This is an "after action report" for the naval war novel The Sixth Battle by Barrett Tillman. Written in 1992, and filled with exceptional detail, it tells of a major naval battle between US and Soviet forces in the southern Indian Ocean.
The background of the conflict is complex and beyond the scope of what I am going for here. Basically, the Soviet Union conspired to bring nearly all her naval units to the support of a summertime invasion of South Africa by her communist neighbors. The US Navy had very little in the area to oppose the action, but did the best they could.
We pick up the movements of the various units on May 14.
On May 14, the Baltic Fleet carrier Varyag links up with the Northern Fleet carriers Kuznetsov and Gorshkov north of the Canary Islands. The Northern Fleet ships had sailed from Severomorsk on May 4, and the Varyag had sailed from Sevastopol on the same day. They now form "Task Force Rybakov". They head south along the coast of Africa.
Two days later, the Pacific Fleet carrier Novorossiysk links up with the Fifth Eskadra cruisers Moskva and Leningrad and with amphibious and support elements of the Indian Ocean Squadron off Socotra Island. The Novorossiysk had sailed from Cam Rahn Bay on May 5, heading through the Straits of Malacca into the Indian Ocean. The ships of the Fifth Eskadra had passed through the Suez Canal on May 8. The combined force sails south through the Mozambique Channel to link up with Task Force Rybakov.
On May 25 transpired the Ob' incident in the Indian Ocean fleet sailing south through the Mozambique Channel. A gunfight between drunken Vietnamese and Russian marines on the hospital ship Ob' results in 8 dead and 11 wounded. The next day, as a result of the above incident, three Russian and three Vietnamese marines are executed on the Ivan Rogov.
On May 26, a South African C-130 maritime patrol plane is forced off by a pair of Gorshkov's Yak-141 Freestyles.
On May 27, the two Soviet forces link up off South Africa and begin reforming.
Meanwhile, the US Navy was not taking all this movement by the Soviet Navy lightly. Several carrier battle groups were at sea and were called upon to shadow the various Soviet groups. As shall be seen, crafty Soviet planning resulted in only one carrier being able to operate against the Soviet forces in the final battle.
The Lincoln Group would spend the coming battle in the far North Pacific, trailing the Pacific Fleet carrier Minsk.
The Eisenhower Group would spend the coming battle in the mid-Atlantic. After a distracting trailing of the Northern Fleet carrier Kiev off Greenland, the Eisenhower was sent south to follow Task Force Rybakov on May 15. On May 21, in the early morning, the Oliver Hazard Perry class FFG Prouse was out in front of the carrier when it hit a mine. The blast nearly tore the bow off, its just held on by deck plating. Seven sailors died, including CPO Johnson. Sixteen more were injured, three critically. They were airlifted to Bethesda. The Verdeans had a secret treaty with the EUR, they sowed the mines ahead of the Eisenhower group. Suspected a barge or a large fishing boat. The incident cost them two ships, the frigate and a destroyer to tow her home. As well they all have to hold up while waiting for minesweeping helo sleds. Now they had five escorts and an oiler.
The Theodore Roosevelt group left Norfolk in a great hurry on May 24, without full complement of escorts or a fast unrep ship. On May 29, the carrier was rammed by a Soviet submarine surfacing underneath, putting her out of action for the rest of the war. It was a Yankee conversion, and hit Roosevelt in her screws with it's concrete-filled afterdeck case.
On May 23, the Suez Canal is closed suddenly, trapping the John F. Kennedy inside. A Libyan tanker sank suspiciously after being hit by a Mozambique freighter in front of the carrier. Another merchant bottled up behind her. Before the incident, a bunch of EUR merchants loaded with guns and ammo went through headed south. Best estimate before JFK freed is ten days to two weeks.
Up until May 26, the 11-ship Langley CVBG was in the Northern Indian Ocean. She would be the only carrier to see action in the coming battle.
The Maritime Prepositioning Squadron Two was at Diego Garcia.
As late as May 26, no NATO forces were evident in the theatre, not even subs.
And now we are brought to May 28, as the Soviet forces link up…
The Soviet groups shuffles escorts in the darkness off South Africa. The Varyag exchanges cruisers and destroyers with the Novorossiysk group to achieve proper balance.
The Kuznetsov takes station 250 miles SE of Cape Agulhas.
The Gorshkov takes station off Cape Agulhas.
The Varyag takes station 100 miles off the Transkei's Wild Coast, 550 miles from the Kuznetsov.
The Novorossiysk takes station 100 miles due east of Durban, Natal.
The Moskva takes station off Port Elizabeth.
The Leningrad takes station off East London.
Both CGHs were outside of SA shore gun range and within the overall EUR defensive umbrella of missiles, planes and subs.
On orders from Command, the Langley battlegroup steamed at full speed south on May 27, outrunning two spy trawlers and a diesel submarine that were tracking them. After joining and refueling from the UnRepGru, they headed south for South African waters. It was clear, however, that the Soviets were tracking their movements, probably from satellites.
On May 27, two Soviet attack submarines were detected approaching the Langley battlegroup.
On May 28, the South Africans, aware that the hammer was coming soon, launched a preemptive strike on her neighbors. The Russians offshore began offensive operations against South Africa the next day. The war was on.
At 0230 hours, on May 29, the first air strike was launched from the carriers. The Varyag sent ten Su-25Ms in the first raid, led by Colonel of Aviation Nikolai Glinka, the CAG, Airwing Commander. The small South African Navy was wiped out on that first day.
That same morning, Soviet amphibious landings were made, both in the Eastern Cape Province and in the Western Cape Province. Kuznetsov supported both landings with air strikes. Gorshkov supported the Cape Town area, while Varyag supported the Port Elizabeth and East London operations. The Novossiysk was rather isolated to the east, supporting the Natal landings. The amphibious landings in the Cape Town and Durban areas relied on land-based air support from Namibia and Mozambique, and due to the distances involved, the marines and paratroopers at those landing sites were mostly on their own.
Overall, the landings went well. Resistance was stiffer than expected, but advances were made in most areas. Overwhelming firepower made the difference.
On June 1, The Langley was 250 miles SW of Reunion Island. The ship had been planning for several days the best way to attack the Soviet carrier groups, plotting and wargaming several possible options.
The PhibGruThree was also traveling the same direction, but to the north. It's course would take it just south of the southern tip of Madagascar, a Soviet-allied state now.
On June 2, the President gave the OK to conduct offensive operations against the Soviets. Two Soviet submarines, an Akula and an Oscar, were trailing the carrier group. It was clear to Admiral Gideon that these two subs had to be eliminated so the carrier could sneak up on the Soviet landing forces better.
The Oscar was the Young Communist League of Komsomolsk and the Akula was the Seventy Years of Komsomol Patronage.
Admiral Gideon chose to use subkiloton nuclear inserts in Mark 50 ASW torpedoes dropped from an S-3B Viking for the job. Both subs were killed with no problems.
Thus, the Langley group was able to race to a position where they could conduct air operations unseen by the Soviets. Gideon detached three destroyers from his screen to race ahead to a point where they could launch Tomahawks against the Novorossiysk group while the airwing launched timed strikes against both the Novorossiysk and the Varyag.
The destroyers were the Arleigh A. Burke class DDG Carl and the Spruance class DDs Wheatley and Davenport.
On June 4, early in the morning, the Harriers of the PhibGru shot down an An-74 Madcap AWACS plane operating from Madagascar. This also helped the Langley group move into strike position unseen. The Soviets were duped into thinking that the PhibGru was in fact the Langley group, when in fact the carrier was much further south and west.
And so now, in the wee hours of the morning on June 4, the Langley group was in position to launch their attacks: 560 miles ESE of Durban. The plan was for the Novorossiysk group, operating to the north, to receive a combination of real Tomahawks and a decoy attack from carrier air assets. Thus distracted, the main air strike would fall on the Varyag group, which was considered the most pressing threat, a half an hour later. The element of surprise was maintained until the very end, assuring that the Soviets were confused about what was happening.
The Novorossiysk was covered by eight escorts, but two or three were currently detached for shore bombardment. The carrier escorts included the Kirov class BCN Frunze. The Varyag was covered by six or seven escorts.
A detailed listing of all the units involved follows:
DISPOSITION OF FORCES ON JUNE 4
Task Force Rybakov
Kuznetsov class CV Varyag (Flagship)
``Fleet Admiral Pyotr F. Rybakov (Task Force commander)
``Captain First Rank Yuri Gulaev (Varyag's captain)
``Captain Second Rank Anatoly V. Smirnov (Chief of Staff)
``Brukov (navigation officer)
``Laveikin (Landing Signal Officer)
``Matros First Rank Andrei Rudenko (lookout)
``Colonel of Aviation Nikolai Glinka (CAG, Airwing Commander)
``Senior Lieutenant Antonov (best pilot in airwing)
Black Knight Squadron:
--Su-27 "Black Knight 18"
--Su-27 "Black Knight 19"
--Su-27 "Black Knight 21"
--Su-27 "Black Knight 40" (Flight Lt. Igor Gnido)
Black Rook Squadron:
--Su-25 "Rook 21" (Leonid Harshenko)
--Su-25B "Rook 50"
--Su-25B "Rook 51"
--Su-25B "Rook 52" (Senior Lt. Antonov)
--Su-25B "Rook 56"
--Su-27R "Black Queen Five"
--An-74M "Black King Three"
Kirov class BCN Kalinin
Kirov class BCN Yuri Andropov
``Captain Vershinin (ship's captain)
Slava class CG Marshall Ustinov
Kara class CG Azov
Sovremenny class DDG Otlichniy
Another Sovremenny class DDG
Kuznetsov class CV Kuznetsov
White Knight Squadron:
--Su-27 "White Knight 17"
--Su-27 "White Knight 20" (Lt. Colonel Ivan Vorozheikin)
--Su-27 "White Knight 22"
--Su-27 "White Knight 23"
--Su-27 "White Knight 25"
--Su-25 (Arkady Yestigneev)
Two Sovremenny class DDGs
Sierra class SSN Seventy-Five Years of SSR
``Popov (boat's captain)
Kuznetsov class CV Novorossiysk
``Admiral Kostolev (group commander)
Ka-27 "Gold Pawn 68" (Pilot: Captain of Aviation Vasily Yegorov, Co-pilot: Alexi)
Kirov class BCN Frunze
``Captain First Rank Bulba (Ship's captain)
Slava class CG Chervona Ukraina
Kara class CG Tallinn
Sovremenny class DDG Stoikiy
Akula class SSN Nineteenth All-Union Conference of the CPSU
``Captain First Rank Sergei Ivanov (boat's captain)
``Semyon Ilych (fire control officer)
Ivan Rogov class LPD Moskalenko
``Lt. General Ouspensky (naval infantry commander)
Ivan Rogov class LPD Ivan Rogov
``Private Yuri Sverdlov (KGB rifleman)
Ob' class AH Ob'
``Senior Lieutenant Viktor Koshkin
An LSM with Vietnamese troops
Two Victor class submarines
Six Tango class submarines.
Forrestal class CV Langley (Flagship)
``Rear Admiral Charles Gideon (Battle Group commander)
``Captain Nathan Gottlieb (Chief of Staff)
``Captain Philip Ray (ship's captain)
``Captain Mel Hyers (ship's exec)
``Lt. Ross "Ghost" Caspar (Flag lieutenant)
``Commander Rick Hallion (staff intel officer)
``Commander Dhat "Louisiana" Tran (ASW specialist)
``Commander Brad Thaxter (CDC watch officer)
``Commander Pete Clanton (damage control officer)
``Gerald Miller (damage control assistant)
``Lt. Commander Jack "Bumble" Bea (LSO officer)
``CWO4 Christopher Martin
``Chief Petty Officer Ira Odum (communications specialist)
``Petty Officer Third-Class Elias
``Petty Officer Third Class Emiliano Cruz (aviation metalsmith)
``Metalsmith Second Class Jerome Franklin
``Boilerman Third Class Harry Repogle
``Boilerman Hector Gonzales
Air Wing 18:
``Captain Rob Roy "Bubba" Ballentine (CAG, Airwing Commander)
``Commander Patrick "Slats" Slattery (Deputy Airwing Commander)
``Commander Blake Sawyer-Lange (CAG Operations Officer)
``Lt. Commander LeGarre (airwing photo officer)
``Norm "Fighter Doc" Roberts (Flight surgeon)
VF-181 "Fighting Felines"
``Commander Frank "Buzzard" McBride (Squadron CO)
``Commander Joe "Cool" Hool (Squadron Operations Officer)
``Lt. Commander "Foobar" Ruston (Squadron Safety Officer)
--F-14B "Gunshot 100" (personal aircraft of CAG Ballentine)
--F-14B "Gunshot 101" (Pilot: Cmdr Frank "Buzzard" McBride, RIO: Lt. "Teeny" Feeney)
--F-14B "Gunshot 102" (Pilot: Lt. Cmdr Michael "Ozzie" Ostrewski, RIO: Lt. Fred "Fido" Colley)
--F-14B "Gunshot 103" (Pilot: "Buick", RIO: "Jaws")
--F-14B "Gunshot 104"
--F-14B "Gunshot 105" (Pilot: Cmdr "Critter" Hawthorne, RIO: Lt. Cmdr "Gopher" Grundy)
--F-14B "Gunshot 106" (Pilot: "Stretch", RIO: "Groceries")
--F-14B "Gunshot 107" (Pilot: "Meatball", RIO: "Bullwinkle")
--F-14B "Gunshot 111" (Pilot: "Smoke", RIO: "Kiwi")
--F-14B "Circus 200" (Pilot: Lt. "Loco" Milton, RIO: "Chili" Carney)
--F-14B "Circus 201" (RIO: Farkle)
--F-14B "Circus 202"
--F-14B "Circus 203"
--F-14B "Circus 204" (Pilot: Lt. Tyler "Sleepy" Bauman, RIO: Lt. Cmdr D.J. Howell)
--F-14B "Circus 206" (Pilot: "Mongo", RIO: "Hooch")
--F-14B "Circus 207" (Pilot: Lt. Cmdr Bert "Kidder" Kidd, RIO: "Stone")
--F-14B "Circus 210" (RIO: "Predator" Prater)
--F-14B "Circus 211" (Pilot: Lt. Jr. Grade Justin "Cookie" Crisp, RIO: Lt. Cmdr Paul "Tuna" Treble)
Commander Duncan "Brandy" Alexander (squadron CO)
--F/A-18C "Rampart 300" (Lt. "Eager" Ed Pell)
--F/A-18C "Rampart 301"
--F/A-18C "Rampart 302" (Lt. Cmdr Grant "Grunt" Grundmeyer)
--F/A-18C "Rampart 303" (Lt. Paul "Colonel" Tomb)
--F/A-18C "Rampart 305" (Lt. Eric "Psycho" Thaler)
--F/A-18C "Rampart 306" ("Zorro")
--F/A-18C "Rampart 307"
--F/A-18C "Rampart 309"
--F/A-18C "Rampart 310" ("Doppler")
--F/A-18C "Rampart 311"
--F/A-18C "Bronco 400" (Lt. "Puppy" Perez)
--F/A-18C "Bronco 401" (Lt. Jonathon "Lights" Leyden)
--F/A-18C "Bronco 403"
--F/A-18C "Bronco 404" (Lt. Cmdr Brian "Bambi" Deere)
--F/A-18C "Bronco 405" ("Smurf" Surface)
--F/A-18C "Bronco 406"
--F/A-18C "Bronco 407" ("Cuddles")
--F/A-18C "Bronco 410" ("Sweathog" Travolta)
--F/A-18C "Bronco 411" (Lt. Raymond "Humpty" Dunphy)
--A-6E "Killer 530" (Pilot: Lt. Cmdr Peter "Brillo" Huggins, BN: Lt. Jg. Justin "Sleaze" Olsen)
--A-6E "Killer 531" (Pilot: "Data", BN: "Shaft")
--A-6E "Killer 532" (Pilot: Lt. Rob "Fortune" Kent, BN: "Smurf")
--A-6E "Killer 533" (Pilot: "Runner", BN: "Chevy")
--A-6E "Killer 535" (Pilot: Lt. Cmdr "Elvis" Presley, BN: "Gonzo")
--A-6E "Killer 537" (Pilot: "Kermit", BN: "Rowdy")
--A-6E "Killer 540" (Pilot: "Zipper", BN: "Clint")
--A-6E "Killer 541" (Pilot: "Ratface", BN: "Ho")
--A-6E "Talent 500" (Pilot: Jim "Crunch" Neslie)
--A-6E "Talent 502" (Pilot: "Bashful", BN: "Doc")
--A-6E "Talent 505" (Pilot: "Dopey", BN: "Grumpy")
--A-6E "Talent 507"
--A-6E "Talent 510" (Pilot: "Happy", BN: "Sleepy")
``Commander Antonin "Rocky" Petrocelli (CO of squadron)
``Chief Elwood Bromfield (squadron maintenance overseer)
--S-3B "Fish Hook 702"
--S-3B "Fish Hook 703" (CICO: Lt. Lester "Mauler" Maul)
--S-3B "Fish Hook 704"
--S-3B "Fish Hook 705" (Pilot: Lt. Commander "Tex")
--S-3B "Fish Hook 706"
--S-3B "Fish Hook 710"
--S-3B "Fish Hook 712"
--E-2C "Frisbee 601" (Pilot: Mitch, CICO: Lt. Anthony Chimola)
--E-2C "Frisbee 603"
--E-2C "Frisbee 605" (Pilot: Mitch, CICO: Lt. Cmdr Allen "Candy" Caine)
--ES-3A "Whale Watch 007" (Pilot: Lt. Barton "Barf" Ponderette)
``"Seadog" (squadron CO)
--EA-6B "Pine Tree 620"
--EA-6B "Pine Tree 621"
--EA-6B "Pine Tree 622"
--EA-6B "Pine Tree 623"
--EA-6B "Pine Tree 624"
(ECMO: Lt. Jg. Dennis "Gremlin" Gresham)
--SH-60F "Sharkfin 611"
--SH-60F "Sharkfin 614"
Ticonderoga class CG Oriskany
``Captain Eric Jernstedt (ship's captain)
Ticonderoga class CG Bennington
Belknap class CG Arthur
``Captain Roland Siegfried (ship's captain)
``Stu (officer of the watch)
Arleigh A. Burke class DDG Carl
``Captain Theodore Mahar (Ship's captain)
``Chip (air warfare officer)
Spruance class DD Wheatley
--SH-60B "Starburst 33" (Pilot: Lt. James Waddy, Co-pilot: Lt. Jg. Robert Caldwell)
Spruance class DD Davenport
--SH-60B "Starburst 41" (Co-pilot: Marty)
Oliver Hazard Perry class FFG Meyring
``Commander Ray Frisella (ship's captain)
``Frank (ship's exec)
Sacramento class AOE Roseburg
``Captain Jerry Cooley (ship's captain)
AMPHIBIOUS GROUP (PHIBGRU)
One Kidd class DDG
--AV-8B "Rawhide Five" (Major Grady "Mule" Halloran)
--CH-53E "Sea Dragon 26"
At least two LSTs
UNDERWAY REPLINISHMENT GROUP (UNREPGRU)
AE Mount Saint Helens
``Lt. Commander James Rixey (ship's captain)
Henry J. Kaiser class AO McClure
OTHER ASSETS IN THE AREA
Sturgeon class SSN Grouper
``Captain Darren Bates (boat captain)
THE NOVOROSSIYSK STRIKE COMPOSITION
At 0400 hours on June 4, the diversionary attacks on the Novorossiysk were launched. At the same time, the detached group of destroyers launched their Tomahawk TLAMs toward the Soviet carrier group, timed to arrive at the same time as the planes. A total of thirty Tomahawks were fired.
The airstrike package consisted of thirteen planes: six Hornets, four Intruders, two Prowlers and a Hawkeye. They carried a mix of decoys, HARMs, Shrikes, Mavericks and Skipper II LGBs.
They initially flew to the NNW to avoid the Novorossiysk group's radar, then turned due west to give the impression that the Langley was much further north than she really was.
THE RUSSIAN'S INITIAL RESPONSE
When Admiral Rybakov on the Varyag detected the attack on the Novorossiysk group, he was unsure if it was a real attack or just a diversion to draw off defenders. He still didn't know exactly where the Langley was, so he had to guess at her intentions. The Novorossiysk group requested additional fighters as the attack developed, and Rybakov was obliged to send her eight Su-27s from Varyag's CAP. The void was filled with a squadron of Su-27s from Kuznetsov. He also ordered half of his Su-25s loaded with anti-ship missiles in case he found the Langley. As well, there were two AWACS planes from Madagascar one each in the area of the Novorossiysk and the Varyag, and were relied upon for keeping track of the raids. They were both targeted early by the Americans.
THE NOVOROSSIYSK STRIKE
The American strike on the Novorossiysk began around 0540 hours.
The Hornets first shot down the AWACS Madcap over the area and then launched their 24 decoy missiles. The Hornets then raced ahead of the main strike group and engaged the Yak 38 Forgers that were defending their carrier. It was a one-sided fight and eventually six of the Forgers were shot down.
The opposing fighters cleared out, the four Intruders began their attack runs. At the same time, the Tomahawks from the surface ships were racing in, timed to arrive at the same minute as the aircraft. At least some hit, presumably, though no details are known.
The eight Su-27s from Varyag arrived just as Killer Flight was nearing the Novorossiysk. They engaged immediately but were too late. Lack of fuel ended the combat and the American survivors headed for home.
NOVOROSSIYSK STRIKE RESULTS
The air and cruise missile strikes were very effective. In the end, the Novorossiysk was hit by five Skipper II LGBs, one Shike anti-radar missile and possibly two HARMs. She was left burning and dead in the water, fires out of control. As well, the nuclear battlecruiser Frunze was hit by two Mavericks, possibly a HARM and possibly some Tomahawks and was severely damaged. The cruiser Chervona Ukraina was possibly hit by some Tomahawks and moderately damaged. The cruiser Tallinn was possibly hit by some Mavericks and also moderately damaged.
Aircraft losses were heavy on both sides. The American strike lost seven planes: three Hornets, three Intruders and a Prowler. The Soviets lost the seven Forgers and the Madcap, plus seven Flankers during the running battle following the raid.
THE ATTACK ON THE DESTROYERS
Meanwhile, the Soviets were quick to back-track the flight paths of the Tomahawks and located the three US destroyers that fired them. By 0557 hours, the destroyers were under SS-19 Shipwreck SLCM cruise missile attack themselves. The first attack produced no hits, but more were detected inbound.
The second SLCM attack was devastating. Nearly 40 SS-N-12 Sunburns and SS-N-19 Shipwrecks were fired at the destroyers (18 Shipwrecks fired from an Oscar and the rest from surface ships). Wheatley was hit twice and left burning stem to stern to sink later. Davenport was hit just once, amidships, but it was enough to sink her. Carl survived a near miss that sprung some leaks.
Helicopters from the amphibious group and the Langley ferried wounded off the ships and brought SAM reloads to Carl. That ship was ordered to head NNE to a new position, unfortunately leaving many survivors in the water. She was to act as a radar picket between the Langley and the Badger and Backfire bombers coming from up north.
THE VARYAG STRIKE COMPOSITION
The strike on the Varyag was aircraft-only, as it was out of range of the Tomahawk-equipped ships. It consisted of 37 aircraft: ten Tomcats, eight Hornets, eight Intruders, six Vikings carrying Harpoons, three Prowlers, one Hawkeye and one ES-3A ELINT Viking. They were armed with a variety of Harpoons, Skipper II LGBs, HARMs, SLAMs, and Shrikes.
VARYAG STRIKE RESULTS
The air strikes began about 0600 hours and were rather successful. In the end, the main target, the carrier Varyag was mangled. Hit by eight Skipper II LGBs (plus one dud and one near-miss), two SLAMs, two Shrikes, and one HARM, the carrier was left dead and burning fiercely.
Her escorts also were targeted. The nuclear battlecruiser Yuri Andropov was hit by a Harpoon and a HARM and badly damaged, burning, adrift and listing. The cruiser Marshall Ustinov was hit by at least two HARMs.
Aircraft losses were horrendous, though expected considering the amount of firepower tossed around during the battle. The Americans lost fifteen out of 37 planes: five Tomcats, four Hornets, five Intruders, and a Prowler. The Soviets lost seventeen Flankers, one ELINT Flanker, and three AWACS Madcaps. The Flanker losses include several from the Kuznetsov who were vectored to assist the Varyag's CAP. As well, the bombing of the Varyag cost her six Frogfoots that were destroyed in the hangers.
SOVIET BOMBER ATTACKS
The main Soviet counter-attacks on the Langley group would come from a series of waves of land-based bombers carrying anti-ship missiles. These would be older Tu-16 Badgers and newer Tu-26 Backfires. Each group of bombers came in separately, and will be detailed separately. In total, perhaps 220 to 240 bombers would attack the Langley. The Backfires came in group from all areas of the Soviet Union, from the Baltic and Black Sea Fleets, and the Northern and Pacific Fleets as well. The Badgers, being much shorter-ranged, came from Madagascar and Angola.
LANGLEY'S NEXT MOVE
Following the recovery of her strike aircraft, the carrier group turned north towards Madagascar. The intent was to link up with the Carl, and to launch strikes on the Soviet airbases on Madagascar.
That same morning, the Sturgeon class SSN Grouper had hit the airbases at Antsiranana on the northern end of Madagascar. Soviet defenders would be ready, so the plan was to hit the AA defenses first.
The strikes were a success, badly damaging the airfields and knocking them out for the bulk of the coming battle.
THE MADAGASCAR BADGERS
At 0830 hours, the Madagascar Badgers were detected by the Langley group inbound. The bombers were escorted by a squadron-sized unit of Vietnamese MiG-23 Floggers flown from southern Madagascar, and guided by AWACS Madcaps and three Tu-20 Bear B planes painting targets over the area. Each Badger carried two AS-6 Kingfish ASMs, and three planes were designated ECM craft.
Tomcats on distant CAP intercepted them far from the carrier. With Phoenix missiles, they shot down all three of the ECM Badgers. The Badgers were then slaughtered by more long-range missiles.
As well, Hornets were sent out to hunt the Bear target designation planes, and one was shot down.
The surviving Badgers reached their launch points and sent off their AS-6 Kingfish missiles. Their targets were the three American destroyers (Carl, Wheatley and Davenport) that were still in the area following their Tomahawk strikes and subsequent counterattacks. Seven Kingfishers were launched in total.
With the two Spruance destroyers heavily damaged and virtually defenseless, and Carl only having four Standard SAMs left, the situation was dire. The two Spruances were sunk, and the Carl took a single Kingfish right between her stacks that was a dud.
THE ANGOLAN BADGERS
After the flight of Badgers from Madagascar had their shot, the group from Angola was up next. The Langley'sTomcats intercepted the group over the southern end of the Mozambique Channel. There were 21 Badgers altogether, three of them ECM models. Disturbingly, the Badgers were escorted by an entire regiment of North Korean MiG-29 Fulcrums. There was also a Madcap AWACS plane in the area.
Six Tomcats, backed up by a Prowler, a Hawkeye, an ELINT Viking and a tanker Viking, made the intercept. When the Fulcrums were detected, four more Tomcats and eight Hornets were launched to back them up.
The dogfight between the Fulcrums and the America fighters was bloody and brisk. Three Tomcats and at least eleven MiG-29s were shot down. The remaining Tomcats and Hornets attacked the bomber stream with Phoenix and Sparrows. The three ECM Badgers and four bombers were shot down. Most strangely, the remaining Badgers apparently didn't launch their missiles, probably because they had no designated targets. The planes returned to their bases.
THE BLACK SEA FLEET BACKFIRES
The first group of Tu-26 Backfire bombers from the Black Sea Fleet were next up. As luck would have it, this group was intercepted by Tomcats from the John F. Kennedy, who was still stuck in the Suez Canal.
The intercept took place over the Arabian Sea, were 18 Tomcats bounced the 39 Backfires. It was a slaughter inflicted mostly by the long-range Phoenix and Sparrow missiles. At no time did the fighters get within 10 miles of the bombers. In the end, just sixteen Backfires survived, and seven of those were damaged. 23 were shot down.
The Tomcats then landed in Oman for a friendly "internment", prearranged by back-door channels. The surviving Backfires landed at Socotra Island to wait for reinforcements.
THE BALTIC SEA FLEET BACKFIRES
Seventy Backfires from the Baltic Sea Fleet came in next, joined by the surviving planes of the previous raid.
This raid was intercepted by an extraordinary flight of fifteen B-1B Lancer bombers flying in from Guam. The Lancers were armed with racks of AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, sixteen to a plane.
In the end, 44 of the Baltic Fleet Backfires were either shot down or forced to land with damage. The damaged bombers were forced to land at civilian airfields on Madagascar, as Antsiranana had been destroyed by then. The 26 remaining Backfires regrouped into one unit and loitered to wait for the following raid.
THE BALTIC AND BLACK FLEET BACKFIRES, PART II
The seven remaining Black Sea Fleet Backfires and the nineteen remaining Baltic Fleet Backfires formed a group and raced ahead.
The Langley had been detected by a Tu-20 and now these Backfires had a target. The Langley sent up her remaining Tomcats and Hornets to intercept the Soviet formation. They began with Phoenix attacks as soon as they were in range, at about 1910 hours. They then closed to Sparrow range and closer.
Soon a regiment of 32 Vietnamese MiG-23 Floggers was detected approaching. The remaining American fighters, now low on fuel and out of missiles, were ordered to ignore the MiGs and stay on the bombers, even though it meant they would most likely run out of fuel.
In the air battle to come, eight Baltic Fleet Backfires and three Baltic Fleet Backfires were shot down, as well as all three of the targeting Tu-20 Bears in the area.
The remaining fifteen Backfires were in range, about 200 miles from the Langley. Each plane fired two decoy missiles as well as a single anti-ship AS-4 Kitchen and a single anti-radar AS-4 Burya version. The first wave launched 30 Kitchens and 30 decoys. After failures, 24 of each kept flying south.
In a stroke of luck and planning, the 48 missiles tracked for a set of air-dropped decoy bouys some distance from the carrier group. They all fell harmlessly into the sea.
Soon after the Backfires launched their missiles, the American fighters closed to knife-fight range with the bombers as they turned to land at fields in Madagascar. Eleven of the Backfires were shot down, leaving only four survivors. The American fighters were unarmed now, and raced for home, chased by the MiGs. Soon, all six Tomcats and all six Hornets had to ditch for lack of fuel.
The MiGs ran too far chasing the fighters and came within range of Oriskany's Standard SAMs. About half the MiGs were shot down and the rest fled.
THE NORTHERN FLEET BACKFIRES
Next up was the forty Backfires of the Northern Fleet. With all the fighters working over the combined Baltic and Black Sea Fleet group, these bombers were able to launch their AS-4 Kitchens unmolested. About 70 in total were fired, plus just as many decoys.
At this point in the battle, lets resummerize the Langley's group composition. Surrounding the carrier were the Ticonderoga class cruisers Oriskany and Bennington, the Belknap class cruiser Arthur and the Perry class frigate Meyering. As well, there was the oiler Roseburg and the crippled destroyer Carl.
One group of Kitchens homed in on Bennington, the other group homed in on Carl and Oriskany. Carl, out of SAMs, could only radiate and try and absorb Kitchens. A few more Kitchens homed in on the Roseburg.
The three Aegis ships fired 114 SAMs to intercept. 41 kills were made, though many were certainly decoys. Decoys lured many away, but there were still 85 missiles and decoys inbound, with about 45 being real Kitchens.
Following the action, damage reports came in. The oiler Roseburg took two hits, one being a dud, leaving her dead in the water. She managed to shoot down eight missiles with Sea Sparrow, RAMs and 20mm gunfire. The Oriskany had not been hit, but was down to just three SAMs. Bennington was also unhurt, but had only 47 SAMs left. Carl was hit bad, her stern torn off, by one anti-radar Kitchen and one anti-ship Kitchen. The Arthur had 60 SAMs left and the Meyering had 40. For the surviving carrier planes, they were low on weapons. No Phoenix were left, and less than a dozen each Sparrow and AMRAAM, with a couple of dozen Sidewinders. It was clear that the Langley group could not survive the coming attack by the Pacific Fleet Backfires, now timed to arrive around midnight.
THE HARD CHOICE
Faced with the certain prospect of loosing the rest of the force with the next air raid, Admiral Gideon chose a daring strategy. Loosing the rest of the Airwing would be disastrous. He ordered the fifteen remaining aircraft loaded with supplies and ground attack weapons and flown off to airfields in South Africa where they could help the local troops and the marines there (see below). The landed planes included one Tomcat, two Hornets, three Intruders, six Vikings, two Prowlers and two Hawkeyes. Only the six SH-60F helicopters would be kept aboard.
THE PACIFIC FLEET BACKFIRES
The 49 Pacific Fleet Backfires (two regiments) now had their turn. They were escorted by ECM Badgers and MiGs from Mozambique and a few from surviving Madagascar airfields. At 2310 hours, the first planes were detected.
There were no Tomcats to intercept them, as they had all been flown ashore, so the Backfires were able to launch their Kitchens unopposed. In total, 78 Kitchens and 81 decoy missiles were fired. The Soviets then returned to Beria in Africa.
DESTRUCTION OF THE FLEET
The Soviet missiles came in at the vastly reduced Langley group in waves. The end results were certain, but the Americans gave a good account of themselves.
Oriskany fired her three remaining SAMs, downing two Kitchens, decoys baffled others and the Phalanx guns got two more. Then she was hit hard, capsizing with heavy loss of life.
The Bennington fired off all her missiles, and then was hit. She was left burning and listing badly.
The Arthur fired as fast as she could, getting off 58 SAMs before the missiles were on her. One Kitchen near-missed, and another was a dud. Then one hit the ship's engineering spaces midships and another on her bridge, killing everyone there. She was left aflame and melting.
The Meyering fired her 40 SAMs as rapidly as possible. She alone would not be hit in this round.
The immobilized Carl was an easy target, and was destroyed in a blinding flash.
The damaged oiler Roseburg was sunk.
The carrier Langley defended herself with Sea Sparrows, decoys and 20mm gunfire, but there were just too many missiles inbound. One hit was a dud, but two more Kitchens struck the flight deck, starting fires in the hanger. Thankfully, these three hits were all the carrier would take and she would survive this round.
Afterwards, the helicopters raced around picking survivors out of the water as the Americans took stock of their situation.
OPERATION EVIL HYPHEN
At the same time the airwar was raging, the Americans decided to launch Operation Evil Hyphen. This was an amphibious landing on the African coast by the PhibGru in the Indian Ocean, to support the South Africans and to secure bases for the carrier's aircraft when they deployed to land bases.
Some 2,200 marines plus all the associated gear of the MEU were landed in all. In this they were successful and the carrier planes were able to land safely and join the next phase of the war.
THE SOVIETS' NEXT MOVES
On the following day, June 5, the Soviet Admiral Rybakov decided to take the offensive. He ordered the land-based aircraft to continue searching for the remains of the Langley group, along with submarines detached from his forces. As well, he gathered up a potent striking force based around the Kuznetsov and headed northeast to hunt the Langley himself. He was hoping that the planes and subs could finish her off first, so he could turn is full attention to the Dwight D. Eisenhower battle group which was just coming into range from the west.
The Langley and Meyering were detected by the Akula class SSN Nineteenth All-Union Conference of the CPSU at around 1200 hours.
The sub worked into position and fired four Type 65 heavy torpedoes at the carrier. One was killed by a Mark 45 torpedo but another hit the Meyering. The frigate broke in two and sank immediately. The third Soviet torpedo was decoyed away, but the fourth hit the Langley on her screws.
The Akula now moved in closer, and fired six Type 53 light torpedoes at the defenseless carrier.
The carrier had five SH-60Fs available, plus the frigates two SH-60Bs which were airborne at the time to hunt the submarine. One spotted the torpedoes wakes and the others dropped torpedoes and decoys. Only two of the Type 53s made it through, both hit the carrier amidships but one was a dud.
At that moment, from the opposite side of the carrier, theSierra class SSN Seventy-Five Years of SSR arrived and fired eight Type 53 torpedoes of her own. Four of them missed or were decoyed, but four more hit the carrier dead amidships. Langley was sinking now, the game over.
At 1730 hours, the carrier broke in half and sank beneath the Indian Ocean waves.
The carrier airwing ashore continued to see action throughout the day. Armed with South African ordinance, the planes launched numerous strikes against enemy ground units. In these raids, one Viking was shot down by an SA-9. As well, an attack on a landing field destroyed two jets, one of them a Tomcat carrying CAG Ballentine.
On June 6 and 7, the NATO forces finally began to take an active part in the operations. A British squadron and a French CVBG (thirteen ships and perhaps some subs) both linked up with the American PhibGru operating off Natal in support of the amphibious landings. At least a few submarines were with the groups.
Several Soviet merchantmen fell victim to the NATO force in the area. As well, it is suspected that a British submarine sunk the crippled Varyag. The Soviet's sea-lift operations have been virtually shut down due to all this activity.
With the Eisenhower group now in position to strike the Gorshkov group with overwhelming force, the Soviets called for a truce on June 7. The terms were nebulous, calling for a cessation of naval airstrikes by both sides but not really addressing the land war.
Barred from exacting revenge by the terms of the truce, Admiral Rybakov planned to continue the fight from the shore, much like Admiral Gideon had. He led the first flight of eight Su-25 Frogfoots from the Kuznetsov to shore fields, personally flying one of them.
The Soviets continued air operations for the next few days. In these actions, one Frogfoot was shot down by AAA, killing Admiral Rybakov.
On June 10, Mozambique sued for a separate peace. The entire invasion of South Africa fell apart. Shortly afterward, the war ended.
The end…thanks for reading.
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Document written in January 2005 by Nathan Decker