DAY 5 (MARCH 22 1994)
The day begins with swarms of strike aircraft converging in the midnight skies NW of Norway. Some, from the more distant carriers like the Enterprise, Clemenceau, and Kennedy, pause for refuelling, while the others from the Nimitz, Vinson, and Roosevelt proceed without waiting. The force heads east out into the open Barents, far from land, and then (leaving tankers, ESM, and a fighter screen behind) curves south and drops to low altitude, heading for Murmansk.
As the strike approaches its launch point the distant ES-3 turns on its radar to illuminate the scene, only to find the ships have shuffled around some. They're not emitting, at the moment, so I'm no longer certain exactly who's who! There does seem to be a big contact in the exact same place the carrier was, and another pair of big contacts nearby, but the number of escorts seems to have diminished. Perhaps they've gone into port? )(Actually, it looks like some were lost in clutter in the island channel to the east of Murmansk, or had gone right up against the shore.) Orders are issued, and the strikers lift up a bit and launch a densely packed swarm of Harpoons and SLAMs at the enemy. Roughly two thirds are fired towards the pair of big contacts (and the one escort that happens to be in the flightpath), and one third towards what may be the carrier, and then the missile carriers descend and turn away north.
As the missiles calmly fly through the night, the Etendards follow behind them, staying as low as they can, each carrying its single Exocet closer to the target. Then the distant HARM carriers begin launching, firing two barrages bearing only, without lock-ons, timing them to (hopefully) arrive around the same time as the Harpoons. There's a moment more of calm, but then the Russians spot the missiles, and the entire task group and the SAMs on the neighbouring island light up, and start flinging missiles in all directions. The last of the HARMs get fired, the ES-3 yells out confirmation that the suspect carrier contact really is the Kuznetsov, the Etendards salvo their 10 Exocets at it, and then dive to flee north. After that it's all down to the missiles.
There are a colossal number of SAMs in the air, and the orbiting ESM planes can see the light on the horizon flickering like a furious thunderstorm as missiles get knocked down in rapid succession. The destroyer in the path of the main missile stream gets run over and smashed, and the bulk of the missiles home in on the two big adjacent contacts - one of the Kirovs and a Slava. Their potent close defences knock down many of my missiles, but they each take multiple hits, and when their big ASMs explode they tear the entire ship apart in an instant. Spillover missiles continue onwards, causing confusion in the fleet, and two more escorts get hit and damaged. Almost all the missiles headed for the Kusnetsov are shot down, but, by the sound of excited voice chatter, at least two of the trailing Exocets hit the carrier, and maybe one of the Harpoons too.
My planes continue to egress northwards at low level, before angling east again and rising to tank up for the trip back to the carriers. As they head out a pair of MiG-25s comes sniffing in from Rogachevo, but my few F-14s are able to intercept them before they find any of my attack planes. While the flights disperse and head back to their carriers, staff analyze the data, and are pleased with the result. Confirmed kills on a Kirov, a Slava, and a destroyer; one more destroyer heavily damaged and in imminent danger of sinking, and one lightly damaged by a single hit; the carrier lightly damaged, but apparently not significantly impeded. They've lost about 40% of the task group sunk, their offensive ASM power has dropped in about the same proportion, and they've used copious quantities of SAMs. (Surviving postwar records reveal the expenditure of a colossal 451 SAMs from ship and shore batteries, plus 64 bursts of gunfire of various types.)
The trouble is, I’ve also fired an enormous quantity of missiles. Sinking those four ships took the expenditure of 68 Harpoons, 24 SLAMs, 58 HARMs, and 12 Exocets. I can do this again once, possibly twice, but that would essentially strip me of anti-shipping weapons. However, I really have to watch HARM and SLAM expenditure. If I'm tasked with extensive ground attacks (such as against those new SAMs intel says are arriving at Bardufoss, the triple SA-10 around Banak, or the SA-10/10/20 combo at Murmansk), then I'll have problems if I’ve used all my munitions up against ships. So I may need to cut back on those.
Bodo Area Attacks
Further south, the Kennedy prepares for a follow-on attack on the Bodo area, loading an assortment of munitions on its F-18s. The strike doesn't launch immediately, since it is waiting for tankers to return from the Murmansk attack, but it eventually gets underway and arrives in the target area shortly before dawn.
Low level attacks find and kill the pair of Ganefs there, cluster-bombing them without too much difficulty, as well as engaging the surveillance radar further inland. However, as the F-18s pull out from their Snakeye attack on the radar site, they spot an SA-6 a short distance away, and decide to rush it at low level. This turns out to be a bad decision. The SA-6 has an SA-15 in attendance, which opens fire, and, as I react to that, three other SA-6 batteries reveal themselves in succession. It looks like the entire east end of the Skjerstad Fjord is a nest of medium-level SAMs, and I've flown right into it. The F-18s twist and dodge as best they can amongst the hills, managing (with the help of a loitering SEAD flight) to kill two of the batteries and wound a third, but it's dawn now, and my planes no longer have the cover of darkness. Chastened, they flee the scene as best they can, although not all of them come home again. Lesson: stay the heck out of Soviet Army tactical air defences.
Once the Ganefs are knocked down, the other F-18s come in to bomb the big mountain shelter at Bodo using Walleyes, hoping their linear shaped-charge warheads will be useful against the heavily protected target. The results are indifferent, and I'm not even sure if anything important is in the bunker, so I'm not confident it was worth the munitions. One side-effect of the strike is that my passing planes spot a Styx missile battery on the tip of the long narrow peninsula NW of Bodo, and bomb that. HQ seems to think this was significant, so TARPS birds are sent in to make low-level runs along the coast, looking for more, but nothing turns up.
Most of the day is spent on admin and logistical activities; re-organizing ASW zone boundaries, checking fuel levels, despatching tankers, etc. The Clemenceau group is low on fuel, so she heads south mid-morning, out of the line and towards the tankers waiting near Jan Mayan at PL Bravo. Unfortunately she won't be getting any new munitions, because her dedicated replenishers are over near the Foch, far to the SE. She's got her last loadout of Exocets mounted on her Etendards, but after that she'll only have conventional bombs. I'm bringing up another French supply ship out of Brest, which is joining up with British supply ships out of Portsmouth, but it'll be days before they reach the area.
LZ Baby Ice (the ASW helicopter base on Jan Mayan) is fully set up now, so the Jeanne d'Arc gathers her task group and steams south for Reykjavik. She'll refuel, and then come back with more supplies later in the week. LZ Wolf Dance (the base on Greenland) is partly set up, and the Raleigh is also ordered to Reykjavik immediately, while the other cargo ships stay behind to continue unloading. There's no way I'm sending her out alone in sub-infested waters, so the USS Caron (a Spruance) goes with her as ASW escort. Unfortunately this leaves the remaining cargo ships only defended by a Perry, a second feeble gun frigate of some sort, and the feebler little Biscuit-Tin (the Beskytteren), which is cheerfully sailing around showing off its shiny new (and operationally irrelevant) patrol helicopter. Of course, the Groton is lurking under the ice immediately to the north, and the Enterprise is keeping a CAP overhead, so maybe things aren't so bad.
ES-3s make a couple of radar reconnaissance runs towards Murmansk during the day. They usually spot four or five radar contacts near the harbour, but the enemy have their radars off, and my planes certainly don't get close enough to try and ID them visually. We're loading Harpoons for another big strike after dark, and hopefully that one will be enough to neutralize their fleet. My F-14s are also operating in the area, making a series of sweeps towards Rogachevo, where they manage to shoot down some more of the MiG-25s.
Around noon, the AEW helicopter from the Ark Royal gets a vampire contact coming in from the north, seak-skimming at 500 knots, on a bearing for the new airbase at Jan Mayan. Cruise missile! Scramble orders immediately go out across the fleet, and AEW aircraft are pushed northward, trying to get a better look at potential launch zones. Radar operators search intently for the swarm of missiles following the first one, but they don't find any. Just one missile. Can it be a nuke?
The Harriers swoop in and shoot it down easily enough, before climbing to wait for orders. It's not long before there's another missile contact, but this one is much farther to the east, north of the Vinson's patrol area. AWACs operators track the missile flying west, before it eventually turns south again towards Jan Mayan. It gets shot down too, while the orbiting fighter pilots elsewhere wonder what's going on.
As this is happening, F-14s and S-3s from the Vinson are closing in on the area where the missiles were spotted, and they detect the next missile being launched. This lets the S-3 immediately head for the exact location of what must be the Yankee Notch intel warned us about. The F-14s dive in to shoot down the missiles as they are launched, until the slower S-3 localizes the sub with a sonobuouy, and batters it to death with a succession of three torpedoes.
(I added a Yankee Notch to my side and took a look at the default WRA. WRA for the SS-21b is currently set for 1 missile per target, just like the nuclear version. By comparison, the default setting for TLAMs is 2 missiles per target. If you want a massed salvo against the base you would probably need to set the WRA to 'use all'. I think in my case I had enough fighters up to catch all the missiles if they were salvoed, but I probably would not have been able to find the sub.)
The dinner-time intel report comes in, detailing more of the Warpac's moves to firm up their defences in Norway. Most of it doesn't have an immediate effect on my operations, but HQ is still discussing Russian convoy operations, headed for Svalbard or possibly the other islands in the Barents. I'm pretty sure this is the same convoy I sunk already, but what if I'm wrong? Additional MPA are sent to complete a full radar sweep around Svalbard and the islands further NE (staying away from the Rogachevo MiGs), but nothing turns up.
Murmansk II, the Re-hittening
As evening comes, my aircraft monitoring the Murmansk TG continue to report intermittent radar contact with four ships, but we're not certain exactly which ones they are. Has the Kuznetsov docked for repairs, or is she still at sea? Are the big air-defence ships deployed nearby, or am I just looking at a collection of destroyers? Do I launch a major strike or not?
Therefore, my ES-3 is sent on a low altitude night reconaissance run, alone, defenceless, and radar off, hoping nothing decides to come patrolling their way. Thirty miles out they gently climb until they just clear the optical horizon, and start scanning with their FLIR. The carrier's still there, along with a Udaloy II and Sovremenny together near the island, and a second Sovremenny (the damaged one?) further away near the mainland shore. There's no sign of the other ships; the second Kirov, and the second Slava are missing, which means they're probaly either docked, or possibly hidden behind the island.
It's definitely worth a strike on the carrier, so the sequence begins again: tankers and support planes underway, strike aircraft up, refuelling complete, and then the attack. I'm not bringing the French this time. I only have one shot of Exocets left, so I'll reserve those for the Kirov, when it reappears. This one's all Harpoons and HARMs. The planes make it in without detection, find that there are now five targets on radar, release their missiles and swing away.
The results are entirely satisfactory. With some of their major air-defence ships destroyed, and some presumably away in dock, they have fewer SAMs to hurl my way. Two Sovremennys, and two Udaloys are sunk, and, fighting bravely but futilely against the flood, the Kuznetsov succumbs to the barrage and sinks beneath the waves. There are still two major combatants unaccounted for (the other Kirov and the other Slava), and they do have a significant long-range anti-shipping punch, but they will have to sortie to get to me, and I should be able to detect them in advance if I maintain periodic radar patrols.
As the day draws to a close, TARPS birds are sent out on recce missions to Tromso and Bardufoss. Nothing new shows up at Tromso, but as the pilot flies past the airbase he spots another radar in the hills about 20 miles to the SW. Turning to investigate, he’s fired on by a hidden SA-6, but manages to dive away on burner and break LOS. Radioing the warning back to HQ, he gets asked to recce the next fjord over, where the Harrier was shot down two days ago.
Booming down the fjord at supersonic speed, he spots the hidden SA-6, and blows past it before it can react. A minute later he catches a glimpse of a concentration of vehicles on the east bank, but he’s gone before he can recognize them. Back at base, analysis of the tapes shows them to be bridging equipment, and thus well worth hitting. The F-18s on the distant Enterprise are brought in, and once again use small LGBs from the safety of high altitude to wreck the engineering truck park.
Plans for tomorrow are uncertain, and will probably consist mainly of monitoring the situation at sea (HQ still insists there’s a convoy out there), and maintaining barrier patrols against subs. The next major land target would be Banak, which doesn’t seem to have much air activity at the moment. It’s got at least three SA-10 surrounding it, so it might be a tough target for little reward. Time will tell.