Wednesday, July 12, 2017

COMMAND: Northern Inferno Scenario 8: Damn the Torpedoes Part 1

The Soviet Union has warned NATO that any further reinforcement of Europe "will dramatically escalate the situation". The Red Banner Fleet deployed most of its submarines before the conflict erupted; as a result, the surviving ones are now well-placed to interdict NATO shipping in the Atlantic LOCs (Lines Of Communication).

With Iceland still in Soviet hands, even after strikes by the Oriskany CVBG, the airfields are still in operation after Soviet engineers repaired them.

A large, vital convoy is currently approaching Europe with cargo, container ships as well as oil tankers.

The US 2nd Fleet with NFR (Naval Fleet Reserve) units has managed to assemble a motley collection of escorts together including the training carrier USS Lexington with an air group thrown together with reserve squadrons of S-2 Trackers and SH-3 Sea Kings.

The Royal Navy has spared 4 escorts from the Home Fleet to cover the Western Approaches. RAF will also be deploying Nimrod MPA as long-range ASW cover and Sea Kings from RNAS Culdrose when in range; STANAVFORCHAN and MCM 3 groups are also patrolling the South-Western Approaches and English Channel areas.

This convoy must get through, period. Nothing less will do.

Orders for Cmdr NATO Forces
With Iceland's airfields back online, the situation is becoming dire for NATO. Even though there are no strike aircraft on Iceland at present, Badger and Bear MPAs are thought to be using the airfields as a staging base for deep recon and surveillance into the Atlantic.

Submarine threat is the main problem: a unknown number of Soviet submarines had sortied south before the outbreak of hostilities, and with the severe degradation of SOSUS their positions are unknown at present.

NATO still requires fuel, ammunition and stores from CONUS to Europe, so a fast convoy is en route protected by the venerable aircraft carrier USS Lexington, now re-rolled from training carrier duty to her new role as ASW flagship.

Enemy Forces
Subsurface : Multiple SSK, SSN, SSGN, SSG
Surface : Unknown
Air: Tu-95 Bear (recon), Tu-22M Backfire (strike), Tu-16 Badger (Recon and ELINT versions)

Friendly Forces
TASK GROUP 20.04: USS Lexington CVS, USS Charles F. Adams DDG, USS Barry DD, USS Orleck DD, USS Richard L. Page FFG, USS Talbot FFG, USS Koelsch FFH, USS Pharris FFH, USS Valdez FFH.
1st frigate squadron: HMS Tartar FFH, HMS Brighton FFH, HMS Salisbury FF, HMS Jupiter FFH.
MCM 3 Squadron: HMS Glasserton, HMS Shoulton.
STANAVFORCHAN: HMS Kirkliston, FGS Paderborn, HNLMS Gemert, BNS Bovesse.
RAF St Mawgan: 201 Sqn (Nimrod MR.1)
RNAS Culdrose: 820 Sqn (SeaKing HAS.1)
Lann-Bihoue: 23F (Atlantque 1)

Safely escort the fast convoy to area "Safe Haven" in the English Channel.

1. Using shore-based ASW assets, conduct aggressive ASW patrols in relevant areas .
2. USS Lexington's air group to provide close- and medium-range ASW coverage on transit to area "Safe Haven" in the English Channel.

Command and EMCON
Command: USS Lexington
EMCON: Alpha-limited emissions

September 18, 1975, 0900Z
The convoy has 840nm to go to make it to the safe haven in the Channel.
It's a long way to the English Channel
I set up ASW patrols around the convoy, and also set up patrols in a sea lane towards the Channel. The Nimrods and Atlantiques will patrol a long stretch between the convoy and the British surface ships. The British surface ships will patrol another region in the Celtic Sea, and Sea Kings out of RNAS Culdrose will patrol the area between the Safe Haven and the British Surface ships. Once the patrols are set up, it's time to sit back and stare at the screens.

I am reluctant to send up an AWACS aircraft over the convoy, as it might just alert the Russians to my position, so for now I'll keep my AEW aircraft quiet for now. This may be a mistake...

0941Z Contact. The first sub-surface contact is made, northwest of USS Talbot.  A Sea King and a Sea Sprite both maneuver to investigate.
The Sea King drops a Mk46 Torpedo on the target, then identifies it to be a False Target. Patrols are resumed.

1007Z A Soviet satellite flies overhead. The weather over the convoy is moderate cloud cover and heavy rain, so it's possible that the satellite will not detect it. I decide to keep a "wait and see" approach to launching my AEW aircraft.
A Soviet satellite passes overhead
103123Z Here we go. Vampire detected by USS Pharris. Almost certainly submarine launched.
Damn the torpedoes, or damn the cruise missiles?
103128Z Cruise missile count is four, and they are close to Pharris.  It looks like the frigate is toast. I immediately set up my AEW patrol. I doubt it would have helped here though--I might have been able to detect the cruise missiles earlier, but I seriously doubt I'd have been able to do something about them.
Four vampires inbound on the nearly defenseless USS Pharris
103136Z USS Pharris is hit by the first missile and sinks. The other three vampires passed over the wreck of the Pharris and continue on for nearly ten more miles before running out of energy and crashing into the sea. I send a S-2G Tracker to investigate the region where these might have come from.

103624Z To my utter astonishment, my E-1B Tracer is shot down, right over the convoy and less than five miles from the Lexington!
The E-1B Tracer is shot down right over the convoy
The shooter is no less than a Tu-95RT, flying at 1500ft!  Somehow the Tracer flew close enough, and behind the Tu-95RT, and got shot down for its trouble.  And I didn't spot the contact until now...this is embarrassing.

USS Lexington
Naturally the Tu-95RT is flying right overhead, and not within the AA envelope of any of my ships.  I scramble some A-4s from Lexington and light off the group's radars. No point in hiding anymore, they know where we are.

The Tu-95RT Bear wanders close to the USS Lexington of all ships, which opens fire with its 5-inch guns.
USS Lexington fires on the Bear
The Tu-95RT continues on unperturbed, passing out of range of the Lexington and into range of the USS Barry, a Forrest Sherman-class destroyer, which opens up with its 5-inch guns.

Seconds later, the first A-4 takes off from Lexington, immediately breaks right and launches a Sidewinder from an altitude of 350 feet.

The A-4 opens fire on the Bear
The Sidewinder tracks the Bear and destroys it.

110122Z HMS Tartar detects and underwater contacts and engages it with a Mk10 Limbo ASW mortar. The mortar misses, and a minute later, Tartar detects a torpedo in the water. Amazingly, the torpedo misses the Tartar, which continues to close in on the target, apparently only some 200 meters away.  After passing over the submarine and turning away, Tartar launches another mortar salvo. This one is a dud and does nothing. Tartar's third mortar shot, five minutes later, is on target and sinks a Whiskey V SSK, and suffers some minor blast damage because it is so close. One sub down.

S2-G Tracker
122742Z VS-24 Duty Cats #12, a S-2G Tracker, gets a MAD contact directly in the path of the convoy.

Duty Cats #12 detects a submarine contact
Duty Cats #12 drops a Mk 54 Depth Charge, but misses. The second depth charge is closer, but still does not damage the submarine. The submarine increases speed and maneuvers, and the third depth charge misses. The Tracker has only one left.

The last Depth Charge misses as well, and the Tracker is Winchester, but now a Sea Sprite, Valdez Flt #1, arrives on the scene.
Valdez Flt #1 arrives to take over prosecution of the contact
Valdez Flt #1 drops its Mk 46 torpedo. The submarine's speed has increased to 13 knots, but that's not enough. The Mk 46 closes in at 45 knots. The torpedo impacts the target, but it is not immediately clear how much damage is done. Duty Cats # 25 arrives and launches its own torpedo, which quickly acquires the target, again hitting it. Finally, Duty Cat #25's second torpedo impacts and sinks the submarine, which is identified as a Victor II SSN. Two subs down.

1313Z A bogey is detected north of the protected sea lane, likely another Tu-95RT.  No emissions are detected, and as it is some 200nm away, I decide to ignore it for now.

133141Z Vampire! Vampire! Missiles detected, bearing 070, estimated 178nm. Naturally, that bearing is one where I have essentially no AA assets. I hope those missiles are headed somewhere else...

A few more sweeps of the E-1B Tracer's radome, and it appears that the two Vampires at headed due west, which would take them far to the north of the convoy. In fact, they appear to be headed towards the unidentified surface contact northeast of the convoy, Skunk #116. The missiles close in and attack Skunk #116, it turns out that they were both SS-N-3a Shaddocks, and Skunk #116 is a Commercial Dry-Bulk Carrier.  Both Shaddocks miss 55ft and 60ft respectively.

134401Z More vampires detected! Apparently the submarine that shot at the Commercial Carrier is firing more missiles.  I feel bad for him, but at least it's not me that's being fired upon! Eventually the two Vampire contacts are lost, and the fate of the Commercial Carrier is unknown.

150620Z USS Koelsch detects a submarine contact to the southwest of the convoy, some 30nm miles away from it. A Sea King is dispatched to prosecute.

Sea Kings
The Sea King wastes no time and drops two torpedoes on the contact, which is identified is a Charlie I SSGN--quite possibly the same one that took out USS Pharris.  The submarine is quickly sunk. Three subs down.

A bogey is detected moving south west of the convoy, and the two A-4s flying CAP are tasked to intercept. Likely it is another Bear. The Bear proves elusive in the clouds, and seeing as the A-4s have no radar, they are forced to rely on the Mk1 Eyeball to find it.  Eventually they do, and a Sidewinder takes out the Bear.

1638Z Another Soviet satellite passes overhead.

164734Z Vampire! Vampire! HMS Salisbury detects a pair of vampires to the west.
HMS Salisbury detects two Vampires
Vampire!  More vampires are detected, now four of them, and they're inbound. The British ships have point defenses, but that's about it. A Nimrod is dispatched to the detection location in the hopes of detecting the launching submarine.

The Vampires close in, and more are detected, It appears that a second salvo is on the way.
Multiple vampires inbound
The first salvo of Vampires may have been launched bearing only, as they are not headed directly towards Salisbury. Or perhaps they were targeted at HMS Brighton beyond.
The Vampires close in...but what is their target?
The four vampires pass harmlessly 2.65miles off the Salisbury's bow, still 20,000 feet up.  Then one by one they alter course, apparently heading for the Brighton.
The Vampires choose another target.
The Vampires' course keeps changing as if they are jinking or perhaps searching for a target. They begin their terminal dives, but are not quite headed towards Brighton either. The missiles pass 2.32 miles astern of Brighton. The missiles descend to 30 feet, and continue on their course.
HMS Salisbury
Salisbury detects more vampires inbound. The second salvo passes astern of Salisbury at a range of nearly five miles, possibly on a course to attack HMS Jupiter. The third salvo heads more northerly, potentially against HMS Tartar.  The possible strategy becomes clear:  the submarine fired bearing-only shots at each of the four British ships.  Against Salisbury and Brighton, the bearing wasn't good enough. It remains to be seen how good the aim will be against Tartar and Jupiter.

Contact with the Vampires headed towards Jupiter are lost.  HMS Tartar, however, is still threatened. The Vampires appear to have a good bearing.
The Vampires close on HMS Tartar
But again, as they descend, the missiles wander off astern and miss.  That was close.

The Nimrod dispatched to investigate the area liberally covers it in sonobuoys but no contacts are made.

Meanwhile, USS Koelsch detects another submarine contact, and Koelsch's Sea Sprite investigates.  Also to the southwest, the A-4s of the CAP investigate another airborne snooper.

The A-4s take out the snooper, which as expected was a Tu-95 Bear D.

Koelsch Flt #1 drops a torpedo on the contact, and hits it, but submarine is not sunk. Winchester, the Sea Sprite is forced to leave the area. A Sea King sets a course to follow-up the attack.

The Sea King arrives and drops a torpedo...and a November SSN is sunk. Four subs down.

As night falls over the Atlantic, the convoy suffered the loss of one escort, the USS Pharris, but sunk four submarines in return.  It still has a long way to go until safety, some 730 nautical miles.

Continued in Part Two.

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