella, some Turkish F-4s with LGBs, and, of course, the combined strike power of my surface ships and SSNs, under the cover of fighters from Akrotiri. The F-16s at Incirlik, my best fighter planes, are to stand down. With the exception of one flight left as emergency intercept reserve, the remainder will ready to load HARMs for the upcoming strike. That will give me 14 HARM-carrying aircraft, which won’t be enough to shut down the defences on their own, but should be enough to make a strong contribution. In the meantime their air defence role will need to be taken up by the Turkish F-4s and the planes operating out of Akrotiri. Fortunately, the F-18s which flew in the previous evening will soon be completely re-armed and ready to take up base defence duties. Timelines are finalized, and sent to participating bases. Now all we have to do is wait.
FEB 14 – SMALL HOURS OF THE MORNING – AIR WAR
As the calendar ticks over to the 14th, radar operators begin to note a shift in Syrian air activity. Single fighters, typically MiG-21s and occasionally MiG-25s, start making probing flights towards my Turkish bases along the Syrian border, over the Latakia area and towards support planes operating off the tip of Cyprus, and in the direction of my ships coming along the south side of the island. Individually they’re no threat at all, and with AWACs I have plenty of time to meet them and kill them before they can do anything useful. The problem comes when they show up as I’m trying to deal with a Syrian raid, or maneuver to get at the Russian support aircraft. I can’t just ignore them, or they’ll run up and shoot my aircraft in the stern, and I often have to divert resources from more important tasks to deal with them. Still, I have to wonder if its worth the effort, since none of them go home again. Would they have had more effect if they were saved up and used as strike escorts?
Speaking of which, the Syrians launch an extensive series of night strikes towards my ships. They may not have radar contact with them any more, but it seems like my jamming signals are more than enough to give away my location. The British F-4s out of Akrotiri manage to deal with an eight-plane strike, mostly of old Albatross trainers, and then another six shortly after that. How these basic trainers, with no night vision equipment at all, hoped to make attacks at blacked out ships on a dark sea, is a mystery. As the F-4s advance to deal with the second strike they get fired on by a new SAM near the Latakia airport. As the Phantoms dive to avoid the missiles they radio back a warning that the Russians have three SA-10s, not two…. (Latakia, incidentally, is absolutely crammed with aircraft. Analysts poring over U-2 imagery can see dozens of MiG-23MLDs and Su-24s there in open parking, poised for a strike. Far far more than intelligence had initially estimated.)
The next Syrian attack is massive. AWACS reports nearly a dozen MiG-23s flying out of Shayrat to a muster point, to be met by eight MiG-29s, and four other strike planes of some sort. (Plus another MiG-21 leaker up north, delaying the arrival of a flight of Turkish F-4s who have to turn aside to pry it off my EP-3.) As this wave comes pouring in my Akrotiri fighters rush to engage it with long-range SARH missiles, hoping to force back the MiG-29s and let the MiG-23s (presumably carrying bombs?) carry on to be tackled by the Harriers closer to my ships. That’s when the flight leaders realize that all the MiG-23s are maneuvering like fighters – that’s 19 escorts for 4 strikers! My fighters are badly outnumbered, and the Harriers are certainly outclassed. My ships turn on their radars and try long-range SAM shots to break up the formations, but they have minimal effect, and my Sparrow shots aren’t going to kill enough of them before they close with me. My planes keep having to turn and run, as the relentless wave advances.
Suddenly, two of the attack planes open fire before I can get a shot at them. Vampires! But they’re not headed for my ships. They’re headed for the center of Cyprus, where I have a land based radar cheerfully emitting, helping the AWACs keep tabs on the local air traffic. The crew chop the circuit breakers and run desperately for the slit trenches, as the missiles hurtle towards them, then past them, to burst against the hills beyond. Fortunately, the Syrians only had older AS-11s, which don’t have target memory function. If this had been the Russians, the radar would be gone.
Then the entire Syrian strike turns around and starts returning to base, even though the other two attack planes (which we’ve figured out are Su-24s) haven’t taken a shot yet. This is a huge relief for my fleeing planes, who were about to be overwhelmed. So far they’d only managed to knock a piece off an Su-24, and kill two Fulcrums and four Floggers, which still left over a dozen angry Syrian fighters with plenty of missiles. Once the retreat is confirmed, and the enemy is all pointing east again, my faster planes wheel about and pursue them, cutting down four more out of the rear of the formation (and another MiG-21 which came hurrying in).
After that major effort, the Syrians continue messing things up with their probe flights, while they revert to uncoordinated unescorted attacks. Four lone Fencers are easily handled by the Harriers when the attackers have no guardians, and the next four do no better when they’re pounced on by Turkish F-4s. Over the next few hours Harriers get four more Fitters, British Phantoms claim the next four, and similar deadly results face lone flights of four, and two.
The Syrians try escorting a couple more times. A raid of four Fitters is escorted by four each Fulcrums and Floggers, which is significant, but this fight goes better than the last escorted raid. This time the escorts peel off to face my fighters, and I manage to keep my distance from them and engage at range while the strikers are dealt with separately. The final Syrian strike is four attackers and four escorts, but that isn’t enough to get by the fighter screen, and then the air is empty.
Could it be that the Syrians have given up their attacks? Even the MiG-21s seem to have given up for now. And a good thing too, since I’ve got very little left in terms of ready aircraft, and I need to give my pilots some rest while ground crews work to do vital maintenance before the Latakia strike at dawn.
FEB 14 – SMALL HOURS OF THE MORNING – AT SEA
Meanwhile, in the waters below, the Iowa group has maintained its steady progress along the south coast of Cyprus, heading for its appointment with the enemy. The Russian surface group fires two more missiles in its direction, but once again they’re firing at sensor ghosts, and the missiles are wasted.
The three SSNs are screening ahead of the task group, slowing occasionally to listen above and below the layer. Shortly after 01:00 hrs the crew of the HMS Torbay picks up an anomalous sonar signal, and after a few minutes of careful listening they determine it’s an SSK. Presumably this is the second of the Syrian Kilos, and it’s reasonably close to the path of the Iowa group. The Torbay gently ascends to periscope depth, raises a radio mast, and sends word to our ships. It doesn’t take long for a ready Seahawk to spin-up its rotors and head for the contact, finding and sinking it with a well-placed Mk46. The Torbay hears the satisfying boom, and descends again to resume her patrol.
Closer to Latakia, the Russian ASW helicopters start having a very hard time, as F-18s flying out of Akrotiri start hunting them, coming in low under the shore-based SA-10 radar, and taking long-ranged Sparrow shots without getting deep into the Sovremenny’s SAM envelope. The F-18s make more attacks on the Su-24 jammers too, trying to get to extremely close range while the Su-24s are at their furthest point from the ship and shore-based SAMs. It takes multiple runs (and much SAM and MiG-21 dodging) before they manage to get burn-through, but when they do the celebration in the CIC is immediate. Those jammers would have given much good cover to any enemy planes opposing my strike.
Although they’re not aware of the activity, the crew of the little Turkish sub Dolunay is benefitting from the destruction of the ASW helicopters. As predicted the Russian task group is back, and this time the creeping Dolunay is poised to meet them. Coming in from the west, the little sub is passed by the first line of escorts about a mile away, and then it accelerates some towards the expected center of the group. At the predicted time speed is reduced as much as possible, only keeping steerage, and the Dolunay ascends to periscope depth. There they are, all the big ships in the core of the fleet. The Slava is too fast, and the short ranged torps will never catch it, but the nearby Kara is definitely in range, and the Moskva CVH might just be achievable. Four torpedoes are assigned to each, and the shots are away!
The Russians detect the shots almost immediately, and radars and sonars flick on as the ships turn to run at best speed. Two torpedoes hit the Kara, sinking it, and the four chasing the Moskva hissed off into the distance, their fuel supplies dwindling rapidly. Then, within half a mile of expected loss of control, 1, 2, 3, and 4 explosions happen on the bearing to the Moskva! But there is no one to hear the breakup sounds of the sinking ship. The little Dolunay had turned and ducked into the layer again, hoping to clear the area and escape, but little SSKs are slower than SS-N-14s. The Dolunay was already dead.
FEB 14 – PRE DAWN
In the pre-dawn hours, the initial stages of the Latakia strike began to get underway. First to fly were the tankers from distant Sigonella, the Harpoon-carrying P-3s from Souda, and then the EA-6s, heading for duty stations off the east coast of Cyprus and the Turkish coast south of Incirlik. Next were the tankers from closer bases, a fresh AWACS, and a U-2 up on surveillance. When those were well underway the Greek A-7s began lifting off, the first FLIR-equipped flights carrying iron bombs and cluster bombs, the following ones equipped with LGBs. The SSNs were on-station between Cyprus and Latakia. The Iowa group had tightened up its formation, and was just east of Cyprus, paralleling the Soviet surface group on a heading SSE, at a distance of 60 nm. The Syrians were still quiet in the air, with routine patrols over their bases, but no strike activity.
My strike planes got closer, with the front flights of bomb-carriers pausing to tank while the LGB carriers caught up. Turkish F-4s and F-16s took off on CAP, the F-16 HARM carriers began to muster over Incirlik, and F-18s with Harpoon headed NE from Akrotiri, along with their fighter cover. All was quiet. Then, as the A-7s neared the east end of Cyprus, the Syrians attacked.
Swarms of Mig-23MLs with a few BNs thrown in (I stopped counting after 16 – it was much larger), came surging towards the Iowa group, so every available fighter I had out of Akrotiri came burnering in for the intercept. It was obvious I’d been fully spotted, so there was no need for subtlety any more, and the Iowa group lit up in a blast of radar energy, and began flinging SAMs at anything within range. I had already sent a group of fighters headed south of Latakia Airport, hoping to distract the CAP that was flying there and drag it away from the strike, so they were the first into the fray. With the jammers on the Iowa group and an EA-6 behind them, my planes had the radar advantage, and went into the fight with determination, killing and falling back to kill again.
Soon my planes were heavily engaged, but I couldn’t devote them all to the fight because numerous vampires were spotted launching from the coast in the Latakia area and further south. U-2 reconnaissance had spotted some small units in the area, but hadn’t been able to ID them. The presumption was that they were probably flak, but evidently they were shore batteries instead. Now they’re incoming missiles, and some of my planes are diverted to attack them. But, once again, it seems the Syrians are shooting at sensor ghosts. These missiles turn out to be Styxes, and they’re still well out of range, and they fall harmlessly into the water after I’ve wasted a bunch of missiles shooting them down. Despite the distraction, the enemy strike was shattered and driven back, and it didn’t get to the ships, but only because I literally had everything from Akrotiri in the air, except the old F-5s which couldn’t see in the dark.
FEB 14 – THE LATAKIA STRIKE
The first offensive action is a TLAM strike from the LA class SSN, aimed four-each at the two closely spaced SA-3 batteries about five miles north of Latakia. The missiles are sent looping around to approach from the north, hiding in the radar shadow of the little headland there to protect them from the SA-10s as long as possible. They pop over the headland, smash the first battery, and then, although they are engaged, they heavily damage the second one, knocking out its radar.
The next attack is the big one, with a salvo of all TLAMs from the Iowa group, headed straight for the densely packed planes of the Latakia airfield. I had considered looping these cruise missiles around into the Syrian interior, coming over the mountains from behind, but I want these missiles to be seen. They are as much decoys as attack munitions. They are closely followed by a salvo of every Harpoon I have, from the F-18s, the P-3s, the Iowa group, and my SSNs. The majority are aimed at the Soviet task group, with a handful headed for the Syrian patrol boats near the port. Between Harpoons and TLAMs, I have 170 missiles on the way in. Now that's saturation!
The stream of TLAMs draws fire from the surface ships, before their attention gets diverted to the incoming Harpoons. The ships fight hard, shooting down numerous Harpoons with SAMs and guns, and decoying and jamming others, but there are simply too many to withstand. One hit usually isn’t enough to finish them, and the ships keep fighting despite the battering, but in the end, they succumb to the wave of missiles and are sunk. The remaining Harpoons, almost 20 of them, fly off towards the Syrian coast, spreading out and causing confusion amid the CAP, which has been trying to intercept them.
In the meantime, the TLAMs have been heading for Latakia, and the SA-10 there lights up as expected, followed by two SA-17s (which I had not spotted) and two SA-15s (which I had not spotted either). My watching planes see a flowing stream of fiery points accelerating west out of Latakia airfield, popping in little flashbulb bursts where they meet the procession of invisible TLAMs. The stream of lights gets shorter, and the flashes keep getting closer and closer to the airfield, and as it does I’m starting to wonder whether the TLAMs will run out before the SAMs do. The flashes are almost on the airfield when they finally stop, as the SAM magazines are exhausted, and then the broader flashes of warhead impacts and fuel fires spread across the base. The densely packed aircraft are wrecked by shattering blasts as the last of the TLAMs hit their parking areas, and the final ten missiles slam five apiece into the runways, wrecking one and severely damaging the other.
Further up the coast, one of the SA-10s opens fire on approaching aircraft, and the F-16s immediately respond with a salvo of 16 HARMs, all at the one SA-10 radar. The other F-16s continue to close in, waiting for the other SA-10 to illuminate, but it doesn’t yet. The two SA-17s do, however, trying to engage the incoming HARMS, and the remaining F-16s have no choice but to fire at them, six missiles each, before turning back. HARMs are a much tougher target than TLAMs, and some of them get through the intense defensive fire, damaging the active SA-10, and destroying both the SA-17s. Most importantly, the surviving SAMs have run out of missiles, and there is a very brief window in which I can attack. That’s when the Greeks arrive.
Corsairs come rushing in at low level from the west, passing over the shattered wrecks of the two TLAM-ed SA-3 sites, only 120 feet up and flying on FLIR. They turn sharply south, splitting into two groups, and pull up to lay a barrage of 500lb bombs across each of the SA-10 sites, destroying them both. Backlit by the flames, they dive to the deck and streak across Latakia and out to sea again. Moments later more flights of A-7s, this time armed with cluster bombs, appear out of the darkness, destroying or crippling two SA-2s, and two SA-3s. The last flight heads inland towards the airbase and drops its payload on the last of the SA-10s, destroying it in a storm of fragmentation damage, before curving out to sea (strafing an SA-17 as it goes).
This was a tremendous success, far better than I had hoped. The Corsairs took some fire from the SA-3s they were attacking, but all of the advanced SAM firepower in their path was reloading, and couldn’t fire a shot. The only thing that harmed them was a decrepit SA-7 attached to a SA-3 site, which managed to destroy a Corsair as it flew overhead. With all the high-altitude air defence destroyed or reloading, it only remained for the Corsairs and F-4s with LGBs to hurry in and hit the two surviving SA-17s at the airbase before they could get more missiles on the rails. After that, with a combination of buddy lasing and self designation, my attackers were able to destroy the port facilities, all the remaining SAM facilities, SSM launch sites, and the one Su-24 which was still sitting forlornly on its pad at the airbase.
The Syrian CAP and interceptors haven’t been idle, and they try to interfere with my operations, but all those F-16 HARM shooters carry a pair of AMRAAMs each, so I have plenty of CAP of my own. I’m trying to hold the air after my strikers have departed, since I’ve got a helicopter on the way for my ejected A-7 pilot, and I can’t have MiGs pouncing on it as it makes its way in. The MiG-29s coming from the Aleppo area are the biggest problem, while the MiG-21s coming from Hama are less of an issue, until they suddenly launch some MiG-29s there too. My pilots hold their own, but I have to wonder how long my missiles will last before I’m forced to retire. The helicopter’s only half-way across the water at this point, and I’ve got little else to call as reinforcements. Unfortunately, the crackling messages from the downed pilot aren’t good. Angry enemy troops have surrounded the area and are closing in. His last call says he’s about to be captured, and there are no further transmissions. The helicopter is waved off, and my planes fall back and fly home. The Syrian CAP reforms, and returns to loiter over the smoking ruins of the Latakia airbase.
FEB 14 – REST OF DAY
As my strike makes its way back home, celebrating the success of their mission, my ships and subs move to new duty stations. The Iowa group gathers up the Turkish MEKO frigate, and then turns to cruise for Akrotiri, to cover the amphibs which are anchored there. The SSNs move north of Cyprus and south and south-east of Cyprus, to guard against any Soviet subs coming from those directions.
Syrian activity during the day is extremely limited. One lone Albatross, and one lone Su-24 make an appearance, but that is the extent of their offensive action. Patrols continue over the mainland, as expected.
My next attack falls on Aleppo, and is an SEAD attack, intended to get rid of the high-altitude SAMs in the area. F-16s with HARM shut down the SA-3 radars, while Turkish F-104s and F-16s come in beneath the SA-2 radar to destroy those sites, and then finish off the damaged SA-3s. There are multiple airbases in the area, and numerous MiG-21s try and intercept the attackers. As with Latakia, those aren’t so bad, but the pop-up MiG-29s are much more dangerous. Nonetheless, we manage to fend them off and extract our strike force.
As operations conclude, we are reasonably well positioned. The Soviet surface presence in this corner of the Med is gone, as are the known enemy subs, and their air-forces based in Latakia and Damascus (the Badgers). Air defences in the Aleppo area have also been reduced, and those bases are vulnerable to subsequent high-altitude LGB attack. Our ships are intact, and gathered at Akrotiri awaiting deployment orders.
We are essentially black on anti-shipping ordnance. I've got a reserve of 5 Harpoons on the Iowa, four more for the P-3s at Souda, a couple of Exocets and some Sea Skuas. We have nothing else to face further surface threats except SAMs in surface mode, and gunfire. TLAMs have been completely expended. It will take months for industry to rebuild what we have used today. Aircraft losses have been modest, and AAM stockpiles are probably acceptable for several days of further containment operations against Syria, provided we are not called on to make heavy strikes. Short-ranged SAMs are in good supply, although stocks of long-range missiles are starting to be a concern, particularly on the Leahy.
Wow! This one’s great. Tons of action, from frantic self defence, to sneaky subs, to massive hammering blows of surface group missile barrages. I think the Med works really well, because the quarters are so confined that you can’t just vanish into the cold dark Atlantic where the AI can’t find you. They’ve got you spotted, and they can actually bring blows to bear. I enjoyed it immensely.
The presence of Israel and Jordan on the bottom of the map was an interesting touch. I was always worried that some sort of political event was going to crop up, forcing me to intervene and divert forces. After the initial air threat had passed, I always kept some Turks with LGBs and bombs in reserve, along with the RF-4s and British recce Canberras, in case I had to go Scud-hunting in the Syrian interior to keep Israel out of the war.
If the Latakia strike had gone poorly, I was contemplating closing in for a battleship bombardment of known SAM sites. Wouldn’t that have been exciting! (It’s a shame runways aren’t a valid target for 16” guns.)
The uncoordinated small Syrian attacks and probes were certainly infuriating, forcing me to repeatedly divert away from what I wanted to do, but the cost in Syrian pilots was appalling. It may be a good representation of disorganised hasty attacks and poor internal communications, but I have to wonder if the Syrians would have called them off after strike after strike stopped coming home? (Just musing, but it may have partly been because I left my jammers on after the initial attack, so they always knew approximately where I was, even after the Badgers died. Thus, the planes launched immediately after they readied. Perhaps if I had ‘vanished’ completely, there would have been a much bigger strike saved up when I reappeared?)
I never did send the U-2s over Syria. The SA-2 proved the U-2 was meat on the table in 1962. Facing a foe well equipped with SA-2s, SA-5s, and SA-10s, I kept it well off shore.
More later when I’ve had a chance to look under the hood.