The invasion draws closer...
Now that NATO's missile boats have retired, staff consider how to handle our small ships near Bornholm. The decision is made to turn them around towards Bornholm again, but not to rush them into position yet. We'll let the first round of airstrikes resolve itself before moving in to start minesweeping. In the mean time, the main amphibious force continues to steam sedately along the Polish coast, about ten miles out, screened by ASW patrol boats and preceded by the Grozny surface group. They're in no rush yet, and are aiming to arrive at Bornholm in the afternoon.
DAWN STRIKE AT BORNHOLM
As the skies lighten, the leading planes of a massive air strike arrive over Bornholm from the east. Reconaissance Su-17s and Su-24s fly low over the island, hunting for ground forces, and hoping to pinpoint the infantry formations who have been firing Stingers at us during the night. They manage to find plenty of Danish infantry and some of their artillery (particularly along the NE side of the island), but Stingers in the center of the island, and near the port of Ronne, keep forcing the recce planes away.
The first of the MiG-27s arrive, and attempt to suppress the Stingers and AAA with rockets. The nasty little creatures are essentially invisible in the early light, and although we know the area where the missiles are coming from, nobody can actually get eyes on them to make an attack. How I wish I had FLIR! After several fruitless passes, and damaging SAM hits, the attempt is called off, and the next wave of MiG-27s is directed to attack the Danish forces deployed along the north and eastern side of the island. This goes much better, and, with Su-17 recce planes acting as spotters, the MiGs begin to inflict crushing blows on the infantry formations.
The Stingers can't be ignored, however. They must be dealt with before the vulnerable paratroopers arrive this afternoon. So, once full daylight arrives, the recce planes and MiGs make another attempt. This time a combination of better light and dwindling Stinger magazines leads to success. It takes multiple passes to spot the tiny hidden units (and their 40mm AAA defenders), but they are gradually found and killed (or at least run out of ammunition).
In the process of finding the Stingers, my recce planes also identify a formation of armour and a couple of artillery batteries in the vicinity of Ronne. The MiG-27s continue to fly in from the east, and the Su-17 FACs direct them to the new targets. Dozens of flights of MiGs sweep over the island, until all identified enemy units have been attacked and disrupted. In the end, some of the MiGs are sent home with their bombs, while the recce Su-17s fly back and forth over the island at low altitude, without drawing any return fire.
Overall, the attack has gone very well. Some of my planes are headed home with shredded tailfeathers, or 40mm holes punched in the wing, and a few sad examples are smoking craters on Bornholm, but my force of MiGs is essentially intact. Surprisingly, NATO made no attempt at all to intercept the attack, and my watchful Su-30 pilots patrolling nearby had nothing to do during the entire strike. Of course, that just means all of NATO's fighters will be perfectly intact when they hit our landing forces later today...
Once the Bornholm strike is over, and the Su-17s have confirmed nobody else is shooting near the shore, minesweeping operations are ordered to begin. The first to arrive are the helicopters from Kolobrzeg, who start sweeping directly along the coast, nervously waiting for some hidden SAM gunner to step out of a seaside bathing hut and put an end to their lives. Nobody takes a shot (yet), and the helicopter crews fly down the coast, drawing an impressive tail of explosions behind them. The Danes definitely don't want anyone landing here!
The minesweepers arrive a few hours later, and join the fun, slowly moving along the south coast, from east to west. It looks like the helicopters are doing a good job, and most of the mines are already gone, but the ships still find a few more. Most are immediately along the shore, with only a few further out at sea.
Mid-morning, we start getting a series of increasingly worrying reports of heavy air fighting in the west. At first it sounds like our comrades are holding their own, but then we start getting reports that our pilots are falling back under pressure, and then that the front has essentially collapsed. NATO's coming and they're loaded for Bear!
When the first reports come in, a couple of Flankers are despatched to patrol the region, and forward-deployed light craft (missile boats and ASW corvettes) are ordered to tighten up into air-defence formation, closing in on their escorting Krivaks, and turn back east, hurrying to get clearance from any incoming attack. The minesweepers, however, are ordered to keep working at their vital task.
When the second report comes in I decide the sweepers better get out of there too, and they turn around to close on their Krivaks and retire. The four Flankers which are forward based at Swidwin get scrambled, as well as about half the MiG-23s and distant Flankers, and when the third report comes in the final surge of fighters get's launched. I've left two flights of Flankers and one of MiG-23s at their bases, for later convoy escort duties, but other than that everything is in the air.
NATO arrives with a surge of fighters from Laage, and an enormous swarm of Tornadoes and F-16s from Denmark and northern Germany. The Laage fighters are older F-4s, carrying modern AMRAAMs, and ex East German MiG-29s, which we all agree is cheating. Those should be ours! My forward-based Flankers from Swidwin prove to be essential here, along with the first few arriving from the Riga area, and they manage to use their long-ranged Alamo-Cs to knock down the Phantoms and drive back the MiG-29s before they can launch.
As more planes pour into the area, a colossal firefight rages over the shallow waters at the east end of the Baltic. At first, I hope my range advantage should lead to a turkey-shoot against the helpless incoming attackers, but my missiles suffer greatly against ultra-low-level Tornadoes, and hit rates are not great. Plus, my SARH missiles are limited to one shot at a time, and can't fire an AMRAAM-like salvo. Before I know it, I'm in a desperate furball, trying to dash in and out of heat-seeker range, without getting cut down by Sidewinders. Meanwhile, additional fighters are trying to sneak in from Laage and mess me up.
It looks like the enemy may be dividing into two streams, some possibly headed for the swiftly retreating Tarantul missile boats north of Bornholm, and others going for the plodding minesweepers, which are trying to run for it in the south. I manage to kill off and drive back the northern attack, which turns out to include some old Drakens. My MiG-23 pilots, every one an aviation enthusiast, are delighted to see these unique-looking old jets, and shed a sorrowful tear for every one they mercilessly shoot down. Even one of my Su-24 recce planes (on ELINT duty over Sweden) manages to swoop in from behind and get one with an AA-8.
The southern fight doesn't go as well, with constant interference from additional Laage fighters diverting my fighters from attacking the Tornadoes. Most of my planes are attempting to disengage now, with nothing but cannon-shells left on board, my last three inbound flights of Flankers aren't quite in range yet, and the onrushing Tornadoes start launching Kormorans at the minesweepers. Blast!
The Flankers dive on full afterburner to try and get between the ships and the missiles, while the pair of Krivaks guarding the minesweepers look anxiously for the incoming attackers. There may be two of them, but only one of them has modern missiles that can hit the low-flying anti-shipping missiles, and there are so many minesweepers to guard. Their radars are still off. Should they risk activating them and getting a HARM in return? Fingers hover anxiously over control panels, as the operators wait for the commands.
The Flankers go roaring overhead, firing a stream of missiles at the incoming Kormorans, and managing to knock them down in time, but this leaves them in a very bad position. They're at low altitude, mostly out of missiles, and facing the remaining planes of the enemy attack. They have rescued the minsweepers, but who's going to rescue them? They fight hard to make their escape, and the Krivaks and the flotilla open fire to assist as the dogfight passes by, but not all of the Flankers go home again.
RETIRE AND REGROUP
As my fighters head back to base, you can count the missiles they have left on the fingers of one thumb. (Actually, not quite true. One MiG-23 still has an Apex left, but its radar has been wrecked by Sidewinder fragments, so it can't use it.) NATO is still in pursuit, with a few F-16s and Tornado F3s (with dangerous long-ranged missiles) trying to get at my defenceless planes. But fortunately, we've got one more trick to play...
Down below, cutting smartly through the waves, are the lean predatory shapes of the Sovremenny destroyers, leading the amphibious convoy to Bornholm. Their captains smile grimly as missile launchers elevate, radars click on, and the highly trained crews press the firing keys to launch their most advanced long-ranged missiles at the startled enemy planes. They shoot! And shoot. And shoot and shoot and shoot. And shoot some more. Finally, after ten shots they manage to get their first hit. The admiral looks the other way, and pretends not to notice... Appalling hit rates aside, the SAM fire does turn the enemy fighters away, allowing my retiring fighters to complete their escape. The SAM gunners seem to have the hang of it now, and get a couple more NATO planes, but some remedial training seems to be in order.
Now that the attack is over, the minesweepers turn around again, and hurry back to the minefield once more, hoping to get the job done before the landing force arrives. The main amphibious convoy is only a few hours away, and the hovercraft are setting out on their high-speed journey from Kaliningrad, so they can't postpone the mine-clearing any more. My fighters are landing to re-arm, and the Su-30 pilots are surprised to learn that they are already running out of their long-ranged missiles. They can reload with light loadouts of two AA-10 As, but that is all. (Despite the fact that I have plenty of Bs and Ds left, the absence of Cs means I’m not allowed to use them. The inability to use partial loadouts has always been a frustration.)
Meanwhile, more NATO air activity is detected, as additional F-16s, Tornado F3s, and even some RF-4s lift off and start heading for the Bornholm area. The fighters are probably drawn by my ELINT, ASW, and minesweeping aircraft, which should be clearly visible on enemy radar, but I'm not sure what the RF-4s are trying to accomplish. The F3s from Nordholz are my main concern. Thankfully, I have two flights of Su-30s held in reserve, and over the next couple of hours they do a good job shooting down the enemy, which is much easier when they only come two at a time at high altitude. Nonetheless, the F3s do manage to knock an engine off a Be-12 that doesn't flee in time.
The occupation of Bornholm happens in the mid-afternoon. A surge of recce aircraft is the first to arrive, skimming back and forth over the island at low altitude to look for any new military activity, while flights of fighters and attack planes wait at high altitude to respond to anything they discover. Fortunately, nothing shows up, and NATO doesn't seem to mount an air or sea-based response.
Paratroop landings happen in the farmland NE of Ronne, dropping off an artillery park, which remains stationary, while a large infantry formation forms up and heads for the port. Half an hour later the hovercraft arrive, with the Aists dropping off their troops in Ronne itself, while the Pormorniks land theirs at the nearby airfield. The main landing takes place across the broad beaches in the SE corner of the island. There doesn't seem to be any opposition. Evidently the shattering air-strikes in the morning have broken the enemy's will to fight, and Bornholm is ours.
As the day continues, consolidation continues on Bornholm. The port and airfield are occupied, and a heliport is constructed in the farmland east of the airfield. There is still some mine-clearing to do (the waters off the port of Ronne are infested with them), but that is well in hand, and a few hours later the minesweepers turn and head back to Kaliningrad.
Meanwhile, our short-ranged hovercraft are refuelling at Ronne, and the long-range ones are headed south to Kolobrzeg, on the Polish coast, where they refuel too, before heading back to Kaliningrad. The amphibious task group continues to unload cargo, guarded by a screen of patrolling ASW corvettes, and then they turn to head home as well. Missile boats are refuelling in Poland, and readying themselves on the coast in case NATO tries something with those Gepards, which are still at sea near the Neustadt naval base.
The last act comes with the docking of the freighter Vilyuy in Ronne. Its airfield equipment will allow us to send in some MiG-23s to be based on the island.
With all this in place, success of the Soviet revolution is assured!