Warsaw Pact Maritime Strategy during the Twilight War
Warsaw Pact maritime operations in the Twilight War followed a strategy developed and advocated over most of the Cold War by Admiral Sergei Gorshkov. Even though Admiral Gorshkov retired (or was retired!) in 1985, the force he built over almost 30 years was, to a large extent, the force that fought NATO during the Twilight War.
Unlike the NATO navies, the Soviet Navy (Voyenno-morskoy flot SSSR or VMF) performed an essentially minor role in the Warsaw Pact’s Twilight War. (A note on the Warsaw Pact vs. the Soviet Navy: The VMF provided by far the majority of Pact naval strength - 100% of the Atlantic and Pacific forces and over 85% in the Black and Baltic Seas - and the Polish and Bulgarian navies (the only non-Soviet Warsaw Pact navies after December 1996) were designed and trained to fit seamlessly into the Soviet Baltic and Black Sea fleets, respectively). The Soviet General Staff long held on to the opinion that the outcome of any conflict with NATO would be resolved in Central Europe and would be essentially a ground and aerial conflict fought in the territory of the Warsaw Pact and continental European NATO nations. Hence, the VMF was to play a supporting role to other, more important operations.
Given the essentially supporting role of the VMF in overall war strategy, the missions of the Soviet Navy in prewar Soviet plans were (in order of importance):
Nuclear Strike on NATO forces and homelands, consisting of:
• Strategic nuclear attack on the USA and other NATO nations from both SSBNs and SLCM carrying SSNs and SSGNs;
• Theater nuclear strike in areas adjacent to the USSR and Warsaw Pact;
and Strategic Defense, namely:
• Protection of Soviet and Warsaw Pact territory, including a limited contribution to national air defense;
• Neutralization of NATO nuclear strike assets.
Secondary missions consisted of:
• Operations in direct support of land forces;
• Disruption of NATO Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC);
• Preservation of naval forces to inhibit NATO freedom of action, and
• Support for Soviet allies in distant areas.
Of these missions, the first four were by far the most important.
The VMF was a force designed around submarines. At the start of the war, the VMF mustered in active service 53 SSBNs dedicated to strategic nuclear strike , 22 SSBNs and SSBs and 45 SSGNs and SSGs dedicated to theater nuclear strike , 91 SSN and 87 SS attack submarines , 33 SSGN anti-surface cruise missile subs , with over 160 additional submarines of all types held in reserve and several dozen special operations, minelaying, communications and rescue submarines. In comparison, the surface fleet, after years of buildup, mustered but three CTOL aircraft carriers, six VTOL or helicopter carriers, five battlecruisers and 31 cruisers, 76 destroyers, 39 frigates and 130 corvettes. Many of these surface vessels were over 30 years of age, equipped with obsolete weapons and electronic systems and/or incapable of operations outside of coastal waters. The VMF amphibious force maintained the ability to lift about two divisions of Naval Infantry.
The VMF emphasized joint and combined operations. Unlike the US Navy, which was designed to essentially fight autonomously, the VMF traditionally relied on land-based airpower for air cover, and performed major missions in support of land forces. The strategic strike mission was likewise shared with the Strategic Rocket Forces and Long Range Aviation. At the tactical and operational levels, the VMF also operated jointly, combining land-based air cover with surface and submarine forces. These forces, when operating in concert and properly coordinated, possessed a power in excess of the sum of their individual components. For example, the VMF established a defensive barrier at the entrance to the Barents Sea (from the North Cape to Svalbard) composed of mine fields (laid by surface ships and aircraft), patrolled by diesel submarines and surface groups operating under land-based fighter and maritime patrol aircraft coverage, monitored by land-based sonars, fixed hydrophone arrays (“SOSUS-ski”) and land-based EW and radars and covered by missiles and guns of coastal artillery batteries. In offensive anti-surface warfare operations, the VMF realized by the late 1980s that only a combined strike by submarine, air and surface launched missiles had any possibility of overwhelming the defenses of an American carrier battle group protected by the Aegis system.
Contrary to NATO perceptions in the 1970s and 1980s, the VMF’s overall orientation was defensive – over half of all the VMF’s assets were dedicated to the protection of nuclear missile submarines. Offensive operations were generally nuclear or conventional missile attacks, hunts for NATO SSBNs, amphibious operations in coordination with ground and air forces and a diverse number of efforts to disrupt NATO sea lanes. Defensive operations took numerous forms – barriers, bastions, coordinated strikes against enemy forces and attacks on enemy support assets.
This emphasis on defensive operations was a result of the technological and geographic limitations the VMF operated under. The USSR was never able to match NATO’s technical capabilities, leaving the VMF in a continually inferior position vis a vis comparable NATO assets. Defensive operations allowed the VMF to minimize this inferiority, as, for example, a noisier Soviet submarine could silently lurk in wait for a quiet NATO submarine to approach. Offensive operations, due to geography, required long transits to engage NATO forces – a transit during which readiness would decline, crews would become fatigued and interdiction might take place (and given the Soviet technological gap, interdiction en route could be significant). On the other hand, a defensive operation would result in the tables being turned – an offensive NATO force entering battle would be distant from its support facilities, interdicted and exhausted during a long transit and engaging a fresh Soviet force. As a continental power, sea power was not essential to the victory of the USSR as it was to the NATO alliance. However, the existence of a Soviet fleet was in itself a threat to NATO and required a NATO response, which would divert resources and attention away from the land battle on the Central Front. Defensive operations ensured that this diversion of resources, attention and effort would continue for the longest possible time.
Geographically, the VMF was constrained in any attempt to reach open seas. The Baltic and Black Seas were closed to Soviet shipping by narrow straits controlled by NATO members. The main Soviet base in the Pacific, at Vladivostok, was enclosed by the Kurile Islands, Japan and Korea, while a second major naval base, at Petropavlovsk, had no land connections to the rest of the USSR. The Northern Fleet was forced to make an over 1500 mile transit between NATO controlled Norway and Greenland before arriving at the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom (GIUK) Gap, also held by NATO nations, before entering the open Atlantic Ocean.
NATO maritime strategy recognized these geographic limitations and was designed to exploit them (as explained in greater detail in the companion work to this effort), while the USSR attempted to overcome these limitations in several innovative ways. First, the VMF deployed assets which did not require a transit of the choke points to be effective. In the late 1970s the VMF deployed the Delta class submarines, which were able to strike the continental United States without having to transit the NATO-controlled choke points, and subsequent classes of SSBNs mounted even longer range missiles which could strike the US from their home harbors. Second, the USSR developed the capability to threaten or appear to threaten NATO control of the choke points, forcing a further diversion of efforts from striking the USSR to defending the choke points. Third, the USSR used combined arms to overcome the limitations and carry out naval missions – such as having Red Army surface to surface missiles, special operations forces and Frontal Aviation bombers strike naval bases and critical naval infrastructure. Finally, the USSR, through covert action and diplomacy, sought to develop a limited capability to base and support naval assets beyond the choke points.
Pact strategy for carrying out its most important mission – strategic nuclear strike – included the maintenance of a SSBN force capable of striking the United States. The existence and control of a nuclear strike force was key to the Soviet government’s ability to negotiate an end to the war on favorable terms - hence the urgency and importance of Operation Prometheus in 2001, which raised the possibility of the USSR’s reemergence as a nuclear power and an ability to dictate terms of surrender to NATO (or cow domestic political and military rivals).
Soviet SSBNs were not intended to be used as first strike weapons. Only a handful of the most modern submarines possessed missiles with sufficient warhead yield and accuracy to strike American ICBM silos, and most Soviet SLBMs were not designed for low-angle, quick strike trajectories. Instead, the vast majority of Soviet SLBMs were targeted at population centers, industrial targets (such as munitions factories and oil refineries) and other large, soft, fixed targets (such as military bases). Soviet SSBNs were not quiet enough to successfully transit the GIUK Gap or escape from Pacific bases unobserved to take station off the US coast. Instead, longer range missiles allowed Soviet SSBNs to patrol under the Arctic ice cap or in the Sea of Oshkosh, areas close to Soviet bases (and therefore easier to defend) and far from NATO territory, increasing the difficulty of NATO’s attempts to hunt down the SSBNs.
Recognizing that NATO submarine technology was sufficient to track and engage Soviet SSBNs, the VMF adopted a strategy to protect these essential assets using a multi-layer defense. In port, SSBNs were berthed and serviced in tunnels drilled deep into solid rock to protect them from nuclear strikes. Visits to port were minimized through deployment of auxiliary support ships (such as the Amga class missile support ships capable of servicing and reloading SSBNs away from naval bases) and increasing missile load and endurance at sea. When at sea, SSBNs operated under the Arctic ice (which prevented NATO surface or air forces from attacking) or in sanctuaries or bastions protected by multiple defensive layers. Older SSBNs that mounted shorter range missiles were assigned theater targets, while others with slightly longer ranges, such as the Delta I and II classes, deployed under the Arctic ice far from the Soviet coast – often within 250 miles of the undefended Canadian Arctic coast. Bastions for more modern SSBNs were located away from shipping lanes and in areas that were ice covered for parts of the year – the White Sea, Kara Sea, Laptev Sea and area of the Barents Sea west of Novaya Zemla. This allowed mines to be laid by surface ships during periods when ice coverage was light and increased the distance NATO naval forces had to transit in hostile waters to engage Soviet SSBNs.
A typical bastion consisted of a rectangular patrol area several miles across, surrounded on all sides by water too shallow for a submarine to transit or minefields. The entrance lane through the minefield was protected by a modern SSN patrolling at slow speed. Several such bastions would be grouped together and further protected by lines of patrolling diesel submarines, ASW surface groups and areas monitored by land-based ASW aircraft along with dummy bastions designed to trap NATO attack submarines. Defense in depth, by establishing general defensive barriers along approach routes to Soviet home waters, protected SSBN bastions as well as other assets. For example, the Barents defensive barrier was responsible not only for inflicting severe damage on the attacking NATO force during the Battle of the Kola Peninsula in June 1997 but also sank a number of NATO SSNs in transit to or from SSBN hunting missions in the White, Kara and Barents Seas.
In the late 1980s the VMF gained an additional means of conducting nuclear attacks, with the successful development and fielding of the SS-N-21 and SS-N-24 submarine launched cruise missiles. With an 1800-mile range, modern SSNs carrying SS-N-21s were stationed off the US coasts as a political response to the deployment of US GLCMs and Pershing II missiles in Western Europe. A number of Yankee I SSBNs were converted to SS-N-21 or SS-N-24 cruise missile carriers and assigned theater missions in Europe and the Pacific, being too noisy to successfully transit NATO SOSUS barriers. The use of nuclear torpedoes to attack NATO harbors, ports and naval bases, first used in the late 1950s and early 1960s, had been replaced by missile strikes by the time of the Twilight War.
The other aspect of the VMF’s nuclear strike mission, to conduct theater strikes on areas adjacent to the USSR and Warsaw Pact, was performed in much the same way as the conduct of strategic nuclear strikes. However, theater nuclear strikes were generally carried out in support of land forces and were considered simply another strike asset available to a Front commander, no different from a SS-20 missile, Spetsnaz team with a backpack nuke or SU-24 with a nuclear gravity bomb. Given the availability of such alternative strike assets, the protection of theater nuclear strike submarines was not considered as important. Consequently, the VMF established only rudimentary bastions in the Baltic and Black seas to protect the Yankee I, Golf and Hotel class SSBNs used for theater nuclear strikes and assigned smaller numbers of less modern units to defend them. An exception to this secondary priority was the use of otherwise obsolete SSGNs and SSGs to attack NATO choke points and other vital assets. Early in the Battle of the Norwegian Sea a force of nearly obsolete Echo II class SSGNs, escorted by modern Victor class boats, successfully launched cruise missile strikes on NATO air bases in Iceland, Greenland and Scotland, dealing a severe (but temporary) blow to the NATO Strike Fleet Atlantic.
A final factor of SSBN operations was that having SSBNs at sea provided protection to the Soviet homeland by diverting NATO offensive forces (especially US Tomahawk missile carrying submarines) from striking the Soviet homeland to hunting SSBNs.
The effort to defend the strategic nuclear strike force, however, required approximately half of the VMF’s assets to execute successfully, limiting the VMF’s ability to carry out other, less important missions.
The second group of VMF missions constituted strategic defense of the Soviet (and to a lesser extent) Warsaw Pact homeland against NATO attack. The VMF attempted to maintain a defensive perimeter approximately 1,800 miles (3000 km) from the Soviet border to ensure that NATO cruise missile carriers and aircraft would not be able to strike the USSR. The VMF operated submarines throughout this defensive zone, aircraft up to 1,500 miles from the USSR and surface vessels up to 750 miles from the USSR.
By far the most vital part of this defensive mission was operations against NATO seaborne nuclear weapons carriers. This mission had evolved from strikes against NATO carriers launching nuclear-armed aircraft in the 1950s to hunting Polaris and Poseidon missile subs in the 1960s and 1970s to hunting more modern NATO SSBNs mounting Trident missiles and ships and submarines mounting Tomahawk cruise missiles. The VMF never developed the open water ASW capability to hunt Polaris and Poseidon SSBNs – Soviet sensors were not advanced enough to detect NATO SSBNs and the NATO SSBN operating areas, as a result of the missile’s range, were too large to effectively search. The fielding of Trident missiles during NATO’s defense buildup of the 1980s vastly increased the potential patrol areas for NATO SSBNs (Trident II missiles could strike Moscow from south of Capetown, South Africa), while the deployment of Tomahawk cruise missiles on a variety of US and British submarines and surface ships increased the number of strike platforms the USSR had to neutralize. The difficulty of locating NATO SSBNs at sea and the impossibility of neutralizing even a fraction of NATO nuclear strike assets did not mean that the VMF did not try to execute this mission, however. The VMF devoted several of its newest SSNs (Sierra IIs) to patrolling off NATO SSBN bases in the hope of locating NATO SSBNs departing on or returning from patrol. The only US Ohio class SSBN to be sunk by enemy action during the war, the USS Maine, was sunk by the Sierra II class submarine K-336 luring outside Kings Bay, Georgia in March 1997. (The K-336, under command of Captain First Rank Sergei Babenko, escaped, sinking the USCG cutter Valiant during the escape, and operated in the Atlantic until early 1999, when it entered the Ukrainian port of Kherson and the crew disbanded). NATO SSBN bases were targeted for nuclear attack (by both ICBMs and SLCMs), conventional attack by Spetsnaz (such as the battalion-sized attack on Holy Loch by Baltic Fleet Spetsnaz on December 12, 1996 in which HMS Renown was damaged by an AT-4 anti-tank missile) and mining.
Another major part of the VMF’s strategic defense mission was to prevent NATO surface forces, especially carrier battle groups, from striking the Soviet homeland. The antisurface warfare effort utilized the usual tactics of defense in depth and combined arms to carry out this mission. The Soviets had a great respect for the power of NATO carrier battle groups and regarded them as the primary surface threat. In general, VMF attack submarines attempted to deny use to NATO (by direct attacks and minelaying) the same choke points that contained the Soviet fleet. As a NATO force further entered the defensive zone it would encounter lines of patrolling submarines (both nuclear and diesel) and be engaged by land-based bombers (covered by land-based and/or carrier-based fighter aircraft) launching long-range anti-ship missiles. The main Soviet surface fleet was located closer in, to take advantage of the additional air cover provided by land-based fighters. Within 250 miles of the Soviet bases a NATO force would encounter minefields, coastal patrol and missile craft and land-based aviation and coastal missiles and artillery. Carrier groups would be neutralized by a coordinated, overwhelming anti-ship cruise missile attack from all directions, launched by SSGN wolf packs, land-based bombers and whatever surface ships happened to be in range.
Recognizing the strength of a carrier group’s defenses against attacking aircraft and missiles, the USSR developed a number of special countermeasures which they managed to keep secret until used against NATO forces at the beginning of their involvement in the Twilight War. The air to air version of the Kh-31 missile, with a range of 175 miles and a speed of Mach 4.5, was launched by MiG-31s and succeeded in downing over a dozen NATO AEW and AWACS aircraft during the Battle of the Norwegian Sea, while six Aegis cruisers and destroyers were struck by SS-N-27 ramjet-powered missiles. The USS John F. Kennedy was damaged in the Western Mediterranean by a Soviet mine, laid by a merchant ship six weeks prior to the outbreak of the war, that launched a 200-knot Shkval torpedo that blew off one of the carrier’s propellers and sent it to drydock for six weeks in Gibraltar. In addition, the VMF attempted to limit the effectiveness of NATO carrier battle groups by attacking its underway replenishment support vessels, electromagnetic warfare (jamming or interfering with the communications signals and blinding or misleading intelligence and reconnaissance assets) and attempting, through propaganda, to spread discord among Allied nations (for example by trumpeting the fact that the Dutch frigate Drenthe was sunk escorting a convoy of British troops the same day that the British Sir Galahad left (or abandoned) Dutch marines ashore in Narvik when the town was attacked by Soviet paratroops.)
Finally, the VMF made a minor contribution to the air defense of the USSR. In the mid 1990s the data link systems of modern AAW cruisers and destroyers (plus the Kirovs and carriers) were upgraded to provide the capability to send and receive data to and from the national integrated air defense network. This allowed VMF vessels to act as radar picket ships for the PVO and engage targets that were overflying VMF vessels (such as the B-52 from the 97th Bomb Wing that was downed by a SA-N-12 launched by a Sovremmeny class destroyer sailing under ENCOM in the Barents Sea in August 1997). This mission, however, was unpopular with the admirals and it was not uncommon for Soviet vessels to suffer “unresolved technical challenges” whenever orders were received to act as a radar picket ship. However, Soviet Naval Aviation did boast a pair of ace Yak-38 pilots who had SAC bomber kills (in addition to P-3 Orions, A-7 Corsairs and AV-8B Harriers).
Operations in support of land forces were the primary missions of the Baltic and Black Sea fleets and a more minor mission for the Northern and Pacific fleets. These missions were usually to protect exposed sea flanks from NATO amphibious attack, to suppress air or gunfire support to NATO troops by NATO naval forces and to attack NATO ground and air forces with amphibious assaults and raids, air strikes and naval gunfire. In the North, the Soviet assault on Northern Norway was intended to tie down NATO troops that otherwise would be committed on the Central Front, expand the buffer zone that protected the USSR from land invasion and to secure a clearer exit to Soviet naval and air forces. In the Pacific, the VMF supported the ground forces in the Chinese war by interdiction of Chinese supply lines through an effective naval blockade, contribution of long-range bombers for Operation Tchaikovsky and the long-range strategic bombing effort, and raids on Chinese coastal shipping and facilities. In the Persian Gulf, Soviet Naval Aviation was used to help isolate the battlefield by striking shipping carrying reinforcements and supplies to the embattled NATO forces, while the combined force of Soviet submarines and naval aviation limited allied air support by damaging the USS Independence (which was struck by a Type 65 torpedo launched by the Sierra II class K-534) and the air strike by Soviet Naval Aviation bombers and strike aircraft the next day that destroyed the gates of the only drydock in the Middle East capable of repairing her (in Bahrain) .
Interdiction of NATO Sea Lines of Communication was the next VMF mission in order of importance. This is the mission that caused NATO the greatest level of concern, as the war in Germany and Poland relied on supplies and reinforcements traveling from the USA and Canada, while Europe’s war industry relied on petroleum and raw materials arriving from around the world, all of which were vulnerable to Soviet interdiction. This mission, however, was difficult for the VMF to carry out due to the distances involved and the amount of effort the NATO navies devoted to protecting strategically important shipping. In Soviet naval doctrine through the early 1980s, the SLOC interdiction mission received little attention and emphasis due to the perception that a NATO-Pact war would rapidly either go nuclear or be resolved with a NATO defeat on the Central Front before NATO economic mobilization and deployment of American reserve forces could have an effect on the outcome of the conflict. In the 1980s as NATO conventional defense capabilities increased (reducing the likelihood of early NATO tactical nuclear use and also a reduction in the potential for a crushing Soviet offensive to succeed) the Soviet General Staff began to face the possibility of an extended period of conventional conflict. In this context, interdiction of NATO shipping became essential in two aspects: the destruction of American reinforcement troops en route to Europe and the interdiction of key resources to cripple NATO war industries and forces. An additional factor in favor of conducting an anti-SLOC campaign was its potential to complicate and disrupt NATO naval planning and to force NATO naval forces which otherwise would be used against the Soviet homeland and SSBNs to either hunt down the raiders or be tied down on defensive missions escorting civilian shipping.
While the VMF leadership responded positively to this new emphasis, they had a difficult time preparing to execute this mission. Resources were limited, and the increasing expense of modern nuclear strike systems, increased threat to the Soviet homeland from NATO naval forces and attempts to develop a more professional naval NCO corps and improve training overall ate up the majority of what resources were available. Traditionally, the SLOC interdiction mission was assigned to ships and submarines that were nearing retirement, too old to be effective against NATO carriers and their escorts or modern NATO submarines, but adequate to threaten unarmed, slow and vulnerable NATO merchant ships and their overburdened escorts. There were limited numbers of these vessels available after the mass retirement of obsolete and near-obsolete ships and submarines under Danilov, although a number of those assets that were culled were brought back into service in 1997 and 1998. The Soviet naval leadership was reluctant to divert more modern assets to the SLOC interdiction mission, so alternative strategies were developed. First, the General Staff developed a plan for coordinated strikes on NATO shipping capabilities. This encompassed not only naval attacks on ships at sea but political agitation to slow down port operations (including an attempt to infiltrate the Dutch longshoreman’s union, GRU support of a local Dutch guerrilla group known as the Dutch Red Army, and a successful effort to halt transshipment of civilian food and energy supplies through Belgian ports to Germany), combined arms strikes on NATO port facilities (such as the combined Spetsnaz, missile and air attack on Rotterdam in January 1997 which, while successful in closing the port for a few weeks, brought Dutch forces into the war in Germany), covert and political efforts to limit the availability of neutral shipping to NATO forces, closing strategic straits and canals to reduce the effectiveness of NATO shipping (such as the closure of the Suez Canal forcing shipping to divert around Africa, adding a week and thousands of miles to the transit of ships to and from the Indian Ocean), making plans and preparations for a naval surface raider effort, and implementation of a joint GRU Navy dispersal plan, code named Operation Primus, to threaten allied civilian shipping worldwide on an extended basis. (Details on Operation Primus will follow in a separate document ). The survivability of raiders was enhanced by efforts to suppress, avoid or destroy the SOSUS network. In the opening days of the war in Europe, Soviet submarines attacked SOSUS arrays and cut SOSUS cables, while shoreside communications and processing facilities were attacked by Spetsnaz, cruise missiles and air attacks. Soviet nuclear submarines routinely bypassed the SOSUS barrier in place at the GIUK gap by sailing west of Greenland through Baffin Bay and the Davis Strait. Innovative sound weapons were emplaced by VMF vessels passing past or over SOSUS which, when detonated remotely, damaged or at least temporarily deafened SOSUS microphone arrays, allowing Soviet submarines to slip past SOSUS arrays undetected. Once the conflict entered the nuclear phase nuclear depth charges were effective in destroying SOSUS microphone arrays over large areas.
The SLOC interdiction operations were moderately successful, with some spectacular successes (such as the mauling of convoys carrying the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment and 43rd Infantry Division and the sinking of the Universe Carolina en route to Boston, depriving the city of fuel). In the longer term, however, the operations failed to succeed, as US troops were able to deploy unhindered to Korea and Iran (and largely intact to Europe) and the NATO war economies were able to continue operating at a high level until the widespread use of nuclear weapons brought the transportation system to a halt. In many ways, however, the likelihood of the VMF being able to successfully prosecute an anti-SLOC campaign were very low. First, the numbers of ships available to NATO and numbers required to sustain the war (approximately 7,200 required of 12,000 available without resorting to neutral shipping ) were so large that the VMF could not physically put enough ship killing weapons on target to sink significant numbers of ships. For example, each member of the entire Soviet attack and cruise missile submarine fleet (including submarines reactivated from reserve) would have to sink 90 NATO ships in order to destroy half of NATO’s required shipping, a wholly impossible task, never mind that the interdiction mission was secondary to the defensive missions of protecting Soviet SSBNs and the Soviet homeland. Even selectivity of targeting was impractical - for example, the desperate Soviet Naval High command July 2, 1997 order that, in an attempt to stop the NATO war effort by depriving it of petroleum, naval commanders were to strike only escorts and tankers resulted in the loss of three submarines while verifying the identities of NATO merchant ships by periscope prior to launching torpedoes, the loss of eight SU-24s over the North Sea which carried iron bombs rather than ASMs to a similar need to get visual identification of tanker targets and the immediate charter of an additional thirty Arab-owned tankers by NATO shipping authorities. Second, the distances involved between base facilities and limited Soviet replenishment capabilities allowed NATO naval vessels to be more efficiently used (spending less time in transit to and from operational areas) and better supported, further tilting the balance against the VMF. Finally, NATO’s technological superiority (with SOSUS and SURTASS ASW systems protecting the North Atlantic sea lanes, Aegis cruisers devoted to high-threat convoy routes) and the VMF’s need to devote its most modern assets to other missions meant that when contact occurred between NATO and Pact forces on the convoy lanes it most often resulted in greater Pact losses.
An odd mission for any Navy to undertake is that of remaining in existence in order to disrupt the enemy. However, this became a serious consideration to the Soviet General Staff during the war. As long as the VMF retained the ability to threaten NATO naval operations (by threatening convoys, preventing Strike Fleet Atlantic from parking carrier battle groups off the Kola or having even a single modern SSN at sea hunting NATO SSBNs) NATO commanders had to divert forces from the Central Front (and other land theaters) to contain the Soviet threat or to at least be available for and/or dedicated to suppression of that threat. This mission became evident in the period between the Battle of the Norwegian Sea in December 1996 and the Battle of the Kola Peninsula in June 1997. The Soviet Northern Fleet, which suffered massive losses during the Battle of the Norwegian Sea and dispatched many of its remaining assets immediately afterwards as commerce raiders, dispersed many of its remaining vessels and did not respond to several NATO naval probing missions, when NATO commanders hoped to engage and defeat the remnants of the Northern Fleet so they could operate unhindered by Soviet naval forces in the Barents Sea. In the nuclear context, the preservation of operational SSBNs with missiles and an intact means for the Soviet leadership to issue valid launch orders offered the Soviet political leadership the potential great influence in war termination and post-war political maneuvering. In reality, the postwar world was so devastated that the ability to nuke targets was not as useful as envisioned by prewar theories – there were few targets intact worth striking with such massive firepower, adversary governments were so weak that communications and control were practically nonexistent. There was no point in postwar negotiations – the Franco-Belgian Union remained so overwhelmingly powerful that Soviet control of a few SSBNs (while the rest of the USSR and its armed forces had dissolved into anarchy, destruction and local warlordism leaving the Soviet government in control of only a small area of central Russia) was essentially irrelevant.
The final mission the VMF was tasked with was support of Soviet allies in distant overseas areas. This was an important mission during peacetime but became impractical at the outbreak of war, when NATO naval power cut off Soviet merchant traffic carrying military supplies and economic aid. Many Soviet allies were so weak that a Soviet attempt to “show the flag” would often result in a rapid visit from a NATO task force intent on and capable of sinking the Soviet force, tipped off by the western intelligence agents who naturally noticed the display. Some aid to Soviet allies came from the naval assets dispersed on SLOC interdiction missions as part of Operation Primus, but this was more of an incidental side effect than a policy goal. As a result of their isolation from the USSR, many Soviet allies adopted more neutral policies in the global conflict. Cuba maintained an uneasy truce with the US, unofficially permitting Soviet raiders to receive support in Cuban ports or from ships based in Cuban ports and with troops in a war against NATO-allied South Africa but making no moves against the US homeland or the US Naval base at Guantamo Bay and gently encouraging Soviet troops on the island to leave as Division Cuba. Had the USSR been able to provide Cuba with a greater level of protection it would likely have received a greater Cuban contribution to the war effort. Likewise, the Vietnamese government, recognizing its weakness compared to Allied power in the Western Pacific and South China Sea, took no action in retaliation for the Allied strikes that neutralized the Soviet base facilities in and around Cam Rahn Bay.
Finally, another incidental mission that the VMF performed in peacetime but had to abandon during the war was escorting friendly merchant ships and protecting Soviet fishing ships. Prior to the outbreak of war, the USSR was transporting more cargo from Siberia to the European USSR by sea than on the Trans-Siberian Railway and Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) Railroads. This transportation of raw materials was essential to the smooth functioning of Soviet industry as raw material sources in the western USSR ran down and the Trans-Siberian Railway aged. By the late 1980s over half of Soviet transcontinental freight was transported by the Southern Sea Route, with almost 2,300 transits of the Suez Canal in 1987. Likewise, approximately 10 percent of the protein in Soviet diets came from fish caught by the over 3500 vessels of the Soviet fishing fleet. The outbreak of war in the Far East presented the VMF with the opportunity to build up its forces in Cam Rahn Bay by stationing additional vessels there to escort this civilian traffic, and by pure coincidence, presenting the opportunity for the VMF to both interdict shipping bound for China and position ships, submarines and support assets beyond the encircling choke points in case the conflict spread. As the war spread to Europe, however, Soviet merchant ships without a role in Operation Primus were ordered to the nearest friendly port and in a reversal of roles NATO was able to conduct a short campaign to interdict Soviet shipping.
On a region by region basis, VMF operations around the world during the war were as follows:
The North Atlantic and Norwegian Seas operations are covered pretty well by canon. After the savage three week long Battle of the Norwegian Sea surviving surface and submarine units sortied into the North Atlantic while Naval Aviation rebuilt and damaged ships were frantically repaired. In the period after the Battle of the Norwegian Sea, a handful of additional surface ships (mostly smaller missile boats and corvettes) were launched and numerous obsolete frigates, destroyers and submarines were brought out of mothballs or back from the scrapyards and manned with recalled reservists. The mine barriers along the Kola coast were thickened, supplies and vessels dispersed and a major effort was made to build up coastal artillery and missile defenses in preparation for the oncoming NATO onslaught. The initial NATO ground offensive penetrated Soviet territory as far as the Litsa River, forcing the evacuation of the Zapadnaya Litsa submarine base complex. (However, NATO troops discovered a nasty surprise when the nuclear waste storage facility at Andreeva Bay was blown up by Soviet forces, raining radioactive waste onto the advancing NATO troops). Following the strategic draw of the Battle of the Kola Peninsula (in which both the Soviet Northern Fleet and the NATO Strike Fleet Atlantic were destroyed as effective fighting forces) naval action in northern waters mainly consisted of the cat and mouse game of hunting SSBNs, which gradually wound down as both sides lost the ability to undertake nuclear submarine operations.
VMF operations in the Baltic Sea in support of the Warsaw Pact front in East Germany and Poland were severely hampered by the loss of the East German Volksmarine, which not only constituted a major force but which also was able to pass on to NATO commanders in-depth detailed operational and tactical information on Warsaw Pact naval plans, capabilities and limitations. Despite the vigorous and determined efforts of the Polish Navy and the Soviet Baltic Fleet, the Warsaw Pact naval effort in the Baltic was a failure – NATO navies were able to deny the Southern and Central Baltic to Soviet surface forces, operate with effective impunity along the Polish coast and raid Soviet coastal and naval facilities for almost the entire war. The Baltic Combined Fleet was able to launch a partially successful invasion of Sweden and provide theater nuclear strikes to the Western TVD commander, but overall failed in its primary mission of preventing NATO use of the Baltic and striking into the North Sea in support of the Warsaw Pact effort on the Central Front.
In the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, the Soviet effort to split NATO politically paid large dividends. Greek and Italian initial denial of facilities to NATO and later active conflict with NATO forces severely complicated NATO efforts. While the Soviet Mediterranean Squadron, as expected, did not survive for long, denial of the Aegean Sea to NATO provided the Black Sea Combined Fleet (composed of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet and the Bulgarian Navy) with a buffer that remained effective throughout the period of the war in which large naval operations occurred (basically the period up to the Thanksgiving Day Massacre). NATO naval forces were unable to transit the Aegean Sea and Bosporus at any time between November 1996 and June 1998, relieving the commander of the Black Sea Combined Fleet Admiral Kolyada of his worst nightmare – a NATO amphibious task force, supported by cruise missile launching surface ships and submarines, taking station off his naval bases and the USSR’s major shipyards and within range of South Ukraine’s vital war industries.
In the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf VMF operations were successful, given the limited goals expected of them. The Indian Ocean Squadron was the VMF force most remote from the USSR at the onset of hostilities and was not expected to last long against the US Navy’s air power in the region. Soviet allies in the region were either weak (Ethiopia and Yemen) or in a geographic position of limited utility to the VMF (Iraq), and of little use to the VMF. The Soviet bases on Socotra Island and in the Red Sea were quickly neutralized by Allied airstrikes, although the most modern aircraft had already returned to the USSR and many of the support vessels dispersed as part of Operation Primus. In cooperation with VMF forces in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea Fleet, the Suez canal was closed for much of 1997 and the first seven months of 1998 (the French cleared it in July 1998 to allow troop convoys to the Persian Gulf) after sinking three vessels in the channel (including the Front Pride - a Norwegian 150,000-ton oil tanker which was set on fire and booby trapped) and sowing the canal with mines laid by surface ships and aircraft. As part of Operation Primus, Soviet raiders were able to receive supplies and support from a number of remote Soviet ships and secret facilities along the east coast of Africa, in Subantarctic islands, India and Sri Lanka. These raiders had a number of successes, including the crippling of the USS Independence, the cruise missile attack on Diego Garcia which destroyed 4 B-52 bombers and eight other aircraft, and the diversion of the USS Salem and assorted other Allied vessels to raider hunts when there were other vital demands on those limited NATO assets. At the outbreak of war in Iran, the VMF was able to score a major victory by closing the Straits of Hormuz. Two days after the first troops from the 82nd Airborne landed in Saudi Arabia, the ULCC (ultra-large crude carrier) Stena Companion with over 2.25 million barrels of oil aboard struck (or was struck by) an explosive device in the straights. It burned, and drifted for three days before sinking. Most US naval forces in the area were outside the gulf when it happened. Nothing was able to move through the straits until it was ascertained that the channel was mine-free. There were only two NATO minesweepers in the area and one undamaged Saudi craft, which took over three weeks to clear the Straits (hindered by air attacks, some of which also laid additional mines). The delay severely hampered Allied efforts in the area. VMF operations in the Persian Gulf after this time were limited by the overwhelming power of Allied naval forces in the area (once reinforced) and were usually in support of land operations in Iran. Overall, however, the VMF was not able to seize the initiative in the naval war in the Indian Ocean from Allied forces or prevent NATO naval forces from shipping oil from the region and support Allied forces ashore in Iran on an other than temporary basis.
In the Pacific, the VMF was spread out among four operational areas, each isolated from each other and vulnerable to allied attack. First, forces from the main fleet base at Vladivostok were in a good position to threaten South Korea and Japan but were still hemmed in by Allied control of the Straits of Tsushima and the Japanese islands. The VMF established a series of SSBN bastions in the Sea of Oshkosh, protected by the Kamchakta Peninsula and the Kurile Islands. The VMF also maintained a major naval base and large portion of the Pacific fleet at Petropavlosk, which was the sole Soviet naval base which had unrestricted access to open ocean without having to pass through any choke points. Unfortunately, it was also isolated, with no land connections to the rest of the USSR. The final operational area was the South China Sea, with a major force operating from the Cam Ranh Bay naval base and nearby airfield at Da Nang.
Soviet SSBNs were generally successful and safe in their bastions in the Sea of Oshkosh. The Kurile defensive barrier was broken by Allied forces after the death ride of the Varyag and Frunze south of Kamchakta (when both were sunk by a combined US-Japanese group centered on the USS Nimitz) and subsequent Japanese landings to retake the Kurile Islands of Kunashir and Iturup. Most Soviet SSBNs were lost when they left their patrol areas for replenishment since the US routinely stationed Los Angeles or Seawolf class SSNs at the entrance to Soviet naval bases. For several weeks in January 1998 the USS NAME OF SUB lurked in the vicinity of an icebound Soviet missile supply ship and submarine tender off the north coast of Sakhalin, sinking three Soviet SSBNs, four escorting SSNs and both tenders before running out of torpedoes and withdrawing. Some Soviet SSBNs, however, had successful war patrols and were able to launch strikes on the US from the Central Pacific and the west coast of Central America.
Much of the Soviet attack and cruise missile force in the Pacific was tied down defending the different naval bases and choke points, trying to break out of choke points and attack Allied naval bases (such as the K-454 and K-251’s successful infiltration of the Japanese naval base at Sasebo in which two Japanese frigates, a destroyer and a tanker were sunk). A number of older boats were deployed to Cam Rahn Bay and dispersed throughout the Philippine and Indonesian islands after the US entry in the war, where they were able to inflict substantial losses on allied merchant shipping yet hide from allied patrols.
After the death of the Varyag and Frunze much of the Soviet surface fleet in the Pacific remained in the vicinity of its home ports to defend them from major allied assaults. The force in Petropavlovsk was able to inflict significant damage on the Allied carrier strike force that assaulted it in July 1997 when the NATO force blundered into a Soviet deep-water minefield, leaving it vulnerable to a combined strike by the carefully hoarded remnants of Soviet strike and bomber strength in the Far East (Soviet Long Range Aviation’s only major participation in the war at sea), the surface fleet from Petropavlovsk and a wolfpack of four Oscar II SSGNs while trying to extricate itself from the minefield. During the confused Allied withdrawal and period of regrouping and repair, the Pacific fleet was able to launch its invasion of the Aleutian Islands using a hodgepodge fleet of merchant and fishing ships (which had been recalled to home waters before the outbreak of war) with a naval escort.
In the South China Sea, the VMF base at Cam Rahn Bay and adjacent airfield were struck early in the war by a combined US-Filipino-Australian-New Zealand force, with the carriers USS Ranger and USS Abraham Lincoln at the core of the group and air support from Subic Bay, Clark Field and Singapore. The air strikes were followed by a landing by US and Filipino Marines (their path cleared by a joint ANZAC SAS force and US Navy SEALs) which destroyed the repair facilities at the airfield and naval base and the SIGINT facility nearby before the Soviet XX MRD had a chance to react. Under Operation Primus, however, many Soviet combatants had already dispersed and continued to harass NATO shipping for the remainder of the war.
The final area the VMF operated in was the Southern Hemisphere – the South Pacific, South Atlantic and Southern Oceans. These areas were the haven of the Soviet commerce raider force and were lightly patrolled by NATO naval forces, leaving the neutral and allied shipping carrying raw materials to the NATO war industries vulnerable to attack. When raider hunts were organized, NATO usually committed second rate units to the task (the USN had four reactivated Essex-class carriers flying light attack and strike aircraft hunting raiders) which had limited search and long-range attack capabilities. The VMF raider staff in Moscow kept its force well supplied with the latest satellite reconnaissance information from Soviet RORSAT satellites, ensuring that the NATO carrier force’s traps usually came up empty. Raiders were also able to hide among the icebergs that broke free from Antarctica while receiving support from Soviet Antarctic research stations and ships and replenishment from elements of the Soviet fishing fleet that remained in the area (in addition to fuel from neutral countries and repair in secret GRU facilities in neutral developing countries). As the war wound down, many Soviet commanders decided not to return home and settled their crews on such hardship posts as Tonga and Bali.
Delta and Typhoon class boats, plus the single Yankee II class boat.
Yankee I class SSBNs, Golf class SSBs, Juliette class SSGs, Yankee Notch and Echo II class SSGNs.
Akula, Alfa, Sierra, Yasen, Victor class SSNs, Kilo, Tango and active Foxtrot class SSs.
Charlie, Oscar and Papa classes.
Conventional Take Off and Landing – two ships of the Tblisi class (Admiral Kuznetsov and Varyag) and the Ulyanovsk, commissioned in 1995.
This capacity could be augmented by use of Soviet civilian barge carrier and roll-on/roll-off cargo ships.
IRL, the USSR never developed a SLBM with hard target capability. For game purposes, however, the final three Typhoon class boats (including the Barrikada of Boomer! fame) mounted a version of the SS-N-20 that allowed ICBM silos to be engaged. The USSR also (IRL and in T2k) fielded a version of the SS-N-23 missile on board the Delta IV class SSBN that was capable of low-angle attacks, which reduced reaction time and was used for the opening moves in the Thanksgiving Day Massacre.
By the outbreak of the war, Soviet Naval Aviation fielded a long-range bomber force composed entirely of Tu-22M Backfire bombers supported by Tu-16 Badgers (in EW, recon, jamming and tanker roles) and Tu-95 Bear recon aircraft. Soviet Long-Range Aviation, heavily engaged in the war in China for months prior to the outbreak of war in Europe and with additional commitments, was unable to divert aircraft for naval missions. Older aircraft had been retired (Tu-22 Blinders) or converted to support roles (the Tu-16 Badger bombers replaced by Backfires in the early 1990s were converted to tankers to increase the Backfire’s strike range).
For game purposes, this mine was a Soviet adaptation of the US Captor torpedo, which (again for game purposes… I have no idea of the real situation) the KGB obtained plans for through the Walker spy ring. The Soviets replaced the US Mk-46 torpedo in the Captor design with the Shkval high speed torpedo.
Thanks to Matt Wiser for the fate of the USS Independence. It was further damaged by an ASM strike while in port in Muscat, Oman.
The Soviet scrapyards were overloaded with obsolete naval vessels, grossly inefficient and poorly managed (the best managers and workers certainly were able to find more attractive employment) and underresourced. This resulted in a significant number of ships, which while officially scrapped, were untouched and available to be brought back into service after a shipyard refit.
As mentioned in the history of the 2nd Commando Group, Royal Netherlands Marines in the first edition NATO Vehicle Guide.
Basically, Operation Primus was a dispersal plan that deployed older Soviet combatants in distant seas to raid NATO civilian shipping, diverting NATO sea power from more vital areas, discrediting NATO sea power in neutral nations and disrupting NATO mobilization and economic planning. A vital part of this effort was the dispersal of Soviet and GRU-controlled merchant ships to resupply Soviet raiders so they didn’t have to run the gauntlet of NATO-controlled choke points. Soviet raiders were also able to make limited use of facilites in allied and neutral nations through portions of Operation Primus.
Figures from: NATO North Atlantic Council Senior Civil Emergency Planning Committee “Merchant Shipping for NATO: An assessment of the Supply and Demand for Merchant Shipping in Crisis and War”, June 1990, Chapter 10. This document is not directly applicable, as it includes requirements of and ships owned by all NATO nations (including Greece, Italy, Belgium and France). However, the orders of magnitude involved are close enough to illustrate the situation.
Richard B. Remnek “The Strategic Importance of the Bab el-Mandeb and the Horn of Africa” Naval War College Review XX 1990 ISSUE and James Westwood “Soviet Maritime Strategy and Transportation” Naval War College Review November-Devember 1985. Transportation between Siberia and European Russia via the Northern Sea Route was limited by the weather and otherwise harsh conditions, which required complex and expensive vessels (icebreakers or ice strengthened cargo ships) and limited sailing season (at best two transits a year).
Central Intelligence Agency “The Soviet Pacific Fishing Fleet: After More Than Fish” Langley, VA, 1982 and Norman Polmar Guide to the Soviet Navy, 4th Edition, Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1986.
Details of the base facilities are at http://www.bellona.no/en/internation...rds/28524.html and the Andreeva Bay nuclear waste site at http://www.bellona.no/en/internation...bay/index.html.
This operation was developed by Graebarde for his campaign. I am grateful for his input.
This operation was developed by Matt Wiser. More details are in the RPGHost Forum under the subject “Neutral Aircraft Carriers”.
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