DAY 3 (MARCH 20 1994)
As Day 3 begins, my two heliport construction groups are closing on their destinations on Jan Mayan and Greenland, the retiring Roosevelt has almost reached the replenishment ships south of PL Bravo, and the Vinson is nearly on station to relieve the Enterprise. The northern French and British carrier groups are down to about half fuel, but their slow creeping ASW search patterns means their fuel consumption is low, and they won't need to refuel for many days yet. My withdrawing SSNs have passed their replacements, who are headed to a patrol zone just south of PL Delta. The ships in the Atlantic are making good progress northwards, although the scattered individual ships who don't have escorts continue to be a concern.
The question of that coastal merchant ship I spotted earlier continues to nag at me, and HQ has expressed an interest in it as well, so an F-14 TARPS bird is sent for a look, accompanied by a few fighters and an ES-3 to do radar surveillance. The radar search finds the merchant quickly enough, and it also finds a second lone ship operating further east. Recce passes show one to be the trawler Dralch, which HQ was looking for, and the other to be a container ship. I'm not sure what the Dralch is doing, as it doesn't seem to be headed anywhere specific. Maybe coastal minelaying? Both ships are under Warpac control, so they're fair game to me. The Etendards on the Clemenceau are given the task, and they fly in with a combination of buddy stores and Exocets to sink both of the ships. (I'm finding Exocets to be really handy for light unopposed anti-shipping work, when I don't want to expend a heavyweight long-ranged Harpoon.) This does provoke another set of MiG-25s to fly up out of Banak, but my escorting F-14s put them down without suffering any losses.
The sinking of the two merchants is good. (Although, come to think of it, HQ said to look for the Dralch, not sink it. I hope they don't mind.) More important, however, is the discovery the ES-3 makes further east along the coast. Radar shows an ominously large task group anchored off Murmansk. While the radar operator is counting ships, the ELINT sensors start picking up radar emissions from patrolling Foxbats operating out of Rogachevo. There's no time to waste, and the plane turns off its radar and hurries away into the darkness.
Presumably these contacts are the Kirov group alluded to in some of the intelligence reports. In its current position, it would only take about ten hours of steaming to get within missile range of my closest carrier group. Fortunately it's not moving at the moment, but I may have to consider a long-range ASM strike before it can get underway and become a problem.
Strike on Evenes
With Bodo and Andoya out of commission, at least for the moment, the most exposed of the enemy airbases is Evenes. HQ has asked for recce runs in the area later in the day. I have already encountered some long-ranged SAMs deployed north of Evenes, so a southern approach seems wisest, but even so I'm not confident a lone recce plane can make it in and out without loss. There's a good surveillance radar nearby, and presumably fighters and more SAMs at the airfield itself. Therefore, I decide to launch a small hasty dawn attack on Evenes, to soften up the local defences and kill the surveillance radar.
The strike is composed of F-18s with LGBs, HARMs, and a few Mavericks, and my intention is to go in above the SHORADS ceiling, hit the runways and SAMs, and retire without going low. It turns out that Evenes is guarded by two SA-11s (okay, suppressed by HARMs), a distant SA-4 to the NNW (not a threat), and a distant SA-10 (too far away to engage me effectively). But the unspotted SA-12 in the mountains to the NE is a real problem, and it launches a huge salvo of missiles at my laser-bombing F-18s, forcing them to go diving wildly towards the deck. Fortunately the fjord walls are tall and steep, and the F-18s are more nimble than A-6s, so they manage to escape below the missile barrage by the narrowest of margins.
My attack doesn't actually kill any of the local SAMs outright, although it wounds most of them, but it does manage to destroy the surveillance radar, and cut the runway facilities at the base. After the bombing, the F-18s go scurrying south through the hills, trying to stay well below the threatening SA-12 radar, and some of them come across an enormous vehicle park nestled in one of the valleys. Calls are made to the carriers, and over the next hours more F-18s arrive with Snakeyes and cluster bombs, and start wrecking the marshalling area.
Interestingly, there were no fighters launched from Evenes itself against my strike, so maybe it was a divert airfield, with no fighter presence? There are certainly fighters coming from Bardufoss, however, where numerous old-model MiG-23s start making their presence known, and, after no activity for about a day, I start seeing fighters coming out of Tromso too. This prompts another mid-sized fighter sweep in the Andoya/Bardufoss/Tromso area, which nets a lone Su-27, a few MiG-25s, and a sizeable bag of the older Floggers.
Another sweep heads to the north coast again, with F-14s looking for any more Badger recce planes which might be up. They don't find any (nor have any more Mainstays appeared), so they come inland to attack one of the Su-24s, which prompts two more hidden SA-10 batteries guarding Banak to open fire. That makes three, surrounding Banak in a horseshoe. The F-14s dive to safety, and then get tangled up with some aggressive MiG-25s, but make it out intact in the end. In the meantime, one of my S-3s takes a moment to check up on the Murmansk fleet. It's still there, apparently resting at anchor, so for the moment all is well.
It's late-morning when the Russians hand me a serious setback. Urgent radio calls start coming in from one of my T-AOs off the south coast of Iceland, reporting a torpedo impact. The captain orders flank speed and attempts to run, but the second torpedo hits half a minute later, and water comes pouring in the two tattered wounds in the port side plating. Within five minutes the ship has drifted to a halt, rolled over, and sunk.
The ship was one of the lone T-AOs coming up the west Atlantic route, without any escorts. Once she had reached the latitude of Iceland she turned east, intending to anchor off Reykjavik with the other oilers and resupply ships waiting there. She was only three hours from her destination when she met her nemesis, a Tango which had quietly eluded the P-3s patrolling the area. Now that there was a flaming datum the P-3s hurried to the scene, and quickly found and sank the enemy sub, but that was small consolation for the shipwrecked sailors, and no replacement for the lost fuel.
With this wasteful and avoidable loss staring me in the face, I sit down and do what I should have done in the beginning: make a proper plan. MPA patrol zones are tightened up, coordinated, and adjusted, lone resupply vessels are directed to form small convoys (even if it means delays), and warship task group courses are adjusted to improve cover for the oilers. In some cases the resources simply aren't there to protect everything immediately, but I've at least got a better plan to get them to places of safety, rather than simply crossing my fingers and hoping for the best.
By mid-day my two task groups have arrived at their helicopter bases at Jan Mayan and Greenland, and while the main cargo and logistics ships anchor to begin unloading, the escorting warships start patrolling the immediate area for subs. The ASW helicopters transfer to the bases, and begin deploying an east-west barrier patrol, although 'barrier' might be a strong word. I've got it set up so each helicopter has a 50 mile wide zone to hunt in, and since you only get about three miles each way from a dipping sonar, there's clearly plenty of room for a sub to slip through. Still, it's better than nothing.
It's going to take several days to fully set up the helicopter bases, and my anchored ships (and the bases themselves) will be vulnerable during that time. The Jan Mayan base gets an F-14 CAP, TG Whitney steams to a location along the most likely cruise missile approach path, and S-3s are set to patrol the general area all around the island. It seems like reasonable defences are in place.
The Greenland base, however, has a peculiar problem. The edge of the pack-ice is there, and although I have the Canadian O-boat SS patrolling there, as well as the surface warships from the task group, none of them can operate under the ice. So, there's a clear, unobstructed under-ice route for an SSN to get into the area, without being detected in advance. The more I look at it, the more it seems to be a big highway with a "this way to defenceless victims" sign painted on it. The closest sub I have is the SSN Groton, which was headed north to start patrolling the gap left by the other subs which are returning to Faslane. It's captain is ordered to turn the sub around and head SW at high speed, to begin patrolling the ice-approach route as soon as possible.
The Greenland base is also so far from the carriers that it is difficult to provide fighter cover for it. Planning staff are currently considering whether to send the Enterprise group in that direction after refuelling, or perhaps detach some of its fighters to provide CAP by operating out of Iceland. Additional MPA cover should also be available once TG Algonquin gets its valuable freighter of TLAMs to Reykjavik.
The noon briefing brings word that HQ is requesting SEAD activity around Bardufoss, which is the most heavily defended of the central Norwegian bases. There's a pair of SA-10s near the coast guarding the most obvious ingress routes, an SA-11 just N of Bardufoss itself, and an SA-12 and an SA-20 further inland, along with several long-range surveillance radars. And those are just the ones I'm aware of. Effective SEAD against this array would be a major effort, and costly in terms of HARMS and PGMs (which I want to preserve for an attack on the Kirov group). Planning staff are set to work examining the options.
Meanwhile, the Roosevelt group has finally completed reloading, and is heading north again, while the Enterprise group is headed south for its turn at the tankers.
In the early afternoon, another recce-run is made on Evenes, overflying the battered truck park, before more F-18s with Snakeyes come in from the south to to complete the destruction. Another two flights of F-18s are sent in to finish off the pair of damaged SA-11 batteries to the east of Evenes. One of them gets fired on by an SA-15 guarding the northern ingress route, but it's a long-ranged shot, and the missiles fall short as the F-18s dash away across the fjord and into the mountains again.
Late-afternoon sees a small fighter sweep go into the Andoya / Bardufoss / Tromso area again, but this time there is no fighter response of any kind, only a few shots from the SA-10 near Tromso. This bodes well for any upcoming SEAD activity in the area.
The 1800 intel briefing comes in, with indications that the Soviets may be positioning themselve to pull back from their most southern extent, which is encouraging news. There is also mention of a small convoy underway in the east somewhere, possibly headed for Rogachevo (which I am unlikely to be able to interfere with) or even Svalbard (which would be a suicide run - if I can spot it). An S-3 and some F-14s are sent out for a coastal reconnaissance, and they find it slowly coming along the coast, just passing Murmansk – four tightly spaced central targets and three escorts. Alert the French!
It takes a few hours to arrange, but, with the help of the VC-10 tankers out of Lossiemouth, the Clemenceau's complement of Etendards is sent east, each of them carrying one Exocet missile. Periodic radar checks by the S-3 show the convoy has continued slowly along the coast, at a mere 5 knots. The three escorts are on the front and flanks of the convoy, so the Etendards swing in from the undefended rear side, launching their missiles in succession through the gap in the coverage.
All four of the central cargo ships are struck and sunk (or I assume they are cargo ships - I never got close enough for an accurate ID), as is one of the Grisha escorts. The other two escorts (a Grisha and a Krivak) mill around uncertainly, while the Etendards turn about and fly back towards their tankers. There are MiG-25 radars coming from the direction of Rogachevo again, and it is time to leave. As it turns to fly home, the S-3 gets a last contact on the Murmansk task group, still sitting stationary at the extreme edge of radar cover.
Early in the evening my ASW precautions start to pay off. After numerous false contacts and biologicals in the Jan Mayan area, one of the escorts in TG Whitney gets a direct-path hit on a submerged contact headed south. The S-3s close in, identifying it as an SSK of some sort, before sinking it with a well-placed Mk 50. I'm not sure whether it was headed for the task group or the ships unloading at the new helicopter base, but, in any case, I'm glad it's gone.
Several hours later another sub is spotted in the Greenland-Iceland gap, cruising southwards at modest speed. It turns out to be an Akula, which had the misfortune to travel directly under a passive sonobuoy. The P-3 on patrol claims this one, although it takes three torps to finally sink it.
Bardufoss SEAD and Strikes
Much of the night is occupied by a series of strikes aimed at reducing the air defenses in the Bardufoss area, and along the NW Norwegian coast. Strike aircraft are called in from all four nearby American carriers (even the stores-hungry Enterprise finds something to contribute). The Clemenceau is busy hitting the convoy, but the distant Arc Royal manages to send its last two attack Harriers, and tankers and ELINT planes are brought in from Iceland and the UK to support the effort.
The first phase concentrates on knocking down Soviet air surveillance radars near the coast. A pair of TLAMs come flying down the fjord to knock out the Big Bird radar ENE of Bardufoss, and a pair of F-18s come in low with Snakeyes to wreck another radar further east. Unfortunately, it seems that for every radar I kill, I find another one, so the overall coverage isn't completely eliminated.
Another flight of F-18s comes in low from the north, planning to attack the hilltop radar W of Tromso, and then carry on to bomb the SA-10 one hilltop further south, but it turns out the area is much too heavily defended to do all that. The pilots manage to kill the radar and an SA-11 battery, but in the process they are fired on by two more SA-11s, and three SHORADS. Their glimpse of the Tromso airbase shows at least 20 planes on the ground, plus whatever's under cover, and they radio the update back to HQ as they duck down behind the hills again and head back out to sea.
Fortunately, none of those aircraft seem to be flight-ready yet, and the patrolling F-14s don't spot any interceptors, either from Tromso, Bardufoss, or even the more distant Banak.
The main strikes reach the Bardufoss area shortly afterwards, flying in from the west, just north of the battered Andoya airfield. The first blow falls on the coastal SA-10 there, distracting it with HARMs, before low-level F-18s finish it off with cluster bombs. As the HARM-carriers (both F-18s and A-6s) loiter uncertainly over the coast, probing shots with SLAMs and BOL HARMs start prompting more SAMs to reveal themselves; a total of three SA-11s and some SHORADS around Bardufoss, a pair of new SA-10s (actually SA-12s, it turns out) in the valleys south of the airbase, and a probable third one somewhere near the coast to the north. The SA-20 is still keeping quiet.
HARM barrages are fired towards the SA-11s, doing some damage, but the SA-12s prove to be problematic targets. They need only brief moments of terminal illumination, so the HARMs have great difficulty getting a good signal to fire at. The real stars of the show turn out to be the low-level F-18s, who go hurtling down the valleys using their night vision, killing both SA-12s, finishing off an SA-11, destroying a newly found SA-6, and pressing on to hunt the SA-20.
Some things don’t go well. The pair of Harriers come rushing down dark waters of the Lyngen Fjord from the north, and drop a brace of retarded bombs on the SA-12 near the base of the fjord, destroying most of the battery. Turning about they vanish into the darkness, retiring back up the fjord at wavetop level. The pilots are confident they’ve made their escape, until one Harrier abruptly explodes, struck down without warning by an optically-fired SA-6 they didn’t notice on the way in. I now have only one operational attack Harrier, which is grim news for the squadron.
In any case, the high altitude SAMs around Bardufoss are eventually destroyed, allowing my Maverick-carrying F-18s to come in above the SHORAD ceiling and eliminate the SA-15s and SA-8s guarding the base. With those gone, F-18s with LGBs are called in to destroy the runways and a few of the airfield facilities. Bardufoss is shut, trapping 6 planes that I can see, and whatever else is in its network of shelters and caves.
I had also hoped that I might shut Tromso as well, and although I damaged many of its surrounding medium and heavy SAMs, its SHORADS was still completely intact. I suspect my odds of getting the enough LGBs through the missile screen would be remote, so I reluctantly send the remaining bombers home, taking their LGBs with them.
Late Night Situation
As the night draws to a close, the situation is looking better. Although I have lost a T-AO, I seem to have crippled the Soviet air force for the moment, and largely eliminated the major SAM threat in NW Norway. Bodo, Evenes, Andoya, Bardufoss, and Svalbard are all shut by cratered runways, and although there are more planes at Tromso and presumably at Banak, none are flying at the moment. Soviet coastal shipping has been struck a heavy blow, losing their small convoy and two independent merchants, and the Murmansk task group seems to be holding still for now.
My carrier situation is greatly improved, with the Roosevelt, Nimitz, and Vinson all on station with good munitions loads. Enterprise is essentially a spent force, but it will begin UNREP in a couple of hours, and the completely fresh Kennedy should be arriving mid-day tomorrow.
HQ has sent some late-night orders for recce tasks tomorrow, and all of them should be feasible. We will see what the day brings.