The attack continues…
CAM RANH BAY – AIRBASE STRIKE
Our strike is coming from two directions; an SEAD wave composed mostly of HARM and SLAM-carrying F-18s coming from the carrier, and an anti-runway wave composed of LGB-carrying F-111s flying in from Singapore. They’re supported by a small strike of TLAMs and ALCMs, which are hooking around through the hills to arrive from the west. These are targeted at the static Vietnamese radar and SAM sites in the area (SA-2s and SA-3s). I don’t expect very many, if any, of these to actually reach their targets, but they should prompt the enemy to turn on their SAM radars, allowing my HARMs to engage them effectively. (Although Command allows you to launch cruise missiles at anything you want, any time you want, ALCMs actually had to be pre-targeted before being loaded, a process which takes hours. Therefore, I wrote out a target list at the start of the scenario, and I am only firing based on information available at that time.)
The SEAD F-18s press forward into the fight, and fortunately they’re self-escorting, with a pair of Sparrows and Sidewinders each. It’s a mess, with planes going in all directions, but between our 20+ American F-18s and the dozen Australian escort F-18s, we’ve got a powerful fighter force. The Russian fighters are staring into the glare of our jammers, and they get knocked down as they attempt to engage, and the constant flow of the MiG-21s gets pushed back for the moment.
A two-wave barrage of HARMs gets fired towards the airbase defences, and most get shot down by the comprehensive combination of SAMs and AAA. They manage to mangle the SA-10 (crucial!), and knock down two SA-11 launchers and one SA-15 launcher, but that’s all. The SLAMs arrive next, and they too get roughly handled by the AAA, but they manage to kill a few more of the SAMs, and then the ALCMs arrive (late), smashing the two SA-2s and the SA-3 emplaced around the airbase. The TLAMs targeted at the SA-2 up the coast at Nha Trang are neatly downed by guardian Shilkas.
Now it’s the turn of the F-111s, roaring in over the water from the east, pulling up, and pickling a pair of 2000 lb LGBs at the runways and taxiways. One jet gets smashed out of the air by a SAM, another gets an engine blown out, and a third is riddled by fragments from a near miss, but the majority of the SAMs can’t fire as their crews rush to reload. Bomb impacts ripple across the airfield, cratering the runways and closing the base (for now).
Meanwhile, the F-18s are doing a desperate dance in a ring around the airbase, trying to stay away from the surviving SAMs, pry a cloud of furious Vietnamese MiGs away from the F-111s, and intercept fresh launches from nearby airbases. The SA-2 to the north keeps flinging shots into the area, the Grisha just offshore is a damned pest, with its SA-N-4s interfering with any attempt to evade low, and the MiG-21s keep coming. Four F-111s with small LGBs drop just under the clouds, and do their best to eliminate the lesser SAMs (particularly the remaining SA-11s) while they’re still reloading. The BDA RF-111, however, gets waved off. There’s no way I’m sending it into that AAA storm, and we’ll just have to rely on the designator tapes from the bombers.
The F-111s disengage, falling back to their tankers before making the long journey home to Australia, and the American F-18s soon follow suit, retiring to their carrier in a confused gaggle. Nobody’s told the Vietnamese that it’s over, and a stream of fighters come dashing after them. Fortunately, four Australian F-18s have been held in reserve, and the other planes fall back through their position while the rearguard fends off the charge. Then they too turn for their tankers, and the long trip back home to Tindal.
Shortly afterwards, two American P-3s arrive on the scene, almost an hour later than hoped. Carrying nothing but Harpoons, they engage the scattering of Russian and Vietnamese ships near Cam Ranh Bay, sinking a Tarantul, three Petyas, and that infernal Grisha, before turning back to Christmas Island and eventually ferrying to Learmonth. The Onslow is still sailing into the area, but now most of her targets have been sunk. She Harpoons a Turya, and continues to approach the mouth of Cam Ranh Bay.
CAM RANH BAY – NAVAL BASE STRIKE
The second wave of attacks is already underway, with slow-moving bomb-laden B-52s forming up and heading in from Guam, and by 2330Z the second half of the Australian F-18s are taking off from Christmas Island. As they fly north to refuel, they are joined by Maverick-carrying A-4s from Singapore and the New Zealanders out of Brunei.
An F-14 sweep (only three of the F-14s made it back in time to quick turnaround) draws little response from the Cam Ranh Bay area, although the Nha Trang SA-2 is still feisty, so the pilots head north towards Phu Cat. They kill some more MiG-21s there, while reserving their Phoenixes in case something Russian pops up from an adjacent airbase.
The A-4s are the first to strike, heading in from the south-west and engaging the last SAM and the AAA that’s defending the dock area. Their Mavericks let them engage from above the SHORADS and MANPADs envelope, and they manage to eliminate the SAM and most of the nearby AAA. The F-18s then come in with heavy LGBs, destroying many of the southern piers plus the last heavy AAA site in the area. (They also spot a large merchant ship maneuvering in the harbour, and radio that back to HQ.)
This leaves the area open for the B-52s, who fly into the harbour at 0300Z, only 2000m up in clear daylight, with jammers blaring to supress the distant SA-2. They fly along the waterfront, south to north, and get to work moonscaping the area, dropping long strings of bombs along the docks. The dockyards become a chaos of smoke, flames, and explosions, with bombs wrecking buildings, smashing cranes, destroying some of the piers, and leaving others damaged or in flames.
The destruction is impressive, but in terms of specific piers destroyed, the F-18s with LGBs were actually more efficient per plane.
The B-52s turn for home, knowing they can easily get back to Guam without any tanker assistance, and the F-18s head south to scrounge up fuel from KC-130s and half-empty KC-135s, before going back to Tindal in Australia.
Most of the F-18s had actually been loaded with AAMs for escort duty, but since there wasn’t any fighter activity near Cam Ranh Bay they’re still fresh and ready for battle. The pilots are ordered to sweep south-west along the Vietnamese coast, where they find numerous coastal vessels, and provoke some gun-armed F-5As (essentially MiG-17s) to challenge them from Bien Hao and Vung Tao (which is evidently not just a helibase). This ends poorly for the F-5As.
It turns out there are fighters on Co Ong island too, but these are better-armed MiG-21s, which are more of a problem, particularly as my pilots have already used a bunch of missiles swatting MiG-17s. Still, they manage to shoot down several, and then prudently hurry out of radar range before the others can come to grips. They’d love to stay and fight, they really would, but they’ve got such a long way to fly, and the sitter charges extra if your late, and it’s a school day tomorrow, so they have to be going…
The glamorous action may be at Cam Ranh Bay, but our convoys are still continuing their valuable duty, headed north protected by intermittent P-3 patrols. The Soviets remind us that there’s a reason for those patrols when the carrier group escorts get an active sonar contact mid-morning, only 4 miles from the Burke DD. It may be just a fish, but at that range you can’t take chances, and an immediate ASROC shot prompts the contact to run at very un-fishlike speed. There’s a brief run, a thump, and breakup noises. (This, it turns out, was a Charlie! Why it didn’t fire on us sooner, I have no idea. It might have been very nasty for the leading escorts in the ASW screen.)
Our own subs continue their patrols. HMS Spartan has reached Hong Kong, finding nothing there, and is slowly working back south through the shallow waters towards our convoys. USS Hawkbill, which was checking for subs in the straits north of Luzon, is now headed SW to patrol the expected route of our eastern convoy. The Onslow puts a Harpoon into an AGI near Cam Ranh Bay, and continues on to patrol the mouth of the harbour. There’s a merchant ship in there, but it’s too shallow to go in submerged, so the Onslow eventually leaves, re-acquires the smouldering AGI in the late afternoon, and sinks it with a torpedo. Meanwhile, the Sydney, freed from its duties escorting the replenishing group, is hurrying to catch up with our western convoy, where it will join it as an air-defence unit.
COALITION AIR POWER
The heavy hitting may be done by the Australians and Americans, but the lesser members of the coalition are making their contribution too. Our MPA detect one of the ancient American warships which were captured by the Vietnamese, and it’s well outside the protective range of Vietnamese air cover, so the Indonesian F-5s on Ranai decide to have a go at it. The result is a complete whiff – bombs all over the place, and a little cannon damage to the superstructure – but what can you expect from cadets? Malaysian A-4s have another try later in the day, and their more experienced pilots sink it quickly with well-placed 1,000 lb bombs. They also find another Soviet AGI further north, and also outside air cover, and it gets sunk in the same fashion.
Singapore contributes by sending a few of its F-16s to visit Co Ong island. The first call brings out some MiG-21s to fight, but the second visit prompts no activity, so the F-16s overfly the southern tip of Vietnam to probe the defences. It looks like there are F-5As deployed at Ca Mau and Rach Gia, as well as some MiG-21s at Binh Thuy, so the Vietnamese have definitely dispersed their fighters from their normal home bases. The F-16s withdraw after a few shots, but this provokes some of the F-5As to come flying out and search for them outside of their radar cover. The Malaysian F-5s at Butterworth think this is a great opportunity, and they manage to sneak up on some of them just after dark and engage from behind, scoring some tidy kills.
INTO THE NIGHT
HQ’s been wondering whether any strike aircraft were based at Co Ong island, and now that the fighters there seem to be down, an RF-111 is sent to overfly it in the dark. The plane comes sneaking in at lowest altitude, and then bumps up and goes dashing across the airfield at supersonic speeds, confident it can take the enemy by surprise. The Shilkas there aren’t impressed, and a burst of cannon-fire tears a series of ragged holes along the fuselage, wrecking the IR line-scanner, before the plane can vanish into the night. The crew eventually gets the plane back to Singapore, while the diplomats debate whether RF-111s are considered ‘unarmed’ or not. At any rate, the crew reports that they didn’t see any strike aircraft before their camera was wrecked, so the base is probably not a threat.
By 1400Z (9pm local) the Sydney has caught up with convoy BR-HK-01, and joined the formation. Fifteen minutes later, the carrier group picks up another submarine contact on active sonar, 70 miles NNW of Antonio Bautista airport. Helicopters pounce on the contact, sinking what turns out to be a Kilo. Our convoy went through that area about five hours earlier, and the Sydney went dashing through a little over two hours ago. Neither saw any sign of the sub. Evidently, we’ve been having lucky escapes all around.
After a day and a half of intense activity, a review shows the situation seems to be moving in our favour.
The heavy SAM defences around Cam Ranh Bay are down, some of the better SHORADS have been hit, and the AAA is still completely intact. The runways there have been cratered, and there has been no sign of Soviet air activity since the attack. We have made no effort to hit the hangars or other infrastructure, so there are presumably numerous Soviet aircraft trapped on the ground. Our analysts suspect most of the MiG-29s were destroyed in air-to-air combat, but that still leaves multiple MiG-25s unaccounted for, and we have seen no sign of the Blinders, which are a missile danger to our convoy.
The defences near the Cam Ranh Bay port are heavily degraded, although MANPADs are presumably still in the area, and many of the piers and naval facilities have been wrecked. The destruction is not complete, with somewhere between a half and a third of the piers still being intact to one degree or another.
Vietnamese fighter losses have been enormous. Despite their brave attempts to fight the intruders, our advantage in front-aspect missiles is huge, and they rarely survive to the merge. There has been no recent activity from the bases near Cam Ranh Bay, nor from Co Ong island, and there have been some losses to units based in the southern half of the country. However, fighter patrols are still very active in the northern half of the country, and we have made no attacks on airbase infrastructure. This means their force of Su-22 strike aircraft should be completely intact.
The Soviets have lost two subs to the forces of the carrier group, but we can be confident there are more out there. It is getting more difficult to provide P-3 cover for our north-bound convoys, which keep getting further and further from the home bases, and we’re soon going to have the complication of deciding whether sub contacts are neutral Chinese or hostile Soviets.
There will be no flights by our Australian strike aircraft tonight. The aircraft have flown nearly 5,000 miles in the last day and a half. The crews must rest, and the aircraft must be serviced. The current plan is for the F-111s to make a daylight attack with GBU-15s tomorrow, to finish off the docks and try and destroy some of the grounded aircraft. Now that all our tankers are in-theatre, this will be a straight-in attack, without stops en-route. Some of our F-18s will support, but there is an interesting constraint. We’ve run out of Sidewinders! Six of our F-18s are currently in reserve because we can’t fill the loadouts. We’re also very low on spare Sparrows. Perhaps Uncle Sam can spare a cupful of missiles for their neighbours?
The coalition planes could conceivably attack the Vietnamese mainland, but I’m reluctant to send them in. The lack of ARMs or long-ranged PGMs (other than a handful of Mavericks remaining) means they would likely suffer heavily in their attempts to bomb any airbases. For the moment, the intention is to continue to provoke and attrite any patrolling aircraft, and possibly to bomb some of the coastal shipping.
The one other option that’s being floated is an attack on Phang Rang, in an attempt to neutralize the Su-22s that are supposedly based there. If we still had the carrier we definitely would, but without it it’s a much riskier proposition. Some staff are studying the possibility, but at the moment it’s not regarded as a high-odds opportunity. Where should our priorities lie?