Lions Will Fight Bears - Britain in World War Three, Spring 1988

James G

Gone Fishin'
Discussion thread:
There is no use of nuclear weapons in this story.


March 14th was the first day of World War Three and on that day the British armed forces suffered horrific losses. The Royal Air Force (RAF) had more than six hundred of its personnel killed, the Royal Navy (RN) lost just short of nine hundred when three vessels were sunk yet the British Army had casualties dwarfing those of its sister services: five thousand plus soldiers were killed.

It could have been a lot worse though. If there hadn’t been almost two months of preparations, in the main led by General Sir Brian Kenny – the commander of the British Army of the Rhine – under orders of the UK Government, then five, maybe ten times as many casualties might have been inflicted when the Soviet-led Eastern Bloc forces struck westwards that Monday morning.

Then there were the civilian casualties that were inflicted upon Britain. The absence of deployed thermonuclear weapons meant that millions weren’t killed as many feared, but over three and a half thousand were when conventional weapons were deployed against the UK mainland.

These were the losses on just that first day.


This is the story of Britain in World War Three.


Later, the Western media would deem the events of the last day of November the previous year as ‘the Moscow Coup’.

On the November 30th 1987, a coup d’état was launched within the capital of the USSR. Three men who called themselves patriots set into motion a series of violent events that would replace one illegal regime with another: theirs. They had been plotting such an undertaking for the past few months and had proceeded with great secrecy in this. To be discovered in those planning stages would have meant shallow graves for themselves… which was just where they intended to send those that they moved against.

The names of the three men were widely unknown. Viktor Mikhailovich Chebrikov was the first, Volodymyr Vasylyovych Shcherbytsky was the second and Marshal Sergey Fyodorovich Akhromeyev was the third. These were men of power and also remarkable cunning. They had risen to the highest ranks within the power structure of the Soviet Government and Armed Forces, yet they each wanted more.

Chebrikov was the Chairman of the Committee for State Security, the dreaded KGB. The sixty-four year-old was a career bureaucrat and a secret policeman. He had come a long way from very humble roots after being born in the southern Ukraine, and risen almost to the top. Like most powerful men he wanted more power though. In the position that he was in, as head of the KGB, Chebrikov was one of the most informed people within the Soviet Union. The KGB was known in the West for its external intelligence operations and crushing of any internal sign of revolt from its citizens. The organisation gathered plenty of intelligence from within the country though and as the man in charge, Chebrikov had access to all of that. He knew the state of the country’s economy, the true capabilities of the Soviet military (in comparison to the armed forces of the West) and – what he regarded as of great significance – the vulnerability of the country to fall into civil unrest that would topple the regime. He worried over the General Secretary’s plans for the future; Chebrikov was convinced that the path that Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev was leading the country down would bring ruin to them all.

His co-conspirator Shcherbytsky was another Ukrainian. The Party Secretary from the Ukraine was another life-long bureaucrat and someone with great ambitions too. Shcherbytsky had his own little empire down in the Ukraine and had initially been an ally of Gorbachev, especially when it came to the man’s plans for reform of the Soviet Union. That, however, shouldn’t have included any interference in the Ukraine party organisation. Gorbachev’s plans for stern anti-corruption measures and a little bit of democratisation across the country alarmed Shcherbytsky: he saw a future for himself under the General Secretary’s rule as disgrace and exile.

Once these two men begun plotting to do something to rectify what they saw as their personal ruin, they came to realise that the influence that they both held – over the KGB and a significant section of the all-prevalent Communist Party – wouldn’t be enough. They wanted to get rid of Gorbachev and many of the people around him, but the forces at their disposal weren’t enough to guarantee that such a move would work. Neither Chebrikov nor Shcherbytsky were gamblers that liked to take risks, especially if they would be gambling with their lives if they didn’t make a sure move.

They needed the support of a man who commanded many men who had guns behind him.

Before the Moscow Coup was launched, they brought a third man into their plans. Marshal Akhromeyev was the Chief of the General Staff: the most senior military officer in the Soviet Union. He had been a fighting soldier during WW2 and knew the value of the military in protecting the country. In the months leading up to his secret alignment with Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky, Marshal Akhromeyev had had several policy disagreements with Gorbachev. The General Secretary wanted to decrease military tensions with the West (the United States in particular) and this meant signing agreements that would end certain military weapons programmes. The Chief of the General Staff was unhappy at such plans from Gorbachev because he saw a weakening of his country’s military might as a result of such agreements with foreign powers. Fed lies by the men who would become his co-conspirators, he came to believe that Gorbachev’s ultimate aim was a near-demilitarisation of the nation so that the Soviet Union would be left defenceless against a modern day Barbarossa.

Marshal Akhromeyev was manipulated into supporting the other two due to their need for him to make sure that the Soviet Armed Forces, with its millions of armed men, would step aside to allow them to do what they wanted to take charge of the country. He was promised much by them for doing so, chiefly that the military wouldn’t be shrunk and that they both also had no plans for warfare. This final point had been something that Marshal Akhromeyev had made clear: he had no intention of ‘saving’ the Soviet Armed Forces from Gorbachev’s planned reductions so that Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky could kill his soldiers in a war.

Of course, things didn’t turn out that way the following year.


The pre-dawn raids in Moscow that started the coup were undertaken by Spetsgruppa A (also known as ‘Alpha Group’). This was a KGB anti-terrorist commando formation with detachments nationwide, though its strength had been concentrated in the Soviet capital in the days before the troika of Chebrikov, Shcherbytsky and Marshal Akhromeyev struck. The men of Alpha Group were highly-trained and well-experienced. Since the inception of the formation in the mid-Seventies, they had been deployed in a variety of combat roles across the Soviet Union fighting off terrorist attacks launched by separatists and armed deserters from the Soviet Army. In addition, elements of Alpha Group had fought in Afghanistan in the opening stages of the invasion there when they had assaulted the Tajbeg Palace in Kabul and killed President Amin.

That November morning, seventeen detachments of Alpha Group soldiers (four and six man teams, depending on the target) assaulted residences throughout Moscow and the surrounding areas. They were clad in black and carried assault rifles… along with pictures of the people that they went after. Security agents from the KGB’s ‘Ninth Chief Directorate’ opened the doors – literally and figuratively – that led the Alpha Group to their targets and then stood aside when the commandoes went to work.

Within moments, seventeen of the top political and bureaucratic figures with Gorbachev’s Government were dead. They were either shot while in their beds, bathrooms or kitchens. None were armed and none were in any way prepared for their own assassinations. The hit squads withdrew afterwards, in most cases leaving behind terrified family members of the dead men.

Among those killed were some of the most well-known politicians in the Soviet Union. The Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze was one of them, then there was the Interior Minister Vlasov, the Council of Ministers Chairman Ryzhkov, the Chief of Party Ideology Yakovlev, the Defence Minister Yazov, Chebrikov’s ambitious underling Kryuchkov and other Politburo members like Andrei Gromyko, Ligachev, Solomentsev, Talyzin and Voronikov.

The recently disgraced Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin was another victim of the Alpha Group hit squads. When at his apartment, the commandoes also managed to accidentally shoot his wife – Naina Iosifovna – dead too. Viktor Grishin found himself marked for death as well when the Alpha Group murdered another politician who had been previously forced out of his former position by Gorbachev.

Four more targets for the lethal killers that morning were not politicians, but career civil servants. The commander of the Interior Ministry’s OSDMON domestic security troops was gunned down and so too was his deputy. Another assassinated man was the KGB officer in-charge of the Kremlin security forces: someone who when sounded out, had shown an aversion to what would later occur there. A senior personal adviser to the General Secretary was the final target for the Alpha Group’s selected killing.

This wave of carefully-planned murders was only the beginning. A larger detachment of the Alpha Group launched a near-bloodless assault against the Kremlin complex right in the heart of the city simultaneously to those assassinations. Two hundred plus men moved on foot, in vehicles and also in light helicopters against the famous red-bricked seat of the Government. Armed and ready for a fight, they found themselves up against no opposition at all: Chebrikov had managed to convince lower-ranking officers of the KGB-manned Kremlin guard force to have their men leave their posts right at the very last moment.

Nevertheless, the Alpha Group went into the Kremlin expecting trouble. They cleared the huge complex building by building, room by room. Maintenance, cleaning and clerical staff were bound and secured when they were encountered throughout. The General Secretary himself was the ultimate target of this elaborate move and he was snatched from his bedroom rather than killed there.

Gorbachev was taken from the bed that he shared with his wife and the two of them were whisked away with hoods over their heads. The General Secretary had no time to wonder where the security troops who should have been guarding him where or what was going on before he and his wife were loaded into a helicopter and flown away.

Chebrikov had been responsible for the bloody part that the KGB had to play in the Moscow Coup, but where Marshal Akhromeyev acted there was no violence. He was at the Ministry of Defence building when the assassinations were taking place and the Kremlin was being seized, within a security communications room there at the time. He personally made phone calls and signed telegrams to other Generals and Admirals commanding military forces not only in Moscow, but across the Soviet Union ordering their forces to remain in their barracks and stand-by for further orders. No one who he contacted seemed to know what was going on and they did exactly what they were told.

Moreover, Marshal Akhromeyev didn’t receive a single enquiry asking about his nominal superior Defence Minister Yazov.

Shcherbytsky was in Moscow that morning too. He went to the Interior Ministry building and established himself there. Second in number only to the Armed Forces, troops from the Interior Ministry were based nationwide and were quite a force to be reckoned. The bureaucracy in-place within the Soviet Union meant that they took orders from the top though and from the Ministry, Shcherbytsky was able to make sure that there was no hostile reaction on their part to what he and his co-conspirators were doing.

No urgent orders were sent out for OSDMON security troops to come to the aid of Gorbachev’s dead and dying regime.

Throughout that morning, with only a very few people having known what had gone on, further stages of the coup took place. Shooting politicians, snatching the General Secretary and silencing the OSDMON were one thing: there was still much else to do though. There were a lot of people within the country who were not going to be happy at what had just occurred and the instigators of the toppling of Gorbachev knew that it wouldn’t have been easy nor would it be necessary to kill all of them at once. Lists had been drawn up that consisted of names of influential people in the Government, the military, the security forces and the civilian sector who were deemed to be ‘counter-revolutionaries’.

Chebrikov had orders cut for KGB internal security officers to start arresting people nationwide at their places of work or in their homes. Officials and bureaucrats were soon rounded up and placed into custody and so were civilians who worked in the media and the Government-led trade unions. Marshal Akhromeyev had officers throughout the Soviet Armed Forces take their comrades-in-arms into custody and prepare them for court martial: again, those who were suspected to be ready to act against the new regime were seized before they even knew what had gone on that morning.

As to be expected, many innocent people suddenly found themselves facing imprisonment and death due to fears over what they might do… but this was the Soviet Union after all.


Rather than being shot out of hand like his Politburo colleagues, Gorbachev had been taken prisoner for a reason. He was flown away from the Kremlin and out east a short distance to a facility that the KGB quietly maintained in the Preobrazhensky District. The hood over his head was removed and he was shown that his wife was with him in a windowless room along with many people with guns. A piece of paper was handed to Gorbachev with shouted instructions for him to read it in front of the video camera that had been set up.

Gorbachev did as he was told and read out the statement that announced his resignation from the office of the General Secretary on the grounds of ill health. He was scared for the lives of himself and his wife and there was no hint of a lie in what he stated for the benefit of the camera.

Quickly enough, he was re-hooded and he joined his wife in being taken down to a specially-constructed secure cell within the basement of the anonymous building. The plan was to keep them where they were for the meantime in case they were needed again for another public appearance, though it was anticipated that Gorbachev – probably his wife too – would end up being shot.

By lunchtime on November 30th, Chebrikov and his co-conspirators were ready to announce their ‘change of government’.

Shcherbytsky had prepared statements that were to be issued to the main newspapers of the Soviet Union and these were distributed to their editors for immediate publication the following day. Pravda, Izvestiya, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Sovetskaya Rossiya and Trud would each print highly-favourable headlines and editorials the next day which would praise Gorbachev for ‘unselfishly stepping aside due to ill health’ and encourage ‘the people to support his replacements’. No mention would be made of the blood that had been spilt or the hundreds of arrests that had taken place afterwards of many influential people. The official newspaper of the Soviet military, Krasnaya Zvezda (‘Red Star’), would the following day run similar messages though it would say what Marshal Akhromeyev wanted it to: the military needed to obey orders given by the State.

The newspapers would go out the next day, but before then, both Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky went to airwaves. Both men were more suited to the radio, though in the modern era that knew that they would have to force themselves to adapt to the medium of television. There had been mass arrests across the civilian media sector and those had included employees of the central TASS news organisation. Those who remained did exactly what they were told with regard to assisting in the broadcast.

The two public faces of the new leadership of the Soviet Union addressed the country across the stations of Soviet Central Television. They spoke of Gorbachev’s ill health, and the threats to the State from both ‘external enemies’ and ‘internal counter-revolutionaries’. The two of them had been ‘selected by their colleagues’ to ‘guide the nation through this time of struggle’. They promised that little would change within the country and what did would only be ‘for the good of the workers’.

It was typical Soviet domestic propaganda and thus very much a lie.


The news of the turnover of leadership at the top of the Soviet Union came quickly to the West. Media organisations in North America and Western Europe monitored their counterpart television and radio stations that broadcasted from behind the Iron Curtain and thus caught the announcement that Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky were now in charge.

The claim the Gorbachev had resigned because he was ill was immediately seen for the falsity that it was. His pre-recorded statement on camera was dismissed by so-called ‘experts’ as being made under duress, while other talking-heads were unconvinced by what his replacements had to say.

They called it the ‘Moscow Coup’ and such a name immediately stuck.

However, those in the West didn’t understand what all of that was about. Gorbachev’s statement and those made by Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky weren’t made for the benefit of the Western media, but rather for the Soviet people. It was those to whom the new men in charge wanted to convince that there was nothing untoward with regard to the General Secretary’s departure.


The governments and intelligence agencies in the West were alerted to what had gone on in Moscow by the media too. Presidents and Prime Ministers asked the heads of their intelligence gathering services why there had been no indication of what was coming: politicians never liked surprises. In turn, those head spooks pushed that question onto their field operatives with the intention that such intelligence officers should at once talk to their agents in the Soviet Union.

Everyone wanted to know why there had been no warning of what had suddenly occurred.

Several days later, a British spook working for MI-6 managed to arrange a clandestine meeting with an agent working in the Secretariat of the Central Committee. The agent was anxious and skittish; he was a man greatly worried for his life. There had been hundreds of arrests, he told his British contact, of anyone suspected of having reformist views. Furthermore, he said the party hierarchy had been killed off in a wave of violent assassinations. He urged the man from MI-6 not to contact him for the foreseeable future.

MI-6 soon spoke with the Soviet defector Oleg Antonovich Gordievsky. The one-time head of the KGB’s London station had known Gorbachev and Chebrikov personally and had also had some dealings with Shcherbytsky. He assured his new masters in the UK that the General Secretary would never have resigned and he agreed with those in the media that the man’s statement had been made under much duress… he had probably been in fear of his life.

The KGB Chairman had the makings of a dictator, Gordievsky furthered, and if there had been killings in Moscow, then he would have been behind them. As to Shcherbytsky, the new Soviet General Secretary was a thoroughly corrupt individual who was the polar opposite of the man that he had replaced. There would be no reform in the Soviet Union under him, instead Gordievsky prophesised a return to ‘the bad old days’ like those under Brezhnev.

Gordievsky was known to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and she asked to speak with him after she had been briefed on his warnings from the Director-General of MI-6 Sir Christopher Curwen. The two of them met alone at Downing Street on the evening of December 8th where Thatcher – an avid and life-long opponent of communism in all its guises – listened carefully to what her guest had to say.

Neither Curwen nor his nominal superior the Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs Sir Geoffrey Howe were happy with Thatcher listening to the dire warnings of future woes that they knew Gordievsky liked to relate, but the PM had forced the issue so that she could talk to him personally and hear him in his own words.

After that meeting at Downing Street, Thatcher’s closest advisers would say that she took a much closer interest in the after-effects of the Moscow Coup than they thought she would have done. Throughout the month, the PM personally reviewed intelligence from MI-6 (and also what was shared by NATO partners) concerning the new leadership of the Soviet Union. The stories of secret trials of alleged counter-revolutionaries – which were similar to those that had taken place under Stalin – that came out from behind the Iron Curtain held her interest and so too did confirmation that senior members of the deposed Gorbachev’s Politburo had been shot on November 30th.

A few days into the New Year, Thatcher spoke on the trans-Atlantic telephone to President Reagan when she was at Chequers in the English countryside and he was at his Camp David retreat in Maryland. The two of them were known for getting on famously when it came to working as a united front against Soviet interests and their conversations when it came to how to act with regard to that nation always brought a smile to the lips of those who were able to listen in on them. Like the UK intelligence services, their counterparts in the United States had been getting patchy but worrying information from out of the Soviet Union.

Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky had violently conciliated their rule, Reagan’s advisers had told him, and that also meant that they brought the military under their control too. Reagan expressed to Thatcher worries that his military and intelligence chiefs had about plans by the new Soviet regime to bolster their armed forces in new weapons, capabilities and size.

Their phone call ended with a suggestion by Thatcher that she should visit Washington sometime in the next month to talk to the President in person. She stated that they would both have more intelligence brought to them by their spooks and that could be shared then too.

Reagan agreed to the proposal and told the PM that he was most pleased at the idea of the United States and Britain continuing to work closely in reaction to the Soviet Union.

Events would overtake plans made by the American President and the British Prime Minister though: namely the so-called ‘Bornholm Incident’ of mid-January 1988.


Almost exactly two months before open warfare broke out in Europe, elements of a pair of navies from either side of the Iron Curtain clashed near the Danish island of Bornholm. This was a wind-swept island in the Baltic Sea east of Denmark that rested between Sweden and East Germany. It had for a long time held strategic value because it commanded entrance to the eastern stretches of the Baltic. Occupied in WW2 by the Nazis, they had used its location as part of their war against the Soviet Union. At the end of that conflict – after V-E Day – the Soviets had bombarded and conquered Bornholm from a garrison that had wished to surrender to the Western Allies. Moreover, Stalin had then refused to have his troops leave the island for a whole year afterwards.

Following WW2, Denmark had joined NATO at its inception to rely on the stronger Western powers for its external defence. There had been Soviet diplomatic pressure exerted against Copenhagen with regards to Bornholm afterwards and Denmark had caved in. While never announced as official policy, the Danish government not only didn’t base strong military forces of their own on the island but also refused basing rights for forces of their allies on Bornholm too.

Denmark’s allies had never been happy at this kowtowing to Soviet demands on the part of the Danes. Reconnaissance aircraft and naval vessels operating in the NATO intelligence role could have utilised Bornholm to preform stand-off surveillance of the Soviet Baltic coastline. Yet, the Danes were only doing what the Norwegians – another NATO member – were doing too: Norway didn’t allow its allies to regularly base military forces in the northern province of Finmark, which bordered the Soviet Union.


Despite being a small nation, Denmark maintained a well-equipped and capable military to defend itself. Training of the armed forces was up to NATO standards and there was much modern equipment deployed. A particular focus of Danish defence preparations was made with regard to its naval forces due to much of Denmark being an archipelago around the Jutland peninsula. The Danish Navy fielded a few ocean-going frigates (those of the Niels Juel class), yet the majority of its combat strength was in its fast missile and torpedo boats as well as coastal submarines.

On January 13th 1988, despite the winter weather, three Danish vessels were conducting exercises around Bornholm. Two of those combined missile and torpedo boats and a submarine were conducting training in anti-submarine warfare; the waters of the country’s easternmost island had been chosen because they were far away from the civilian shipping lanes of the busy Baltic. No live weapons were to be used in this training though because the Danes considered themselves at peace.

Not long after the beginning of their operations, the Danish vessels became aware that there was another ship nearby and it was also tracking them with its radar.

Upon investigating those radar transmissions by zeroing in on their source, that vessel was found to be the East German missile-corvette Rudolf Eglehofer. The missile-tracking radar from the Eglehofer locked onto the pair of Danish boats in what could only be regarded as a hostile manner. Yet, the Eglehofer wasn’t moving. It had come to a halt just inside Danish territorial waters: ten miles off the coast of Bornholm.

The Danish ships chose not to up the ante and escalate the situation in any way by engaging their own fire-control radars. Their training had been interrupted and while they monitored the East German ship and also contacted their operation headquarters back at Korsor, they moved closer to investigate. However, for a reason that the Danes couldn’t fathom, the Eglehofer continued in its hostile behaviour. The corvette kept its radar active… one which could easily guide a barrage of missiles at them.

In the past, such threatening behaviour had been directed against Danish ships in the Baltic from the Soviet Navy. Nothing had ever come of this before though: there had never been any shots expended from either side. To see the East Germans acting like this though was rather surprising. The military forces of the westernmost Eastern Bloc nation were known to be heavily politically controlled down to the smallest sub-unit and thus any independent action without higher authority wasn’t supposed to happen. There wasn’t meant to be any heat-of-the-moment actions made by a warship commander undertaken.

HMDS Willemoes was the lead Danish ship. It approached the idle Eglehofer and the captain attempted to make contact over the radio. The East German ship was twice the size of its Danish counterpart, but the crew of the Willemoes were not intimidated. Their weapons matched that of the Eglehofer and their sister-ship HMDS Hammer was nearby and catching up fast. Furthermore, there was an absolutecertainty that nothing untoward was going to come of this confrontation between elements of the Danish and East German Navy’s.

No one had told the East Germans this though.

No response to the radio calls – made in both Danish and English – came from the Eglehofer. The Hammer came closer to the Willemoes and one of those aboard the second vessel informed his superiors that he spoke passing German: his grandfather had been from Hamburg and he had learnt some of the language as a boy. The seaman was brought to the radio room and he spoke over the airwaves. The Eglehofer was asked whether she was experiencing engine trouble or such like and also whether her captain was aware that he was inside Danish territorial waters.

Again, there was no response from the East German warship.

The Danish vessels kept approaching the intruder. The loudhailer was taken out and handed to the German-speaking Danish sailor so that when the Hammer got close enough it could be used for further contact. Like any nation, Denmark greatly valued its sovereignty and the pair of vessels had every right to challenge the presence of the East German ship inside what were their country’s territorial waters.

Electronic warfare detection systems on both the Willemoes and the Hammer weren’t by any means state of the art, yet those systems on each ship were able to pick up signs that the Eglehofer was using its SATCOM antenna. The East German ship was communicating with someone using this secure method of voice transmissions, and it wasn’t something that the Danes could monitor to overhear who the Eglehofer was talking to and what was being said. Moreover, the East German Navy wasn’t thought to field such systems in the place of ordinary radio transmissions. One of the look-outs on the Willemoes was using powerful field glasses and he reported to his captain that the antenna in use was pointing eastwards, not southwards as expected.

The Danes struggled to understand what this meant…

Six minutes afterwards, the unexpected happened. A weather-cap from the top of one of the four missile-launchers that the Eglehofer mounted was observed being released just after the ship had turned to face the Willemoes directly. Before the Danes could react, a lone P-20M Termit (codenamed SS-N-2 Styx) missile shot out of that missile tube and shot across the short distance between the vessels at near-supersonic speed.

The huge missile then raced past the Willemoes and towards the Hammer; it slammed into the small superstructure of that vesselbefore exploding in a thunderous roar.

Meanwhile, the AK-176 cannon that the Eglehofer mounted was lined up against the Willemoes before proceeding to open fire. The captain aboard the Willemoes had been hastily considering his peacetime rules of engagement and what they meant with regard to the Hammer being taken under fire; he was trying to decide whether to fire on the East German when the Eglehofer reacted first. High-explosive shells flew towards the Willemoes and then started exploding when they struck the small ship.

Both Danish vessels carried an impressive array of weapons themselves, but there was no time for any of these to be used in self-defence. The 500kg warhead of the Styx missile had shattered the Hammer, while the 76mm shells that struck the Willemoes had exploded down the length of the ship. Missiles and torpedoes aboard each vessel then detonated themselves during the inferno aboard the stricken ships; the Danish ships blew up in immense fireballs and took the majority of the crew of each with them.

As to the Eglehofer, the East German ship engaged her idling engines and started heading back southwards. There were a few Danish sailors in the water, but the orders that had come through from Kaliningrad stated the Eglehofer was to leave those few survivors behind in the freezing waters.

The first shots of what would soon become World War Three had been fired, though it would take some time before they were seen as heralding such and also before it was known who had given orders for this.


Forty-seven Danish sailors lost their lives when the Willemoes and the Hammer were sunk. The explosions of their little ships and the cold waters of the Baltic combined to make sure that there was only one survivor from the pair of vessels.

Danish Naval Command had been monitoring their radio transmissions and later dispatched an SAR aircraft to their last reported positions. However, the submarine Nordkaperen – which had meant to link up with the two ships for their exercise – reached the scene first and surfaced to attempt a rescue mission. The Nordkaperen was only a little boat though and would have struggled to accommodate a large amount of wounded men. Only one man was found, a sailor from the Willemoes, and he was hauled aboard before the submarine headed back westwards.

The Danish Prime Minister, Poul Holmskov Schlüter from the Conservative People’s Party, was informed within the hour of what had gone on and at once requested that his Cabinet meet to discuss the matter. Schlüter at once upset his military chiefs by focusing solely on the political issues surrounding the Bornholm Incident rather than allowing them to brief him in detail and request instructions as to how to react. He led a coalition government of centre-right parties though and so the political implications of an act of such magnitude were always going of be of greater importance to Schlüter.

Yet, Schlüter was a patriot and forty-seven Danish sailors had just been killed by a foreign power in an unprovoked military attack. He made a public statement later that night to the Danish media; this was later carried on television and radio across the West.

Schlüter condemned East Germany for what one of their naval vessels had done. The Berlin Government had murdered innocent sailors, he proclaimed, and this couldn’t be allowed to happen again. Denmark was putting her military forces on alert and they would defend themselves against further unprovoked aggression. Furthermore, Schlüter stated that he was requesting that the United Nations be empowered to investigate the Bornholm Incident so that the world would know the truth of what East Germany had done.

Later that night, away from the gaze of the media, Schlüter spoke with President Reagan. Relations between Washington and Copenhagen had been rather cordial in recent years with Denmark having a centre-right government as opposed to the many long years of Social-Democrats being the dominate force in Danish politics. Reagan had met Schlüter beforehand too and the two of them had got along as well as national leaders of allied states can best do.

To the American President, the circumstances of the Bornholm Incident were surprising, though not that it had actually happened. He had been warned by his advisers for the past month that intelligence pointed to there being some sort of armed attack made against a Western nation from that of the Eastern Bloc. The exact details of that intelligence were being kept very hush-hush by the CIA, but their warnings had come true. In addition, what East Germany had done was to Reagan exactly what he expected from a totalitarian communist power that followed the ideas of Marx and Lenin.

At the Christiansborg Palace – Schlüter’s official residence in Copenhagen – the Danish Prime Minister was assured that the United States was ready to stand with Denmark. Both countries were core members of the NATO alliance and the Bornholm Incident was thus an attack on all NATO nations. Should Schlüter request so, Reagan told him that American warships, aircraft and even troops if need be could be temporarily deployed to assist Denmark. Moreover, Reagan would support Schlüter if he chose to request that other NATO nations provide similar assistance.


In Britain, what happened in the waters near Bornholm alarmed Thatcher. She had been briefed a few weeks beforehand by the Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Fieldhouse (one of the architects of the naval campaign in the Falklands), concerning a near clash in the Mediterranean Sea between a Soviet warship and a Royal Navy frigate. In that incident, the RN captain had felt that he was deliberately targeted by the missile radar of that Soviet vessel that had been shadowing his ship and then attempted to ram him; Fieldhouse had informed Thatcher that the RN captain had considered firing in self-defence, but his training had kicked in and he had maintained his discipline.

The Prime Minister had decided to sleep on the matter and consider how to act. Thatcher had to think of her party, Parliament and what Britain could actually do to support Denmark before rushing into anything.

Early the following morning, Geoffrey Howe spoke with his Prime Minster concerning further developments with the Bornholm Incident. To begin with, elements of the left-wing press in Denmark had made some startling revelations in several newspapers there. There was an allegation in one newspaper that the statement Schlüter had made had been false: one of the Danish ships had fired first before the East Germany Eglehofer had struck back. Schlüter hadn’t mentioned the submarine Nordkaperen in his televised press conference, but his media detractors did. The innuendo in a second newspaper was that there was much more to the circumstances of the Bornholm Incident than had been said and Schlüter was covering something up.

Howe had been told by Christopher Curwen that MI-6 had long ago marked key people at both of those Danish newspapers as being on the payroll of the Soviet KGB. They had too much information in their hands too quickly and thus there were signs of a conspiracy being at play. There was clearly an attempt to subvert public opinion not only in Denmark but in the West about the Bornholm Incident.

The question that Thatcher and her key government advisers had on their minds in reaction to this was why had this all occurred?

What were the new leaders of the Soviet Union up to? What was their motivation? What was their end game?

And what did it mean for Britain?
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James G

Gone Fishin'

Since the Moscow Coup, operatives from Britain’s MI-6 had been extremely busy in conducting their business of intelligence gathering across the Eastern Bloc. Hollywood action films aside, the role of a national intelligence service was that of collecting and analysing clandestinely acquired information on what opposing countries were up to as well as their future intentions: it was not about gunfights and pretty girls.

MI-6 had had mixed results in its efforts at intelligence gathering behind the Iron Curtain throughout the Cold War. The early Fifties had seen the infamous betrayals of its trusted men such as Philby, Burgess and Maclean, which had seen damage done that was at first was thought to be irreparable. By the Sixties though, success had come from dealings with Penkovsky onwards. The organisation had returned to great prominence and its operatives knew their business.

There were many people across the Eastern Bloc who provided intelligence to MI-6. Some of what they said was rubbish, other pieces were of great value. Many spied against their country for a long time, some did so only rarely. These men (and a few women) who MI-6 had contact with came from all walks of life and they spoke to their British agent handlers for a wide variety of reasons.

Nothing is ever simple in the intelligence business.

The information that came out from behind the Iron Curtain had been that of a worrying nature for MI-6 since Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky had deposed Gorbachev. Across the Soviet Union, there had been mass arrests and also a wave of executions that had taken place. Gordievsky had warned Thatcher of a return to Brezhnev, but he had been wrong… and the information coming out of that man’s native country pointed to a return to the days of Stalin. There was no longer any hint of reform across the world’s biggest country and thus no glimmer of hope for its citizens.

This bloodshed had spread to Eastern Europe too. MI-6 had good contacts with a pair of agents working within the Wojskowa Sluzba Wewnetrzna (WSW). This was Polish Military Intelligence and the two separate (and independent) spies that MI-6 had within told them of how the WSW had been tasked with supporting elements of the KGB sent to Poland to arrest hundreds of people across the country. The Polish SB was a politically-influenced organisation that the Soviets had little faith in and so had been ignored as Soviet agents roamed across Poland snatching and carrying away people who Moscow wished rid of using the on the ground help of the WSW. The Solidarity movement had been brutally crushed with its leaders dead, its middle ranks rotting in the darkest jail cells and its lower ranks broken by KGB-organised infighting and disinformation. Solidarity had long since moved out of the shadows and into the light… where it was ripe for the KGB to move against it with lethal force.

General Jaruzelski wasn’t going to do anything that he wasn’t told to by Moscow after that.

From Czechoslovakia, MI-6 officers learnt from a senior official with the Communist Party there of the purges that had taken place within that country. General Secretary Husak had seen all internal opposition to him crushed and he now found himself surrounded by ‘advisers’ from the KGB who were at his side at all times. The reformers who had been emboldened to be in a seemingly immensely powerful position to move against him – people such as Adamec, Jakes and Strougal – had found themselves secretly whisked off to prison camps in Siberia on Soviet aircraft.

East Germany remained somewhere that MI-6 was shut out of though. In that particular country, they couldn’t get access to any real intelligence that wasn’t easily discernible Soviet-written disinformation.


Following the Bornholm Incident, MI-6 found itself under great pressure from the UK Government to step up their intelligence efforts behind the Iron Curtain. Long-term strategies for agent exploitation were to be put aside for the time being – against the wishes of many officers within the organisation – so that the threat that was looming could be understood and thus put a stop to.

MI-6 managed to further its contacts in the Soviet Union itself and some startling revelations were discovered.

British Intelligence was to learn the real reason why Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky had seized the reins of government in the Soviet Union from Gorbachev: the economy of the Soviet Union was tottering on the edge of total collapse. Decades of military spending and overly generous foreign aid to friendly nations had gone on and had brought this situation about. When the national economy finally did implode, these two men were of the firm belief that the whole house of cards that propped up their regime, and the one before theirs, would come crashing down with it. Rather than face internal change as Gorbachev had been trying to bring about, the consequences of which were horrifying to men like Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky, they were now trying to expand outwards. Such thinking didn’t have to make sense to MI-6; they could see the evidence of such a thing.

The socialist governments in Eastern Europe were being brought firmly back under Moscow’s control to begin with so that the Soviet Union could further the policy that the Soviet Union had followed since the end of WW2: dominance of their economies and exploitation of their resources. Yet, MI-6 found out that Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky were thinking of an even wider expansion to keep the Soviet Union afloat.

The new men in charge in Moscow were making the first steps to do the same to Western Europe.

In whispered conversations with men who spoke in genuine fear of their lives, British spooks learnt that Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky had formulated a complicated and long-term strategy to finally bring the rest of continental Europe under their control with all of its human and industrial resources. They wanted to take – through politics, not direct force of arms – Western Europe under Moscow’s grasp by subterfuge. Western Europe was to see ‘events’ occurring throughout the coming year.

Governments across the continent were to be toppled by planned internal disorder. Their peoples were to be tricked into voting them out of office following political crises and into the positions of power would come other politicians that the Soviet Union could directly or indirectly influence. MI-6 officers were left speechless by the bold daring of such Soviet plans… and they knew that they were only being given brief glimpses at some of the moves that Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky had ordered to be carried out.

Britain was not to be a target of such Soviet-directed events. Political figures in the UK wouldn’t be discredited by false allegations of bribery or sexual misconduct, nor would there be internal terrorist campaigns launched inside Britain by left-wing guerilla forces. It was in West Germany, the Low Countries, France, Scandinavia and neutral Central Europe where such events were to take place.

The influence of Britain, and most-importantly the United States, in the affairs of Western European countries targeted for Soviet expansion was to be curtailed and then removed. MI-6 discovered that Chebrikov had instructed the KGB to spend 1988 forcing these two countries to withdraw their military forces from the continent so that eventually Moscow would rule Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. The two leading nations of the Anglo-sphere, with their centuries-old capitalist systems who had been trying to strangle the Soviet Union since its birth, would be eventually ejected from Europe. Socialist-led government would come to power and NATO would collapse when Britain and the United States were forced to remove their troops.

The Bornholm Incident was just the start of it all.

The reports that MI-6 brought back to the UK Government caused a political earthquake when they arrived. There were many people in Whitehall who didn’t want to believe such a thing. There were so many flaws in an idea like this and thus a great disbelief that Chebrikov and his General Secretary Shcherbytsky (who was seen as a puppet to the KGB Chairman by many) would even contemplate acting like this; it was clearly not going to work.

Yet, others did believe that the Bornholm Incident was the first stage in this grand strategy that had been uncovered: chief among such people was Prime Minister Thatcher. She found herself aghast at the thought of a Soviet domination of Western Europe. The military threat to Britain from that was of great concern and so too were the economic effects, but she was also outraged at the idea of hundreds of millions of European people having their freedom taken away from them in such a scheme.

Britain couldn’t allow this to happen!

The planned trans-Atlantic summit between Thatcher and President Reagan that they had been only talking about planning for before the Bornholm Incident came to pass very soon afterwards because of that shooting engagement. Thatcher flew to Washington on the 15th of January accompanied by Christopher Curwen while Downing Street tried to keep the flight very low-key with regards to the British media. Parliament was in session but normal business there would not reconvene until the following week; it was hoped that by leaving late on Friday and returning early on the Monday, the Prime Minister wouldn’t be missed.

An unwelcome and surprising political development event in the UK would greatly distract Thatcher during her urgent trip to see President Reagan though despite the favourable outcome of her meetings in Washington.


When in Washington, the sharing of intelligence with the Americans by Curwen was far from just one way: there was plenty that CIA Director William Webster informed the Director-General of MI-6 about too. The two men’s junior people who represented their respective organisations in the capitals of their host’s countries always had a lot to talk to each other about, but the two men at the top of both organisations shared information even more freely.

Curwen found that the Americans knew much of what he already did. The CIA didn’t have a wealth of contacts behind the Iron Curtain like MI-6 did, but instead had recently had a senior KGB official defect to them. Codenamed ‘Battery’ even when being discussed with Curwen, this man had told similar stories of mass arrests, executions and a crackdown against any form of dissent – real or imagined – back in his native land.

Webster also told his British visitor some secret nuggets of information that they had gleamed from their intelligence work.

The final decision to move against Gorbachev had been taken right on the eve of his departure to visit Washington where he had been going to sign the long-negotiated Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Reagan. This could have eliminated a whole series of nuclear-tipped medium-range missiles that were operated by both the United States and the Soviet Union; missiles that were seen by many as having that of a destabilising influence on East-West relations. The deposed General Secretary had thus not signed this treaty, one which the men who had toppled him apparently regarded as being the first step towards a one-day complete disarmament of Soviet strategic weapons.

This had come on the back of other policies that Gorbachev had wished to pursue that were seen by some in the Soviet Union as furthering a disarmament agenda. He had apparently been discussing with his Politburo colleagues a withdrawal from Afghanistan of Soviet military forces and, even more shockingly, a gradual and multi-year drawn-down of offensive military arms from Eastern Europe. These ideas had earned him the ire of Marshal Akhromeyev; he, the CIA had learnt, had been instrumental in facilitating the Moscow Coup.

As for Gorbachev himself, the CIA had conflicting information on him.

Battery had said that the deposed General Secretary wasn’t dead like the rest of his Politburo and was being held captive in the city of Tambov (in western Russia) under KGB guard and being kept wholly incommunicado from the rest of the world. One of their sources within the Soviet Union said that he was dead and buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in the wastelands of Siberia. A third piece of information stated that he was gravely ill (as had been claimed) and in a Moscow hospital.

Curwen took a lot of what Webster told him with a large pinch of salt. MI-6 had been handling itself very well in the past few years with regard to getting information out of the Soviet Union, while the CIA was at the nadir of its fortunes in trying to do the same. The KGB under Chebrikov had been very effective at shutting the CIA out of the business of intelligence gathering inside the Soviet Union and no one was sure why…


Thatcher’s visit was meant to be low key. She would see Reagan for private conversations at the White House and stay at the British Embassy; there was to be no fanfare to her time in Washington.

Someone had tipped off the American media though to the fact that she had flown to the United States for secret meetings with the President. The White House switchboard was bombarded with calls and the British Embassy found itself surrounded by reporters. There was a mad rush by journalists to find out just what was going on and they all wanted to be the one to break the story and claim an exclusive.

Avoiding the media circus, the two heads of government again spoke of their mutual fears over the recent aggressive behaviour from the Soviet Union and what their intelligence chiefs had learnt of conditions inside that country. Each informed the other that they became more and more concerned every day as they were told further worrying news; they both confessed that they were starting to worry over the possibility of war breaking out.

Reagan was focused on the threat of Soviet nuclear arms, especially since Gorbachev had been deposed so that he didn’t sign the INF Treaty. He explained that in his long political career he had had plenty of unfortunate experience with communism in all its forms and he had always known that the only way that such a system could ever hope to survive was by aggressive expansion. He expressed to Thatcher a belief that he had that Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky were going to restart the build-up of Soviet nuclear arms that had only recently been halted by Gorbachev. The thought that the Soviet Union might one day use such weapons caused him great distress.

Thatcher explained her worries over MI-6’s discovery of Soviet plans for long-term destabilising of capitalist democracy in Western Europe. Her fear was that Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky might bide their time and not rush in the future as they currently were. She and Reagan wouldn’t be around forever – holding office, she explained – and who knew what policies their successors might follow when it came to how to deal with a resurgent Soviet Union that would try another event like the Bornholm Incident.

By the time they had finished their discussions on the Sunday (after two days of informal talks), Reagan and Thatcher had come to an agreement on the course of action that the two of them were to follow. Maintaining the NATO alliance was of great importance; by any means necessary, European countries were to be kept from leaving NATO. Britain and America would retain their troops and aircraft on the European continent and, should the situation warrant it, there would even be reinforcements to those forces already deployed if an apparent danger of Soviet armed intervention to support one of their ‘events’ was tried.

London and Washington were standing shoulder to shoulder.


Thatcher’s flight late on the Sunday night was delayed for a while at Washington Dulles Airport due to a security issue there unconnected to the flight back to London. While she waited on the ground, she had discussions with her aides concerning the resignation back in London of Geoffrey Howe from his position of Foreign Secretary. Howe had requested that David Waddington – the party Chief Whip – meet him at Conservative Central Office that Sunday; Waddington had done so and been handed Howe’s letter of resignation from his Government post. Waddington had thus called Washington and tried to reach Thatcher at the Embassy, but she had only just left. The Ambassador, Anthony Acland, had rushed to Dulles Airport to catch up with the Prime Minister and inform her of this news because he knew that it was important.

The opportunity was taken while the aircraft was on the ground for Thatcher to place calls back to Britain before she flew home to find out why exactly Howe had done what he had… and also to try to figure out why he had resigned when his Prime Minister was out of the country. She spoke to both her Chief Whip and Chancellor Nigel Lawson but neither man could give her a definitive reason as to why Howe had stepped down. His short, hand-written resignation letter had only mentioned a ‘firm disagreement with the policies being followed by H.M. Government in foreign affairs’; Thatcher pondered over that quote that Waddington gave her over the phone during the following flight back.

Right before Britain was about to suffer a foreign policy crisis of immense magnitude, the country had just lost its long-serving and well-experienced Foreign Secretary.


The British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) was the command organisation for British troops in Germany. A four-star general officer commanded the formation that had under its command the three combat divisions of the I Corps, the independent Berlin Brigade and all of the necessary combat support functions that allowed the BAOR to operate.

Centred in the north-western portion of the Federal Republic of Germany, the BAOR had long ago turned from a mission of an army of occupation to British forces designed to defend West Germany against external aggression: re the Soviet forces based in East Germany. General Kenny’s command was effectively the successor of the 21st Army Group from WW2, and was meant to have a wartime command role over all NATO ground forces in northern Germany should a conflict break out. It was headquartered at Rheindahlen – in Mönchengladbach on the left-hand side of the Rhine – and was a large bureaucratic organisation.

By late January 1988, General Kenny was being forced to seriously study the possibility of the BAOR actually fulfilling its long-planned role of a combat command.

Following the Bornholm Incident, he had been ordered to fly back to London – while the PM was in Washington – and meet with not only his superior officer General Nigel Bagnall but the Defence Secretary too. The Chief of the General Staff (CGS) and George Younger were two men that General Kenny knew well and worked well with. They informed him that the Government wished for the BAOR to be prepared ‘if the worst was to occur’ and ‘international relations were to fall to a point were armed conflict might break out’.

These were ominous statements that General Kenny had never wanted to hear. Yet, at the same time, he was a professional military officer who served his Monarch. His predecessor in the same role Bagnall might have one day heard those same words had things been different in the past and General Kenny was sure that his fellow officer would have remembered his duty to Crown and Country too.

When back at Rheindahlen, General Kenny did what London had instructed of him and started the process of preparing the BAOR should warfare break out in Europe. Since the late 1940’s, many staff-work exercises had taken place under the command of the previous commanders who had sat in General Kenny’s place as to how the BAOR could be reinforced pre-war and what would be done during a war. Bagnall, before he had left Rheindahlen to take up his post as CGS, had overseen the development of the latest set of plans that the BAOR had.

There were three combat divisions assigned to I Corps: the 1st, 3rd and 4th Armoured Divisions. The last one was missing a whole brigade in peacetime and all three were also not at full-strength. There were plans for that missing brigade (the 19th based in Colchester) to be quickly flown into Germany and for all three divisions to be reinforced by reservists and soldiers of the Territorial Army. There was an assigned sector of West Germany that the I Corps was to fight in and this was to the east and south-east of Hannover. With the West German Army on their left flank and the Belgians to their south, the I Corps was to attempt to hold off and defeat a Soviet-led attack before more substantial NATO reinforcements could later arrive behind and alongside them.

The I Corps – along with three other corps-sized commands from West Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium – were meant to form the Northern Army Group (NORTHAG) in wartime. The name was a misnomer, but the command was real… and General Kenny’s. He could expect to be supported by an American corps and even French troops too, while his job was to fight off an attack coming eastwards as supreme commander in the north German theatre.

To be the designated commander of such a multi-national force was an honour of great significance for any military officer though it was also a rather daunting one. To command the armies of five, six, even seven nations (Luxembourg had a tiny but professional military force) wouldn’t be an easy task. There had been countless planning conferences over the preceding decades – with the French included in this too – yet General Kenny knew that things would always be much more complicated in wartime. The West Germans wouldn’t want to surrender an inch of their territory to allow a battle of manoeuvre to be fought effectively. The Americans would be concentrating on their own US-led efforts to defend the central and southern portions of West Germany to the possible detriment of those in the north. The French wouldn’t want their men sacrificed in penny-packets to hold impossible positions as plans dictated. The Dutch and Belgians would certainly complain about orders to defend Bremerhaven and the Ruhr with Soviet tanks rolling through gaps towards their countries.

The list of problems that General Kenny could see in wartime was endless…

Then, there was the issue of General Kenny’s own feeling as a British Army officer that he knew he would have to face should the shooting start. The British Army was small and every soldier valuable. He worried over whether he would commit his own countrymen to vital but suicidal last stands in vital locations.

General Kenny, as peacetime commander of the BAOR and wartime commander of NORTHAG, would often keep himself awake at night with these worries.

Orders from London were to prepare the necessary ground-work for the BAOR to be reinforced should the situation warrant it. He concentrated on that while at the same time hoping that international diplomacy wouldn’t fall apart and the Soviets wouldn’t act as his government feared.

Apart from the individual reservists that would be sent to units of the BAOR, there were plans for whole formations of both the regular Army and the Territorial Army to move to West Germany on the eve of conflict. There were commitments to Northern Ireland and UK worldwide interests that the British Army had, but there were still units meant to be available to the BAOR. General Kenny had his staff work on how they would be assigned to West Germany and told them to think radically. Were those combat formations – primarily of infantry as the bulk of Britain’s tank and artillery forces were already with the BAOR – best suited to be assigned to the three divisions already in West Germany? Could another division, even a small one of only two brigades, be formed and how difficult would it be to arrange such a thing?

What should be done with the Territorial Army? The headquarters of the 2nd Infantry Division resided in York and brigades and battalions were already assigned, but would that division really be best suited as planned to be attached to the I Corps as rear-area security? Was there a different role available for the 2nd Infantry Division?

Tremendous stocks of ammunition and supplies were stored in ‘secure’ bases across West Germany for the British Army to use. Were those ammunition dumps as secure as thought though – could they be destroyed in so-called accidents on the eve of war breaking out? Was the logistical support operation on the Continent prepared enough to take part in a major war or would it break down at once and cripple BAOR/NORTHAG efforts? In addition, was what General Kenny had assigned to him with regard to ammunition and supplies enough? Should more be brought across from bases in the UK now or should a delay until Soviet intentions were clearer be made?

General Kenny had so many questions with his countless worries… and the countdown to war had already begun without his knowledge.


Geoffrey Howe would spend many long years after the war trying to clear his name from all the innuendo and half-baked conspiracy theories that followed him. The Welsh-born former Cabinet minister would never be able to do so though and those who knew him said that he was left a broken man by his failure to stop the whispering campaign that never ceased.

He would try to explain to anyone who would listen to him just why he had resigned from the government in January 1988 and patiently attempt to articulate his reasons for doing so. No one seemed to want to hear him out though without waiting for him to reveal something more. There was never anything more though; Howe had his reasons and nothing further to add.

The suspicion with regards to Howe came from not only from his actual resignation, but because of somewhat similar actions taken across Europe by other politicians before war and what was known about those incidents. Howe’s resignation was linked in the public mind with those and the rumours were that he was a traitor to his country like those men across West Germany and the Low Countries were shown to be.

Howe had decided to leave Thatcher’s government at the beginning of 1988 due to – as he stated when handing his resignation letter to Waddington – a long series of disagreements with his Prime Minister. As the Foreign Secretary, Howe had been the most senior official representative of Her Majesty’s Government in dealings with all other nations worldwide. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office on Whitehall was where his desk was, but Howe spent most of his time travelling across the globe. He followed government policy in his actions… and in this he found himself personally aghast on many occasions as to what he had to do. In particular, Howe had a great distaste for the racist Apartheid regime in South Africa and wished for all relations with the country to be cut due to Pretoria’s treatment of the native black population.

Then there was Europe.

Howe believed that Britain should be at the heart of Europe and integration was the best course of action for the country there. His Prime Minister was wholly opposed to such a thing though; Thatcher believed that Britain’s membership of the European Economic Community (EEC) should be about trade and nothing more. She saw the UK remaining sovereign in its domestic and international affairs, backed up by security offered by the NATO alliance not some sort of quasi mutual EEC defence agreement.

For several years prior, Howe had quietly made his opposition to government policy on South Africa and the EEC known to his Prime Minister and the rest of the British Cabinet. Thatcher didn’t run a dictatorship and Howe’s opinions were allowed to be aired as long as he followed the principles of collective responsibility in Cabinet.

The sudden attention that HM Government directed towards the Soviet Union set into action a chain of events that would bring Howe to walk away from his role as Foreign Secretary. He didn’t believe that the threat from the new men in charge in Moscow was a real as certain people around the Prime Minister were making it out to be. The Cold War had remained without open conflict since the late Forties and Howe couldn’t see it ever developing into shooting just because there had been a change at the top in Moscow. He was very much far from an apologist for the Soviet Union and all of its cruelties, but at the same time he didn’t believe that what was occurring there should be distracting the Prime Minister as it was. There were pressing matters of policy in the UK that he thought HM Government should be concentrating on rather than living in constant fear of the Soviet Union.

Howe made the actual decision to resign the day before Thatcher flew to Washington and he had intended to speak with her before she left. He expected that she wouldn’t be best pleased though he regarded the matter as one of integrity: he couldn’t serve within a government whose actions he was opposed to.

Unfortunately, happenstance intervened with a tragic car accident occurring involving the family of his constituency agent in East Surrey. Howe left Whitehall before talking to the Prime Minister to be with his close friend after that man had seen his wife and two children killed in a multi-vehicle crash outside Reigate. This delay was not of his doing… though that later wouldn’t stop the whispers of a conspiracy theory with regard to that.

By delivering his resignation letter to Waddington rather than Thatcher, especially when she was out of the country, Howe found himself under attack in various sections of the media afterwards. He was called a coward by the tabloids and a mockery was made of his efforts to explain that he was leaving the Cabinet on a matter of principle. His offhand manner in dealing with the incessant questions from journalists wouldn’t help his reputation and he would be seen as someone who had abandoned HM Government at its time of need, especially when East-West relations became even further strained and people started talking openly over the prospect of an actual shooting war.


Replacing Howe in the role of British Foreign Secretary was Tom King. Thatcher had her Northern Ireland Secretary transfer into this new position and, in turn, John Major from the Treasury took King’s old role in Ulster. King was seen as a safe pair of hands; he was very reliable and always did whatever job given in the past to Thatcher’s satisfaction. He was at once challenged by external events beyond his control to live up to the high hopes that Thatcher had for her new Foreign Secretary.

During King’s first week at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office he was put to the test.

President Reagan made a speech in California concerning United States foreign policy that caused near-instant worldwide reactions. The use of the term ‘the evil empire’ with regard to the Soviet Union was once again put to use by the American President and he explained to his assembled audience (and the international media) why he chose to deem the Moscow Government such a thing. Reagan informed the world of the broad strokes of the intelligence that he had received concerning recent events with the Soviet Union: the mass arrests and the extra-judicial killings taking place there.

The regime of Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky was ‘illegal’, Reagan stated, and the two men were at the top of a ‘cartel of murderers’. He spoke of Gorbachev and how the United States had received information that the man was being held prisoner or, even worse, had been killed by those who had toppled him. No national leader had yet to speak openly of the Moscow Coup, but Reagan did.

The American President moved onto talk about the Bornholm Incident and the ‘slaughter of innocent Danish sailors’ there. He directly linked the sinking of the two Danish ships – which, he reminded his audience, had taken place inside Danish sovereign waters – to the Soviet Union rather than East Germany and stated his belief that Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky had given the orders for that incident to take place.

Reagan finished his remarks by announcing that he would be asking Congress to support him in the cutting of diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union should it’s leaders ‘continue on their path of lies, terror and murder’.

Worldwide, there were a whole range of reactions expressed in relation to Reagan’s speech. Thatcher had made it clear to her new Foreign Secretary upon taking up his role that the British Government was going to stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States when it came to dealing with the Soviet Union and so King had to make sure that the position of support that the UK had with the United States was expressed. When foreign governments started to make statements protesting about what the American President had said, King countered their negative remarks. At the same time he also found himself making statements supporting those countries who backed Reagan’s stated opposition to the new leaders of the Soviet Union.

This was no easy task for King to do, but one that he found himself managing to achieve. Countries like North Korea, Cuba and Iraq were bound to criticise Reagan for what he said while Western-aligned nations such as South Korea, Venezuela and Israel supported the allegations made against the Soviet Union. With those nations, King knew how to deal with them. It was other nations that caused King to show off his talents as a statesman though; countries who didn’t easily fall in either side of the great East-West dividing line in international relations. The Indian High Commissioner in London complained furiously to King about his support of Reagan’s comments, ones which India regarded as ‘undiplomatic’ and ‘unnecessarily inflammatory’. Swedish Prime Minister Carlsson instructed his country’s ambassador in Britain to express his ‘alarm’ at such revelations being made public while at the same time wanting the UK to know that Sweden ‘wanted nothing but peace and prosperity in Europe’ for ‘all nations’.

Thatcher had made a good choice in King because he managed to upset nobody apart from those looking to be upset.

Following on from the reaction to Reagan’s speech, King found himself having to deal with the political fall-out from the resignations of a pair of Dutch politicians.

In begin with, a member of the upper house of the Netherlands Parliament tendered his resignation from the Senate before fleeing from his native country on a flight out of Amsterdam to South America. While a major national news story in Holland, it was only after a second politician acted in a similar manner the following day that King and HM Government started to take notice. That second politician was from House of Representatives (the lower house of the Dutch Parliament) and represented a seat in the Apeldoorn area of the western part of the country; he quit his position the morning that the newspaper de Volkskrant made shocking revelations about him.

Rather than flee the country, the Apeldoorn politician was taken into the custody of the Dutch security services and at once questioned about what the de Volkskrant was saying. The spooks asked the man in their custody about his personal finances and whether he really had been secretly accepting money for many years from the Soviet Union.

Both Dutch politicians had been regarded beforehand as true patriots of their country and were known as stalwarts of the right-wing in the Netherlands. It was discovered that the one who had fled Holland had been about to face an exposéin the de Telegraaf newspaper about his sexual dalliances with underage foreign prostitutes over the period of many years. Contact had been made with each politician by the form of phone calls from persons unknown before they resigned their posts instructing them to do so or their crimes would be revealed in the media; of course each had done so but still the newspapers had revealed all.

This was a similar story to what King had only recently been told that the KGB had plans to do. The warnings that MI-6 had received from their contacts within the Soviet Union said that there would be many politicians across Western Europe soon to be exposed for all sorts of improper and illegal behaviour so that public faith in the political establishments in Western countries would be slowly but surely destroyed.

Just as the Soviets apparently hoped, King was one of many senior people in the know who could only watch helplessly from the side-lines as this occurred in the Netherlands. He was authorised by Thatcher to inform the Dutch Government of what the KGB was doing and King duly did so.

This was just the start though…
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James G

Gone Fishin'

Reagan’s speech had a major effect upon the campaign by his Vice President to get himself elected the coming November. George H. W. Bush was in the early stages of his campaign to secure the Republican Party nomination and what his President had to say didn’t help that effort one little bit.

The all-important Iowa Caucuses were only a few weeks away and Bush had a strong set of challengers lining up against him. Senator Bob Dole, Congressman Jack Kemp and televangelist Pat Robertson were all after the job that Bush wanted and he needed no distraction. What Reagan said caused real distraction in Bush’s efforts though.

Bush immediately faced questions from the media asking whether he supported his President’s comments regarding the Soviet Union. Of course he supported his President, Bush said through gritted teeth, just as he always had done through the past seven years when it came to foreign policy. He told the questioning journalists that he had seen the same intelligence information that had come out of the USSR and had been left as aghast as it just as Reagan was.

He was firmly behind his President.

Away from the cameras, and with his campaign team, Bush was furious. He understood why Reagan had said what he had, yet he didn’t want the media attention on his campaign to be directed towards foreign events that he had absolutely no control over. The Vice President wanted and needed the nomination process and the subsequent election this coming November to be about the economy and domestic affairs – where he saw himself as having an edge over not only his Republican opponents, but those potential ones from the Democratic Party too.

What was going on with the Soviet Union and the aggressive behaviour of its new rulers was starting to damage Bush’s run for the Presidency.

Across the Atlantic, late January saw a series of deadly terrorist attacks taking place in West Germany.

In what was later revealed to be Soviet-orchestrated co-operation between two different groups, both the Red Army Faction (R.A.F.) and the Revolutionary Cells (R.Z.) detonated a multitude of bombs, made attempts on the lives of prominent West Germans and launched commando-style armed attacks. These terrorist groups were foreign sponsored with a hard-left political outlook where violence was a principle part of their very being.

The bombings that the R.A.F. and the R.Z. carried out targeted American–owned companies operating in West Germany as well as courthouses in Hamburg, Düsseldorf and Mannheim. Politicians, businessmen and journalists were attacked and murdered in their own homes by men with guns throughout Lower Saxony and Bavaria. In Saarbrucken, the building that housed the Landtag of Saarland (the state legislature) was assaulted by a force of six armed men when its members were in session; they were repulsed for their aim of hostage-taking there, but there were many civilian casualties inflicted.

Both terrorist groups were found of the notion of ‘propaganda by the deed’ and sought to generate as much media coverage for their actions as possible. Of course, their causes and goals had near-zero support in West Germany, but that didn’t mean that they didn’t repeatedly make press releases after their attacks. The R.A.F. and the R.Z. claimed credit for all of their strikes and furthermore promised that they would continue to strike again and again.

The West German security services had been caught unawares of the scale of the attacks coming their way; they had little luck in infiltrating these groups despite numerous efforts to do so. Thirty-six people were killed in terrorist attacks in the last week of January – a very large number indeed – and they couldn’t allow the continuation of such a bloody campaign. The gloves came off and members of the R.A.F. and the R.Z. were more actively sought than they had ever been before.

Laws were bent and even broke sometimes, all in the name of defending the West German state.

Eventually something terrible was bound to occur…


Thatcher was in Paris on February 1st when the Italian tabloid newspaper la Repubblica broke the story that the French President Francois Mitterrand not only had a long-term secret mistress, but an illegitimate thirteen year-old daughter by that woman too.

As they had always done, the French media stayed silent on this issue. Yet, the la Repubblica had well and truly let the cat out of the bag and the rest of Western Europe and later North America soon heard all about it as other newspapers and television stations ran with the story. Thatcher’s impromptu semi-summit with Mitterrand still went ahead nonetheless as the two of them discussed how Britain and France could work together in the face of unhand moves by the Soviet Union to destabilise the political climate of the continent, but the French President was greatly distracted by everyone knowing the intimidate details of his personal life.

Curwen sent a junior officer from MI-6 via the fastest available plane to act as his mouthpiece when informing his Prime Minister that the revelations about Mitterrand were true, though Thatcher wasn’t as surprised by such news as Curwen had thought she would be: French politicians weren’t well-known for keeping their flies done up.

The French presidential election was only two months away and this was seen by the British Prime Minister as yet another effort at destabilisation, one which was taking place right under her very nose. She and Mitterrand were hardly close and the policies of both governments not very ideology aligned, but Thatcher didn’t want to see Mitterrand forced out of office through Soviet efforts.


After flying back to London from Paris the following day, the Prime Minister informed her staff that she wished to be kept up to date on all further developments with regard to Mitterrand, though first she had a meeting to attend with George Younger and two of the senior military men at the MOD: Admiral Fieldhouse and General Bagnall.

Thatcher attended a meeting where she was given a briefing of the recently-created and top secret Plan COMPASS.

This was an MOD study that discussed how British military forces could quickly move to a wartime footing should a very real threat of war breaking out come about. Preparations and deployments by all three armed services to their wartime stations were covered by COMPASS and so too was military support to the civilian power in the UK. It was heavily-based on current existing plans with only a very few new twists.

Almost at once, Thatcher expressed her reservations to several elements of COMPASS. She didn’t like how too much emphasis was putting on deploying Britain’s small military forces to multiple potential theatres where they were expected to come into contact with Soviet-led forces acting against NATO. The British Army was planned to be deployed in strength to northern Norway, Denmark, West Germany and Hong Kong. Aircraft from the RAF were meant to go to those potential theatres as well as providing for UK air defence. Then there was Fieldhouse’s beloved Royal Navy: COMPASS called for the RN to deploy to the Norwegian Sea, the Danish Straits / North Sea area and even the Turkish Straits in the eastern Mediterranean.

Too much was planned to be done with too little, the Prime Minister told those briefing her. She wanted a new deployment plan put together to make better use of what Britain had to offer in defensive assets to support the NATO alliance… and that plan to be put together soon should the Soviets deem their subversion efforts in Western Europe a failure and decide to force the matter with their own military forces.


The Panamanian-flagged and American-owned MV Greenbanks was intercepted by HMS Jupiter when the merchant ship entered British territorial waters inside Lough Foyle on February 3rd.

Bound for Londonderry, the Greenbanks was known by intelligence to be attempting to make a stop during the night just off the Ulster shoreline near Ballykelly where a small and illicit portion of her cargo was supposed to be transferred to a speedboat on a clandestine ship-to-shore run. The Jupiter, carrying a small party of commandoes from the Special Boat Service (SBS), had been lying in wait for the Greenbanks and those special forces troops ambushed the merchantman first.

The SBS had their own fast boats and launched a textbook assault to seize the Greenbanks before that cargo could be dumped overboard or the ship might try to make for Republic of Ireland sovereign waters nearby. There was some resistance from the crew aboard, though the SBS men overcame them with the end result being that no fatal casualties were inflicted on either side despite many shots being fired in the darkness.

The Jupiter moved in closer after the seizure of the merchantman and other personnel from the RN frigate went aboard the Greenbanks. These were Special Branch officers from the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) who were interested in who was aboard and whether the suspected cargo was what they were after; they weren’t to be disappointed.

A lot of guns were on the Greenbanks.

The Jupiter and the SBS had managed to capture a shipment of fifty-three weapons of varying types that the captured men aboard were attempting to smuggle into Northern Ireland. They found Soviet-built AK-74 assault rifles, German-built MP5 submachine guns and American-built Colt pistols. There was little ammunition for these weapons apart from what was in the magazines with each gun, though the RUC men had information that they would act on later about that. For now, they had all of these guns and the men who had been trying to bring them into Northern Ireland.

The guns and the men suspected of being directly involved in the smuggling attempt were taken aboard the Jupiter while the Greenbanks would be directed towards a prepared berth at Londonderry Port.

The smugglers seized from the Greenbanks were soon identified from the intelligence that the British forces who had launched the operation against them had acted upon. They were operatives from the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA): a rather nasty republican terrorist organisation driven by Marxist aims of a united and communist Ireland. Their funding mainly came from domestic crime (bank robberies and kidnapping in the main) undertaken in Ulster and in the Republic of Ireland rather than by Irish émigré communities worldwide operating under mistaken romantic ideas of Irish freedom from the evils of British imperialism… the INLA had nothing like the contacts that the IRA had in the United States with regard to funding, weapons and political support.

Taken away from the Jupiter when the frigate’s helicopter flew them to Shackleton Barracks, the five detained INLA smugglers found themselves right near where they had been intending to go ashore for this military base was outside Ballykelly and near the waters of Lough Foyle. There was no time for them to meet their comrades hiding in the nearby Ballykelly Forest either; such men were currently being ambushed by another well-armed SBS detachment.

Instead, the INLA men were hooded and shackled upon arriving at Shackleton Barracks as their captors prepared themselves to talk with such men. The RUC Special Branch had been gearing up for this operation for the past week since they had received the intelligence on the Greenbanks and its cargo and they wanted to make sure they had all their facts straight before they went into their interrogations.

Everything that was known about their prisoners was briefly reviewed and so too was the recent activities of the Greenbanks. The ship had been tracked by the RAF and the RN since it had left Helsinki the previous week and Finnish authorities would soon be made aware of the identity of the gunrunner in their capital city who had sold the guns to the INLA. The RUC hoped that the man would be arrested by the Finns and that their own government would seek the extradition of that man, though they knew that geo-politics would come into play there. They had all the information that they needed anyway; that man in Helsinki was a front for Soviet KGB efforts to supply illegally-obtained weaponry to terrorist groups operating across the West.

For now, the focus was on the captured INLA men and bleeding them dry of any further intelligence that might be gained from them.

The seizure of the Greenbanks – using British military forces and involving a foreign-flagged ship – had been approved at the highest levels of the British Government.

Thatcher, Younger, King and Curwen had all been involved in stopping this transit of arms reaching the INLA gunman in Ulster because of the circumstances surrounding the effort to smuggle those guns. To start with, the INLA were deemed to be a very grave danger to the security situation in Northern Ireland due to their previous disregard when it came to inflicting civilian casualties as part of their ongoing terrorist operations. They didn’t fear upsetting foreign sympathisers in the United States or the Republic of Ireland as the larger IRA did… because they didn’t have many.

Then there was the issue of the source of those weapons.

MI-6 intelligence had pointed to the ‘buy’ that the INLA had made in Helsinki as being not only financed but also protected by the KGB. The Soviets had wanted those guns to get to Ulster where they could be used and only alert British Intelligence efforts had put a stop to this. Stopping this transfer would damage other efforts on the part of both the KGB and the INLA to send more guns and the intent on the part of London was to make sure that the apparent wishes of the KGB to have the INLA launch attacks in Northern Ireland to distract the British Government and make the security situation there worse would be curtailed.

Such was the plan anyway…


Three days later, the West German security services tried a similar operation against one of their own domestic terrorist groups in the southern Rhineland… they weren’t as successful as their British counterparts in not spilling any blood.

Agents from the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV)were alerted to a group of R.Z. terrorists gathered in a house on the outskirts of Kaiserslautern who weren’t just sitting around reading up on Marxist political theory.

There were four of them and they were reported to be well-armed with automatic weapons and explosives. The tip that the counter-subversive spooks from the BfV stated that the wannabe revolutionaries were soon to ‘go on a mission’, possibly as soon as the morning of the 7th.

Kaiserslautern was known as ‘K–Town’ to the tens of thousands of US military personnel serving throughout West Germany. Radiating in every direction from the busy city were American military bases including such places as Ramstein Air Base and the Landstuhl Medical Centre to name only a few. The US military in the Rhineland had seen attacks launched against it before from West German domestic terrorists with Ramstein being bombed a few years before by the Red Army Faction.

The West Germans thus feared that the R.Z. were soon to strike again against Americans in an attack that might strain German-US relations in these troublesome times. The BfV informed US Military Intelligence of the threat from the R.Z. group currently in Kaiserslautern – US bases across the Rhineland instantly went on full-scale alert – and then the paramilitary anti-terrorist force GSG-9 was sent into action.

The GSG-9 launched their raid on the suburban house in Kaiserslautern using not only the cover of night-time but also the distraction offered by a pair of fire engines that purposely sailed past blaring their sirens.

Twenty plus policemen hit the building from every side by going through both the front and rear doors on the ground floor as well as a side window on the first floor. Flash-bang grenades were used in this assault to disorientate the terrorists who it was hoped would be sleeping.

The only problem was that there weren’t just terrorists in the assaulted house.

The R.Z. wasn’t using the property as safe-house to hide out in: the BfV had faulty intelligence there. Instead, one of the West German terrorists had a widowed sister who lived in the property with her two young children. The R.Z. wasn’t that well-funded or organised like other communist insurgent groups in the country and they didn’t have an unlimited supply of places nationwide where they could lay low overnight.

The use of the flash-bang grenades didn’t have the desired effect upon two of the terrorists who were inside the Kaiserslautern house: they opened fire towards doors and windows with their AK-47’s in a crazed fashion hoping to hit the unknown intruders that were entering the house. Neither of them knew what was going on but decided that the best thing to do was to fight.

The GSG-9 men restrained themselves as much as they could, though some of their number returned fire to defend themselves. Bullets flew in all directions throughout the house and didn’t care where they ended up.

Both of the young children in the house were struck by bullets that came through internal walls. The four year-old boy was killed and the three year-old girl badly wounded. Their mother escaped the shooting gallery uninjured… unlike her brother and three of his revolutionary friends who were all shot with two of their number being killed.

Also shot during the fire-fight were three members of the GSG-9 assault team, with one of those men losing his life as well.

The bloodbath in Kaiserslautern came too late to make the newspapers the next morning in West Germany but local television and radio news teams reacted to the scene pretty quick. By dawn, there was a media frenzy unfolding as journalists sought to outdo each other in finding out just what had gone on in the bullet-ridden house and how four people – one of them a little boy – had lost their lives there.


February 11th saw the top levels of the British Government – Thatcher, King, Younger and Curwen – briefed on an incident that had occurred the day before in the Black Sea. Preliminary information had come in over the night before, but what Fieldhouse and Bagnall from the MOD had to tell contained much more thorough information.

A pair of United States Navy warships (the cruiser USS Yorktown and the destroyer USS Caron) had been attacked while sailing near the Crimea. They had been less than ten miles off the Soviet-controlled coast when aircraft-delivered bombs had struck them. Both ships were damaged but still afloat – now back in international waters – though there had been casualties on each, especially with regards to the bigger Yorktown.

The politicians listened to the men in uniform as they explained that the Americans had sent their ships purposely through Soviet sovereign waters in a declared mission stating their ‘right of innocent passage’: a technical matter of international naval law. Radio warnings that contained dire threats had been made followed by both American warships being rammed by smaller but heavily-armed Soviet ships. Soviet aircraft had then come into play with one of those dropping bombs to end the stand-off that had turned into an armed engagement.

Fieldhouse had spoken with the Pentagon earlier in the day and they had told him that both ships were heading towards Istanbul… meanwhile the rest of the United States Navy was going on full alert.

It was explained that the Americans were considering the attack to be deliberate. They apparently had signals intelligence that pointed to direct orders being sent to the Soviet aircraft right before it made its attack on the Yorktown and the Caron coming straight over a satellite link-up from Moscow. American warships worldwide were now standing ready in case they faced attack too.

King, Younger and Curwen had been speaking to the Americans overnight too and they told their Prime Minister how their counterparts across in Washington were directly linking the attack on their warships to the Bornholm Incident the previous month. Two Danish ships had been attacked and sunk then in the Baltic Sea and now a pair of US Navy ships had been struck at while out in the Black Sea. The Soviets had gotten away with that first attack and so had made a similar move again.

Thatcher was told how the prevailing mood in Washington, especially among those in Reagan’s inner circle, was that this was the final straw for what the Soviets were going to be allowed to get away with. The political dramas that the Soviets were creating throughout Western Europe were one thing, but to attack United States warships and kill American sailors – no matter what the legality involved of those warships being inside Soviet waters was – was going too far.

The American media had yet to get wind of what had occurred, but soon enough they would find out – probably later in the day. Once the news got out (and it certainly would), it was to be expected that Reagan would be forced to act somehow and there would also be a further knock-on effect with the ongoing Presidential campaign as well.

The briefing afterwards turned towards what had been discussed a few days before with regard to COMPASS. Thatcher had some of the key people with her in Downing Street telling her about the American ships in the Black Sea and so thought it prudent to request whether progress had been made with her instructions as to how discussions were going in modifying the MOD’s war preparation plans.

Fieldhouse and Bagnall explained that they had their people working on what was now being referred to as LION. The Prime Minister had requested that the British military curtail many of its planned deployments on the eve of warfare breaking out and concentrate its strength in certain places where what military assets that the UK had could be put to much more effective use.

Should military tensions with the Soviets increase to the point where warfare was seen as inevitable, then the MOD would now concentrate its deployable forces better. Under LION, attention was to be focused on supporting Britain’s NATO allies up in northern Norway and the Norwegian Sea as well as in the British defensive sector in West Germany and the a-joining North Sea area. These two expected theatres of conflict in a full-scale war were both locations where the British Armed Forces would be better put to use and resources not stretched so thinly. Discussions would be made with NATO allies on this and detailed plans made, but that was what LION envisaged.

The discussion about LION made those present at Downing Street on the morning of February 11th think about the prospect of open warfare erupting more than they previously had.

These were sobering and unpleasant thoughts for anyone to have, let alone those who led their country…


The funeral of the four year-old Gunther Harz in Kaiserslautern on February 12th took place against a backdrop of violence. The actual burial of the child shot in the house that the GSG-9 commandos had assaulted was a quiet affair; the riots and murders took place throughout the Rhineland city rather than at the graveyard where he was interned.

The West German security services had thought that they had prepared for civil disturbances to take in Kaiserslautern yet those preparations were inadequate with retrospect. There were not enough policemen deployed to police the big protest march that took place in the city while the funeral was ongoing nor were there plans made as to how to react to the violence that later came with that march.

When troublemakers who had attached themselves to the protesters who were blaming the government for the death of the young boy started to overturn and set fire to cars, the police didn’t have the numbers to properly intervene. Soon enough shop windows in the middle of Kaiserslautern were being broken and off-duty American servicemen physically assaulted – because the police hadn’t stepped in hard and fast at once, the rioters understood that they could get away with whatever mayhem they desired to cause.

Later, as their numbers increased, the Kaiserslautern Police had to work extremely hard to stop the rioting and return order to the streets. Reasoning with the baying mob was no good and so violence was met with violence.

Again though, the West German security services were unprepared for what they faced. Their assumption had been that those who would attend the protest march on the day of the funeral would be those considered to be the usual suspects. Misguided left-wing sympathisers and deluded communists were expected to show up and these were the type of people who the Kaiserslautern Police believed that they could handle.

However, it wasn’t just the usual suspects who did arrive in Kaiserslautern on the 12th and they weren’t the ones who caused all the trouble there.

From across Western Europe, anarchists and wannabe-terrorists travelled to Kaiserslautern in the lead up to the funeral. They came from as far afield as Denmark, the Low Countries, France and Italy to descend upon the Rhineland and engage the West German security services on their own turf. None cared one iota for the lost life of little Gunther Harz: they came to cause trouble and ‘engage the fascists’… or so they loudly declared to anyone who would listen. These were the type of people who weren’t deterred at the threat of arrest nor at the sight of policemen carrying batons.

The rioting in Kaiserslautern went on throughout the evening and into the night. The vast majority of the original protesters got away from all the trouble though a few did stay and join in with the orgy of violence, looting and burning that overcome the centre of Kaiserslautern and thereafter portions of its suburbs. Police forces from across the Rhineland would later stream reinforcements towards the city to help out their comrades and for a time the forces of law and order appeared to be winning.

Yet while they tried to contain the rioting, the Kaiserslautern Police started to come across dead bodies. They found a whole range of civilian victims across the city who had mainly been killed in rioting-related incidents, though also a few murder victims. Upon hasty investigation, three of the dead within the city were found to be American service personal who hadn’t heeded the warnings of their superiors and stayed out of K-Town that day.

A fresh outburst of violence interrupted the efforts of the Kaiserslautern Police to remove bodies – there were seven confirmed victims – from the scene of the rioting. A lone member of the R.Z., armed and eager to ‘avenge his comrades’, opened fire with an assault rifle on a group of unarmed police officers and managed to kill three of them and wound another four before he was bravely tacked by an unarmed civilian who decided to come to the aid of the embattled Kaiserslautern Police. Separated from that civilian, the terrorist was then beaten to death by other policemen who were in a fit of rage… this was an incident that would be recorded on a hand-held video camera.

The footage was shot by a Belgian freelance photo-journalist who had followed a bunch of his countrymen across to Kaiserslautern from Flanders. Knowing that he had a valuable piece of propaganda in his hands, the Belgian high-tailed it out of Kaiserslautern as soon as possible and the next day he went to meet some of his contacts in Brussels with the video cassette in-hand. He was assured by them that they knew the right sort of people who would make sure that the whole world saw what he had recorded and that a lot of things would change because of what had happened in Kaiserslautern.
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James G

Gone Fishin'

The missile-frigate HMS Battleaxe joined the Eisenhower Carrier Task Force as the flotilla of American warships approached the stretch of the North Atlantic between Iceland and the Faroe Islands. Eight other ships and submarines were with the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Battleaxe linked up with them as part of that escort force.

The voyage northwards for the Battleaxe had involved a high-speed run up from Plymouth and around the coast of Ireland so that the frigate could enter the Norwegian Sea with the carrier group. As the lead ship of the 2nd Frigate Squadron, the Battleaxe had been the ‘ready ship’ at Devonport naval base standing by to put to sea should the situation demand it. Once those orders had come for the Battleaxe to be put to sea it had made rapid progress in catching up with the Americans. Other Royal Navy ships had been about to leave Devonport – as well as other RN bases across the British Isles – but the Battleaxe was the first warship in port that was deliberately sortied due to the deteriorating of international East-West relations.

The Battleaxe was the second ship of the Type-22 (or Broadsword) class. Like her seven other currently-serving sister-ships, the frigate didn’t have the typical main gun armament of a standard warship. Missiles, torpedoes and the pair of armed helicopters that the Battleaxe carried were the combat armament fitted. The radars, sonars and communications equipment that the Battleaxe carried were top quality and would allow her to dominate her immediate battle-space in a combat environment.

There were two hundred and twenty-two officers and ratings aboard and all of them strove to maintain as best as they could the centuries-old honourable traditions of the RN.

Joining the Eisenhower as part of her carrier group escort force had been a political decision on the part of London that no one aboard – not even the Battleaxe’s captain – had been informed of. Yet, the frigate was a specialised anti-submarine warfare (ASW) platform and also a large modern ship that would suitably represent the interests of the RN in what Britain’s NATO allies were up to in the Norwegian Sea.

The American carrier group commander was an experienced naval officer who had worked with the RN many times beforehand. The Battleaxe and her crew were trained to the highest NATO standards and so he knew that the British frigate would be an asset to his force.

Threats to the Eisenhower should a conflict break out would come from both aircraft-delivered missiles and submarines: the Battleaxe was positioned to help defend against the later. The long towed array sonar system that the frigate carried was deployed trailing behind the fast travelling Battleaxe and the pair of Lynx helicopters were deployed to be ready to investigate any contacts that that array might happen to detect.

It was mid-February and the weather up in the Norwegian Sea was typically terrible. The crew of the Battleaxe were used to such conditions and they barely noticed as their ship rolled around in the ocean swell as waves broke over the bow. In the often dark and stormy skies above them there were aircraft flying up there.

More than ninety aircraft and helicopters flew from the Eisenhower and the ships that escorted the carrier, yet appearances in the skies came from land-based aircraft on the second day that the Battleaxe was with the Americans… those aircraft were huge Bear’s.

Soviet Naval Aviation flew Tupolev-95RT Bear D long-range naval reconnaissance aircraft from the Kola Peninsula and these aircraft were four-engined propeller-driven monsters of the sky that flew unarmed and unescorted out across the Norwegian Sea to track the Eisenhower and the ships with her. F-14A Tomcat fighters from the carrier sought to intercept and provide a hostile escort to the Bear’s to intimidate them to stay away from their carrier, but the men who manned those Soviet aircraft were used to playing shadow games such as this. They came in from all directions and sometimes even flew dangerously low just over the deadly waters so that they could track the American ships with their belly-mounted search radars.

Aboard the Battleaxe, the crew didn’t get the opportunity to see the Soviet aircraft up above or take part in the stand-off in the skies. There were seemingly a million jobs to do to keep the frigate afloat and functioning ready for possible combat as to keep the men busy. The captain and his air defence staff worked with their NATO partners aboard the Eisenhower and the carrier’s escorts – in particular the anti-aircraft team inside the missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf – in keeping radar track of those planes, but that was as far as the Battleaxe was involved in that matter.

Keeping a steady watch for Soviet submarines remained the main duty of the Battleaxe and preparing to track any that were detected was what the frigate was with the carrier group for. None were picked up by the towed array during the constant watch though the Battleaxe had to be prepared for such a contact at any moment of the night or day.

No one was sure how long the Battleaxe would be with the US Navy in the Norwegian Sea for and whether anything would actually happen to make all the peacetime training that the crew had undertaken pay off. The frigate had left Devonport with enough stores to stay at sea for several months; all the Battleaxe needed was to be refuelled while at sea and there was a replenishment-oiler with the Americans for that purpose. The days went by and RN warship stayed with the Americans as everyone aboard silently prayed that the Battleaxe would eventually be able to return to her home station without there being any need for her to go into action.

It was a forlorn hope indeed…


When the French government allowed their allies to be given access to some of the intelligence that their DSGE national intelligence agency had managed to get hold of through an agent of theirs codenamed ROUGE, a lot of questions were answered in London… but so too were plenty of fears brought to life.

The Americans, the West Germans and the British were given debriefings by senior DSGE spooks about what their agent-in-place from behind the Iron Curtain had to reveal on the 16th of February. What was said afterwards sent the military forces of these nations – then later those of other NATO countries – on full alert against possible armed aggression being undertaken against them with little or no warning.

British Intelligence had earlier information from their own agents that the Soviet KGB was trying to exert pressure on Western European countries through fermenting political upheaval so that new governments would be installed that could be subverted by Moscow. ROUGE didn’t give lie to that intelligence, rather he built upon it. That was not the only game that the new Soviet regime was playing.

Apparently, there was a military aspect to the Soviet long-term plan.

The KGB was directly behind the military ‘incidents’ that had been taking place. Just as had been feared, the attack on the Danish Navy in January and the similar strike against the US Navy in February had been coordinated actions ordered from the very top. Other attempts had been made to strike at a Norwegian maritime patrol aircraft and also a West German fighter aircraft, but only those two naval incidents had been the occasions where Soviet plans had actually succeed in working. The intent had not only been to kill NATO military personnel by destroying military hardware, but to use those attacks for a strategic geo-political gain.

The KGB wanted NATO to react; their goal was to force the governments of Western nations to use military force in retaliation to what the Soviet military had done. ROUGE had told his French handlers that the KGB knew that they were playing a dangerous game by trying to goad NATO into selectively hitting back, but that was what they wanted. Once NATO did so then the Soviet Union would be able to score a political victory as its armed forces fought off what would be portrayed as ‘Western imperialist aggression’. There were plenty of people in the Western World who would fall for such propaganda, ROUGE said, and that was the aim of the whole game.

Furthermore, attacking NATO forces and getting them to hit back with their own pin-prick attacks, the KGB was aiming to produce a domestic political reaction within the Soviet Union too.

The regime of Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky wasn’t as secure as the intelligence services in the West believed that it was. Shcherbytsky was the face of the regime while Chebrikov had positioned himself as the ‘man behind the throne’. Yet, both men had different ideas on the future direction of the country and divergent notions on how things should be done with such weighty matters as the national economy, internal politics and foreign relations. There was also the matter of the power base that Marshal Akhromeyev was apparently building himself within the huge Soviet military. Chebrikov, ROUGE stated, was the one who had directed the recent military attacks and they were his brainchild. He wanted to weaken Marshal Akhromeyev by undermining him just as he tried to undermine Western governments too.

In Washington, Paris, Bonn and London this intelligence was received in different ways.

The Americans were outraged at such a scheme that would involve the outright murder of their sailors for internal political gain within the Soviet Union. President Reagan let it be known that he was determined not to let any more American servicemen be killed and he met with his senior military and intelligence people to see what could be done to put a stop to Moscow’s plans.

President Mitterrand was still reeling from the exposure of his extramarital affair and was soon to face an election that he feared he might lose. However, he didn’t want to see a Soviet-backed regime sneak into power anywhere within Western Europe and so promised that France would work with its allies to contain and destroy Soviet plots.

In the West German capital Bonn, Chancellor Kohl feared the worst at such revelations. He could foresee future military incidents taking place that might drag his beloved country into a third war this century with all the attendant death and destruction that that would cause. Like Reagan and Mitterrand, Kohl wanted to stop the Soviets, but not if that would mean the unnecessary loss of German lives. West Germany was home to an immense concentration of NATO military forces – conventional and nuclear – that were poised ready for combat. There had already been mass civil disturbances and terrorist outrages within his country: military combat would be the end of the economic miracle that was West Germany and would shatter the lives of millions of his countrymen.

When Curwen briefed Thatcher on what his French counterparts had told him, he found his Prime Minister seemingly not greatly surprised by what the spy in the service of France had to say regarding Soviet attempts at manipulation through violence.

That was what she had long suspected the KGB was up to with their recent supplying of left-wing terrorist groups of arms and attacks against NATO warships. Her immediate reaction was to have British military forces stand ready to defend themselves against all aggression while at the same time making sure that Britain’s allies knew that they could count upon London should the very worst occur.

In addition, Thatcher suggested that her fellow Western leaders get together to discuss what they knew and how they were going to work as a team to put on a united front against the terrible threat to them all that these Soviet actions represented. She issued instructions that an emergency summit should be arranged as soon as possible and NATO leaders be invited to London where she would host such an event.


The London Summit took place over the weekend of the 20th and 21st of February.

Thatcher hosted three of her fellow Western leaders at Downing Street and they came with their senior military and intelligence advisers. Security was tight and there was an especially strong presence of Secret Service personnel that travelled with President Reagan; the well-adjusted suits and dark sunglasses that those men wore contrasted measurably with the bright police uniforms worn by Diplomatic Protection policemen in Downing Street.

Security personnel came with both President Mitterrand and Chancellor Kohl to London as well and they added to the crowd of VIP protection around the summit.

By keeping the meeting between the heads of government from Britain, the United States, France and West Germany the summit was initially very successful. Intelligence on what was going on in the Soviet Union and the apparent motives for the actions of that country’s leaders had already been shared and thus time had passed for those Western leaders to consider what they had been told. They all understood that there was a very real threat posed and so discussed this between them.

Kohl made it clear that the civil disturbances that had been taking place in West Germany were causing immense damage to his country… not only in terms of lives lost. The domestic terrorists groups, backed by the Soviets either directly or indirectly, were gaining some sympathy within West Germany. There wasn’t much support for those people, but there was just a little: this came from the misguided and the stupid, but it was happening. The national economy was buckling under increased security measures and worker absenteeism, along with the fears of foreign investors causing them to abstain from bringing money into the country. In addition, many of the reservists that were being called up to assist in providing back-up for the security forces came from vital industries. West Germany was in trouble, Kohl told his fellow national leaders, and he was worried how bad things just might get.

Mitterrand explained that he had fears that the Soviets might actually make a major military effort rather than just the pinpricks that they had already undertaken. He informed the others that France could not brush any attack off and would react with appropriate force to such a thing. Furthermore, France had a long standing commitment to the NATO alliance and Mitterrand stated that his country would honour this.

Advisers surrounded Reagan when he was meeting his fellow NATO leaders and had whispered conversations with him that raised eyebrows all around. Nonetheless, he articulated his views well enough for everyone to understand what he was saying and how serious he was. The American President stated that he had a very real fear that the stand-off between NATO and Soviet forces might come to war; he didn’t want that, he added, but it seemed like the current situation was heading that way. Such a thing had to be stopped from happening because he didn’t want to see a war taking place.

Thatcher was glad to hear that the others all saw the danger posed to their countries and that there was no division between them. She did express her worries though that the leaders of other NATO countries that she had spoken to before the London Summit weren’t as steadfast as those here at Downing Street were in understanding the threat and being willing to stand up against it. What she had heard from the Dutch, Greek and Italian Prime Minister’s hadn’t given her comfort at all when they had each told her that they didn’t regard the current international situation as seriously as she did. Kohl, Mitterrand and Reagan all promised that they would look into such a thing…

At the end of the summit’s first day, after the meetings had broken up and as the national leaders unwound after their flights into Britain before they would talk again on the Sunday, there was trouble in London.

The London Summit had been thrown together in haste, but it wasn’t something that was secret. In the few days between Thatcher arranging for her fellow national leaders to come to London and them arriving, demonstrations had been planned. There were a pair of these and they were organised by people who regarded Reagan and Thatcher as representations of the Devil on earth.

On that cold Saturday evening, scuffles broke out first between the police and this turned into instances of projectiles being thrown before rioting erupted. In Hyde Park, where a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) rally had come to an end after a march through Central London, the most serious violence was short-lived and soon brought under control by riot police; there weren’t that many hard-core troublemakers taking part in the CND rally.

Things were different across in Trafalgar Square where anarchists found themselves penned in by police after their rally had not followed police instructions to disperse and not attempt to head either towards Downing Street or the American Embassy in Mayfair. Those at this march were not easily controlled by the police and many of them revelled in the opportunity to use violence against the forces of law and order. There were injuries throughout the crowd and in the ranks of the police when as the evening grew dark and a fire was started when Canada House – beside the Square in the heart of London – was partially invaded by the rioters. In the end, mounted police broke up the rioters… but there were bodies then later pulled from the mayhem behind.

The British media covered both of these events and images of what occurred both in Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square were broadcast on television that night.

Anarchists clad in black being attacked by the police were not something that elicited sympathy from the viewing public, but there were opposite reactions expressed when the Saturday night news on the BBC and ITV showed generally middle-class families – including children – running from advancing riot police in Hyde Park. Some of the coverage of the police breaking up that rally was later regarded as being taken out of context by the media eager to attain viewers, but it was still shown that night on the television.

When the London Summit resumed on the Sunday, there were at once distractions for all of the principle attendees.

Kohl broke away from the talks on what to do with regard to the Soviets by taking telephone calls from Bonn. There was an impromptu march taking place in the northern part of his country where anti-nuclear campaigners were planning to head towards the nuclear waste storage facility at Gorleben in Lower Saxony. His intelligence people were telling him that a big crowd was expected to attend and there was also information to suggest that left-wing terrorists might use the opportunity to target the security forces policing the march.

The French President returned to the talks with a lot on his mind too. His Prime Minister, Jacques Chirac, had been on the phone to the Embassy overnight when Mitterrand had been there and had been causing trouble. The man wasn’t from Mitterrand’s Socialist party but rather was a Gaullist and a major political rival. He had informed his President that he would be resigning the following day when Mitterrand returned to Paris due to major disagreements over foreign policy that the two of them had; thus Mitterrand’s government was coming apart while he was out of the country.

Reagan came back to Downing Street fresh from a trans-Atlantic telephone call where he had argued with his Vice President. Bush and Reagan had once been very close, but before that they had been major rivals with great ideological differences between them; the hostility had returned to their relationship since Bush had been on the campaign trail to replace Reagan at the White House. Reagan was noticeably bad tempered after the phone call and couldn’t seem to pay attention to the matters at hand.

The host too had her own difficulties.

The trouble on London’s streets overnight hadn’t been that terrible, but there were political consequences from it. In Hyde Park at the CND rally, an Anglican Bishop – one of the senior people within the CND’s organising staff – had been struck by an errand police baton in the face. A picture of his bruised and battered face was on the front pages of several newspapers; there were no images of the trio of dead bodies of rioters who were found dead in Trafalgar Square. All sorts of political figures from the Left and the Right had jumped to the defence of the Bishop who had been attending what was regarded by many as a peaceful event before it was broken up for not having the required permission to not only take place but also enter the open space of Hyde Park. The Bishop was a man who knew how to relate to the media and he had friends in politics too. Thatcher had been getting phone calls from senior people in her own party – the ‘men in grey suits’ – and none of those calls had been friendly.

Thus, the talks on Sunday led nowhere. No one could agree on a strategy that was anything more than what they had already promised to do: stand up to Soviet aggression. While at first glance such a method of action sounded just what was needed when expressed by a national leader, in reality this was very hollow indeed and only words. There were no plans made between Kohl, Mitterrand, Reagan and Thatcher for the further sharing of intelligence or plans on how to act together in a military fashion to stop any more Soviet attacks on the armed forces of the NATO countries.

Before the American and French Presidents as well as the West German Chancellor flew home to their respective nations that evening, they each were delayed in London to watch a statement made in Moscow by Shcherbytsky that was carried by the international media.

The Soviet leader was not only addressing the Soviet people, but the world at large. He spoke of the West’s leaders meeting in London and asked if they were preparing to make war on the Soviet Union and its people. For more than seventy years since the Revolution in 1917, he declared, the ‘fascists and imperialist of the West’ had been ‘trying to attack the Soviet state and enslave its workers’; the Soviet Union ‘only wanted peace’ he added.

Shcherbytsky spoke of ‘defenders of the workers and peace campaigners’ in Germany being beaten and shot to death by the ‘fascist regime in Bonn’, one which was backed up by ‘guns supplied by London and Washington’. Warships from the ‘imperial navy of the United States’ had ‘illegally penetrated’ Soviet waters as they ‘spied on the Soviet state’ too.

These strong words were then followed by a rhetorical question that Shcherbytsky put: he asked whether it was time for the ‘workers of the West’ to ‘follow the example of the Soviet people’ in what he deemed ‘liberating themselves from illegal puppet governments’.

Such words hadn’t been heard since the years of Lenin and Stalin. It was apparent to all that the Soviet leader was calling for the overthrow of Western governments and no one was in a position to stop him from doing so.


Thatcher spent the next few days wracked by indecision. This was very much unlike her and not a state of mind that she wished to be in. Nevertheless, it occurred.

After what Shcherbytsky had said from Moscow, Thatcher was left deep in thought as she considered what the best course of action was to take. She had advisers telling her that the military threat to the UK was now that grave that the country’s armed forces needed to be mobilised and the steps taken for Transition to War (TtW) to begin. Yet, at the same time, she had others cautioning her over such an approach. Those particular confidants of the Prime minister told her that mobilisation and TtW would wreck the country economically and politically.

Following the recent Soviet military aggression, there had already been a partial mobilisation of the British Armed Forces.

Many warships and submarines from the RN had already been put to sea in numbers that couldn’t be sustained for very long with manpower shortages currently as they were within the Senior Service. The RAF was running airborne patrols over the UK and north-western Europe twenty-four hours a day and they were struggling to keep those aircraft in flying condition because they didn’t have enough people on the ground to service them as needed. Then there was the British Army: many rapid-deployment units were maintaining a constant stand-by to travel overseas to the detriment of their training and rest periods while at the same time staff officers were being shunted around all over the place as plans were quietly implemented for command organisations to be stood up in wartime.

The wartime mobilisation plans that Thatcher was being advised to begin would mean a major increase in the strength of the Armed Forces. Reservists would be able to take up positions on ships and extra flight missions could be flown; taking those men back in service would be of great benefit for the RN and the RAF. When former serving soldiers with the British Army put back on their uniforms, units would be ‘fleshed out’ with many extra pairs of hands available to bring combat and combat support formations up to the necessary strength ready for warfare. These were the upsides of mobilisation… the downsides weren’t very appealing.

Reservists with the British Armed Forces came for all walks of life.

They were ex-personnel who had completed their contracted terms either as enlisted men or as officers and retired to pursue other careers. They were all still on the books as being prepared to answer their country’s call should the need arise, even if that meant them leaving their civilian jobs behind and deploying abroad. The problem that Thatcher was made aware of was that the jobs that many of these reservists had in peacetime were vital to the civilian economy and the nation’s social structure. Retired service personnel had learnt many valuable skills when in uniform and they ended up afterwards as teachers, police officers, firemen, doctors, prison guards and factory foremen. Many others became office workers or even postmen etc., but the vast majority held down important roles; should they be called upon to leave those jobs, they would at once yet such a thing would cause great social upheaval.

Mobilising the country for war meant that a great psychological change would occur too. There were already many people who were now speaking openly of war and they were unintentionally causing alarm in some quarters. Thatcher had been informed how there were a few hundred – maybe a thousand – people who had left their homes and moved away from what they personally regarded as military targets. This number would climb to extraordinary heights as the danger of open warfare in Europe breaking out. They were leaving their jobs and running away to the countryside in a disorganised fashion. When the trickle became a flood…

TtW was something else. MI-5 had already briefed the Prime Minister that it had lists of hundreds of people that it wished to have detained before warfare erupted as a danger to the country’s national security. They wanted to have arrested foreign nationals and British citizens up and down the UK. There were leftists on their lists who were suspected of being under the influence of overseas (re: Soviet) influence along with people suspected of being undercover foreign commandoes. Some of these people were well-known figures too.

More than just those security measures, TtW covered over aspects of preparing the country for war… and that was what caused the Prime Minister great worry over whether to implement it as some of her advisers were pushing her to in the face to the Soviet threat. Schools would be closed, hospitals would be cleared of patients, the motorways and railways closed to civilians, the media would face censorship, energy and food rationing would come into effect… the list went on. There was already detailed legislation drafted and this only needed the consent of Parliament.

War with the Soviet Union could very well see the use of nuclear weapons being employed and their use against Britain undertaken and TtW was there for Britain to be fully prepared for that to occur.

Again the economic, political and social implications of this were frightening and to bring TtW into action was not a step to be taken lightly.

With regard to politics, Thatcher was unable to bring a consensus about not only within her inner circle of advisers but in her Cabinet and Parliament either. Away from the media, she had sounded out many other politicians about mobilisation and TtW. There were hawks and there were doves on this: the American terms were quite fitting.

The Prime Minister found that she had many supporters who agreed with her previous actions in standing firm against Soviet aggression as she had been doing since the Moscow Coup back in November. In the Commons and in the Lords, among those in the Conservative party and those in the Labour party, there were many who had been behind her. Thatcher’s personality and her personal politics aside, she had been recognised as standing up for Britain against a foreign threat.

Talk of war changed the minds of many though. Some were scared and even a few were opportunistic. There was a belief among many that the United States was trying to force Britain into joining them in a war to avenge dead American sailors that Reagan The Cowboy had deliberately sent into harm’s way to intimidate the Soviets. Others believed that the West Germans were terrorising their own citizens with guns and it would be a good thing if the abstract threat of the possibility of the Soviet Army coming the put a stop to that stopped the Germans from doing that. The Cold War would never turn Hot, others believed, and everything going on was just posturing before one side would back down. War was always the last resort other said and anything possible must be done to stop the death and destruction that would come from that.

So many people had so many different opinions ranging from the plausible and well-intentioned to irrational craziness.

Thatcher couldn’t get the Leader of the Opposition to work with her either.

She and Neil Kinnock (the Labour party leader) were ideological opposites and she had a personal distaste for the man… he felt the same way. Only the previous year during the lead up to the 1987 General Election, she had made use of statements of his that concerned national defence to help her win and the twisting of his words – which amounted to ‘defeat, surrender and occupation’ in the face of foreign aggression combined with nuclear disarmament – had left Kinnock bitter. They were both members of the Privy Council and thus she should have been able to brief him on her thinking as they both served the Crown, yet neither would talk to each other. Thatcher feared that Kinnock would leak what he learnt to members of his party… and that that information would end up in Moscow.

As the Americans and then many (but not all) NATO nations started their own mobilisations and domestic preparations for war, Britain’s Prime Minister waited while she decided what to do. Something would have to happen first before reservists put back on their uniforms and TtW went into action…


In post-WW3 Britain, the most reviled man in the country was not as expected a Russian like Chebrikov or Shcherbytsky but instead a Frenchman called Jacques Delors.

The President of the European Commission was an unelected figure and not someone who was ever going to warm the hearts of the British people. He was a former French Finance Minister from the Socialist party who had previously served in President Mitterrand’s government. A left-wing economist too, Delors was someone rather opposed to what he regarded as the Anglo-Saxon model for national economies.

The position of that of the European Commission President wasn’t a powerless role as many believed. Delors wielded little ‘hard’ power, but instead his role allowed him to have much ‘soft’ power: influence. He and his fellow cohorts in Brussels and Strasbourg had a dream of a European super-state that would cross the artificial lines that spread across the continent – the borders of nation states – and allow all Europeans to be part of one country where there were no barriers concerning trade tariffs or that of the free movement of people. With the ego that he possessed, Delors had spent the three previous years in his role trying to reshape Europe in the model that he envisioned for its future. He had many contacts in politics continent-wide as well as in the media. Many national politicians either begun or ended their careers in the European Parliament (a separate organisation from Delors’ Commission) and he sought to influence such people.

While he saw himself as a European, Delors was also a Frenchman. He had always maintained political influence within his native country and secretly wished to rule France personally. France could be the shining light, a beacon of hope for the rest of Europe, under his hypothetical presidency – Delors wanted Mitterrand’s job to use it for his European dream.

Europe’s continent-wide political organisations had been ignored by the leaders of the West in their growing confrontation with the Soviet-led Eastern Bloc. Thatcher, Kohl and Mitterrand were working with Reagan in Washington rather than with Delors in Brussels. Even the Belgian Prime Minister Wilfried Martens – a close political ally of Delors’ in federalising Europe – was dealing with NATO rather than either the European Commission or the European Parliament.

Delors wasn’t one to enjoy being ignored as he was.

By late February, as people started to talk seriously of war, Delors saw that his chance to make an impact had come. He knew that tens of millions of Europeans were scared stiff of war breaking out and potentially being atomised in a thermonuclear conflict. People were already starting to leave many of the continent’s big cities… those that could afford to anyway. Many others were talking to their various representatives in the European Parliament, and those fellow politicians of his came to Delors.

Flattered by the attention that he was getting as he was assured that he personally could do something important to stop the slide to war, and as always fed by his own ego, Delors made his move.

Delors arrived in Paris on February 23rd for a meeting that he had requested with Mitterrand. The media were there to cover his flight arriving from Brussels and then when his official car reached the Élysée Palace. Delors had plenty of people who favoured him and attaining friendly media coverage was something that he knew how to achieve.

Mitterrand had believed that his fellow Frenchman had returned to Paris to assist him in dealing with the political crisis that his government was currently undergoing. Prime Minister Chirac had finally resigned from his position earlier that day after threatening to do so for what had seemed like an eternity beforehand. What Delors could actually offer Mitterrand in the way of support was something that no one among the President’s advisers had been able to point to, yet they had foolishly believed as Mitterrand had done that Delors had come to help.

Instead, Delors started to throw his weight around.

The President of the European Commission berated Mitterrand on his stance in support of the Anglo-Saxons in London and Washington in facing off against the Soviets. Delors said that he found himself in agreement with Chirac that that wasn’t the right thing to do when it was clear that this would bring about war… a war that France would suffer horribly in. Mitterrand was shocked at what was said and argued with Delors that only by standing together with her allies would war be avoided. Moreover, Mitterrand wanted to know what business this was of Delors?

After the subsequent furious row that the two of them had within the Élysée Palace, Delors left the presidential residence while Mitterrand got back to the business of trying to form a new government without Chirac and his Gaullists.

Delors spoke to media outside the Élysée Palace and attempted to play them – and thus the people of Western Europe – like fools. He made a grand statement containing sweeping remarks that were heavy on hyperbole but short on truth. Delors stated that he had come to Paris to ‘try to save Europe’ from the ‘horrors of war for the third time this century’. He claimed that Mitterrand was ‘unprepared to work with’ him and the ‘people’s representatives’ in the European Commission and the European Parliament. Not everyone in the assembled crowd of journalists was there to lap up what Delors was saying though.

The Sun – a British tabloid newspaper – had an enterprising young journalist in Paris that afternoon and she had questions to ask of Delors. It was put to him whether he had any comment to make on the arrests that very morning in both Denmark and West Germany of Members of the European Parliament (MEP) by the security services in their own countries; one MEP had been arrested in Copenhagen on the charge of spying for the Soviet KGB back when he was in the Danish Parliament while the West Germans had detained their MEP in Cologne on charges of electoral fraud.

Reacting quickly as he was not expected such a question to come, Delors told the British journalist that he suspected that both the Danes and the West Germans were following a ‘right-wing Anglo-Saxon agenda’ which aimed to ‘discredit opposition to repression’ across Western Europe. As the journalist from The Sun had anticipated, Delors had given her a great quote that she knew her editor back in London would appreciate. The European Commission President knew nothing of the circumstances surrounding those arrests and had had given a hasty off-the-cuff remark that could easily be interpreted as giving a two-fingered salute to Britain. He could be fast turned into a caricature of the typical Johnny Foreigner that was an enemy of Britain… The Sun would turn that into more sales and readership numbers.

The following day, The Sun made Delors into a hate figure. His support for what they deemed to be a concession to Soviet goals – trying to turn France away from its support of Britain and the United States – was one thing, so too was his instant defence of a pair of what they claimed were ‘TRAITORS!’ in Western Europe. The Danish and West Germans had quickly moved to make public their allegations against the two MEP’s they had arrested and The Sun made the connection between Delors’ European Commission and those in the European Parliament.

Later, before war erupted, there would be other traitors and Delors would do much else to make the British public despise him, but this was just the beginning. In the meantime, a major foreign crisis – one linked to the current NATO-Soviet stand-off – was erupting in Central America…
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James G

Gone Fishin'

George P. Shultz was assassinated in the city of Tegucigalpa on February 24th.

The American Secretary of State was about to enter the American embassy in the Honduran capital when the convoy of cars he was travelling in was raked by gunfire and rockets fired from shoulder-mounted launchers. The Diplomatic Security Service bodyguards that were travelling with Shultz didn’t stand a chance and the US Marine security personnel from the embassy grounds were too late to react either.

Shultz died with twelve other Americans in Tegucigalpa.

Guerrillas from the Chinchoneros Popular Liberation Movement (CMPL) were the ones who undertook the assassination of Shultz. This communist terrorist network had been active in Honduras for the past decade fighting against the US-backed government in Tegucigalpa. The CMPL drew inspiration from the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the FLMN in El Salvador in the guerilla struggles of those two organisations as well as being covertly backed by both the Cubans and the Soviet KGB with money, intelligence and smuggled arms.

The gunmen who struck at the visiting American and his bodyguards had been supplied with weapons stolen from the Honduran Army and had intelligence on Shultz’s movements that allowed them to hit his convoy right at the most opportune moment. Three of their own number were killed when Honduran security forces near the American embassy managed to return fire, but the rest of the hit team managed to get away clean leaving nothing but corpses behind them. Orders had come down from high up in the CMPL organisation for the mission that they had undertaken and no explanation was given to the gunmen on the ground as to exactly who they were killing, why their mission was to be carried out and who had ultimately ordered it.

Even if they had known who had originally given them their mission, that information would have done the CMPL gunmen no good. Within the hour, when back at their safe-house in the hills above Tegucigalpa, commandoes from the Honduran Army’s notorious ‘316 Intelligence Battalion’ slaughtered all six surviving gunmen. A furious fire-fight within their hideout took place and the terrorists were all shot dead when apparently ‘resisting arrest’.

CIA intelligence personnel based at the embassy, who were still in shock at Shultz’s murder and in contact with Washington, were not informed about the actions of 316 Battalion. They considered that they were the commando force’s paymasters and indirectly gave the orders for that unit to operate against foreign-backed guerrillas. Much later when they did try to establish who had sent the 316 Battalion into action, they discovered that that senior intelligence officer within the Honduran Army’s hierarchy had taken his own life by shooting himself in the head not once but three times.

All the signs pointed to a first-rate deniable intelligence operation taking place to assassinate Shultz.

Washington learnt of Shultz’s murder very quickly.

Like all embassies worldwide, the one in Tegucigalpa was provided with modern communications equipment allowing the Ambassador to be in constant and secure contact with the State Department. When the Secretary of State was murdered right outside the embassy grounds, the Ambassador to Honduras at once got on the phone to Washington to inform them of what had occurred. He was aghast at the killings and also very concerned at how security had been breached: someone had known that Shultz was in Honduras for what were meant to be secret meetings with the country’s President regarding United States support for the little Central American nation against violent foreign subversion.

President Reagan was on an official visit in South Carolina when he was informed that Shultz was dead. He would later shed a private tear or two for the loss of a man he considered to be a loyal friend and also someone who was extremely effective in his role as Secretary of State, though before that he acted like the statesman that he was.

Shultz would have eventually to be replaced with someone else to fill his position but before then the United States would have to find out what exactly had gone on. Reagan wanted to know who had killed Shultz and why they had done so. He quickly flew back to Washington amid tight security while arranging for his National Security Council to be assembled at the White House.

There would be a price to be paid for Shultz’s assassination…


It was meant to be a secret that Shultz was down in Honduras meeting with the president of that small Central American nation and promising him armed military support should forces from Nicaragua attack his nation’s sovereign territory. The Washington press corps knew that the Secretary of State was out of town and had been briefed that he was on his way to the Near & Middle East to meet with the leaders of four allied nations there. He never went to Athens, Ankara, Cairo and Tel Aviv – four capitals in three days had been the plan – but rather was assassinated in Tegucigalpa.

The American media would have a lot of questions about this that they would be demanding answers for… but before then the US Intelligence Community had their own urgent enquires to make.

Both the CIA and the DIA (the Defence Intelligence Agency) had operations people based in Honduras who acted to secure US interests there. Some of these intelligence operatives were very experienced and capable; Honduras wasn’t the ideal posting, but it was one where an intelligence officer would learn his or her trade. They quickly realised how they had been outfoxed by a cunning opponent who had managed to set up the hit upon Shultz and then make a move to get away clean with what had been done.

Looking for whoever was responsible, those American spooks quickly fought that they were chasing ghosts. There was no one for them to get a lead on despite the firm instructions that came down from Washington for them to locate and detain the perpetrator of this infamous act. There was no country to point a definitive, accusing finger at either with the only intelligence they could get no better than an educated guess at which nation might have wanted such an effective diplomat such as Shultz to be gotten rid of in the dramatic fashion that was his murder.

Though they didn’t know it, the CIA and the DIA had only been given just the one day by the Reagan Administration; military options were being considered there in case the spooks failed to achieve the wholly unrealistic goal of solving the murder of Shultz within a twenty-four hour time period. Much time later, several years in fact, the architect of such a short time frame being given to the Intelligence Community before troops were used, Deputy National Security Adviser and former US Ambassador to Honduras John Negroponte, would face a lot of criticism for pushing for that over the objections of others.

The Pentagon had planning officers who drew up operational concepts for almost every conceivable military scenario. There were many war plans that dealt with Honduras and the latest, most up-to-date plan was named Operation GOLDEN PHEASANT. This was a deployment of quick reaction troops from the US Army to fly down to Honduras if there was evidence that pointed to a grave danger of the country being invaded by neighbouring socialist Nicaragua. Both air and naval assets would be on-hand to support the light infantrymen, bit it was those troops that were the key to GOLDEN PHEASANT.

During the early afternoon of February 25th, elements of both the 7th Light Infantry & 82nd Airborne Division’s left their bases at Ford Ord in California and North Carolina’s Fort Bragg to fly down to Honduras. US Air Force transports took them to Palmerola airbase, which had long been a hub of American military activity in the country.

The US Army troops involved were under orders to deploy into the areas along Honduras’ volatile border with Nicaragua.


In London, the arrival in Honduras of American troops didn’t at first seem of that great significance when compared to other matters at hand that needed that attention of Thatcher and her government.

An immense fire had broken out on the night of February 24th up in Scotland at the Grangemouth oil refinery. At first the thought had been that an accident had occurred there at that vital part of the national infrastructure, but the circumstances of how the fire started soon pointed an investigation towards intentional sabotage. There were several seats of initial conflagration located before the blaze there got out of hand. Fire crews from across Central Scotland were called in and media attention was focused upon the thick black clouds that darkened the skies from Glasgow to Edinburgh the next morning… as well as all the death and destruction caused by the roaring flames.

Who had done such a thing and why were questions without an immediate answer.

That next morning saw a second series of fires taking place that again were soon suspected of being acts of deliberate arson too. At the other end of the country, down on the western side of Southampton Water in Hampshire, Marchwood Military Port saw multiple outbreaks of fire. Marchwood was a major logistical transportation point for the British Army who used the facility as a way-station to supply the overseas deployed forces. A pair of chartered civilian ships along with a vessel from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) were all at the port when the fires broke out within a trio of storage warehouses next to the quaysides. These ships were all being loaded with ammunition that was being sent from warehouses across Southern England for transit to West Germany and the British Army forces there. Firefighters firstly from Southampton and then later from as far afield as Salisbury and Winchester converged on the area while those ships tried to put to sea – no one wanted them around with the combustible danger of what they were carrying.

The RFA ship – manned by civilian reservists with the Royal Navy – quickly departed but the civilian merchantmen found their own departures delayed by a series of mechanical and electrical problems with their engines and propulsion systems. The crews of the ships had a lot of trouble getting their vessels underway, much to the concern of the firefighting authorities on land. No one could at first understand why it had taken so long just to get the engines aboard them going until later investigations pointed to determined sabotage being made upon each vessel.

With the ships and their explosive cargoes away from danger, efforts at firefighting were concentrated on the warehouses at Marchwood and where the fires there had also spread across many of the railway sidings. Everyone knew about the blaze up in Scotland at Grangemouth and nothing good would come of the fires here at Marchwood getting out of control and spreading southwards along the shoreline down to Fawley oil refinery.

This was the beginnings of the ‘Grey Terror’, Thatcher was told by MI-5 Director-General Antony Duff.

The PM had a keen memory and recalled being briefed a few years previously of the warnings from the Soviet GRU defector known as Viktor Suvorov as to what the Soviet Union might do in the lead-up to open warfare breaking out. He had later put a lot of his dire warnings in his successful books, but he had spoken to MI-5 about what he had deemed the Grey Terror. In the weeks leading up to a war breaking out, he had assured those in the West that acts of terrorism would be carried out by GRU agents that would cause great destruction. As examples, he had spoken of oil refineries going up in flames and ‘mishaps’ taking place at naval dockyards. The intention, Suvorov had said, would be for Western countries to look inwards on the eve of war rather than outwards at military preparations being made by the Soviet Union.

Thatcher was getting a detailed briefing at Downing Street on the afternoon of the 25th as to the progress of rescue efforts taking place at Grangemouth of workers who were still trapped there as well as what had happened at Marchwood when details begun to arrive of a third incident taking place.

A civilian airliner had crashed when on approach to Heathrow Airport to the west of London and it had come down in suburban Isleworth. There were expected to be many casualties on the ground…


American troops were not sent to Honduras to fight Sandinista forces coming across the border from Nicaragua and attacking the supply bases of the Contra rebels. The troops from the 7th Light Infantry & 82nd Airborne Division's were meant to secure the rear areas of the Honduran Army so that they could move forwards and engage the Sandinista forces coming north.

That was the official line anyway.

Before Shultz had been assassinated on the street of Tegucigalpa, the Sandinistas had been on the radar of the Reagan White House.

They were the enemy of every intention that Washington had for the future of Central America with their socialist revolutionary ideas. The president had already had his fingers burnt in Congress – the Iran-Contra scandal – but the Sandinistas were a direct threat to the security of Honduras, which was an ally of the United States. Reagan believed that Nicaragua’s leader Daniel Ortega was behind the murder of his Secretary of State. The intelligence services were dragging their feet over pointing the finger directly at the Sandinistas, but the president knew in his heart that they had killed Shultz even if they had used a proxy within Honduras.

Therefore, when Reagan had given Secretary of Defence Frank Carlucci the order for the Army to deploy forces down into Honduras, he had made sure that Carlucci instructed that those troops be sent with loose rules-of-engagement (ROE).

Two battalion task forces were initially sent to Honduras with other battalions on their way later that would allow a pair of combat brigades to be established in Honduras. From Fort Ord came the jungle-trained light infantry troopers of the 3rd Battalion of the 27th Infantry Regiment (3/27 INF); paratroopers from the 1st Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment (1/504 INF) flew in from Fort Bragg. The men in this pair of combat formations were highly-trained and capable volunteer professional soldiers who were sent straight into a ‘hot zone’.

CIA intelligence that had been passed to the Pentagon concerning the Nicaraguan organised Operation DANTO that was taking place inside Honduras. The army of the Sandinistas had crossed the border uninvited to smash the Contras: they weren’t planning to engage the Honduran Army nor any United States units to the north either.

American paratroopers found themselves meeting with Sandinista armed forces inside Honduras though. The well-armed men from the 1/504 INF out on patrol stumbled across Nicaraguan forces and their ROE allowed them to engage anyone ‘suspected of being hostile’. Vicious fire-fights broke out in several places when the two sides clashed, neither of which knew exactly why they were engaging the other.

The Sandinistas came off worse from the fighting with the American paratroopers though the battles fought were far from one-sided.

Several combat companies from the 1/504 INF took casualties of their own during the fighting that took place throughout the 26th of February. In addition, one of the American helicopters based in-country pre-deployment of GOLDEN PHEASANT forces – an old but capable UH-1H Huey on temporary attachment to Palmerola airbase – being used as a MEDEVAC transport was downed by Nicaraguans using a shoulder-mounted surface-to-air missile thus adding to those casualties in a spectacular fashion.

News of the fighting on the Honduras-Nicaraguan border spread fast back to the United States.

CNN had flown a news team down to Tegucigalpa after Shultz’s assassination and were all ready and set up there before the other major American news networks. The network producer who had come down with the camera crew from Atlanta was a young and enterprising chap who was eager to make his mark with the up-and-coming CNN. That afternoon he was at Palmerola trying unsuccessfully to get an interview – either on- or off-the-record – with a senior United States Army officer on site when the Huey’s flew away to the border region in a hurry. Both the Hondurans and the officers with the 3/27 INF begun to implement a security clampdown there, but the CNN team managed to remain inside the airbase and get footage of the helicopters flying away to the border region. When those helicopters later returned carrying wounded soldiers, the CNN team was only then ejected from Palmerola… but not before they had secured some footage.

CNN was able to carry some of that recorded footage that had been uplinked from Central America later that night on their late news programme. They beat all of the other networks to the punch and while they only had a little, they managed to portray the image that they had a lot of the story to tell about events down in Honduras to an eager American public still wanting to know what was being done about their dead Secretary of State.

The Pentagon had been preparing to make a late night statement that would have broken the news of fighting down in Honduras. Carlucci had been to see the President and gotten the right spin for the story that he and the White House wanted to put out. Thus, neither the Secretary of Defence nor his President were happy when they heard about CNN’s exclusive video content from Palmerola. The news story spoke of many casualties being inflicted upon the Sandinistas, yet the images that they had were those of badly wounded American paratroopers being air-lifted to medical facilities. The plans for a press conference at the Pentagon that would have given a different story thus had to be greatly modified due to this development.

Those images from Honduras would have an immediate effect across the United States. No one wanted to see snapshots on their television screens of wounded young soldiers killed by the forces of a foreign nation that the media – previously briefed by unnamed sources – was saying had been behind the murder of the country’s #1 diplomat.

Anger spread across the nation that night as the American people found themselves outraged and asking what was going to be done.


A squadron of F-16C Fighting Falcon multi-role strike-fighters had been assigned to the mission of supporting the initial GOLDEN PHEASANT forces. The twenty aircraft were from the 429th Tactical Fighter Squadron (429 TFS) based in Nevada who had conducted an emergency flight down to Palmerola airbase that had included a long over-water trip. Once the aircraft and their pilots had been ferried down, the 429 TFS met up with pre-positioned equipment, ammunition and fuel supplies that were safely stored in Honduras over the past year as part of American military contingency plans for just such a scenario as this.

The F-16’s weren’t able to go into action as quick as the paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division did: there were several reasons behind this.

The 429 TFS had been selected for the deployment from Nevada all the way down to Central America because they had just finished a full-scale training mission and thus were seen at the peak of their readiness. There were also a high proportion of high-grade officers with the squadron along with many of them being Spanish speakers. Furthermore, the squadron – and its parent wing, the 474th Tactical Fighter Wing – was not directly assigned a NATO reinforcement mission in Western Europe. The 429 TFS was thus seen as being perfect for deploying in support of GOLDEN PHEASANT.

Despite these factors, it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world for a squadron of fourth-generation combat fighters to go straight into action abroad instantaneously. After the pilots had flown their F-16’s down to Honduras, they needed a rest after the long flight. Those aircraft needed to be checked over by maintenance technicians that had flown down to Palmerola airbase too on other aircraft and then the fuel and weapons in-country needed to be removed from storage. Intelligence and Operations Officers needed to get a lay-of-the-land down in Honduras before the fighters could get into the sky too.

Then there was the attitude of Tegucigalpa to be taken into consideration.

The Honduran Government had been greatly alarmed at the threat to them by the Nicaraguans but also weary of the intentions of the United States too following the death of their Secretary of State in Honduras. The Honduran President and his cabinet didn’t want to have their country being used as a base of operations for a full-scale war that might rage across Central America. They only had to look across at neighbouring El Salvador to see what a warzone was…

Tegucigalpa made a mistake with the paratroopers from the 1/504 INF being given free rein to do practically as they wished on the border and therefore the logistical time-delay involved with getting the 429 TFS in-place allowed the Honduran Government to act. Messages were sent to Washington and also to the US Military Mission setting up in Honduras that no American aircraft based at Palmerola would be allowed to conduct either defensive or offensive air missions outside of Honduran sovereign territory. The wording of this firmly expressed position was designed to politely convey the message to the Americans that they couldn’t attack Nicaragua from Honduras.

The Hondurans really didn’t want to start a war.

The 429 TFS started flying missions at dawn on the morning of February 27th. The prepositioned supplies at Palmerola were small (more were to be flown out as soon as possible) though the first two flights from the squadron took to the skies above Honduras well-armed.

Silver Flight was the radio call-sign for one of the two-aircraft flights that came out of Palmerola and started to patrol the skies over south-western Honduras making racetrack patterns as they did so. This pair of aircraft were fitted for a counter-air mission carrying many air-to-air missiles each and in contact with Honduran radar stations on the ground in case the Sandinistas sent aircraft of their own forward across the border to support their troops on the ground. The Nicaraguan Air Force was regarded as a joke by the Americans and if they did send any fighters northwards, the pilots within would have a short and fatal morning when faced with state-of-the-art F-16’s flown by American pilots who knew their business.

The other pair of F-16’s were designated Carson Flight and were fitted for the mission of close air support (CAS). These 429 TFS aircraft were loaded with bombs and air-to-ground missiles before leaving Palmerola that morning. The paratroopers on the ground had needed air support the day before when it wasn’t available; now that it was, Carson Flight expected to be called into action as soon as they were airborne.

The troops on the ground soon needed that air support on offer.

At first light, the men of the 1/504 INF again started to find themselves faced with Nicaraguan troops approaching positions at strategic points behind the border where they had set themselves up to defend. Just like the previous day, the Sandinistas were still trying to attack Contra supply bases despite battles the previous day with American troops of whose nationality they were not yet sure off. The American paratroopers followed their ROE and engaged the Nicaraguans as violently as possible.

Carson Flight was called in on two separate occasions to give urgent CAS to two company-level positions that the 1/504 INF were maintaining. Each time, one of the F-16’s would swoop down from the skies and drop 500lb and 2000lb bombs with a high-level of accuracy onto the Nicaraguans; the Maverick anti-armour missiles that the F-16’s were carrying remained unused in the face of the light infantry that the Sandinistas were fielding.

This air intervention was vital in allowing the 1/504 INF to be protected from heavy casualties, unlike the day before. The Nicaraguans had no counter to the F-16’s whizzing through the skies and they were smashed by the falling bombs that fell among them. Carson Flight had great success and the paratroopers on the ground cheered their Air Force colleagues.

Unknown to any of those engaged in the fighting on the Honduras-Nicaragua border, nor yet back in Tegucigalpa and Washington, there were a few senior Sandinista military officers coming over the border with sealed orders for various forward commanders. There was much electronic jamming being undertaken by the Americans over the airwaves that the Nicaraguans had been using and so old-fashioned methods of communication on the battlefield had to be used. The messages being sent forward came straight from the Presidential Palace in Managua and were telling those forward units to withdraw back over the border at once and with no delay.

Operation DANTO was being cancelled in private, but not in public. Daniel Ortega appeared on the radio from Nicaragua – a message that was carried both by Radio Havana and Radio Moscow too to worldwide listeners – declaring that his country was under attack by forces of ‘United States Imperialism’. He stated that American aircraft and troops had been ‘attacking Nicaragua unprovoked’ and that the ‘Revolution needs defending’. This defence of Nicaragua and its people meant that Sandinista military forces were engaged in a ‘police action’ across in Honduras.

Ortega’s lies were deliberate.

Soviet KGB advisers with him in Managua had informed him all about the Honduran Government’s worries over the situation spiralling out of control, but the lies needed to be told: there was the promise of a substantial financial aid package awaiting for Nicaragua from Moscow should Ortega do the bidding of the Soviet Union. The Nicaraguan leader considered himself foremost a patriot and he was willing to do as his foreign backers wanted for now as long as he gained something for him and his country at the end of it all.

All Moscow wanted, he was assured, was a war of words to break out where the United States would be distracted by a brewing conflict in Central America over what else was going on the world. Like his counterpart in Tegucigalpa, Ortega didn’t want a real war to erupt.

How foolish was he…
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James G

Gone Fishin'

The last thing that London wanted to happen was for Washington to be distracted by events in Central America. Thatcher and her advisers – now meeting in secret on a regular basis in Downing Street as a ‘Crisis Committee’, a War Cabinet in all but name – were gravely alarmed to see Reagan’s attention focused there. Honduras and Nicaragua could go to war for all they cared, just as long as the United States kept its concentration on the threat to peace and prosperity in the West that came from behind the Iron Curtain.

As the fighting on the Honduran-Nicaraguan border intensified, that looming threat from the East became more worrying by the day.

Official pronouncements from Moscow to the contrary, the Soviets were showing no particular interest in Nicaragua. Radio Moscow might have been claiming the an ‘Imperialist war of aggression’ was underway against the ‘impoverished native peoples’ of Central America, but beyond those broadcasts there was nothing that Britain’s intelligence operatives nor diplomats could see as acts of support coming from the Soviet Union to Nicaragua. All that was detectable to agents of the Crown was that there were near hidden acts taking place behind the Iron Curtain that could only be interpreted as direct threats to Britain and its interests.

Signals intelligence reports pointed to high levels of unusual activity around two military command bases that Britain’s Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS: a military intelligence gathering department of the HM Government) had far more than a passing curiosity about: at Legnica in Poland and Minsk in the Soviet republic of Belorussia.

Information gathered from many reliable sources and confirmed over the years pointed to senior command staffs operating from these locations being responsible for both the Northern Group of Forces and the Belorussian Military District. The former controlled Soviet ‘defensive’ forces garrisoned in Poland with the latter responsible for troops stationed across Belorussia. Further sources had shown that in the event of war, these command staffs would direct military operations that would take place across northern West Germany… right where Britain’s military commitment of NATO was mainly focused.

It wasn’t the right time of year for military exercises to be soon to take place – there was thick winter snow across much of Central Europe – as might be expected with an increase in communications from Moscow to both Legnica and Minsk. Unless something terribly unexpected was going on in Moscow, the only explanation that the DIS could give the War Cabinet in Downing Street was that the two command posts were receiving well-encoded orders for them to be prepared to do something

In addition to this, MI-6 delivered to the War Cabinet details of a debriefing from one of its few remaining left operating behind the Iron Curtain. Recently, the KGB had been suspiciously catching far too many of MI-6’s agents-in-place (though that was a matter for another day) at once but there was one high-level source still in place within the Kremlin and delivering what was regarded as solid information. Curwen’s people had learnt that there had been yet another violent episode in Moscow among those high up on the rungs of power there.

Marshal Akhromeyev had lost his life in what was being sold as a heart attack but had in reality been an execution by a firing squad of KGB men; Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky had had enough of the man’s posturing as an equal partner and ordered his death.

The implication of this was readily apparent: there would be no opposition in Moscow from the high ranks of the Soviet Armed Forces to Kremlin-ordered military action.

Away from what information was coming in from Eastern Europe, those in Downing Street were still dealing with the after-effects of the Grey Terror that had been unleashed on Britain. The fire at Grangemouth oil refinery had finally been put out and bodies recovered from there, but the death toll in Scotland had been nothing compared to that in West London.

When the Sabena airliner smeared itself into the ground all across Isleworth, the Belgian-flagged Airbus-310 jet had been carrying almost two hundred passengers and crew aboard. It had been flying into London-Heathrow from Brussels before being hit by what was suspected to be a missile fired from a shoulder-mounted launcher. Who had fired the missile, where they had got the weapon from and why they had done so were questions that no one yet had answers to.

Thirty-seven people on the ground along with the one hundred and ninety-six passengers aboard the airliner had been killed as a result. There were many witnesses to the incident: a few people claimed to have seen the missile rising up from the ground while many others had then seen the aircraft coming down into a residential area of suburban London. Journalists had been on the scene of the carnage on the ground very soon afterwards and the news of the crash had been widely reported.

The UK Government had decided not to implement reporting restrictions and stuck with that decision afterwards. Thatcher had decided that this was the best course of action to take so that the country would know that the Sabena crash was an act of terrorism launched against Britain and undertaken on the orders of a hostile foreign power; there were coded debriefings given to the media making this clear.

There were people aboard soon to begin to psychologically prepare their people for war, but such a process had already begun in Britain… it was now only a few weeks away.


February 29th 1988 could easily have been the day when Britain could have been wholly devastated as a nation in a wave of thermonuclear fire. The country’s defences were shown to be woefully inadequate in the face of forceful Soviet intimidation.

Not long before dawn that morning, fighter-interceptors from various airfields across the northern reaches of the country were scrambled and their pilots preformed combat take-offs to climb into the skies above the windswept coast. From RAF Stornoway, RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Leuchars – military facilities located in Scotland – old but dependable Lightning’s and brand new Tornado’s got airborne.

RAF ground radars had detected multiple flights of high-flying aircraft coming directly towards the UK behind the dubious cover partially-effective electronic jamming. There had been no warning from the Royal Navy, whose ships were at sea, and the inbound aircraft were most certainly not ‘friendly’.

The Lightning’s and Tornado’s got up high above the low cloud cover and into the thinner air where the pilots could get better performance out of their engines. The two flights of Lightning F6s came from No. 11 Squadron – home-based at RAF Binbrook in Lincolnshire but now flying from RAF Stornoway and RAF Lossiemouth – and the four aircraft lanced out north-westerly and northerly towards inbound contacts. A three-aircraft flight of Tornado F3’s from No. 29 Squadron flew away from RAF Leuchars heading on a north-easterly course. Other interceptors from these squadrons who hadn’t been on alert status like those already airborne prepared to get into the morning sky as soon as possible while further alerts went out across the whole of Britain to the rest of the RAF’s fighter force.

The RAF jets were under strict ROE and their pilots were highly-trained professional military officers. Their country was not at war and so they were under no orders to fire unless in self-defence. Still, they closed-in as fast as possible towards the inbound aircraft in an aggressive manner that was designed to get the crews of those aircraft (rightly presumed to be displaying a Red Star on their tails denoting them as Soviet) to pay attention.

The pair of Lightning’s from RAF Stornoway achieved an intercept first. The emergency forward operating base on the Isle of Skye was far behind them and the dark clouds above the treacherous North Atlantic below. The AI-223 radars that the Lightning’s mounted were not the best combat systems that could be fielded in a modern interceptor, but they were up to the job that was required of them to become active from a stand-by mode when at a distance of twenty miles and ‘illuminate’ the quartet of targets inbound towards the UK.

The targets were Soviet Naval Aviation Tupolev-16KSR Badger’s.

The Badger’s were jet-engined long-range bombers with a crew of seven… and were spotted carrying two huge cruise missiles underneath their wings. The RAF pilots zoomed past them as they came in from above, shot down ahead of the flight of bombers, and then disappeared into the clouds below. The Soviet crewmen aboard the Badger’s had little warning after their electronic detection systems had gone off and many of their number – those who could see the Lightning’s visually – were very shaken up by the experience.

While the pilots of the Lightning’s turned back around while in the clouds and started another climb to come back up at the Badger’s from behind and below, the Soviets remained to their strict orders for what to do and started to turn back away while climbing themselves. They had no chance of escaping from the much faster and more manoeuvrable Lightning’s, but they were not here out over the North Atlantic on a real combat mission.

As fast as possible, the Badger’s begun their turn away and headed back out to sea.

Over the next twenty to thirty minutes, the other two flights of Soviet aircraft were intercepted and then turned away afterwards once this had occurred. The second Lightning flight and that of the new Tornado’s also ran into missile-carrying long-range Soviet bombers… which turned back away after drawing the elite quick reaction fighters of the RAF fighter force far away to the north of mainland Britain.

It was out to the west where the RAF should have been paying attention to and where its fighters should have been sent. However, as a result of a decades-long strategy regarding planning for the air defence of the country those defences were orientated towards the north and the east. The traditional threats to Britain had come from these directions and that was where the ground radars were pointed towards and the fighter stations located to support fighters operating over the northern and eastern skies.

All of a sudden, the few RAF radar stations that were pointed out westwards came alive with more high-flying contacts up in the sky. These were not distant like those initially tracked northwards, but rather within forty miles of Britain’s western coastline. There were seventeen different aircraft detected – all single aircraft flights – over the Irish Sea and closing-in. They had overflown the Republic of Ireland where civilian air traffic controllers had been blissfully ignorant of them (civilian radars worked using radar transponders, not in the traditional manner like military models) and switched on their own radars at the very last moment. The only interceptors available at this time to intercept them were from RAF Leeming in Yorkshire – a long way off and only a trio of those Lightning’s were ready for immediate lift-off against a force almost six times their number.

This second wave of Soviet aircraft were vastly different in capabilities and performance to the Badger’s that had preceded them. Eight of their number were supersonic Tupolev-22M3 Backfire’s that were carrying a total of ten cruise missiles each; the other nine aircraft were Tupolev-95MS Bear’s that were loaded with sixteen missiles. The missiles that these aircraft carried were all considered by NATO intelligence to be armed with nuclear warheads and the Backfire’s and Bear’s were right off the British coastline in firing positions where their weapons could be launched at targets with almost no warning at all for preparations to be made.

Instead of launching missiles, the Soviet aircraft started broadcasting radio messages. They used open, non-secure channels to confirm with each other their exact positions and then started broadcasting these on further open channels back to the Soviet Union. The apparently innocuous messages were in Russian, but they could be picked up far and wide… including all across Britain by anyone with a commercial radio set.

Afterwards, the Soviet bombers turned back away and started to overfly Ireland again as they headed back out towards the North Atlantic. They were halfway through their long overwater flights but they had the fuel reserves to get themselves back home. The RAF wasn’t in a position to intercept them should they have chosen to do so and neither could the pitiful small Irish military either.

Their mission was considered a success.

Once the dust had cleared (metaphorically) there was much heated discussion in Britain over how to react to this. The Soviet intention was clear: they wanted to show the British Government that the country was open to a devastating military attack at any moment that the Soviet Union should chose to strike at it. Moreover, Moscow was trying to frighten London into putting greater effort in the future into the defence of Britain rather than sending their military forces aboard to West Germany.

Thatcher’s War Cabinet – meeting in a bunker under Whitehall – would discuss how to react later that morning, though they would only make a decision after unexpected and terrible events in Germany that day had forced their hand.


Tensions had been rising elsewhere in the world and attention had been focused away from West Germany, but that didn’t by any means change the situation with the savage insurgency going on across various parts of the country. Every day and every night, there were violent acts of terrorism committed and the West German authorities, try as they might, couldn’t put a stop to these. Assassinations took place, acts of arson were committed, bombs were set off and kidnappings undertaken. In every part of the country the terrorism continued with no sign of it ever coming to a stop… nor the rising body count either.

However, amongst all of this ongoing violence, something very important was noticed by the Federal Republic’s intelligence services by the end of February.

During the initial wave of attacks that left-wing terrorists had launched across the country, many of them had either been killed or detained afterwards. The ranks of what were regarded as ‘professional terrorists’ – those dedicated to unleashing terrorism – had been greatly thinned despite all the mayhem that they had successfully released. With so many capable and committed men and women no longer in action, the attacks against the West German state should have dried up. Groups like the Red Cells and Red Army Faction operated in small and often uncoordinated secretive cells with very few people willing to get their hands dirty.

The politicians in Bonn watched the terrorist attacks increase in frequency and in bloodshed though and their first natural instinct (and what they briefed their media contacts on too) was that the further occurrences of violence were undertaken by like-minded Germans somehow ‘inspired’ by those who had struck before them. This served the politician’s own ends too as they tried to silence unfriendly sections of the West German media by claiming that publicising what was going on was only inflaming the situation.

The spooks from the BfV had a very different take on things from those in power in Bonn.

During the late evening of the 27th, BfV agents – supported by GSG-9 commandos – had raided a small residential house in the northern city of Kiel. They were hunting one of the last remaining active suspected Red Army Faction cells, a small group of terrorists who had earlier that day murdered a West German Army general officer along with his mistress. There was a shoot-out in the house and three people were killed while a fourth was badly wounded and arrested later in hospital. The German spooks discovered at the house a wide array of weapons, documents detailing movements of prominent West Germans and also some interesting clues about who the fourth man was. It took them the whole of the next day to understand what they had found before they could later report to their political masters that they had managed to capture a live (if somewhat seriously hurt) member of the East German Stasi who had been with the dead West German terrorists.

The wounded man was removed from the civilian hospital where he was initially being held and too a top-secret BfV medical facility near Hamburg during his second night of captivity. The spooks wanted to squeeze him dry of every drop of intelligence that they could get from the man: who exactly he was, what he was doing in the Federal Republic, and everything else about him and his masters back on the other side of the Iron Curtain too.

The BfV saw plenty of opportunities for exploitation with their captive… though once again the opinions of the country’s intelligence agents differed from that of its senior leaders.

When those in Bonn heard that an East German spook had been captured in a den of terrorists up in Kiel, the immediate conclusion was that the Stasi agent was directing the operations of that group of insurgents of behalf of his own country. This was one of several different explanations given to the politicians for what the East German might have been doing in Kiel; it was not in any way a conclusion. Yet that was what the politicians thought that they heard from those debriefing them.

In addition to this information from the BfV about the Stasi agent in Kiel, those in Bonn were near-simultaneously briefed by high-ranking officials from West Germany’s foreign intelligence service: the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND). Like their domestic intelligence counterparts, the spooks of the BND had been under a lot of pressure with the terrorist campaign going on across West Germany. The Vice President of the organisation had survived an assassination attempt and the politicians had been pressing them like the BfV for information. Finally they had something which they regarded as important enough to take to the West German Chancellor and his inner circle.

The BND had an agent-in-place in East Berlin who had been delivering reliable if somewhat low-grade intelligence for several years. He had finally sent a bombshell westwards and this was shared with the politicians.

The new rulers in East Berlin – a troika put in place by the KGB after Honecker had been removed – had been directed by Moscow to begin the process of ‘preparing their country for war’. They were to begin calling up reservists, start aligning their armed forces with Soviet Army units already in-country and more which were apparently on their way, and also to enact plans for East Germany’s very modern transportation system to be used for military purposes.

Though it was an uncomfortable notion to many in West Germany, East Germany was a foreign country. The people on the other side of the Iron Curtain were Germans just like they were, yet their masters were traitors to the whole German way of life. Those in East Berlin were known to be puppets of Moscow who feared a bullet in the back of the head more than they did their own conscience as Germans. Thus, the daily attacks taking place across West Germany were the work of outsiders who needed to be stopped… and who were now following Soviet instruction to prepare for a war against their German brethren!

It was all too much.

The Federal Republic had its own allies as part of the NATO alliance and it was decided by the morning of the 29th to start requesting that those foreign countries come to the assistance of West Germany. The politicians in Bonn certainly didn’t want a war but they saw that they had no other choice but to ready themselves and their countrymen for a hostile attack.


The whole point of Operation LION was to bluff. The British Government set into motion the process of completely mobilising the country’s armed forces for total warfare with the thinking that by doing so, they could deter war from breaking out.

The British military wasn’t actually meant to go to war in March 1988.

This was exactly the same position taken by several other NATO countries who at once (others would later) responded to the call from West Germany to come to their aid. Neither the United States, Canada, France, and the rest of NATO wanted to go to war with the Soviet Union and her allies either… no one thought to let Moscow know this in a back-channel manner that would have saved governments a lot of face though.

Multiple headquarters units across the British Army had been on unofficial alert ready for deployment notices to be ordered for weeks now. When those orders came through, staff officers put plans into motion at once with no hesitation.

There were divisional and brigade headquarters within the UK itself assigned the mission of moving across to Germany in preparation for war even before LION had been drawn-up. The 2nd Infantry Division had its headquarters located in York and was tasked as a reserve formation with many Territorial Army units under command to provide reinforcement on the ground when in Germany. Before LION, a regular brigade had been attached to the division alongside two of reservists; now there were three brigades from the Territorial Army. Upon receiving its mobilisation order, a cadre of that staff at once set off for nearby RAF Catterick where a light aircraft would take them to Monchengladbach near the Ruhr: the projected continental staging area for the 2nd Infantry Division.

In southern England, the British Army had recently re-established the 5th Infantry Division. This had been no more than a ‘paper’ command until LION went into effect, but there were staff officers with assignments to it should the order come. A small group of these men followed their mobilisation orders and left Andover for Bielefeld, another British Army base in northern West Germany. Two regular brigades (one of those previously assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division) would come under divisional command once deployed too though there were hopes that troops would be pulled from Northern Ireland to form a third brigade as well so that the 5th Infantry Division would be like the four others of the British Army in following the NATO-standard of a three-brigade division.

The 1st Infantry Brigade from Salisbury Plain was one of those brigades now assigned to the 5th Infantry Division for reinforcement in West Germany. Before LION had been created, this formation was meant to go to the very northern reaches of West Germany in Schleswig-Holstein or even Denmark to act as part of a NATO force there. American promises to defend Denmark and the desire to concentrate what fighting strength the British Army had meant that the 1st Brigade was now going to North German Plain instead. Thousands of soldiers – from infantrymen to truck drivers – at once started to move into place so that the brigade could move across to West Germany as soon as possible.

Back up in Yorkshire, the 5th Infantry Division’s other brigade, the 24th Infantry Brigade, also prepared itself to move across to the continent. An extra infantry battalion was added to the brigade and so too were many supporting attachments because the brigade had been somewhat understrength in recent months. Nevertheless, the contingency plans made before LION went into effect meant that the 24th Brigade was moving to West Germany ready for combat operations.

The 19th Light Brigade had been standing-up and then being reduced to a lower state of readiness for weeks now when based around Colchester in Essex. This formation was assigned pre-LION to the understrength 4th Armoured Division in West Germany and many within the British Army believed that it should have gone to join its parent formation a long time before complete UK mobilisation. When the orders came, the brigade started to move like the others and headed towards ships that would be waiting for its thousands of men on the North Sea ports.

At Aldershot was the last one of those standing British Army brigade headquarters that begun deploying abroad. The 5th Airborne Brigade wasn’t going to West Germany like the other three (and the two divisional headquarters) but rather to Norway. Over the past week, the Norwegian government had been requesting that their British allies deploy troops into the northern part of their country in case the Soviets chose to attack them through the near undefended Finmark. Many in the high ranks of the British Army wanted to follow the LION doctrine and mass as much combat power as possible on the North German Plain, but politics dictated that Norway be aided in the defence of its territory by the deployment of the 5th Brigade. Furthermore, it was also recognised that the defence of Norway from hostile takeover was of vital importance to British military interests due to the close geographic proximity of the two nations.

There were countless individual units of the British Army across the mainland UK that received orders to move to West Germany when the bigger formations did. Many were infantry units, but the vast majority were combat support and service support formations. Everything that would be needed for the infantry and tanks (of which there unfortunately too few) of the British Army to fight would have to deploy abroad too from pay clerks to cooks to engineers. This was the unglamorous but very vital side of warfare.

The Royal Marines had their own brigade-level formation, one which had covered itself in glory six years before in the Falklands: the 3rd Commando Brigade. Spread from Plymouth to Arbroath, the Royal Marines were home-based across the country. They were an elite formation though and had been standing ready to move for a while now. The men of the 3rd Commando Brigade were soon boarding ships and setting sail to join the Royal Navy fleet as it assembled in the eastern reaches of the North Atlantic.

Their role in the coming war would be something very ‘special’ indeed.

A large proportion of the British Army was pre-deployed in West Germany where it had been since the end of the Second World War. There were a trio of three-brigade combat divisions there – less the soon-to-arrive 19th Brigade – and the immense Corps-level support command. When the order arrived for the I Corps to implement LION, the troops started to leave their barracks complexes and deploy ‘into the field’.

Over the past forty years, countless studies had been conducted as to locate the best fighting positions for the British Army on the North German Plain. From divisional combat areas down to individual tanks and platoons of infantry, everything had been planned out. The routes to take to these exact sites had been pre-scouted and preparations had been made to support these fighting positions. Then, of course, there were multiple alternate fall-back positions too.

Like every army, the British Army liked to plan for everything.

Thus, out into the field the British I Corps rolled. Eastwards was their direction and away from their many garrisons towards locations back from but covering the Inner German Border.

General Kenny, the commander of the Northern Army Group (which had too been activated at the urging of the West Germany), oversaw the deployment of the British I Corps while at the same time focusing on the corps-level formations from other NATO countries doing the same within his area of responsibility… and also the one formation that wasn’t. The Dutch Army and the West Germany Army started to move their formations like the British Army was towards the East German border – both deployed on the left and to the north of the British – but to his right there was no urgent forward deployment from the Belgian Army.

NATO war-plans to defend West Germany envisaged General Kenny’s command having two divisions of the Belgian Corps deployed in the southern reaches of his operational area. Those troops didn’t leave their barracks when those of other nations did so though. The Americans and the French were beginning the process of moving into northern West Germany and that wouldn’t be an easy process, but the nearby Belgians weren’t moving theirs. General Kenny had been pre-warned that this would happen by the apologetic commander of the Belgian Corps when the Northern Army Group was mobilised, but that didn’t make things any better. He was told that the Belgian Parliament would have to meet before his government could authorise a forward deployment and thus his hands were tied.

Nevertheless, the Belgians weren’t needed with immediate effect in manning the frontlines against potential Soviet aggression. There were still tens of thousands of NATO troops on the North German Plain with many, many more on their way – a large portion of which were British.

In terms of major combat vessels, the Royal Navy in March 1988 consisted of three aircraft carriers, forty seven multi-role warships and twenty six submarines. Many of these were in various states of repair or the process of disposing of them from Royal Navy service had begun before word had come down earlier in the year to maintain as much of the fleet as possible ready for possible wartime service.

Many ships had been at sea for a while before LION went into effect because it was easier for the Royal Navy to have its assets deployed in comparison to the British Army. Destroyers, frigates and submarines had been out on deployment conducting high-intensity combat exercises and on real patrol missions, not make-believe exercises. Peacetime deployments to places such as the Persian Gulf (the Armilla Patrol), the Caribbean, the Far East and the South Pacific had been cancelled so that vessels could remain closer to home.

Instructed to assemble the fleet as per LION orders, the Royal Navy sent its ships to sea. Task forces were gathered built around the light carriers and the amphibious ships that the Royal Navy operated, but at the same time many ships were sent out on individual missions. There were going to be many missions that the Royal Navy was to be expected to perform should the worst happen and open conflict actually erupt and therefore the Admiral’s at the organisation’s head had their forces ready.

The Royal Air Force found itself in a vastly different position from either the British Army or the Royal Navy. Like the latter, its assets were easily deployable though they needed a secure operating base to operate from when sent abroad along with capable host-nation support. As it was with the British Army, when the RAF deployed abroad politics came into play due to their presence which had stopped a large pre-LION movement overseas. The politicians in London hadn’t wanted to ‘inflame tensions’ beforehand.

Nevertheless, when the RAF was issued deployment orders, it did so at great speed and into pre-selected locations. There was already a large RAF contingent in West Germany in peacetime and extra aircraft went across to the continent to join them. In supporting NATO missions in West Germany, the RAF would be conducting a tactical role there.

Things would be different with RAF assets remaining in the UK though deploying to wartime positions. From mainland bases, the RAF was expected to defend the UK from waves of hostile air attacks that would be expected when – or if as the politicians were saying – the fighting started. Just as they could be in West Germany, the RAF would find itself vulnerable to attack when on the ground in the UK. Airbases capable of hosting modern combat aircraft, let alone large transport aircraft and tankers as the RAF flew in addition to their fighters and tactical bombers, were few and far between on the mainland UK and their location would be known to an enemy attacker. There would be threats to those from submarine-launched missiles, long-range air raids and even commando attacks.

Therefore the RAF was forced to re-locate its assets to many dispersal airfields up and down the UK just as it was doing in West Germany, and would later do in Norway when a later deployment was made there. Civilian airports and airstrips were just as vulnerable to attack as the big airbases were, though the dispersal efforts made meant that any large scale enemy attack to eliminate the RAF on the ground would be made very much harder.

Being away from the bigger airbases had many disadvantages which would tax the RAF in conducting flight operations though. Concentrated at those locations in peacetime were all the vitally important ground support assets that the RAF needed to be a fighting force. There were refuelling, rearmament, maintenance and planning facilities at those fixed locations. There were logistics links to them from weapons dumps accommodation for pilots and ground crew.

Moving away from the big airbases was a necessary evil though.

To support all three armed services in their LION deployments, Britain started to mobilise its reserves of trained manpower. Retired service personnel were called up alongside part-timers from the British Army, the Royal Navy and the RAF. Tens of thousands of personnel left their civilian lives behind them and put on the uniform of their country. Naturally, many of them had fears and hesitations, but they did as ordered nonetheless.

The weighty discussions in Whitehall that had concerned the political, economic and social problems brought about this mobilisation had been answered by Soviet Bloc intentions and Britain’s leaders had been forced to bite the bullet: there was no other choice for the security of the country. The British Army needed those soldiers, the Royal Navy needed the sailors and the RAF needed those pilots and trained support personnel.

Furthermore, there were plans underway to implement a further aspect of LION should the international situation get even worse for the country: selective conscription of eligible eighteen to twenty-one year old males. No one wanted to do that, but the threat to the UK and its allies seemed to be getting graver every passing day.

Away from the domestic implications of Britain mobilising its forces, which were to be many and soon get very serious indeed, there were other pressing issues.

Not all signatories to the NATO alliance had at once answered the call of the West Germans to come to their aid and there would have to be a reaction from behind the Iron Curtain as to what Britain, the United States (in the mist of their own, bigger REFORGER mobilisation) and other Western countries had done.
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James G

Gone Fishin'

Two separate political-motivated assassinations rocked Britain during the morning of March 2nd. The country was in the midst of the Transition to War process and there were substantial political and social upheavals underway at that time. Nevertheless, both events were of such serious consequences that these murders knocked everything else out of importance.

These killings were not linked in any other way apart from their timing in relation to geo-political events, though that would not be understood in many circles until after World War Three had been fought.

Of course, that wouldn’t stop the conspiracy theories that would link them together for many years afterwards.

The Rt. Hon. John Major MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, was killed when a tremendous explosion blew apart his official car when on the grounds outside his office at Stormont Castle. The forty-four year-old politician was killed alongside three others – an aide, a driver and a bodyguard – in the car bombing during a blast the caused extensive damage to the building too due to the amount of explosives used.

Major was murdered by members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) in what would be later deemed by British intelligence operatives in an ‘unsanctioned action’. The PIRA men who planted the bomb and then detonated it by remote control as Major entered his vehicle were from that organisation’s South Armagh Brigade. The South Armagh Brigade maintained near independence from the rest of the terrorist group with a much different structure to its composition, a larger stockpile of heavy weapons (and a desire to use them a lot more than other so-called Brigades) and members who didn’t consider that they had to always answer to the Army Council leadership.

Their assassination of Major was due to recent differences of opinion – to put it mildly – within the Army Council. The ranking member of the South Armagh Brigade who sat on the Army Council was Thomas Murphy, a citizen of the Irish Republic. A notorious smuggler who lived just south of the Inter-Irish Border he was someone who was wholly committed to the notion of a united Ireland. Since Major’s appointment back in January, there had been serious political moves by his office to engage in clandestine dialogue with nationalist political groups in Northern Ireland, namely Sinn Féin. Major and the leaders of Sinn Féin had been talking through intermediates about a British-led initiative to bring about devolution to Northern Ireland. Though Sinn Féin wasn’t the largest nationalist party in Ulster, the violent and influential PIRA was linked to the party. The British proposal had the supposedly secret thinking behind it that by offering a political settlement to the nationalists in Northern Ireland, the violence within Ulster would temper off for a while; the political-minded men would rein in the gunmen somewhat at this crucial time for British national security.

Major, the consummate pragmatist, was only following instructions from Downing Street in doing this.

To many in the Irish nationalist community on both sides of the border who were aware of the British proposal for a devolution settlement in Ulster, with Sinn Féin engaged in a power-sharing government with other nationalists as well as unionists, this was a fantastic opportunity. The long-held dream of a united Ireland was right in them: it would follow talks on devolution back to how things were politically in Northern Ireland pre the introduction of Direct Rule from London in 1972.

Men like Murphy and others who belonged to the South Armagh Brigade were aghast at such a notion. They wanted nothing less than instant unification with the Irish Republic with Sinn Féin and the PIRA in charge of the whole united country.

Rather than go toe-to-toe with the Army Council leadership in trying to challenge them directly on their decided policy of holding talks with Major, the leaders of the South Armagh Brigade decided to launch a far more selective attack to stop their parent organisation from negotiating a political settlement that was far short of everything that they wanted. Major was marked for death not only to stop the talks on devolution in a way that would make sure that the British wouldn’t want to come back to the negotiating table anytime soon, but so that the Army Council would be reminded just what a force to be reckoned with that the South Armagh Brigade was and that it would never allow itself to be forced into agreeing to something that it didn’t ideologically support.

The killing of Major was thus part of an internal PIRA power struggle of great importance to the nationalist cause and not something linked to the ongoing military stand-off between the East and the West.

Only an hour later, the deputy leader of the Labour party was killed murdered right in the heart of London.

Roy Hattersley had been another politician engaged recently in secret talks with those who held a vastly different set of views to his own. He was held down in his office chair within the Palace of Westminster and a cloth soaked in chemicals forcefully held over his mouth so that he inhaled a fast-acting and lethal poison. Hattersley struggled against his assailant, a young aide who he thought that he truly knew and could whole-heartedly trust, but quickly lost his life.

The assassin was a twenty-six year-old Cambridge graduate by the name of Mark Mason. He had long been associated with the Labour party through his time at university and his parent’s party activism. For the past year he had worked in Hattersley’s office as a researcher and Mason had full security clearance from MI-5 to come and go as he pleased onto the Parliamentary estate. Little did anyone know that Mason had secret ties to Soviet KGB operations within Britain. For the past few years he had been supplying his handlers low-level intelligence on Hattersley and the Labour party… that was until one of those spooks from the Soviet Union ‘convinced’ him to murder Hattersley by holding Mason’s parents hostage under the threat of death. Mason was given the poison and then instructed to go and kill his employer with immediate effect.

After killing the senior politician, Mason had enough of his wits about him to manage to not attract attention to himself by walking rather than running as he had wished to out of Hattersley’s office. It was a Wednesday morning with Parliament in session and the House of Commons due to meet that afternoon in closed session to hear statements from the Prime Minister on the country’s military mobilisation. Thus, the Palace of Westminster was a busy place with many security people on the grounds. Mason left the Gothic style buildings and past all the security so that he could make his way back to his parent’s house in suburban Essex where he aimed to secure their release.

That was a foolish notion indeed… they were already dead and so too would he be when he reached their home.

Away from the naïve Mason, Hattersley’s body was discovered fifteen minutes after his death when his killer was already outside hailing a black taxi to allow him to flee. His secretary came into wake the politician from what she thought was a morning nap at his desk that her boss sometimes took to keep his wits sharp. She found him dead before screaming and fainting in a fashion that would make any Hollywood movie director proud.

When the MI-5 led investigation into Hattersley’s death begun in earnest, the missing Mason was soon found after his body had been recovered from the burnt-out remains of his parent’s home. There was a lot of attention directed into looking at why and how he had done what he had, but the main focus of enquiry was into who would have wanted Hattersley dead. The investigating spooks were quickly briefed by their superiors that the politician had been holding talks with top-level representatives of the Conservative party – party chairman Peter Brooke and John Wakeham, the Leader of the House of Commons – concerning the possibility of him leading a group of Labour MP’s into a wartime coalition government with Thatcher’s Conservatives. There already had been failed talks with Hattersley’s superior, Neil Kinnock, about the Labour Party’s Parliamentary representatives as a whole putting politics aside in the face of imminent danger to the country and joining the government: this had occurred after the Home Office had failed to move fast enough to stop several newspapers from running the story of those pre-Hattersley talks and causing Kinnock’s people to walk away from such an agreement.

Hattersley himself had been prepared to act in what he saw as a patriotic move and be called a traitor to his party because he believed that democracy in Britain could only be maintained by such an alliance. Thirty to forty Labour MP’s had been standing ready to support Hattersley before he was assassinated.

Over the next week, as the final countdown to war came, MI-5 managed to understand why Hattersley was murdered and inform Thatcher and her government of their conclusions. By that point it didn’t really matter as events were moving very fast and Soviet intentions became clearer by the day. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister did listen when it was explained to her that Hattersley had been assassinated to cause immense political chaos in Britain so that the country wouldn’t be united before war broke out.

The KGB’s plan in that respect was successful too.


It looked like Barbarossa #2.

To those on the other side of the Iron Curtain, NATO mobilisation gave the appearance of a military readiness for an eastwards invasion that would attempt to complete what the Nazis failed to do nearly fifty years previously.

Not only did it cause immense anxiety, it caught the Soviets utterly unawares too: they didn’t see it coming at all. No alarm bells had been rung in Moscow beforehand by a neutered Soviet Foreign Office under the leadership of a complete non-entity that Shcherbytsky had put in charge there. Neither did the KGB, whose personnel now lived in outright fear of losing their lives because their analysis’ didn’t concur with their Chairman’s firmly held convictions, bring forth any warning either of what was coming despite their multiple sources in the West tipping them off about it… including an open Western media.

The waves of successive purges that Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky instigated in their country to secure their rule had made sure that there was no one who would dare tell either of them what they didn’t want to hear: that their devious plans to subvert the West had failed and it was getting ready to fight for its independence instead.

Why was NATO mobilising?

What was behind tens of thousands of American troops flying across the Atlantic on every trans-Atlantic jet available, ships moving the British Army across the North Sea and trains transporting the French Army over the Rhine?

It was the actions of Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky that had caused this to happen. In trying to understand what the Soviets were up to, harassed Western intelligence officers were exasperated and would throw their hands up in the air. What the Soviet Union was doing in how they were ending up contradicting themselves in trying to achieve political goals by the threat of military force came across in what was deemed near schizophrenic behaviour. It didn’t make sense when viewed from the West… because those analysts who briefed Presidents, Prime Ministers and Chancellors were trying to understand Soviet actions from a Western perspective.

In Moscow, Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky were both living in their own fantasy worlds. They had surrounded themselves with yes men and were being fed incomplete and sometime utterly false information (by underlings who were either stupid or scared… or both) about how their grand plans to incorporate Western Europe into their sphere of influence was meeting with success.

The scheme to distract the United States by getting it involved in a conflict in Honduras was working out just perfectly. Britain had been frightened so much it wouldn’t act. The West German people were on the verge of revolt. And so the falsehoods kept being told to them.

Until, NATO mobilised ready for war.

Marshal of the Soviet Union Viktor Georgyevich Kulikov personally flew to Moscow to see Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky and accepted no excuses from their aides as to any delay. Kulikov held the position of the ‘Supreme Commander of the Unified Armed Forces of the Warsaw Treaty Organisation’ and had come from his command post at Legnica in Poland. He was a man who had seen countless of his fellow Soviet military officers arrested and disappeared in the past few months but who had hung onto his post (and his life) through a combination of luck and keeping his mouth firmly shut on the matter of politics.

He had a genuine fear for his safety when he flew to Moscow and a moment of weakness back in Legnica had nearly made him cancel his travel arrangements. Yet, Kulikov was a soldier and knew his duty; he took the plunge and went to see the leaders of his nation.

It was Kulikov who used the word ‘Barbarossa’ to Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky when he spoke of what he feared NATO mobilisation meant. The latter of the two politicians would use it again and again in statements to the world’s media afterwards in a concerted propaganda effort, without reference to Kulikov of course, but it was the senior military man who had put that word into his mouth.

Every citizen of the Soviet Union knew what Barbarossa meant. State propaganda had fed them its meaning since the end of World War Two: extermination at the hands of an evil regime hell-bent on the deaths of the Soviet people.

That aside, Kulikov spoke of a second Barbarossa because NATO mobilisation – from the intelligence reports he had been seeing when back in Legnica – meant that forty-plus Western combat divisions were deploying into fighting positions in West Germany. Of course it was going to take time for the troops to man those formations to arrive and the West would claim that they were there to supposedly defend Germany from the East, but every good soldier knows that the best form of defence is always attack. This was exactly what Kulikov informed Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky when he saw them: NATO was readying itself for war and war would mean that the West had to strike first.

Forty divisions was the figure that Kulikov brought to Moscow and it wasn’t something that he was exaggerating either when the armies of the West would fully deploy what forces they had into West Germany. His intelligence pointed to the Americans deploying another six to their four already in-country and the participation of the large French Army too in joining the armies of Belgium, Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and West Germany on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Like his use of Barbarossa, the number was important because he could point to Soviet combat divisions in Eastern Europe under his command (those in East Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia) which totalled only twenty-six.

Kulikov didn’t speak of the armies of those three countries – and their equal number (26 as well) of combat divisions – when he expressed how outnumbered his forces were on the ground and how threatened that apparent disparity in strength left his command in.

There was a very real threat to the Soviet Union from the armed forces of the West, Kulikov told Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky, and something needed to be done before Barbarossa #2 occurred.


Barbarossa #2 could be avoided in the space of less than thirty minutes. The Soviet Union had an immense arsenal of nuclear weapons at its disposal and its two leaders could launch a portion of these westwards to make sure that June 1941 didn’t occur all over again. Missiles could be fired and the nightmares of tens of millions of people in the West would come true. There would be no war launched against the Soviet Union should Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky take this step.

While such an action would ensure that the American-led NATO alliance wouldn’t be able to attack across the Iron Curtain, there would be equally fatal consequences for the people of the Soviet Union should the country’s missiles be launched; the West would return fire with their own missiles.

Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky didn’t want to see their country destroyed in a retaliatory nuclear strike should they chose to use those ultimate weapons of warfare. The Soviet Union would be destroyed in a nuclear conflict just as those countries in the West would be too. Even when presented with the option of a ‘limited’ nuclear strike that was deemed to be that of a tactical nature to halt NATO’s mobilisation – the immediate night-time launch of intermediate-range missiles armed with low-yield nuclear warheads at ninety-six military targets in Western Europe as per Operation APOLLO (* see below for how operational concept this would affect Britain *) – Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky wouldn’t authorise the use of nuclear weapons for the fear of what would happen in retaliation.

Bluff and bluster aside, the nuclear weapons of the Soviet Union were not something that would actually defend the nation from a conventional military attack.

Something had to be done though…

…especially when media coverage came from the United States featuring Presidential nomination candidate Pat Robertson making comments regarding the ongoing American mobilisation which was shown to Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky. Robertson – whose importance behind the Iron Curtain was always overrated – had been quoted by both CBS and NBC as stating that it was his belief that NATO troops should ‘march upon Berlin and then onto Warsaw, before going all the way to Moscow’.

The advisers to the men running the Soviet Union pointed to this as a clear piece of propaganda authorised at the highest levels in the West to prepare the peoples there for warfare. It was claimed that someone like Robertson was influential and that his ideas had great credence with the American population – one only had to look at his polling numbers that the KGB had acquired from its sources. He was popular enough, so the theory put to Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky went, that the outgoing President Reagan would have to seriously consider it.

What the imperialists in Washington did, those in London and Paris would do too.

To say that the advisers that Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky had were living in la-la land would be the greatest understatement of the century.

Aside from using nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union had conventional military forces that dwarfed those of the West. Kulikov had come to Moscow warning of forty NATO divisions assembling in West Germany, but that number paled into insignificance with the size of the opposing military force that the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact could field in Eastern Europe within a short space of time. One hundred plus Soviet, East German, Polish and Czechoslovakian combat divisions could be fielded. There were twice as many Warsaw Pact combat aircraft available than NATO could deploy ready for war. The Soviet Union had much shorter and far more secure lines of communications for logistics – what warfare was really about as opposed to tactics – than the West did, with the United States being the most powerful member of that alliance and on the far side of the wide North Atlantic.

NATO mobilisation meant that at the very least the Soviet Union and her allies in Eastern Europe (doing as they were told, like all good puppet states) just had to the same.

Orders were sent out during the night of March 3rd for the Warsaw Pact to match the mobilisation of the West on the ground, in the air and at sea.

If Barbarossa #2 was attempted, it would at once meet with failure.

[Operation APOLLO was a pre-planned military action formulated the year beforehand (pre-coup) and updated weekly. It’s Soviet Defence Ministry planners had countless similar plans too.
Faced with intelligence pointing to a conventional military invasion coming from the West, thirty-two RSD-10 Pioneer – NATO codename SS-20 Sabre – missiles would be fired westwards at fixed military and civilian rear-area targets in Western Europe to stop the build-up to that attack. Each RDS-10 carried a trio of 150kiloton warheads that were extremely accurate.
Fourteen of those ninety-six targets were in Britain.
Four large RAF bases in southern England that were key Anglo-American airheads: RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire and RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk.
The same number of Royal Navy bases: Devonport in south-western England, Faslane in western Scotland, Portsmouth on the South Coast and Rosyth in eastern Scotland.
A pair of large civilian airports outside London which would become transport and refuelling hubs in wartime: Heathrow and Gatwick.
Finally, four civilian ports on the eastern and southern coasts of England: Dover, Felixstowe, Folkestone and Hull.
Civilian casualties from these strikes were expected to be immense, but Soviet targeting cared nothing for those. All that mattered was that these vital rear logistical hubs would be destroyed so that they couldn’t be used in an invasion eastwards.
The other eighty-two targets were very similar to these – a mix of military and civilian facilities – and located across West Germany, the Low Countries, and France.
If APOLLO had been undertaken when the West was in the early stages of a major mobilisation, then a NATO offensive (or even a defensive mission) could never have taken place.]


The British Army had maintained a significant deployment to Northern Ireland for the past two decades. Since the introduction of troops into the Province in 1969, the British Army had been unable to disengage from Ulster as desired so by the vast majority of serving and retired senior officers. The mission there was to provide ‘military aid to the civilian power’, which in practise meant what was often fighting a guerilla war against Nationalist insurgents. It was considered rather ironic that the British Army had come to Northern Ireland to defend the Catholics of the Province but now it was terrorists from that very community whom they found themselves fighting against.

Another factor in the ongoing deployment that failed to raise a smile anywhere was that those terrorists that the British Army combatted had much assistance – financial, logistical and place of shelter – from both the Republic of Ireland and the United States. Both governments were fellow members of the free and democratic West, yet there was a great deal of private as well as unofficial mid-level government support on-hand to the terrorists in Ulster from figures in both nations. For the Soviet Union and its puppets in Libya and Syria to be supporting the Nationalist terrorists was one thing, yet to see American guns and arms being smuggled into Northern Ireland was a slap in the face to those in the British Army; worse was actions by the governments in both Dublin and Washington to often fail to extradite the killers of British soldiers back to the UK.

Politics aside, in early March 1988 there were six regular infantry battalions of the British Army deployed to Ulster as part of three brigade headquarters. Those front-line troops were supported by a large logistical operation too of supply troops, engineers, signalmen etc. Maintaining the force in Northern Ireland that it had under the Operation BANNER commitment ate up a large portion of the British Army’s budget, had an adverse effect upon morale and drained General Kenny’s BAOR of much needed men.

Before his assassination, John Major had been working hard to bring a halt to the violence in the Province with the stated aim that such a thing was being done for the good of Northern Ireland and its people. There was much truth to that, but such a political move had been pushed by the military need to free up troops from Ulster so that they could be sent across to West Germany. LION called for one of those brigade headquarters and two, even three infantry battalions to be transferred with expediency to the Continent with the mission of reinforcing and completing the newly-formed 5th Infantry Division there.

The British Army considered that transfer an absolute necessity and the thinking of its generals was that being able to halt a Soviet drive across the North German Plain with as many troops as possible had far more important long-term strategic implications that a few thousand less infantrymen being available in Ulster to aid the civilian government organisation there.

When news reached London on the morning of March 2nd that the Northern Ireland Secretary was dead, there was talk in London among certain members of Thatcher’s ever-expanding but unofficial War Cabinet that the troops in Ulster would have to stay where they were and even that others might have to reinforce them to meet an expected upsurge of violence right on the eve of war potentially breaking out on the Continent.

George Younger and General Bagnall at once made their objection to such a suggestion firmly apparent. The Defence Secretary and the Chief of the General Staff reminded the War Cabinet that the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) was being mobilised just as the rest of Britain’s reservists were and those part-time soldiers would have to fulfil the bulk of the internal security duties in Northern Ireland as the East-West crisis grew worse every day.

The UDR had been formed in 1970 in Northern Ireland to provide assistance to the civilian and British Army security forces operating in the Province. The initial aims of the formation had been for the UDR to have Catholic as well as Protestant members serving within it so that it could truly represent the people of Ulster. At that time, there were still many Catholic retired ex-servicemen ready to fight for their country even when living in Northern Ireland. Personal intimidation, acts of arson and incidents of murder, combined with external events which couldn’t be ignored, had soon seen Catholic members of the UDR resign en mass however.

By 1988, less than three percent of the UDR’s number consisted of Catholic members and the formation certainly didn’t represent the people of the Province as a whole like regional Territorial Army units on the mainland UK did. There were multiple and serious accusations of collusion between the UDR and Loyalist paramilitary groups taking place that had resulted in the deaths of many innocent Catholic civilians… some of which were allegedly semi-officially condoned.

When UK national mobilisation commenced and the Transition to War process begun, all nine battalions of the UDR stood-up across the Province. Three thousand part-time soldiers were called out for service to join the equal number of full-time members of the UDR which were already on operations alongside the police and the British Army. Guard forces were assembled to protect public buildings and important infrastructure against sabotage and destruction. Road blocks were set up all across the Province to monitor movements and to halt terrorist efforts. Vehicle and foot patrols were sent into residential neighbourhoods to deter acts of violence.

The UDR was out in force.

The 8th Infantry Brigade was selected by the British Army to be the brigade headquarters to deploy to West Germany. Chosen over those of the 3rd and 39th Brigade’s, this command post from Ballykelly was considered to be the most suitable at the time due to the experience that it’s staff had along with a strong UDR presence in the formation’s operational area. Both infantry battalions assigned to the 8th Brigade – the first battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment and the first battalion of the Green Howards – received orders to move with the brigade headquarters to the Continent as well as the Royal Welch Fusiliers’ first battalion that was allotted to the 39th Brigade.

Those three infantry battalions (about nineteen hundred men) were off to West Germany and the UDR would fill the gap that they left being in the Province.

Of course, this would be a recipe for disaster on a sectarian level across Ulster, but LION called for as many troops as possible concentrated on the Continent if the British Army was to stand any chance of halting the expected Soviet military strike into the embattled West Germany.


There were elements of the British Armed Forces spread all across the world during early 1988 on a wide variety of deployments. In the past few months, Government instructions had been quietly issued to curtail any unnecessary training deployments that would take the country’s military forces far away from home, but there were still a lot of personnel still serving overseas. When LION was authorised, many would return home… though not all.

Gibraltar, once a bastion of the military power of the British Empire in the Mediterranean, was home to a garrison of both reservists and regular British Army troops. A light infantry battalion from the Royal Anglian Regiment was stationed on the tiny peninsula to counter ever-present Spanish designs on the colony along with troops and gunners from the volunteer Gibraltar Regiment. The RAF maintained a fully-equipped airbase right up near the Spanish frontier, though there were no aircraft based at Gibraltar in March 1988.

The RN presence was a shadow of its former self. Across in the famous dockyard where for centuries past had been home to ships of the line, dreadnoughts and later aircraft carriers, there were now only small patrol vessels berthed.

Spain was a NATO ally (the country had entered the alliance in 1982) and it’s Parliament was currently debating whether to send troops to West Germany to add to the already forward deployed combat aircraft there. Nevertheless, the country desired Gibraltar as much as Argentina wanted the Falklands and there was a worry in London that should the opening stages of a war go bad for Britain and the rest of the more-established members of NATO, nations such as Spain might waver in their support… an end result could be an effort to seize Gibraltar to reassert national pride. Thatcher and her War Cabinet in London didn’t want to see something like that happening and so the military presence in Gibraltar would stay at nearly it’s pre-LION strength.

One of the rifle companies from the Royal Anglian Regiment detachment in the colony along with the majority of the battalion’s highly-trained medical team would leave Gibraltar (the infantrymen would be flown to Scotland to guard RAF bases and the medics would be sent to Germany) but the rest of the garrison would have to stay in place for the time being.

There was British territory on Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean just as there was at the western end of the historically important stretch of sea that divided Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

The ‘UK Sovereign Base Areas’ (SBA’s) of Dhekelia and Akrotiri were hold-overs from the Age of Empire like Gibraltar was. They were not colonies with large British populations though, but rather military bases that provided Britain with staging points to exert influence into the Middle East. Each was located on the southern side of the island, as exclaves physically and legally separate from the Greek-Cypriot controlled Republic of Cyprus. With the Turkish-Cypriots not that far away to the north, the SBA’s were similar in regard to Gibraltar in facing a hostile threat to their control by Britain from what many considered as an unfriendly and unpredictable regime just to the north.

With both Italy and Greece currently showing at best lukewarm regard for their NATO commitments, the SBA’s had been recently very busy hosting American military aircraft that usually flew from Sicily and Crete. The British Government had chartered a civilian airliner to fly out dependants of UK military personnel from the island, but the SBA’s were in the main being used by the Americans for their own military preparations across the central and eastern portions of the Mediterranean.

The second battalion of the Coldstream Guards was in-place spread across the SBA’s with detachments also serving as observers with the United Nations peacekeeping force on Cyprus that manned a thin and dangerous line between two sets of people who wanted to go back to killing each other just as they had done in 1974. The British Army also had combat engineers and rear-area support troops at the SBA’s alongside a flight of Puma transport helicopters.

The RAF maintained a presence on Cyprus too with Wessex transport helicopters and a well-armed airfield protection force to guard the airfield at Akrotiri. No. 84 Squadron RAF flew the old but reliable Wessex’s that operated in both United Nations and UK sovereignty mission; 34 Field Squadron from the RAF Regiment operated Spartan and Scorpion tracked armoured vehicles.

With many unknowns with regard to how things were going to play out in the geo-political sense in the Mediterranean, a decision was made to keep the majority of these forces in-place. The Coldstream Guards would stay to defend the SBA’s against any attacker though combat-trained medics from the battalion and much of the British Army engineering and signals units would fly to West Germany. The Puma helicopters would too though after a delay to get them shipped to the North German Plain.

The RAF Wessex helicopters would be removed from their United Nations duties and provide communications support between the two SBA’s in lieu of the Puma’s and the armoured vehicles with their mounted troops that spent long hours practising airfield defence also sent to West Germany; the Americans were going to send over some reservists trained in a similar manner as those from the RAF Regiment.

In the Far East, there were British forces located at Hong Kong and in Brunei. Four battalions of Gurkhas were garrisoned at the colony and in the Sultanate along with a light infantry from the Duke of Edinburgh’s Royal Regiment. There were also Hong Kong citizens reservists forming a large battalion of infantry there. The Gurkha riflemen were supported while in Hong Kong and Brunei by engineers and supporting troops that were mainly their fellow countrymen and all told the British Army had a large combat group – the 48th Gurkha Infantry Brigade – in the Far East that consisted of some British but largely Nepalese troops.

The RAF’s No. 28 Squadron flew Wessex helicopters from Sek Kong airfield along with the much lighter Scout helicopters that were manned by British Army crews; there were no combat aircraft based in the Far East. Nor were there any RN vessels either as exercises and deployments far away had been postponed for the past few months.

There had been a fifth Gurkha battalion at Brunei up until mid-February, though a decision made in London to cancel the deployment of a Foot Guards unit to the South Atlantic had seen that transfer out of the Far East made. As LION got underway, instructions from London came that the bulk of the 48th Brigade was to move northwards. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Royal Regiment was to remain in Hong Kong with one of the Gurkha battalions while the rest of the brigade – the other three battalions along with their brigade headquarters and necessary supporting assets – was to go to Okinawa and the American military bases on that Japanese island.

Once on Okinawa, a further decision would later be made on what to do with the 48th Brigade though the expectation was that should open warfare break out, then the Gurkhas would be committed alongside their American counterparts somewhere in East Asia.

Western Canada was home to the BATUS: the British Army Training Unit Suffield in Alberta. This was an immense exercises facility on the Canadian Prairie where all year-round armoured exercises were run by the British Army with men and units rotated in to Alberta on a continued basis.

In preparation for LION, orders had been cut for the equipment stored there – combat arms as well as much supporting gear – to be prepared for transit back to the UK and West Germany as well as the ceasing of deployments there by soldiers. This was not going to be an easy undertaking and something which could be done overnight yet the orders had come for everything at the BATUS site to be readied for real use not just for exercises any more.

Trains had taken all of this equipment across to Vancouver first before chartered ships had then been loaded with the tanks & armoured vehicles, guns & trucks and a whole range of large and small pieces of military equipment that would all now be heading to Europe.

The Central American nation of Belize and a few selected British colonial holdings within the Caribbean were home to British military forces as well.

Guatemala had threatened invasion of its smaller neighbour since the independence of Belize in 1981 and thus Britain maintained a garrison in the little English-speaking country since then. Like Brunei did, Belize offered a chance to conduct tropical military training inside a country with a friendly government: something that was rare for Britain since the end of the Empire.

There were a pair of infantry companies in-country that were detached from their parent formations back in the UK along with two independent flights from the RAF. No. 1417 Flight RAF consisted of four Harrier GR3 attack-fighters while No. 1563 Flight had Puma HC1 helicopters.

There was a low-level civil war raging in Guatemala with the military government there combating left-wing guerrillas. The United States was quietly supporting the junta in charge with Cuban assistance being given to the rebels. Such a state of affairs should have seen Guatemala considered as being if not pro-Western then a neutral country: London did not see things that way. An evacuation of British forces wasn’t something that had been considered when there was the fear that Guatemala might seize Belize to distract its population much as the worry was with Spain. Before American troops entered Honduras and started fighting Nicaraguan forces there, British forces were going to stay where they were.

However, American commitment of forces to the Caribbean meant that they required a supply line down to Honduras in ‘friendly’ nations. Due to British diplomatic efforts, the government of Belize accepted an American request to use their country’s main airport as a transit facility to support their ground and air operations further south. Such an action was seen as securing Belize from Guatemala for the time being and so the Harrier’s and the Puma’s were soon redeployed to Norway while the infantry went to West Germany – all moved with the logistical support of the Americans too.

Furthermore, there were small detachments of British troops on islands within the Caribbean. It was the Royal Marines that were manning barracks in the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands and Montserrat. No more than one hundred Marines were here, but they were to be brought back to the UK to soon become the cadre of the reforming 41 Commando Royal Marines; reservists would make up the rest of this battalion-sized formation.

The final location where British forces were deployed overseas was in the South Atlantic. There was a tiny Royal Marine detachment on South Georgia and two ships – the frigate HMS Andromeda and the Antarctic survey ship HMS Endurance – patrolled the region, but it was in the Falklands Islands where military power was concentrated.

Memories of 1982 were still fresh not only among islanders of these wind-swept islands, but also among the British military personnel on duty in this outpost. Argentina was now led by an elected civilian government and the junta that had launched the Falklands War discredited, but everyone knew that Argentina wanted to possess the islands. For London, the potential loss of the Falklands for a second time would be a political disaster of unimaginable scale and something that could destroy the government.

The Gurkha riflemen that formed the land garrison on the island wouldn’t be going anywhere even as LION scooped up troops from anywhere and everywhere to send to Norway, West Germany and for home defence in the UK. There were four Phantom FRG2 fighters from the RAF’s No. 1435 Flight who too were remaining along with both British Army and RAF missile crews who defended the massive military base at Mount Pleasant.

These forces were all seen as vital to the defence of the Falklands and stopping them falling to another Argentinean attack while British was distracted by more pressing matters close to home. Yet, the lone Hercules C1K combined transport & tanker aircraft and two of the three RAF Chinook HC1 heavy-lift helicopters were to be brought back to the UK because they were truly needed in helping to defend the country.

The rest of the garrisoned forces in the Falklands, including the two RN vessels at sea, remained in-place.

By making moves to provide small-scale reinforcements to its combat and support forces in the UK and on the Continent, the British Armed Forces were taking further steps that would prepare them as best as possible for warfare. This was far from a perfect solution and the overseas garrisons could provide little overall, but it was the best that could be done in the current circumstances.

The country had to make every effort, no matter how small, to be ready to fight a war that it really didn’t want.
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James G

Gone Fishin'

Marshal Kulikov wasn’t a man who liked to gamble. However, had he been he would have given himself fifty-fifty odds of being taken from his meeting with Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky and shot in the back of the neck within the basement of the KGB’s Lubyanka building.

He returned to Legnica alive though as well as in a foul mood.

Kulikov had gone to Moscow to not only give a first-hand warning to his country’s leaders of the danger that was very real from NATO mobilisation but also to get permission to put a stop to that gathering of the armies of the West facing those of his own. He had requested that the Soviet Armed Forces strike out at once… and with nuclear weapons too. All of his years as a senior officer had taught him that the maxim ‘attack is always the best defence’ to be true. He had studied military history in all its forms when in attendance at various military academies during his career and that was the best method of warfare to be employed if one wanted to win in armed conflict.

The effective and timely use of weapons of mass destruction – thermonuclear, chemical and biological variants – was something else that Kulikov had studied during his career as he made rose from a pimple-faced Lieutenant to the rank of Marshal. The morality of the use of such weapons were not something that Soviet military officers were taught to think about, just how to deploy them and when during combat operations.

It had been Kulikov’s hope that when he came back to Poland, he would arrive with instructions to launch a spoiling attack westwards as soon as possible to smash the NATO forces lining up ready to strike themselves. He would blast their rear areas with nuclear warheads, drop tens of thousands of paratroopers to seize key routes of advance and then send his tanks and infantry forward into battle.

How else could be best defend his country other than by smashing the armies of the enemies of the Soviet Union with all available weapons?

Instead of being given the permission to strike, Kulikov was instead ordered to mobilise the military forces at his disposal to best defend against such a threatened attack. He was told that all Soviet and Eastern European forces in his area of operation as Warsaw Pact Supreme Commander were at his disposal – East Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia would do exactly as instructed by Moscow – and he was to ready them for combat.

Because he was a coward, because he feared not only for his own life but the lives of his wife and children too, Kulikov would do just as he was told.

NATO was still moving their forty divisions into place into West Germany; Kulikov was going to command a total of eighty-three once he managed to get his forces fully assembled. There would be about two and a half thousand Western combat aircraft accumulated; Kulikov would have almost four thousand.

He had more troops than the West. He had more tanks, more armoured vehicles, more artillery, more helicopters and more tactical aircraft.

In a war of numbers, Kulikov and the Soviet-led forces behind the Iron Curtain would soon be ahead.


Transition to War changed everything. Overnight, Britain became a different country as civil liberties were curtailed and a virtual police state was implemented across the nation.

Things started to fall apart a few days later.


TtW begun before the mobilisation orders went out to the British military at midnight on March 1st. A hurried meeting at Buckingham Palace had seen the Queen meet with Thatcher, other Ministers of the Crown and civil servants. Her Majesty was read the texts of various pre-drafted legislation and she verbally gave her assent to each of these in turn. This was what was legally deemed an Order in Council.

Once the meeting was over with, Britain’s regal head of state left the palace and entered a RAF helicopter within the extensive grounds. Her husband was with her and they were off to meet the royal yacht Britannia in the Irish Sea, which would take them up to the lonely waters off Scotland’s Western Isles where they would sit out the coming war.

Her Majesty’s eldest son and heir, along with his wife and two young boys, had by that point left their country manor Highgrove House and were racing in a fast convoy up to a secluded and secure location in north Wales. Meanwhile, other senior members of the House of Windsor had already dispersed away from danger too: the Duke of York and his pregnant wife were down in Cornwall, Prince Edward was on a trans-Atlantic jet taking him to Canada, his elder sister the Princess Royal was being flown by Qantas to Australia and the Queen Mother was with Princess Margaret at Balmoral in Scotland.

As the Queen and her heirs moved away from potential danger (assassins and/or nuclear warfare were the worry), the Government set about executing her royal decrees.

MI-5 was the first to act upon the Orders in Council.

For decades, the Security Service had been waiting for the moment to come when they could arrest and detain those that the organisation deemed a threat to the country whether it be at peace or war. There were lists upon lists of people who were kept an eye upon by the spooks; people from all walks of life.

Between midnight and dawn the following morning, as the rest of the country slept and were not yet with the knowledge that Britain was on a war-footing, MI-5 and their agents sought to intern those they had been long keeping tabs on. Special Constables – police reservists – were used in the main by MI-5 officers as manpower for their arrests to be made against people up and down the country, though in each instance where front doors were knocking upon or even forced open in the middle of the night, there was always a regular police officer in attendance to make the actual arrest. MI-5 officers, television and the movies aside, didn’t carry weapons and nor could they make actual arrests of civilians.

Those detained by MI-5 were mostly those who would be considered the ‘usual suspects’, but that was not always the case. More than five hundred people were sought for arrest and the vast majority of those would consider themselves to have left-wing politics. There were trade union organisers, journalists, barristers, university and college lecturers, peace and disarmament advocates, civil servants and teachers on the lists of the Security Service. Only a few of these were thought to be people who had beforehand or would soon actively betray their country with the knowledge of doing so, yet they were all still deemed a threat to the national security of the nation due to their political beliefs and the sway they had over others.

Nearly a quarter of those detained were from Northern Ireland and there was violence used (on both sides) at the scenes of many arrests there. The UDR sent out armed soldiers to support MI-5 in detaining suspected terrorists and their political supporter; most were Republicans, though a few so-called Loyalists were arrested as well.

There were foreign nationals arrested too: residents and non-residents of the UK. Some were émigrés and others were refugees; a few had ‘stories of persecution in their homelands’ that MI-5 considered to be nothing but KGB created ‘legends’. Again, these people were thought to be ready to act against Britain on behalf of a foreign power.

Furthermore, sixteen of those targeted for detention were well-known human rights activists connected with the anti-Apartheid and Palestinian causes: these were certainly not people regarded as the usual suspects that MI-5 should be arresting with the threat of war with the Soviet Union.

All told, across the nation a total of four hundred and sixty-seven people were arrested that night with another sixty-three missing for the time being from the grasp of MI-5. Over the preceding few weeks, another fourteen very dangerous people had previously been detained, but that action was nothing on the scale of this strike against Britain’s enemies real and perceived.

There was much back-slapping on the part of the Security Service afterwards as they assured themselves that they had detained as many troublemakers and foreign agents as they could. Britain, the MI-5 Director-General would later report to the Prime Minister, would not be harassed by a subversive fifth column as it prepared for war. Sir Antony Duff already considered him in good stead with Thatcher after the arrest the previous day of a pair of Angolan illegal immigrants who they suspected of being contracted by the KGB to cause the Isleworth air crash with a shoulder-mounted missile-launcher.

This hubris could later cost him dear.

The ordinary populous had never heard of the Emergency Powers Bill nor the subsections of the Defence Regulation Act.

Wednesday March 2nd 1988 should have just been a normal day for the vast majority of the British people. It was mid-week and the weather was fair. For months now, there had been worrying news from abroad, but that was becoming so much of a regular feature on the news that many had just got used to hearing of such things and tuned out the details. There had been voices nearly lost in the wind who spoke of how things might turn out in Britain should war draw close, but no one had really wanted to believe what a few left-wing radicals said about mass internment, complete nationalisation of resources and civilian mobilisation.

Thus when these things started to happen, it all came as a shock to the British people.

Those who turned up very early that morning at Heathrow and Gatwick Airport’s or at the harbours in Dover and Holyhead found that they would not board their airliners or ferries… that was for those who actually reached transportation centres like these. Accesses to motorways up and down the country were closed off to the public and many transportation points were designated as ‘RESTRICTED’ anyway.

When commuters tried to get to on their regular-scheduled long-distance early morning trains, they found train station workers unaware as to why there were no trains running that would usually criss-cross the country. Suburban commuter rail links were running, but the main national connections had been cancelled without warning.

As the morning worn on, parents found that their children’s schools had been closed. University students – when the more diligent of them tried to go in early – had the same experience with closed buildings. The faceless civil servants from the Department for Education had issued these instructions and no amount of cajoling from pushy parents or cries of confused children would open places of education.

Confusion reigned.

Businesses, factories and shops were open that morning though. People went to work as usual where they could and many found that they had been unable to purchase their usual morning newspaper nor listen to the radio on the way to their places of work. There had been empty shelves in newsagents and strange static on the radio.

It was all very odd.

In a select few locations across the country, civilians found themselves soon in large open prisons. The naval towns of Plymouth and Portsmouth were closed to outsiders overnight as transportation links were shut off by Territorial Army soldiers reinforced by bleary-eyed and pimple-faced Navy Cadets. No one was allowed in or out of these towns: no excuses were allowed to override these restrictions. Surprisingly, there were no instances of immediate violence at both places… this was down to the shock of such a thing occurring without warning as it had done.

There were less severe movement restrictions placed around villages up and down the country that happened to reside next to a RAF airbase or a British Army logistics & storage installation. Again teenage cadets backed-up reservist soldiers in establishing roadblocks and turning away those deemed ‘outsiders’ from coming anywhere near such places.

Hospitals were given firm instructions by the Department for Health to start turning away patients due for non-emergency procedures as well as to begin what was expected to be the difficult process to removing patients who didn’t really need to be there. Furthermore, they were to prepare areas not normally used as wards to be utilised in such a manner and to start calling in student nurses and regular volunteers to man the hospitals because experienced members of staff were about to be mobilised for military service.

High Street bank managers found themselves being instructed not to open their doors that morning. No matter what the pressing personal circumstances of their customers, there were to be no bank transactions made unless the Bank of England itself gave permission.

The Department for Transport issued an international warning that airports and ports in the UK were closed unless it was a dire emergency. On a domestic level, airport control towers and harbour-masters were instructed that private aircraft and ships – including fishing vessels and pleasure craft with the latter – were not allowed to depart for overseas journeys. Of course, many boats slipped their moorings and there was an instance of a light aircraft lifting off from a tiny airstrip in Sussex; in that latter instance the pilot of the twin-engine aircraft met with a RAF Hawk trainer re-rolled as a lightweight fighter mid-air telling him in no uncertain terms to return to the ground or face being shot down.

Like the national movement of people and goods, international travel and transport was overnight brought to a halt. This had been planned thoroughly and there were to be no hic-cups allowed.

In London, the Stock Market didn’t open for international business. Bankers and traders tried to contact their counterparts in New York and other financial centres worldwide, but to no avail: civilian telecommunications were closed to non-government and non-military matters. Not only were overseas telephone and telegraph links shut but so too were national links between regional area codes.

TtW had begun in earnest in the civilian sector.

For the British Government, TtW meant that preparations had to be made for the very worst to occur: an attack on the UK with nuclear weapons. National Government had to be devolved into Regional Government so that the country would survive in a post-attack environment. Minister’s of the Crown would rule over certain areas of the nation with draconian powers should those missiles come and they needed to be set up ready to do so.

Thatcher and her War Cabinet were to remain in Whitehall, but other Secretaries of State with domestic Cabinet responsibilities left London for underground shelters that were to be manned with key staff. The Ministers were all appointed by the Monarch and members of the Privy Council: their powers would be immense should it happen with the right to deal out extra-judicial capital punishment and mobilise the civilian population into war work.

Each and every one of those Ministers prayed that they wouldn’t need to put that authority into action…


Of course, immense problems were expected to occur soon enough with all of this. TtW was something that no real-life practise had ever been put into beforehand. It had been planned to have full political support from across the country and the public was expected to portray the stereotypical ‘Blitz Spirit’ in the face of adversary.

From that very first day, things went wrong though. Home Office officials were not fast enough to act to stop an impromptu strike across wide sections of the BBC that delayed their effort to get out Government messages on the television and the radio when all other services were cut off apart from Radio 4. MI-5 had not focused enough on the BBC and the radical union members there among technical staff who worked in the corporation. TtW allowed for the Government to take over the airwaves and broadcast exactly what it wanted to so that the country could be informed and educated about what was happening, but no one had figured in the sudden actions of those electrical engineers who sabotaged their equipment before they went out on strike.

Of course, drastic action was taken and this situation was rectified with utmost haste yet this was a major oversight and could cause many, many fatal problems afterwards.

Police numbers were thinned by mobilisation as many officers were also military reservists. Special Constables were meant to increase their numbers during peacetime situations that required extra manpower, but again many of those were military reservists too. The British policeman was widely-regarded as firm but fair, yet this image wasn’t something that would be maintained by the ordinary public as TtW went into the following days. Civilians started to get angry when they couldn’t buy petrol from fuel stations in the face of government restrictions and when the banks remained closed. Other people wanted to visit relatives or flee impending nuclear war but the police wouldn’t let them travel by the motorways, the railways or ships that might take them across to Ireland.

Common criminals – actual and otherwise – were mistreated by policemen who hadn’t slept enough and always worried about back-up turning up. In communities across the nation, patience started to snap and the police, as the visible arm of seeming oppression, bore the forefront of anger.

Such a situation got worse and worse as time ticked by.

Plymouth and Portsmouth were the first of what was soon called ‘closed cities’, in the Soviet mould. Ports all around the British coastline were shut off from the outside world as they became military logistics hubs and these were all large population centres too.

Unlike the naval towns, restrictions on movements as these later locations weren’t so stringent, but they were still tight enough to upset civilians who were already on edge in the face of thermonuclear destruction. On the South Coast, Southampton, Folkestone and Dover joined the naval towns. Tilbury, Harwich, Felixstowe, Hull and Sunderland on the East Coast were shut off to the outside world like Aberdeen in Scotland was. Ships that few the flags from nations around the world soon crammed these ports as they either transported military wares from the UK to the Continent or used such places as transit points.

The build-up of anger against the authorities across the nation and the imposition of what was effectively martial law that soon existed in coastal towns and cities was by the end of the week about to reach a tipping point, one of no return.


The American military often referred to Britain as an ‘unsinkable aircraft carrier’; the same was frequently said of Japan too. Both were island countries located next to the Eurasian landmass, they had long-term friendly governments to the United States and each housed a large presence of the United States Armed Forces.

There was at times grievances held among many British people at the fact that the country was regarded as one big military base that the Americans used for their own purposes. Only two years previously, there had been much political (and a little bit of public) anger when Libya had been attacked from the UK using American airbases in the country. Then there were the cruise missile bases in the south of England and the associated protest marches against them.

Just as Britain had mobilised for the threat of war, so too had the United States. Hundreds of airliners and military transports flew tens of thousands of American troops into Europe with many of them stopping in Britain – among other places – to refuel or to offload passengers; combat aircraft transited through the UK for refuelling purposes as well. Naturally, the Americans were very secretive about these movements and security was very tight. There were no major incidents with this though there was plenty of physical security on the ground when aircraft and soldiers were moving through the country.

However, what did soon start to cause many problems was the use by the American military of Britain as a base of pre-combat operations.

Back in late 1983, the first of what would later become a total of one hundred and sixty cruise missiles spread over two locations begun to arrive in Britain for deployment. These were designated BGM-109G Gryphon by the Americans and operated by the United States Air Force (USAF) presence in the country. Armed with a thermonuclear warhead and regarded as very accurate weapons of war, these missiles were also sent to Belgium, Italy and West Germany. Their deployment was part of the NATO Double-Track Decision to match Soviet positioning of intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Eastern Europe.

Political opposition to the American cruise missiles – along with the MGM-31 Pershing-2 ballistic missiles sent to West Germany as well – was fierce across Western Europe and their placement in Britain was a red flag to the anti-nuclear and peace movements. Huge protests begun at RAF Greenham Common and RAF Molesworth, which served to attract a lot of negative attention to the cruise missiles and their wartime purpose.

These protests served Soviet propaganda and much of the funding for them and their related activities came from the Soviet Union too… despite those involved in the movements having no idea of this and whom would have been left aghast at such a thing.

American military mobilisation included that of their nuclear forces worldwide. Submarines put to sea, bombers were dispersed and missile silos fully manned. The cruise and ballistic missiles forces of the USAF in Europe were a key part of this preparation stage and they began to disperse away from their bases as they were meant to do.

The cruise missiles left the two former WW2 airfields that had been converted into home bases for them complete with hardened shelters because such places were regarded as front-line targets for the Soviets as part of a missile strike against the West. Greenham Common and Molesworth were not firing stations and were thus left behind.

Since the arrival of the cruise missiles in Britain, the USAF had spent a great deal of effort in planning how those missiles would be dispersed away from their garrisons. Hundreds of locations had been pre-scouted across Berkshire and Cambridgeshire from where the missile crews were to operate from. Routes to take the cruise missiles to had been worked out and counter-ambush procedures perfected. The plan was for eight missiles to be carried by a detachment made up of eleven vehicles and almost eighty men; a third of which were well trained USAF security troopers. The detachments would move to a different rural location every twelve hours and into areas where they would be hard to spot from either satellite, aerial or ground surveillance. Moreover, there were even decoy convoys to help with the overall concealment of these cruise missiles.

This massive operation began when Britain and the United States simultaneously mobilised and was an immense undertaking as the convoys travelled all over the countryside constantly on edge against attack, waiting for firing orders to come and also causing immense disruption wherever they went. There were secret instructions given to the USAF personnel that they were to not liaise with British civil authorities and also have as little contact as possible with British military forces too. The chaos that this caused was immense and cannot be understated as those convoys kept moving to keep the cruise missiles ready to be fired off eastwards at a moment’s notice.

Up in Scotland, the US Navy had long made use of the anchorage offered at Holy Loch for their strategic missile submarines. This was in the south-western part of Scotland that lead to the Firth of Clyde and thus the North Atlantic beyond.

The RN had three of their Resolution-class submarines at sea with their Polaris missiles and the fourth one – HMS Revenge – was docked at the nearby Faslane naval base undergoing urgent work to get it to sea as well. In comparison, Holy Loch was empty of submarines as the American vessels there had all got underway when the United States launched REFORGER. The US Navy had moved heaven and earth to get those submarines out to sea because it knew that Holy Loch would be at the top of the target list in a nuclear conflict.

Just because those submarines were at sea didn’t mean that the US Navy were not as paranoid about an attack on their Scottish naval base as the USAF was about its cruise missiles being struck at by saboteurs or commando teams. Holy Loch was still home to maintenance facilities as well as an arsenal of nuclear and conventional weapons. Other, non-strategic US Navy submarines transited through Holy Loch as REFORGER continued to help defend Western Europe.

Regular US Navy security forces at Holy Loch, which consisted pre-mobilisation of a company-sized equivalent of riflemen and civilian contract employees, were beefed up by the arrival of another company of reservist security troops flown in from Texas. A series of roadblocks were put up on all access routes up to three miles out with machine gun pits set up in isolated spots. There were roving patrols out in the countryside and a pair of well-armed LCM-8 converted landing boats on patrol in the Clyde.

The US Navy worked with their British counterparts in this security set-up due to the RN having one of their missile boats at Faslane and fast-attack conventional submarines of their own transiting through there too. Yet, just like with the cruise missiles, the level of American military presence in this part of Britain was big and intrusive too. Civilians had guns pointed at them on occasion by the patrols and there were low-flying helicopters constantly in the sky.

The levels of American military presence to protect their roving convoys of cruise missiles and their naval base paled in comparison though to what there was around the USAF airbases across western, central and eastern England.

There were fourteen other USAF facilities in addition to the two cruise missile bases that the Americans considered to be vital to their military interests in Britain. Five were front-line fighter bases that housed combat aircraft, two were large airfields for the use of bombers and airborne tankers, there was an immense munitions depot, three communications centres, an intelligence facility and two facilities to be used as hospitals. The Americans worried around saboteurs and commandos attacking these places pre-conflict and air attacks taking place against them once open warfare broke out. As far as they were concerned, each needed to be defended from any possible threat.

Over the years, the USAF and the MOD in London had had many discussions over the preventative measures that the Americans wanted to take to keep their facilities secure… some of which had left their British counterparts aghast. Britain just couldn’t allow there to be areas of effective martial law radiating ten, twelve or even twenty miles from each USAF base. In many instances, such areas were heavily populated and the impact that such restrictions that the Americans wanted to impose upon ordinary civilians were just too much. Then there was the manpower issue: the USAF wanted the British military to assist them in enforcing such a policy of martial law all around their bases. Of course, the MOD understood that the USAF would face a security problem, but they regarded the Americans as overreacting in this.

Compromises were reached. There would be many restrictions around certain areas – especially the larger bases from where aircraft would fly – but common sense would be infused into the situation.

Out west at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, the USAF was allowed to set up rolling roadblocks and commence helicopter patrols to guard the fleet of B-52 bombers that were flying from there once American mobilisation begun. There was a three mile ‘control zone’ in all directions to stop attempts being made to shoot down the bombers with shoulder-mounted missiles yet people weren’t confined to their houses from dusk to dawn. Access to the nearby RAF Little Rissington and the medical centre there was heavily restricted and only if war broke out would medical transfers between the two sites be heavily guarded.

The small American communications bases at RAF Barford St John, RAF Chicksands and RAF Croughton were all closely-guarded by USAF reservist security troops flown in direct from the United States, but these little facilities across the heart of central England didn’t have wide security nets through up around them. The nearby RAF Upwood – a housing and medical facility – was emptied of dependants of USAF personnel when mobilisation begun and wives and children were flown home like from everywhere else and the hospital there readied for combat casualties. Again, there was tight security in the immediate area, but no wide security perimeter set up for miles out in every direction.

The massive munitions depot that the USAF operated at RAF Welford in Berkshire soon found itself emptied of nearly everything there like the similar United States Army at Burtonwood in Cheshire was. The armaments, weapons and stores from the rows and rows of bunkers were taken away just like almost everything from the countless warehouse buildings. Road convoys left Welford night and day to distribute everything from the facility to where it was needed at USAF bases in Britain and also further afield on the Continent. Soon enough, the small American guard force at the facility had nothing really left to protect.

RAF Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire was a USAF facility of great importance; it was a satellite ground station and a communication intercept facility. Nearby was the more well-known RAF Fylingdales manned by both British and American radar operators who watched the skies for ballistic missiles as part of the strategic defences of both nations while Menwith Hill fulfilled a tactical role. The facility was considered by the USAF to be open to attack as it was located in open country; they were worried about long-range mortars or even rockets smashing the expensive and delicate radar-domes and satellite dishes. The British didn’t object too thoroughly to American requests to operate widespread patrols throughout the general area… as long as they didn’t have to provide any manpower assistance in this endeavour.

There were six USAF airbases in eastern England that housed aircraft on a regular basis – unlike Fairford which was a stand-by facility – and the protection of these was of vital concern to the Americans. As far as they were concerned, each was a prime target for an attack while aircraft were on the ground at these locations, but so too were the highly-trained ground personnel and specialised aircraft support equipment at the airbases too.

These WW2-era facilities were RAF Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire, RAF Alconbury in Cambridgeshire and the four Suffolk airbases: RAF Bentwaters, RAF Lakenheath, RAF Mildenhall and RAF Woodbridge. The A-10A Thunderbolt attack-fighters based at Bentwaters and Woodbridge near the North Sea coast had left those airbases when REFORGER had begun because they were short-range aircraft and the ubiquitous U-2 spy planes had departed from Alconbury to fly out of the bigger facility at Fairford; the remaining USAF combat aircraft and tankers remained in-place where they were with other American aircraft arriving in Britain to fly from the airbases. F-15C Eagle fighters and more F-111D/E Aardvark strike-bombers joined the F-111E’s and EF-111A Raven reconnaissance-fighters in Britain. These were all long-range combat aircraft with a focus on deep-strike missions right into Central Europe should the balloon go up. The USAF was not prepared to see such aircraft endangered on the ground when they would face odds tilted badly in their favour in the air in combat missions. It was over the restrictions that the Americans wanted to pose to the movement of civilians around the airbases where these aircraft flew from that they had long disagreed with the MOD.

With LION underway and TtW in full effect, the British military was under a lot of strain to move their military forces around. Transferring troops, equipment and stores onto the Continent from the UK mainland used up a lot of their transportation assets and requests had been made for American assistance. Being NATO allies, the Americans helped out greatly with the British requests even though their own logistical assets were under tremendous pressure. The USAF used a little bit of blackmail though – disguised as anything but that, of course – when helping out the British: they wanted to impose their movement restrictions around their tactical airbases in the UK.

The MOD caved in.

All around the six airbases there was very quickly a massive American military presence. Ordinary British civilians, often frightened over fears of impending nuclear war and frustrated on a constant basis by TtW, suddenly found that local roads were closed for use, there were armed foreign soldiers patrolling through their gardens and barbed wire surrounded areas where signs warned of minefields been sown. Helicopters buzzed low over houses in the night and their telephone lines were cut off on a permanent basis. Night-time curfews soon started to come into effect as well.

This American action to defend themselves had quickly brought upon them severe and negative implications.

To the east and west of RAF Alconbury lay the A-14 main road and the railway line that ran northwards from Stevenage to Peterborough. These were two natural barriers out to which USAF security troopers could define boundaries as to where civilians could not come near the airbase that they were protecting. Alternative accommodation was arranged for the few people who lived in the nearby rural houses within this region of the English countryside and the American military could move about unhindered; there was rolling countryside to the north of the airbase too as far as the little settlement of Woodwalton.

However, to the south of the airbase were the small villages of Great Stukeley and Little Stukeley. Populated by no more than a thousand people before the international situation between East and West got as it did, there were about seven hundred people remaining in both when the USAF set up their outer defensive perimeter; the missing civilians had fled their homes in the belief that the airbase would soon be a prime target in a nuclear war and they became part of the massive internal refugee problem soon to so terribly plague Britain. Those that remained found that the villages were for all intents and purposes shut off from the outside world. No one could enter them and anyone who left wasn’t allowed back in.

This situation was the same to the southwest in the bigger town of Alconbury itself (after which the airbase was named). No one could come and go from here either as the Americans regarded these communities as bases of operations for those who would wish to assail the airbase from them. Food supplies were granted only by the USAF, the electricity was off at night to enforce a local blackout and the television signal was jammed to static.

Within a day of the effective martial law being implemented, trouble started. These were small rural communities where people knew their neighbours and a strong local sense of togetherness. People wanted to visit friends and relatives in the nearby villages and travel freely as they wished. The noise from patrolling helicopters and USAF security troops getting refresher training in rifle fire in fields in the dead of night upset the locals. Then there was the enforced dispersal of a crowd gathered in Great Stukeley village churchyard about to stage a protest march up to the airbase to demand better food supplies that was broken up rather heavy-handedly.

Local patience eventually snapped. A farmer from one of the outlying villages had been caught up in Little Stukeley when he had come to the village to visit his disabled brother when the Americans sealed off the area. He hadn’t wanted to leave the village because he knew he wouldn’t be able to come back. Through habit, not malice, he had brought his legally-held shotgun with him when he had come to the village and the presence of this weapon, when realised by the USAF security troops, caused them alarm.

Rural Britain in 1988 was somewhere many people were registered gun owners and despite the Americans coming from a country where the situation was very similar, it wasn’t something that the USAF liked to see. The farmer in question got into a rather animated argument with the unfamiliar Americans and a detachment of them decided to pre-empt what they regarded as a dangerous situation by taking his weapon from him less he use it. They didn’t realise how much the farmer was known and respected locally for the care he took of his brother and some citizens of Little Stukeley came to his aid with angry words, fists and then a few more (legally-held) shotguns of their own.

Weapons were used on both sides.

Surprisingly, once this had all occurred, after the violence erupted, it was all over rather quickly. Tensions in the area had been building up, but it was all an outburst. Three people – the farmer, a local and an American – were killed with another two locals injured, but that was the end of that…

…but it wasn’t. Within an hour, the news of gunshots being exchanged between locals and the Americans in Little Stukeley reached Alconbury. In Alconbury there was a twenty-five year-old man currently residing there who would never have made it onto the lists of suspected left-wing subversives that MI-5 had acted on when TtW begun. He was certainly someone who the Security Service should have gone after and detained though. The young man in question had no qualms about betraying his country to foreign powers who would ‘liberate the workers’ if only he would find a way to do so. He considered his presence in Alconbury – unemployed, he had moved to the village to live with a frail and elderly great-aunt – to be a start to his path to taking part in the grand schemes that he imagined in his head because he could ‘spy’ on the Americans nearby. An interest in the amateur use of radios was something that the young wannabe traitor had and he was able to indulge in this interest by tricking his older relative into paying for some very expensive broadcasting equipment.

‘Radio Free Alconbury’ went on the air late on the evening of March 4th and the broadcast lasted for a total of nineteen minutes before powerful electronic jamming emanating from Menwith Hill drowned out the broadcast; the following morning saw the arrest and detention of the young man by the USAF on dubious charges.

The broadcast informed those listening to the airwaves that the message went out on an exaggerated and outrageously overblown account of what had gone on in Little Stukeley. It was hyperbole, it was half-truths, it was nearly all lies. The problem was that the ‘massacre in Alconbury’ was broadcast over otherwise empty airwaves.

Since late the evening before Radio Free Alconbury, there had been broadcasts made up and down the country from amateur radio operators who were illegally using the airwaves to make political statements. None of this was co-ordinated in any meaningful way and the British authorities were quick to jam and then trace where the broadcasts were made from, but every broadcast encouraged more. Worse, word of mouth and Chinese whispers started about events that did and didn’t happen.

Only the very next morning after the incident in Cambridgeshire, there was a plane crash right near the Norfolk town of Diss. A large USAF aircraft – a massive C-5A Galaxy four-engine strategic jet transport – came down after a fuselage-wide electrical failure not long after take-off from RAF Mildenhall as it headed towards Norway laden with bombs being shipped through Mildenhall after coming from Welford. There were USAF tactical aircraft due to be based in Norway and munitions from Britain were being air-lifted there to allow those aircraft to undertake wartime combat missions.

The C-5A fell out of the sky very quickly and hit the ground with a cargo hold full of 500lb, 1000lb and 2000lb high-explosive bombs as well as wings loaded with jet fuel. Thunderous explosions tore through open fields to the west and north of the town and these rumbled on for quite a while. Diss was located outside of the security areas around the nearby Suffolk bases of Mildenhall and Lakenheath, but a few people from the town had faced armed USAF security troops stopping them going anywhere near those military facilities. Word of the movement restrictions had thus reached another young Englishman who dreamed of betraying his country and found the only way to do that was to use a radio. He had heard Radio Free Alconbury the previous night and he thus made a thirty-seven minute broadcast of ‘Radio Free Norfolk’. He told the airwaves how the ‘Americans were bombing Diss’; this was a load of rubbish and the amateur radio operator was just a little bit of an idiot too, but it was widely heard.

The American military had been established in Britain for decades and its service personnel were previously well-regarded. There had never been publicised incidents of drunk American soldiers harassing women in military towns or anything like that. When their training operations had on the rare occasion caused damage to property, compensation had always been generously paid. The British public had a romanticised idea of the United States and was in love with American culture.

Yet… this was the eve of World War Three. People were scared and government information broadcasts were scarce. Information, any news even what people suspected of being silly rumours, was sought by frightened civilians. These broadcasts from Alconbury and then Diss were heard and believed by many who heard them because they came alongside other worrying so-called news that was going out over the airwaves from illegal sources.

Major American military facilities in Britain
Holy Loch, naval base
Burtonwood, army logistics centre
North Yorkshire
RAF Menwith Hill, intelligence centre
RAF Fairford, airbase ; RAF Little Rissington, hospital facility
RAF Barford St John, communications base ; RAF Upper Heyford, airbase
RAF Greenham Common, cruise missile base ; RAF Welford, munitions depot
RAF Croughton, communications base
RAF Chicksands, communications base
RAF Alconbury, airbase ; RAF Molesworth, cruise missile base ; RAF Upwood, housing & hospital facility
RAF Bentwaters, airbase ; RAF Lakenheath, airbase ; RAF Mildenhall, airbase ; RAF Woodbridge, airbase


A secret Parliamentary report commissioned post-war would end with the conclusion that the Security Service shot its bolt in acting too quickly and without clear thought during TtW. MI-5 would be criticised for striking against ideological enemies rather than real threats to the country’s national security.

The report was later buried.

The amateur radio operators who spread lies and propaganda over otherwise silent airwaves were the least of MI-5 problems that became apparent after its initial ‘success’. Such people would quickly have their signals jammed by the spooks working in conjunction with the military and then sophisticated electronic detection equipment used to pin-point their location for detention.

MI-5 had a major problem of what to do with people like this once they arrested them along with all the others that they had previously detained. They didn’t want to send such people to prison due to the consideration that there was the expected upsurge in arrests of criminals that needed detaining in such places as TtW came into effect and there was the concern too that the rabble-rousers that they had would cause trouble in such places. In both the First and Second World Wars, such subversives and traitors had been sent to the Isle of Man and held at requisitioned holiday camps. Such a solution was one option that the Security Service had long considered, but instead it was decided that in March 1988 those internees would go to a wide variety of sporting stadiums up and down the country.

Football, rugby, cricket, horse racing… all such events that would attract crowds had been cancelled by TtW restrictions and some of the locations where such sporting events would have been held were deemed suitable for the holding of large numbers of people. There was generally good outer security in the form of perimeter fencing at many of these. Detaining people in them would also keep them away from other civilians as long at the right locations were selected.

Five such places – Twickenham rugby stadium in West London, the football grounds of Villa Park and Maine Road in Birmingham and Manchester, Kempton Park racecourse in the North-East and the Meadowbank multi-purpose sports arena outside Edinburgh – were put to use by MI-5. Their detainees would be held at these locations with bare creature comforts and subject to lengthy interrogations. MI-5 would have the necessary time to do as they wished with these they held and deemed enemies of Britain.

As previously mentioned though, these people were all what was regarded as ideological opponents of the British Establishment that the Security Service was acting to defend. Such people had political opinions that were unfashionable to those in power but would be appealing to the ordinary public in a manner regarded as dangerous. In the main, they represented the top tier of left-wing, socialist and communist thought in the country.

Yet there were far more dangerous people out there that MI-5 had no idea as to the identities of before or even after they started to act.

In such places as Dudley in the West Midlands and Rochdale in Lancshire – to name just a very few of many locations – there were local protests against the restrictions places on the everyday lives of people under TtW. These were grassroots movements that were organised locally and sprung up overnight after being arranged by word of mouth. Those attending wanted rid of the food rationing that was just coming into effect, they wanted the electricity to work at night and they wanted the right to travel when and where they wished. Those involved in putting these protests together led the crowds they assembled behind them against the local authorities with what were often violent results.

Such people as these should have been detained before they could start causing the chaos that they unleashed. However, they weren’t well-known beforehand for writing articles for Tribune magazine or making speeches at CND marches.

MI-5 had not been able to stop either the successful assassinations that took the lives of both Roy Hattersley and John Major just after TtW begun. With the case with the death of the latter politician, the Security Service was quick to blame the military high command in Northern Ireland; they couldn’t deflect attention elsewhere with the matter of Hattersley’s murder right in the Palace of Westminster. On that particular morning, there had been MI-5 personnel there on-site as they were undertaking covert surveillance of certain MP’s present.

Permission had been denied by the Home Secretary Douglas Hurd (before he had left London to go to one of the underground designated Regional Seats of Government) to detain four Labour MP’s that the Security Service had their eyes on. The politicians that MI-5 were closely watching for suspected treasonous behaviour but they couldn’t arrest were Tony Benn, George Galloway, Chris Mullin and Dennis Skinner. Hurd had instructed the spooks that the group of left-wing MP’s were far from traitors and they couldn’t be arrested unless there was substantial proof brought they were acting against their country.

By being focused on these people, MI-5 had missed Hattersley’s assassin not only before he struck but also after he had fled. If they had caught up with him before or after, then he might have been able to provide them with some information that would have been of greater value to them than bugging MP’s phones.

In the days following the Hattersley assassination that Sir Antony Duff would receive great verbal abuse over the telephone from the Prime Minister about, MI-5 would also face criticism over other failures attributed to the organisation.

In the grounds of Caerwys Rectory in Flintshire, a Georgian-era country house in North Wales, riflemen from a detachment of the Scots Guards shot and killed a pair of well-armed intruders late on the evening of March 4th.

The Guardsmen had come from London with the Royal party hiding away at this secluded location and were justified in their shooting of the intruders as such people had come all the way up to Caerwys to assassinate the Prince of Wales and family at their hideaway. Afterwards, the royals were flown away by helicopter in a hasty evacuation and their protectors from the British Army would join them at their new location in Cumbria… behind were left questions that needed urgent answers.

The Security Service had no idea who the shot potential assassins were nor from where they had managed to gain the intelligence that told them that there was royalty staying at Caerwys. It was such an out of the way place and no journalist or politician, let alone any locals, had known who was in residence hiding away from assassins and nuclear warheads.

A lack of intelligence as to who was behind this attempt at murder came alongside further reproach for the Security Service over an explosion that tore apart the Glen Douglas naval munitions depot in south-western Scotland. This underground bunker that served NATO as well as the Royal Navy was destroyed the morning after the shooting in North Wales by a series of thunderous explosions below ground that rumbled on for more than an hour as magazine after magazine blew up. The arsenal at Glen Douglas was designed in such a manner that the explosion of weapons stored in one particular magazine wouldn’t cause the detonation of others in a-joining magazines, but these safety measures didn’t stop almost the whole facility being destroyed.

More than twenty-five tons of naval weaponry from torpedoes to depth charges to main gun shells were blown to smithereens and nearly a hundred people killed. This vital naval arsenal on Loch Long was no more and there was instantly the suspicion that the destruction must have been caused by saboteurs.

MI-5 blamed the Royal Marines from the Comacchio Group – specialist naval commandos trained in force protection duties and now operating across the Firth of Clyde and nearby waterways around naval facilities – for not preventing the blast from occurring. The Royal Marines countered that they handled physical security but couldn’t be held responsible for MI-5 not running thorough background checks on employees at the facility, a nameless one of which was ultimately blamed for the explosions that ended up leaving the RN short of weapons at a time when it really needed them.

Events like these would lead to many enquires like the buried Parliamentary one after the war and see many changes in Britain’s intelligence community forced upon the nation’s spooks… but there was a war to fight first.


The Government had not gone all the way with Transition to War. There were many further steps that could have been taken to limit civil liberties and freedom of movement.

Yet, Thatcher and her government wanted a country to rule over aftereverything happened. There was an unspoken fear among so many politicians in the know that the whole East-West crisis might suddenly be defused at the very last moment. Britain was a major part of the Western Alliance, yet NATO was dominated by the United States and the secret worry was that they would at some stage reach an agreement with the Soviet Union to defuse tensions after TtW had commenced and done it’s worst.

It was always known that TtW was going to cause immense damage to Britain, but by limiting some of the effects of the stages of the process, there was the desire not to cause too much harm to the nation.

Nonetheless, lofty ideas aside, the injury to Britain politically, socially and economically was being done nationwide on a continual basis because something like this couldn’t be done piecemeal and not in Britain of the 1980’s too.

The hope was that the British economy would be able to survive, even in a somewhat limited form, with TtW underway. There had not been a wholesale nationalisation nationwide and the restrictions on everything from travel to electricity and use of the telephone were not localised. Businesses were supposed to stay open and the majority of people were meant to go to work…

…yet many people couldn’t go to work because their children faced schools that were closed and businesses couldn’t operate properly because the banks would only deal with commercial matters not personal ones: employees couldn’t get paid and thus spend their money elsewhere.

In other parts of the national economy, there was severe disruption where there was nationalisation that had taken place, in particular in almost all transport related industries.

People didn’t want to go to work either because there was a great deal of very real fear that the country would face warfare that involved nuclear weapons being used. Hundreds of thousands of people nationwide decided to make themselves refugees and flee the big cities and all over locations across Britain, especially near military sites. Families took to the roads in cars and headed out into the countryside, especially northwards and westwards, in the hope of staying in a hotel or a bed-and-breakfast. Money was an issue though and soon enough those who turned up at such places found themselves unable to pay for their stay. Other people decided to head to caravan parks or even attempt to camp out – the latter being not a good idea with winter only just gone.

In the cities that people left behind, there was a great deal of crime that commenced. Police numbers were low and so burglaries, street robberies, vandalism, arson, theft from shops etc. commenced with abundance. With such crime going on at such a great scale, businesses could not operate and people who had stayed in the urban and suburban areas of the country didn’t want to leave their homes. No one was getting paid either and this made many people who ordinarily wouldn’t turn to illegal means to get their hands on a little bit of urgently-needed cash break the law.

Rioting erupted soon enough when the first of the ration distribution points for the general public were opened where people could present their coupons. From supermarkets to corner shops, food stocks on the shelves had been brought up by a panicked general public on the first day of TtW. Afterwards there had been no deliveries made from nationwide food distribution points on the orders of the authorities as hasty printing was made of ration coupons for circulation. Local authorities, severely understaffed as they were by absenteeism, relied on the lists that they had of registered voters and ratepayers to know who to issue the rationing coupons to and also the honesty of people.

Not everyone got their ration coupons while others were deceitful. That didn’t matter anyway soon enough because who wanted to be told how many ounces of butter they could have with how many loaves of bread and that there was a certain amount of red meat that they could have as well.

Of course, ordinary people who were hungry and scared erupted in anger against this and anyone who stood in their way.

Brixton in South London and Toxteth in Liverpool were the first places hit with the rationing riots, but they were just the very first locations. Everywhere, up and down the country, no one was prepared to put up with food rationing on top of everything else. The police quickly had to call in elements of the already harassed Territorial Army to assist them.

As the country tore itself apart economically and then socially, there wasn’t a major political reaction to this because national politics had been wholly fractured by TtW.

Parliament had met after mobilisation had begun alongside TtW but it would not meet again until after the war began. During that pre-war session the news reached the House of Commons chamber that Hattersley had been murdered and thus the whole of the Palace of Westminster had been locked-down in tight security afterwards. There had been statements made by both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, but then Parliamentary activity had been suspended.

The vast majority of MP’s left London and returned to their constituencies as it was thought that it was best for them to do. They were angry and full of questions, but a consensus was formed that for the time being it was best to act that way… no one thought that they would be away for as long as they were.

Many senior MP’s from both the Labour and recently-formed Social & Liberal Democrats (SLD) remained in London at first as they were engaged in attempts to form a National Government with Thatcher’s ruling Conservatives. Hattersley’s assassination along with a deep distrust from the Prime Minister over the advisers that Neil Kinnock surrounded himself with forestalled this though; the SLD wouldn’t join a coalition government unless Labour would too. Later, news would be leaked to many of the top Labour people that many left-wing intellectuals had been arrested and thus that was the end of both official and unofficial high-level discussions over a National Government.

Still, under advice from the Security Service, there were Labour figures along with David Steel from the SLD who decided to remain in Whitehall where Thatcher’s War Cabinet was staying. There was a worry that the spooks had that following Hattersley’s murder these politicians were too in danger of assassination from foreign agents. There was no National Government, but such people were still Privy Councillors and were thus kept in-the-loop with regards to what was going on.

Politics was at an end for the time being though because there was no public debate on events taking place. There were no journalists around to brief and no matters of concern to constituents that could be brought to Parliament.

Politics was on hold.

If Parliament had been in session, then there certainly would have been arguments in the House of Commons that would have spilt over into the media concerning the diplomatic row that soon erupted between Britain and the People’s Republic of China.

The Chinese were furious with the UK for action taken in Hong Kong after TtW went into effect where the stock market in the colony was manipulated from London. Instructions had come from Britain that traders in Hong Kong were to work with what was left operating of the world economy in supporting the Pound Sterling. This effort would fail with near immediate effect, yet that didn’t matter to those in Beijing who had made agreements with Britain over the future of Hong Kong and considered this British action to be breaking the spirit (not necessarily the letter) of those agreements.

Britain hadn’t actually done anything wrong, but that was hardly the point.

Strongly-worded diplomatic communiques were sent to the Foreign Office in London where Tom King remained and these were joined by equally stern messages of displeasure of a similar vein that came from Washington. The Americans were at the time engaged in high-level negotiations with the Chinese to make sure that they stayed neutral in Asia in a conflict there should one commence between American and Soviet forces.

Anything that was going to upset the Chinese was not going to make Britain’s most important ally happy.

King remained in London along with members of the War Cabinet such as Thatcher, Lawson, Younger and Secretary of State for Energy Cecil Parkinson. They met in Downing Street on a regular basis but didn’t stray too far away from the ‘ring of steel’ that was being erected around Whitehall. The majority of the rest of the peacetime Cabinet was gone from London though.

Eleven Cabinet members had gone off to the Regional Seats of Government.

These politicians were spread all over Britain where they were in bunkers with selective civil servants and waiting for the worst to happen after which they were to assume absolute powers in-place of those in London who would presumably be killed in a Soviet nuclear strike.

The names of a few of these ministers were known to the public, but not many. Outside of Westminster, who after all had really heard of Baron Young, the Secretary of State for Trade & Industry, who was now responsible for ‘Region Three’ which he would govern from beneath Skendleby in Lincolnshire?

Or the Secretary of State for Transport Paul Channon who now resided in his ‘Region Ten’ bunker at Hack Green near Crewe?

An interesting political alliance was formed in Scotland – ‘Region One’ – though that was unrelated to the fractured national policy scene and wholly about Scotland. Secretary of State for Scotland Malcolm Rifkind had left London when his fellow Cabinet ministers did and taken an RAF flight up to his bunker near St. Andrews. He had insisted that his Shadow from Labour come with him so that Donald Dewar could return with ease to his constituency and the two of them had talked much on that flight.

Dewar ended up travelling with Rifkind to that bunker though left not long afterwards. Yet the two Scotsmen remained in contact with each other to the disconcertion of Rifkind’s security-minded civil servants. They both cared about their native land and had made a personal agreement to put differences aside for the greater good.

If only things could have worked out as well elsewhere…

Region One (Scotland)
Malcolm Rifkind: Secretary of State for Scotland
Region Two (North-East)
John Moore: Secretary of State for Health
Region Three (North Midlands)
Baron Young: Secretary of State for Trade & Industry
Region Four (Eastern)
John MacGregor: Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries & Food
Region Five (London)
Kenneth Baker: Secretary of State for Education
Region Six (Southern)
Douglas Hurd: Home Secretary
Region Seven (South-West)
Nicholas Ridley: Secretary of State for the Environment
Region Eight (Wales)
Peter Walker: Secretary of State for Wales
Region Nine (West Midlands)
Norman Fowler: Secretary of State for Employment
Region Ten (North-West)
Paul Channon: Secretary of State for Transport
Region Eleven (Northern Ireland)
Kenneth Clarke: Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
War Cabinet (Whitehall)
Margaret Thatcher: Prime Minister
Nigel Lawson: Chancellor of the Exchequer
Tom King: Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs
George Younger: Secretary of State for Defence
Cecil Parkinson: Secretary of State for Energy
Baron Mackay: Lord Chancellor

Norman Lamont: Chief Secretary to the Treasury
David Waddington: Chief Whip
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James G

Gone Fishin'

The Secretary-General of NATO was Lord Peter Carrington. He was a former soldier and widely-experienced diplomat who had spent many years in British politics as Defence Secretary in the 1970’s and the Foreign Secretary in the early 1980’s. Thatcher held Carrington in high regard due to his resignation after the Argentinean invasion of the Falklands where as Foreign Secretary he publically took the blame for that event and deflected it from the rest of her Government.

Carrington’s position was neither a sinecure one nor one with little work; it was a full-time role that was very demanding upon him personally. He enjoyed it though and especially the challenges with diplomacy that he faced.

As the crisis between East and West had grown throughout the year, Carrington had been deeply involved in trying to keep NATO together as certain countries wavered at times over the maintenance of the alliance. He was instrumental in getting American assurance to Denmark that the small Baltic country would be fully defended from any more Soviet-led aggression. Carrington had also travelled to both Spain and Portugal to meet with the military chiefs of those two Iberian countries for talks about the military forces that they could realistically provide for NATO.

There wasn’t always success for him though; Carrington had failed like everyone else who had tried to get the governments of Italy and Greece to take Soviet aggression seriously. As NATO mobilised in early March, it looked like both of those Southern European countries would fail to honour their treaty commitments and sit out any forthcoming conflict.

With his personal connections to Thatcher’s government, he was her man at NATO. The Foreign Office had a diplomat – the capable Michael Alexander – assigned as the official Permanent Representative to NATO, yet Carrington’s political history and the strength of his personal relationships across Western Europe gave him greater influence on the Continental than his counterpart. While still doing his official duties as demanded by his position as the titular head of NATO, Carrington spoke to London on a regular basis and updated Thatcher’s War Cabinet on a wide variety of developments. His opinions on political-military matters on the Continent were listened to with great care because he was regarded as an expert in his field.

During the first few days of LION, Carrington was able to keep the War Cabinet studiously informed of developments made on the Continent with the mobilisations of the armed forces of Britain’s allies. They were hearing all sorts of things from diplomatic sources of which most were highly positive of how those mobilisations were going, but Carrington was able to give the War Cabinet more thorough information as to how that was all playing out.

Furthermore, Carrington was soon at the forefront of relaying information back to the War Cabinet about Soviet military responses to NATO mobilisation. The majority of Western military intelligence operations that were underway to look over the Iron Curtain and across into Eastern Europe was now being organised through NATO; therefore the British diplomat at the top of NATO was thus able to give his insightful opinion direct to London on how to interpret the fruits of that intelligence gathering effort.

American U-2 reconnaissance aircraft had been using their mounted Side-Looking Airborne Radar (SLAR) to search deep inside Eastern Europe to monitor the movement on the ground of vehicle traffic. There were countless convoys of vehicles tracked moving from known locations of military bases across East Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia – deemed in NATO military parlance as the ‘Northern Tier’ of the Warsaw Pact – detected. Electronic detection equipment mounted upon aircraft and from both fixed and mobile ground stations intercepted radio transmissions associated with military movements. E-3 airborne radar aircraft operating in both American and NATO colours (the latter registered for legal purposes with the Luxembourg Air Force) tracked aircraft movements night and day across the dividing line that separated Europe in two. There were some images disseminated from the Americans and their reconnaissance satellites to NATO too which joined all the other intelligence that showed that the Warsaw Pact was mobilising just like NATO was.

Access to hard numbers on Soviet mobilisation efforts was impossible for the West to come by and Carrington was thus only able to give the War Cabinet what would best be described as ‘informed estimates’ from several sources who tried to make sense of all of this intelligence.

The NATO estimates were that all Soviet Army and Air Force assets based in Eastern Europe were beginning to concentrate within East Germany and in western Czechoslovakia. They were being joined by Soviet troops from garrisons in Hungary as well as regular and elements of reservist troops from the militaries of the Northern Tier countries. This was reckoned to number a force somewhere in the region of fifty combat divisions and several thousand tactical aircraft. In addition, the American satellites were showing activity at almost every known military garrison in the western portions of the Soviet Union from where there were fears that the same number of troops and aircraft again could be gathered and moved westwards too.

The War Cabinet was of course not alone in hearing this from Carrington and NATO as the alliance was an organisation that strove to treat all of its members as equal partners. All other NATO nations were given the same information on the movement of Soviet military forces and there was concern and worry at such news.

Yet there were other distractions for some NATO members, the United States in particular with the unresolved situation in Central America about to ignite…


Operation ISTHMUS SHIELD became ISTHMUS SWORD in the early hours of March 5th.

American military forces based in Honduras, Panama and also at sea in the Caribbean begun attacking Nicaragua in support of the Contra guerilla forces there in the final stages of the long civil war that had been ramped up in the past few weeks with a massive influx of American arms being given to the anti-communist rebels. Military action had been delayed a day due to presence of the Secretary-General of the United Nations Javier Pérez de Cuéllar in Nicaragua on the Friday, but with his departure the Americans struck.

Bombs and missiles rained down on the little Central American country from USAF aircraft in the sky and from US Navy ships off the coast. By dawn, there were helicopters in the sky delivering United States Army troops into key positions that the Contras held. Managua International Airport quickly turned into an American airhead for ISTHMUS SWORD after its capture as troops from the 7th Light Infantry Division (which had two of its organic brigades from Fort Ord under command along with a brigade of paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division and reinforcing helicopter assets) used it for their advance deep into the Nicaraguan capital.

Fighting continued throughout the day and into the early evening at various locations across the country, especially at Managua and around towns alongside Highways 1 and 24 in the west and northwest. These roads led to the Honduran border and were where the Nicaraguan Army had been concentrated in force; here the forces of the Sandinista Revolution were defeated in fierce battles with the Contras backed up by the full might of the American military. By night-time, it was nearly all over. ISTHMUS SWORD had achieved almost all of the objectives of its planners as the lightning assault took down the Nicaraguans and smashed their fighting potential.

There were heavy casualties on both sides and many non-combat deaths (estimates would later range between five and ten thousand) would come afterwards to Sandinistas who had fallen into Contra captivity. The immediate effect was the destruction of Daniel Ortega’s regime though, along with the capture of the man himself.

Ortega was flown out of his country that night on an American aircraft bound for Panama where he would find himself detained at a CIA facility in the Canal Zone. He had been captured by United States Army Green Berets backed up by Rangers and CIA operatives who snatched him from the private residence of the Cuban Ambassador to Nicaragua. There had been a fire-fight at that building on the outskirts of Managua and Cuban personnel – accredited to the Embassy as staffers but rightly suspected to be paramilitary intelligence operatives – killed during this incident. Such a thing would have serious diplomatic consequences afterwards, but for the time being the Americans congratulated themselves on getting hold of a man who was considered a direct clone of a young Castro.

The stunning military success of ISTHMUS SWORD was not met with overwhelming diplomatic support as the United States hoped for; instead it would, in certain instances, cause much damage to American international relations at this crucial time.

President Reagan hadn’t ordered the attack on Nicaragua without spending a great deal of time considering whether it was the necessary thing to do. REFORGER was still ongoing and getting as many American troops and combat aircraft into positions in Europe was seen as the foremost priority. There was too the danger of nuclear warfare coming to pass with the military confrontation with the Soviet Union and the imminent danger that would bring to the lives of tens if not hundreds of millions of his fellow countrymen.

These were weighty considerations.

Yet, at the same time, George Shultz had been murdered down in Central America and there was evidence presented to him that the Secretary of State’s assassination would have had the involvement, even just a little bit, of Ortega’s regime. Nicaragua had launched an undeclared invasion of the sovereign territory of Honduras and beforehand was considered to be greatly involved in illegal military operations across the Isthmus of Central America. With a Soviet Union seemingly hell bent once again on world domination, destroying one of their allies before it could grow strong seemed the best thing to do too.

Furthermore, Reagan was as expected spending quite a bit of time with the senior spooks from both the CIA and the DIA due to the international situation. His Vice President, George H. W. Bush, who was also a former director of the CIA, would join the meetings that Reagan had because the President valued his input on intelligence matters. It had been put to Reagan that putting an end to Ortega’s regime in Nicaragua would be of great assistance in making the Soviets take a step back and reconsider the plans for warfare that the West was sure that they had. Nicaragua was an ally of the Soviets, but currently a weak one with the small nation being engaged in civil war. By unleashing the might of the American military against it and undertaking a risky but fast operation, the Soviets could be intimidated.

It was a risky strategy, but one that Reagan ultimately went with.

Reagan spoke to the American public during his regular Weekly Radio Address on National Public Radio as the assault was ongoing. He was his usual calm self and sought to reassure the public that ISTHMUS SWORD was a vital military operation to support American national security. No mention was made of the hoped for geo-strategic implications of the attack on Nicaragua; focus was instead on how the United States Armed Forces were ‘assisting the freedom fighters in that nation’. Public opinion, tempered as it was by fears over World War Three soon commencing, was expected to be positive in support of the nation’s servicemen fighting abroad.

Before that reaction could be effectively gauged, there were diplomatic and military responses to ISTHMUS SWORD.

Cuban military forces went on full alert with fighters on defensive missions and radars active. United States Marines at Guantanamo Bay – a garrison which had recently reinforced as a side effect of ISTHMUS SHIELD – noticed that there were Cuban troops digging in outside the base’s perimeter… though there was no sign of an attack reported. This came alongside furious public denunciations of the United States on Radio Havana, including an hour long marathon broadcast from the island’s leader raging against the Americans.

The Hondurans had had their arm twisted to allow their country to be the base of operations for much of ISTHMUS SWORD and they were not happy at all with this. No public statements were made by their Foreign Ministry and Reagan hadn’t made mention of Honduras at all in his statement, though there was known to be a lot of ill-feeling in the country against the attack on its neighbour against its wishes.

In other Central American nations – Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Costa Rica – there were mixed reactions of support and fear in some places from the governments in these countries. None of these governments cared for Nicaragua and Ortega but their big, bad neighbour had just flexed its military muscles and once again interfered in the region for its own interests. They all had worries over communist insurgencies like the one that had brought the Sandinistas to power, yet the ordinary people in these countries (Belize aside) were generally hostile to American foreign policy where Latin America was concerned. There was relief at the stunning quick success of the operation though because no one wanted to see a long drawn out war brought about.

In Panama, the country’s de facto ruler General Noriega was left contemplating his own future and full of apprehensions in reaction to ISTHMUS SWORD. American forces had used their sovereign bases inside the Canal Zone to assist in their operation to topple Ortega without consulting him. He had only the month before been indicted in Florida for drug smuggling charges and the Reagan Administration had cut their previous ties with him. He was far from a communist, yet those criminal charges in the United States linked him to Castro in Cuba. In one fatal swoop, the Americans had crushed Ortega – another ‘strongman’ – and he realised that they could do the same to him should they decide that they wished too. He decided to do and say nothing in reaction and keep his head down.

All the Americans cared about was the infernal Canal Zone that cut his country in two!

These passive reactions across Central America to American military action were not matched in the Soviet Union as it responded to the utter destruction of a friendly regime, one which it had had many hopes for in distracting the United States with. The Soviets would feel that they would have to make a countermove in response to ISTHMUS SWORD.


With regards to the United States, Soviet strategy under Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky was for the Americans to be distracted by worries over Central America so much so that they would take their eyes off the ball and let Soviet geo-political objectives be achieved in Europe. This was why Nicaragua had been coerced into first striking northwards into Honduras; the Nicaraguans were meant to metaphorically wave the red flag there.

Soviet plans for Europe had then gone wrong and the Americans had afterwards not acted as anticipated either in Europe or in Central America.

Intelligence operatives working for the KGB in the latter region had funnelled information back to the Soviet Union concerning how the initial American military deployment to defend Honduras had turned into a build-up of capable striking forces there (when GOLDEN PHEASANT became ISTHMUS SHIELD) to no avail. No one back home had listened to or acted upon the reports from these field spooks as attention was focused upon Western Europe and its mobilisation.

ISTHMUS SWORD had been planned by and then directed from the headquarters of U.S. Southern Command located in Florida and thus the KGB intelligence officers on the ground down in Central America had little idea of about what was to happen to Ortega’s Nicaragua. When news reached Moscow that Nicaragua had collapsed in the face of the American strike, these same spooks were blamed for the Soviet Union not having foreknowledge of ISTHMUS SWORD.

Sometimes the world can be very unfair.

Despite the failures with Nicaragua, the Soviets still maintained their strategy of trying their best to divert American attention elsewhere and away from their own borders. They had failed to stop REFORGER taking place and there were not any viable ‘options’ available for the KGB to use in either the Middle East or Asia at such short notice; everything was about Central America.

Working with great haste – something not recommended for intelligence officers in KGB operations manuals – an operation was set up overnight in Mexico for the KGB to counteract ISTHMUS SWORD. There was great danger involved in this, especially to the lives of the Mexican nationals who were key to the operation (the KGB personnel were all accredited to their Embassy and had diplomatic protection) but such people were deemed expendable even if everything didn’t pay off as the planners hoped it would.

The very next afternoon a bomb blast ripped through Los Pinos, the official private residence of the Mexican President Miguel de la Madrid. He was at home relaxing with his family at the time of detonation and killed alongside his loved ones along with others at the facility. The immense blast was caused by a military-grade explosive device smuggled into Los Pinos overnight by a Mexican Army Colonel on the payroll of the KGB.

President Madrid was not considered to be a close ally of the Reagan Administration, but Mexico was right next door to the United States.

As far as the KGB was concerned, the Americans would be forced to react to the aftermath of the assassination, one that they expected to be bloody. Mexico was a one-party state with millions of its citizens living in poverty. Its military and security services were well-armed and oppressive towards the population. By killing off the president, they hoped to cause outbreaks of violence across the nation with a view to causing temporary instability there.

The KGB view was that they would achieve a great deal of success with this and make sure that Barbarossa #2 – which would have to be led by the Americans – couldn’t be undertaken after their bombing in Mexico City.


After five days of NATO mobilisation, the Northern Army Group was finally fully-assembled on the North German Plain. The troops under General Kenny’s command from five different armies were in-place in their wartime positions ready to defend West Germany. There had been problems and delays with getting his command assembled, yet none of those had been overly serious.

General Kenny was more than relieved that he hadn’t had to oversee this during actual conflict conditions as NATO plans had long called for.

NORTHAG’s operational headquarters had moved away from Rheindahlen and across into the Netherlands to the underground bunker at Cannerberg near Maastricht. General Kenny had his key members of staff here with him and Cannerberg was a fully operational facility with excellent communications, yet he didn’t like being in such a location at all. Unless the KGB and the GRU had both got out of the intelligence business without someone telling him, then he knew that they were well aware of the place.

The bunker would likely eat a thermonuclear warhead in a strategic conflict.

There were many people on his staff who held the conviction that there was no chance of the current stand-off between East and West turning to open warfare, let alone nuclear weapons being used. This was based on the idea that the Soviets would have realised by now that they had missed their shot at taking over Western Europe and would soon give up such an idea. General Kenny thought the very opposite on this matter.

He believed that they would have to lash out and strike westwards because they couldn’t ignore the build-up of NATO forces. In addition, while his attention was focused upon NORTHAG, General Kenny had access to strategic intelligence reports so that he could be informed of the geo-political situation at all times. He was aware of the utter chaos taking place across Western Europe, especially back home in Britain, and then also what was going on in Central America with Nicaragua and then Mexico. He reckoned that the Soviets would make their move to exploit this.

Away from his worrying thoughts over the future, General Kenny found himself having to deal with problems closer to home. On the Sunday evening, Cannerberg was visited by a high-level delegation (no other term would suffice in his mind to describe the visit) from Britain.

Defence Secretary Younger came to the bunker along with his junior minister – Ian Stewart, the Armed Forces Minister – and General Bagnall for a briefing from him. He met with them in one of the bunker’s briefing rooms and had some his capable younger officers talk them through NORTHAG’s deployments and the strategic situation that it found itself in occupying the North German Plain.

General Kenny’s staff officers explained to the visitors from London how the command was positioned ready to defend West Germany. Just like pre-war plans, the four operational corps commands were arrayed back from the Inter-German Border in an arrangement that provided front-line forces and tactical reserves. To the north, the Dutch had their three divisions now in-place (their reservist 5th Infantry Division had taken a while to form up) with another three divisions from the West German Army directly to the south of them. Next in line was the British I Corps with three more divisions followed by the Belgians with another two. From the Elbe near Hamburg all the way down to near Kassel, this initial defensive line was ready and well-prepared.

Behind the first line of eleven divisions, there were another two combat divisions placed strategically to move forward in an immediate counterattack – the West German 7th Panzer and the British Army’s 3rd Armoured Division's. These were tank-heavy forces located where intelligence specialists reckoned that a Soviet attack westwards would have to be directed towards. The Americans had transported the troops of their US III Corps across the North Atlantic by air and then those men had linked up with pre-positioned equipment from now-empty POMCUS warehouses across the Continent: they had another three combat divisions sitting ready as the strategic reserve for NORTHAG ready to smash any Soviet breakthrough.

Finally, General Kenny had his rear-area troops for security duties spread all across NORTHAG’s planned area of operations. There was the TA-formed British 2nd Infantry Division as well as brigades and regiments from Belgium, Holland and West Germany, which formed the equivalent of another two divisions. In a tight situation, these reserves could be used in front-line combat, but their main mission was to combat expected enemy parachute and airmobile operations in NORTHAG’s rear.

Stocks of ammunition and supplies were firmly with NORTHAG’s troops giving them enough to fight with for almost three weeks of continuous combat and the distribution network necessary to keep his troops supplied was fully set up. Of course, NORTHAG would be in a better situation if there were even more troops available, but General Kenny was confident that in the early stages of a non-nuclear conflict he would stop the Warsaw Pact from overrunning the North German Plain and getting into the Low Countries or even to the English Channel. There were National Guard divisions forming up in the United States who would soon be ready to start moving to Europe while the French now had their army ready and positioned in the Rhineland ready to support NORTHAG and the Central Army Group (CENTAG: American, Canadian and West German troops in central and southern Germany) as necessary.

Bagnall was General Kenny’s predecessor and had nothing but praise for how NORTHAG was positioned and ready in terms of logistics for combat. He added to this with congratulations for his successor in getting the West Germans to stick to arrangements he had made with them back during his own tenure for providing strength in depth in their own dispositions. However, he did express his concerns over the abilities of Dutch and Belgian rear-area forces placed in West Germany for security; this had always been a concern of his.

The two politicians were not as well versed in military matters as the pair of career soldiers were, but neither of them was an idiot. They could see how General Kenny had arrayed his forces and the limits that he was working with in preparing for the worst. Their focus was on the British forces as part of NORTHAG though, which represented almost a quarter of the multi-national force commanded from here at Cannerberg. So many of them would be expected to lose their lives in full-scale combat and this was of great concern. General Kenny was asked what he needed to limit such expected casualties.

Flippancy wasn’t something that General Kenny was cursed with, yet his first instinct was to inform the politicians that there was no need for any of his soldiers – be they British or otherwise – to lose their lives if diplomacy could settle things. He held his tongue though and informed them in response that he still needed more troops. There was the British Army garrison in West Berlin and the newly-forming Independent Guards Brigade located back in Britain. The troops from both, neither of which was under his command, would come in handy very much and he could put them to use. Moreover, the supporting assets to maintain them would be more than welcome under NORTHAG command too.

Such things were political though, it was explained to General Kenny. The United States Army wanted to pull their troops out of Berlin too, but the effective surrender of the Western position there behind the Iron Curtain wasn’t something that could be done by London and Washington. As to the Foot Guards, those men were employed on vitally-important security duties in London and there was also the need to maintain a strategic reserve for the UK itself that didn’t consist of the reservists in the TA that remained behind after their comrades deployed to the Continent.

At that point in the briefing, Ian Stewart moved to explaining how he was making moves for NORTHAG to be renamed the ‘British Second Army’. This was the WW2 designation of the main British force that invaded Nazi Germany in 1945 across the West German Plain; the name had history to it. With the Americans using their Seventh Army headquarters for CENTAG, their National Guard forces being arranged under the command of the Fifth Army and the French too controlling their forces under the French First Army banner, he thought that this was appropriate for NORTHAG. General Kenny had thoughts on such a thing that was only about prestige not the lives of his men, but he decided to keep these to himself and thus was glad when Bagnall was able to direct the conversation back to the UK by referencing the Foot Guards in London.

The CGS stated that the Independent Guards Brigade could be deployed under NORTHAG should the situation warrant it with an immense Soviet Army presence be identified by intelligence as ready to strike. Yet at the moment such a situation wasn’t possible because the Foot Guards were busy assisting the TA’s 56th Reserve Brigade in dealing with civilian disturbances around the Greater London area. There were political developments back in Britain underway he added with a glance at the two politicians, and his hope was that the situation in the UK would resolve itself. Moreover, he understood that there had been rumours spread in West Germany by British Army reservists and TA personnel arriving on the Continent of major civil disturbances underway in Britain. The British Army was one of the most disciplined in the world, yet such things were always going to have an effect upon the morale of the men serving in NORTHAG.

From these comments, as well as his knowledge of the type of man Bagnall was along with the GCS’s superior Admiral Fieldhouse, General Kenny was quickly convinced that those ‘political developments underway’ back in Britain had been instigated by those of highest rank in the British Armed Forces. They were all men with families too and commanded soldiers, sailors and airmen who had families. From West Germany on the first day of LION, all dependants of soldiers serving on the Continent had been flown home with haste on aircraft that had in turn shipped reinforcing troops over. This had been done as it had to maintain morale of the tens of thousands of men serving so that they would know that their loved ones were safe away from the front-lines… well, as safe as anyone could be in a country with God knows how many Soviet nuclear warheads pointed at it. The point had been to get those families out of danger though, not to send them back to the UK where some of the stories being now told here on the Continent made it sound like all civilian control of the country had been lost.

General Kenny would ponder afterwards about what kind of political settlement would be made back home and what that would mean for the articles of TtW that dealt with national security, but in the meantime he still had a command to finish preparing for a war that he was certain was soon coming.

Dutch I Corps
1st Armoured Division (three brigades), 4th Armoured Division (three brigades), 5th Reserve Infantry Division (three brigades)
West German I Corps
1st Panzer Division (three brigades), 3rd Panzer Division (three brigades), 11th Panzergrenadier Division (three brigades)
British I Corps
1st Armoured Division (7th + 12th + 22nd Brigade’s), 4th Armoured Division (11th + 19th + 20th Brigade’s), 5th Infantry Division (1st + 8th + 24th Brigade’s)
Belgian I Corps
1st Infantry Division (three brigades), 16th Armoured Division (three brigades)
American III Corps
1st Cavalry Division (two brigades + 194th Brigade), 2nd Armored Division (three brigades), 5th Mechanized Infantry Division (two brigades + 157th Reserve Brigade), 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment
NORTHAG Operational Reserves
British 3rd Armoured Division (4th + 6th + 33rd Brigade’s), West German 7th Panzer Division (three brigades), Belgian Para-Commando Regiment, West German 27th Airborne Brigade
NORTHAG Rear-area Reserves

British 2nd Reserve Infantry Division (15th + 49th + 52nd Brigade’s), three Belgian reservist regiments, two Dutch reservist brigades, four West German reservist brigades]


It would be many years after the war before there was criticism directed at the British Armed Forces for their so-called ‘quiet intervention’ that took place with regard to British politics in the final weeks before war erupted. Even then, such reproach would only come from selective academic sources that many would regard as revisionist historians promoting an anti-establishment agenda. The Armed Forces had suffered great losses in World War Three and there was no a lot of public support for any negative reaction to how they behaved in talking to politicians before soldiers were killed in Germany in their thousands and bombs started falling on Britain.

Constitutionally, what those generals and admirals did do was nothing illegal nor wrong, just sensible and part of their duties as servants of the Crown.

When the military brass spoke to the remaining government ministers in London early on March 5th, they expressed a concern for the families of their men and women serving in uniform. Yet at the same time, their less overt motive was to allow the prosecution of the war that they all didn’t want but knew would be fought to be actually conducted. The country couldn’t go to war if it wasn’t working, if people weren’t being fed nor if it was rioting. They didn’t want to see soldiers having to revert to using their weapons on their own people nor having their military personnel run the national transportation system in the place of millions of absentee workers. To maintain the British forces on the Continent, at sea and defending the country from the air depended upon civilians in the rear because those service personnel needed to be fed, they needed munitions manufactured for them and they needed everything to be sent to them at the front-lines.

Furthermore, of utmost importance, who would want to fight for the near police state that Britain was fast becoming?

The generals and admirals couldn’t let that happen and so they quietly but firmly let the politicians know that the ongoing situation with the country falling apart had to be stopped and they believed that there just had to be some sort of political solution to the matter. Once that ‘advice’ was given, they stepped back from it all because they remembered their oaths to the Monarch and they were dealing with Her Majesty’s appointed ministers.

There was never any danger of the country seeing a military coup of any sort.

TtW was heavily focused towards a nuclear attack scenario taking place so that the country could survive in a post-attack world. That was why mid-level members of the Cabinet had been dispersed to underground bunkers and designated civil servants to help them run regions of the country where overall national control was expected to be atomised. The food rationing issue that set off the rioting across Britain and soon saw cities and towns burning with countless instances of arson was to do with the expected stoppage of food coming into the country after parts of it had been blown to bits. The travel restrictions that upset so many ordinary people and caused them to resort to violence was to do with the halting of refugees away from areas where fallout would occur and into undamaged parts of the nation.

The surviving of Britain after a nuclear attack was key to TtW with the other troublesome issues of the restrictions placed on the country mainly about how to stop traitorous saboteurs aiding the enemy being of secondary consideration. With mobilisation to ready Britain for war, this was why TtW had been implemented as it had been. It had to be done as far as the Government was concerned so that the country would fight a war and then be functioning afterwards.

The intervention by the generals and admirals was what caused Thatcher’s War Cabinet to stop and act to change things, yet before that there had been considerations voiced over whether something needed to be done anyway. Reports had flooded into Whitehall from across the country as to the break down in civil order that was spreading everywhere and there were already discussions underway as to if something should be done and then what could be done.

The night before, during a Friday evening that was lit by fires burning in the distance across northern, eastern and southern portions of London, Cecil Parkinson had been the man to voice the first concerns to the Prime Minister directly. The Secretary of State for Energy had turned down Thatcher’s offer of making him Northern Ireland Secretary after John Major’s death – Kenneth Clarke had transferred from the Chancellorship of the Duchy of Lancaster to that role – and stayed with her and the War Cabinet instead. He had made the decision to go out and conduct low-key visits with the soldiers manning the aptly-named ‘ring of steel’ that had been thrown up around Central London that night as a morale raising issue and also to see first-hand the conditions that they were in.

The battalion of Irish Guards in London were backed up by two companies of reservists from the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) as part of what was called Operation PUBLICAN. Starting clockwise from Lambeth Bridge on the Thames and heading along Horseferry Road then to Victoria Station before going up Grosvenor Place past Hyde Park Corner and behind Piccadilly to Trafalgar Square and then Waterloo Bridge on the Thames again, this central part of the capital was cut off from the rest of the city. Ten foot high solid steel fencing enclosed this huge area with controlled access points. Royal Engineers had thrown up this ceaseless barricade and then the troops had moved in behind it to defend Whitehall, the royal properties of Buckingham Palace and St. James’ Palace and other important installations inside.

When down near Victoria Station – which was inside the barricades – Parkinson had run into an old acquaintance of his from back when he was a young National Serviceman in the RAF during the early Fifties. Parkinson’s acquaintance was a retired officer who had in recent years joined the HAC as a special reservist with the Home Service Force (HSF). The HSF was a Home Guard formation for ex service personnel and an organisation that Parkinson himself might have joined had it not been for politics. The retired Squadron Leader had some ‘interesting’ tales of taking his men down into South London to aid the police in quelling rioting there and Parkinson was left aghast at what he heard.

Parkinson’s related tales were not liked when they were heard. He informed the War Cabinet that those rioting were not just disaffected youths and wannabe left-wing revolutionaries as the common misconception was, but rather ordinary men and women. The situation was that bad for people that they had no choice but to loot and steal to survive and many of them were losing their lives in doing so.

So when those generals and admirals came a calling, there were already politicians somewhat aware and amenable to acting.

After Hattersley’s assassination, MI-5 had sequestered senior Labour Party politicians with the ring of steel in London. As MP’s had headed home to their constituencies across the nation (there had been no travel restrictions for them), seven Labour MP’s along with David Steel had remained behind. The Security Service had long known from Soviet defectors that KGB and GRU wartime activities would target opposition politicians in Western countries that they considered a ‘brain trust’ alongside government ministers. No more of them were going to be killed off.

Along Piccadilly there were a number of very fashionable hotels where these protected persons were put up in – the Ritz Hotel in particular – for their own safety… none of which would have done their public images any good especially in the eyes of the general public struggling as they were under TtW. They met freely and those among them who were entitled to such information were able to access Privy Council intelligence.

Even before they were approached on the Saturday by the Government, they talked and argued among themselves over whether to join a coalition National Government just as had been discussed beforehand. No agreement could be reached; there was great opposition to Thatcher and the whole notion that the country actually faced the threat of war, uproar over those reports they had heard of left-wing Labour-supporting intellectuals being detained without charge and the information they received of what was going on outside the ring of steel barricades that they could see from their hotels. There was the fear that they would never get elected again and that the public would turn on them like they would do on the Conservatives who were responsible for TtW. A division set in between the Labour politicians though and this had reached a point of no return when Nigel Lawson came as Thatcher’s envoy to ask them to meet with the Government at the nearby Lancaster House.

It was later called the Lancaster House Settlement and the agreement made there in that Foreign Office operated building would cause the post-war Labour Party problems that at times were so insurmountable that many in the ranks of the party spoke ironically of it all being a Conservative ploy. Of course that was a just tribal politics talking, but it was at times an opinion held by many.

Gerald Kaufman and Michael Meacher both point blank refused to have anything to do with the Settlement and berated their Labour colleagues who did sign up to join a National Government alongside David Steel. Their fellow Shadow Cabinet members Denzil Davies, Frank Dobson, Bryan Gould and John Smith all decided to join the Government because they thought that they were acting in the best interests of the country not just their political party.

As for Neil Kinnock, the Leader of the Opposition did what he always did: he took his time to weigh up his options. He wouldn’t agree to nor disagree to join a coalition with Thatcher’s Government after claiming that he needed to consult with the wider Labour Party.

All of a sudden, he would fade into obscurity where he should have taken centre stage.

Davies, Dobson, Gould, Smith and the Liberal Steel didn’t join the National Government in the place of Cabinet members with ministerial briefs but rather as Minister’s Without Portfolio’s. For them this was an important distinction and it was also something else that the Prime Minister had no issue with considering she could hardly reshuffle her Cabinet with it spread all over the country as it was. Instead, the five politicians left London to officially perform a similar role that Donald Dewar was doing up in Scotland unofficially there. Dewar had not been involved in the Settlement but his actions in working with Malcolm Rifkind north of the border had been the inspiration for what the Government wanted from these new additions to its ranks.

The Settlement was all about lessening the extreme social impacts of TtW so that the civil disturbances would if not cease then greatly ease up. Rifkind had allowed Scotland to be less tightly controlled than England, Wales and Northern Ireland were and had Dewar publically giving what official measures there were there his support. Such actions had initially caused the War Cabinet some unease, but they had been quickly shown to work and Scotland had not seen the level of rioting, destruction and deaths that the rest of Britain had. This personal initiative from two Scottish-born politicians who loved their country was thus to be given the green light nationwide.

On the Monday morning (March 7th), rationing was to be rolled back and freedom of movement restrictions lifted. Newspapers apart from the official London Gazette were to be allowed to be published (though under censorship) and banks were to reopen their doors. The chaos was not going to all of a sudden come to an end of course, but things were rapidly expected to improve especially with opposition political voices being able to speak to the public through the media in the place of local radicals setting themselves up as ‘spokesmen for the people’.

Other articles of TtW were to stay though and this is what had caused the split in the top ranks of the Labour Party leading to those who didn’t agree not signing the Settlement at Lancaster House. There would still be a self-imposed quarantine of Britain to guard against foreign saboteurs and the police and Security Service would keep their wide-ranging powers to act with near impunity. Strikes in industries that TtW deemed important to national security were still proscribed, the closed coastal and naval towns were still barricaded like Central London was and those detained by MI-5 weren’t going anywhere.

Despite how the politics had played out TtW was still in effect in Britain.


The ship that moored in Bluefields harbour on the morning of March 7th was called the MV Friendship with registration in Liberia and owned by a company operating from Suriname. Displacing five thousand tons, the freighter was neither a particularly large or small vessel. She had spent the past few years in the Caribbean since long ago being built in South Korea and the majority of the time was passed out in the Lesser Antilles on cargo runs between those islands. US Navy Intelligence had first taken notice of the ship in early February when it had been in Trinidad seemingly shadowing the course taken by one of their replenishment ships that had been making a port call there. Information was requested from the DIA and based on their intelligence that the ship’s commercial operations were represented by a legal firm in Austria that was suspected as being a conduit for GRU naval activities worldwide, the Friendship was thereafter regarded with great suspicion.

The Friendship had been put on a US Navy watch-list.

As the East-West crisis grew in scope and American forces arrived in Honduras opposite Nicaragua, track was lost of the Friendship for some time because United States naval intelligence assets were concentrated elsewhere. There were Soviet and Cuban ships in the Caribbean that they needed to watch and then there was the arrival in the region of the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea down from Norfolk. The US Navy’s Fourth Fleet had been quietly reactivated in the region (the headquarters had last been active in 1950) and there were other US Navy ships in the Caribbean alongside the Coral Sea that the Americans concentrated upon.

During the build-up to ISTHMUS SWORD, the Friendship was detected in Cuban waters first before being later spotted again within fifty miles of the Coral Sea the evening before attack on Nicaragua. In this latter instance, US Navy Intelligence greatly focused back upon the ship and electronic detection gear used to monitor any radar or radio signals from the Friendship: none were detected. Afterwards, the ship steamed straight for the eastern coastline of Nicaragua even when aircraft from the Coral Sea ‘buzzed’ the vessel in an authorised attempt to scare its crew away from heading towards land. More and more attention was thus focused upon the Friendship and intelligence from the National Security Agency (NSA) in Maryland arrived at Fourth Fleet’s headquarters in Key West. There were satellite communications being broadcast from and to the ship and these were originating from a Soviet naval facility on the Kola Peninsula.

The Friendship was labelled as a ‘spy ship’ and US Navy Intelligence regarded it as being likely operated by the GRU.

Bluefields was a port town on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast in the province of Zelaya. Four years previously, the waters of Bluefields had been mined like other Nicaraguan ports had been by the United States in what was then a clandestine manner to deny trade to the Sandinistas. The surrounding region wasn’t a Sandinista stronghold yet neither was it one where the Nicaraguan population had any great cause with the Contras. When ISTHMUS SWORD put the Contras back in control of Nicaragua, all effort was focused on taking over the more-populous western parts of the country. There had been little moves made by the Monday on the part of the Contras to expand eastwards into their historic base of operations out in Zelaya – Nicaragua’s largest province – because it was in the west where the population was, where the infrastructure of the country was and where the Sandinistas had been engaged in battle. Once the initial American-led combat was finished with and the Sandinistas generally crushed in that sudden attack, the Contras went on their blood-letting mission across the areas of the country that had just been ‘liberated’. American commanders and troops on the ground were horrified when they witnessed the shooting of POW’s, but orders came down from high that the Contras were allies and they were not to interfere. Therefore, only slowly did the area of the country liberated spread eastwards into Zelaya and towards the Caribbean coast.

Should they had chosen to, the Sandinistas could have chosen to evacuate what remained of their fighting forces out into the hills and jungles to the west and maybe returned to the guerilla movement that they had been prior to their revolution in 1979. Most of their ranks lay dead though or in captivity because they had been thoroughly taken by surprise by how the American assault to overthrow them had played out.

Instead, into the Zelaya region and moving towards Bluefields were ‘outside’ forces that had been supporting the Sandinista regime. There were Cuban paramilitary forces inside Nicaragua cut off from any means of getting to the Embassy in Managua and worried over joining their Sandinista allies dead in a ditch somewhere. Honduran rebels from the CMPL were in Zelaya along with guerilla groups from other Central & Southern American nations. The Sandinistas had provided a training ground for their ideologically-aligned Latino brothers from across the Hemisphere for a long while away from the oppression in their own countries.

It was these people that were moving across Zelaya after the fighting was over in the west and many were heading towards Bluefields where word had reached the foreigners in Nicaragua that there was a ship that would take them out of the country and to Cuba. No one was sure about the truth around the matter or how big the ship was and whether it would take any of them, but the idea of getting away from what would be certain death sounded very good indeed.

US Navy intelligence about the Friendship had been generally correct with regards to that it was operated by the Soviet GRU and was in the Caribbean up to no good, yet it wasn’t a spy ship as they thought that it was. There was no equipment aboard to allow the vessel to carry out monitoring missions like the trawlers that operated on the world’s oceans shadowing NATO warships. Instead, the Friendship was used by the GRU to provide support for their operations when moving people and equipment (sometimes weapons too) about through the Caribbean. The ship was well known in almost every port in the Lesser Antilles and through many others in the Greater Antilles along with the Central & South American coastlines of the Caribbean. It engaged in much trade and the operation even turned a profit for the GRU, who then ploughed the money back into their agent-running enterprise.

The people that the GRU had spread across the Caribbean region were military intelligence specialists who were Soviet and foreign citizens. The fates of many, especially those who were not Soviet-born, was not something that the GRU cared for, but they didn’t want many of these people to fall into the hands of the American CIA. Their deaths at the hands of Contra execution squads could not be guaranteed and thus it was the Soviet intention to get them out of Nicaragua.

Many didn’t get the message that come through to get to Bluefields where they would be ‘rescued’, yet the GRU was rather successful in managing to get word to a significant number of its assets in Nicaragua that there was an exit available to them to leave the country. The GRU had a good communications set up on the ground and thus was put to good use.

GRU agents started boarding the Friendship seemingly the minute that the ship docked at one of the piers at Bluefields. There was a ruthlessness to the Soviet process of choosing who it would take aboard: if your name wasn’t on a list then you weren’t under any circumstances getting aboard. A team of well-armed Cuban guards from that country’s own intelligence agency enforced the rules and shot those who wouldn’t take no for an answer. There was much shooting around the ship and at times the situation verged on chaos because there were only certain people going to be allowed to board and get away from Nicaragua.

All the while, American aircraft circled overhead. At first there were US Navy aircraft from their carrier flying high up and using camera pods to take images of what was going on. Then USAF F-16’s arrived over Bluefields and zoomed across the sky low and menacing. Radio messages broadcast in the clear in both English and Spanish were directed at the Friendship from the Coral Sea battle group out to sea. The message was that the ship was a civilian vessel operating inside a declared military zone and its presence there was a threat to American forces.

Nevertheless, the Friendship remained docked and waiting for more GRU people to arrive. Only instructions that came over the satellite link-up would be ones that the Friendship would listen to when it came to leaving the port.

The Reagan Administration was soon informed about the freighter in Bluefields and those in charge in Washington were not happy that the military couldn’t tell them exactly what was going on with the ship. Reconnaissance showed activity around the ship and its identity had been confirmed, but there was no direct knowledge of what was going on with the Friendship.

In a move that brought about a Congressional enquiry post-war in the United States, the Secretary of Defence gave permission for the Friendship to be attacked by American aircraft. It was deemed to be a threat to United States military activities and the decision was made with the intention that once again the Soviets would be intimated into not acting within Central America through ‘deniable’ means.

Whether the President was properly informed of the civilian status of the vessel and when exactly he was told about the military action taken against it would be something looked into as well by that post-war political enquiry too.

By lunchtime, a pair of F-16’s from the 429 TFS still flying out of Palmerola airbase as they had been when they first arrived in Central America dropped three laser-guided bombs on the Friendship. Added to the explosion from the fourth bomb that missed the ship and exploded on the pier to which it was moored next to, the vessel was utterly destroyed in the bombing. There were immense casualties caused and once again a counter-response was assured to happen…

…though this time it wouldn’t be in Central America but rather in Europe.
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James G

Gone Fishin'

The East German Army was held in rather high regard by the Soviet Armed Forces, though they didn’t like to admit that due the long standing historical animosity. That army was rather small for a country with a population as East Germany had, yet it was well-equipped, trained to a high standard and greatly indoctrinated in obeying orders.

That final quality was why the East Germany Army was sent into West Berlin on the morning of March 8th.


The previous afternoon, West Berlin had finally caught up with the rest of West Germany (of which it wasn’t legally apart of) in seeing large-scale civil disturbances take place on its streets. The rest of the country had seen such things temper off since full military mobilisation, but there had still been trouble there particularly in the Rhineland and the Ruhr. In contrast, West Berlin had been very quiet with only peaceful demonstrations taking place against what was going on in the rest of the country. Everything changed that Monday afternoon when one of those protest marches against the authorities handling of civil disturbances over on the far side of the Iron Curtain got out of control and West Berlin police officers shot and killed one then several demonstrators.

What really happened with that shooting and the outbreaks of violence that occurred afterwards would be looked into greatly be Western intelligence operatives and there would be more than a great deal of suspicion about it all; it appeared to all have been orchestrated by agent provocateurs. Nevertheless, people were shot and others were put in hospital after being beaten with truncheons.

Dramatic and disjointed footage from Western media teams of the violence would be freely broadcast to the rest of Europe and North America afterwards. However, quick on their heels would come much better quality video images and photographic stills from East German state media that showed the violence in much clearer detail and depicted a chain of events that had greater clarity than those of their Western counterparts. In accompaniment, there was a statement made from the new East German leader Erich Mielke that accused ‘CIA officers of fermenting the violence’ and being responsible for the ‘suppression of the workers of Berlin’.

Mielke had been the long-serving Minister of State Security (the feared Stasi) until recently and knew all about fermenting violence himself: back in 1931 he had personally murdered two Berlin policemen in the period before Nazi role. It was utter lies that he was peddling, though he was not out to influence Western opinion and make those on the other side of the Iron Curtain believe his claims.

In addition to this allegation, Mielke announced that it was the judgement of the ‘people of the German Democratic Republic’ that ‘Imperialist aggression from occupied Berlin’ could ‘no longer be allowed to stand’.

He had followed the script that he had been given from his Moscow handlers perfectly.


The assault into West Berlin had long been practised at planning stages by the East German Army. Secretly, no one within the military ranks had ever expected what was deemed ‘Operation CENTRE’ to actually take place, but they nevertheless had gone over everything detail in great depth as to how it would progress. Variables for weather had been built into the plans and so too had whether Soviet or other Warsaw Pact military forces would join in with the attack. There were provisions made too to give security for Stasi teams following behind the tanks and infantry.

A very important last minute change was made to CENTRE that threw everything into confusion and was something at once protested against by the senior officers of the East German Army as being a matter fatal to the success of the whole operation. Their objections were ignored though because politics overrode military necessity; the forces taking part in CENTRE were not under any circumstances to engage American, British and French troops in West Berlin no matter what the provocation.

In military terms, this was insane but the orders on this were crystal clear and every East German Army officer knew what failing to follow orders like those that come down directly from Mielke would mean for their lives.

CENTRE was conducted by the 1st Motorised Rifle Division of the East German Army. Sealed orders were opened at the division’s barracks in Potsdam late the night before and the formation – already on alert for deployment, which was previously expected to be one sending them westwards – conducted a night-time march starting at 2am local time. The division’s full complement of tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery and combat support assets moved towards West Berlin with great haste across roads that took them towards the bastion of capitalism deep inside Eastern Europe. A few command & control helicopters shadowed the troops forwards, though there were no other aircraft in the sky.

No preliminary air strike or artillery barrage announced that CENTRE had begun. The East German 1MRD just crashed through multiple pre-weakened stretches of the Berlin Wall to the west and south of West Berlin; there was no assault into the city made from East Berlin or through the checkpoints manned by Western troops where media attention was focused.

Through that barrier they went at exactly 5am.

T-72 tanks led the way onto West Berlin’s streets with tracked BMP-2 and wheeled BTR-60 infantry vehicles following behind. Battalion and company commanders had up-to-date maps with them and they also had the advantage of the city’s streetlights illuminating road signs to aid them. There was absolutely no initial resistance to their initial incursion and a race was on to secure their objectives before anyone could react.

Two of the 1MRD’s regiments went into the American sector in the southern part of West Berlin with battalions mixed into combined arms task forces. The regimental and battalion commanders leading their troops hid their nervousness behind false bravado as they bypassed barracks complexes where American troops slept and raced for the civilian targets that they were to seize and hold. In particular, the Lieutenant-Colonel commanding the reinforced battalion from the 2nd Motorised Rifle Regiment tasked with taking Tempelhof Airport worried over his orders to get his attached engineers and their demolitions onto the airport grounds before American airmen there might decide to open fire. He had been told that the runaways must be cratered with immediate effect using high-explosives so that only them could his presence be announced; he just hoped those airmen weren’t awake at such a time of the morning.

Into both the British and French sectors of West Berlin, the two other regiments from the 1MRD also entered. They too went for airports – those at Gatow and Tegel – as well as quickly seizing bridges over the Havel River where the engineers attached to those regiments went searching for the pre-placed demotion charges known to be in-place.

While taking these transportation links intact was of great importance, CENTRE was all about securing the civilian facilities in West Berlin. The East Germans went towards public buildings, police stations, utilities supplies centres and communications facilities. Stasi teams in trucks behind the leading troops raced for the homes of politicians and other public figures in West Berlin too so that such people could be roused from their beds and captured before they could even think to try to escape.

All the while, the officers of the 1MRD waited for the first shots to be fired at them, which would come from either from West Berlin police or Western military forces in the city. If the former opened fire then the East German Army would hit back hard, but they were meant to back off and not return fire if American, British or French troops did so.

West Berlin woke up all around the men of the 1MRD and that short period of waiting for gunfire would very quickly come to an end.


It took eighteen minutes before the first shots were fired in opposing CENTRE. The French garrison in West Berlin beat the city’s police force in doing so only by another minute with a wave of gunfire that would wake the city up and then leave countless dead.

To the detriment of the efficiency of the whole operation, the orders that the East German Army had were for its troops to avoid at all costs known and suspected military garrisons of the Western forces located in Berlin. They were to loop around them to obtain their objectives and stay hidden from them until those were secure. Afterwards, the plan was to close-in slowly and surround each one with overwhelming force. On paper this appeared to a brilliant idea, but it was nothing more than a flight of fancy.

Moreover, those in the know within the East German Army rightly suspected that their Soviet masters who had issued these orders didn’t think such a thing would work anyway.

Like their American and British counterparts, the French Army garrison in West Berlin was the size of a small brigade. The troops were of high quality and well-armed, yet their role was more ceremonial than combat. Knowing that they were positioned deep inside East Germany with the Soviet Army sitting on the real estate between them and the remainder of West Germany, the French troops expected that if it ever came to a fight they would be overwhelmed and without any external support.

There was also the worry that a nuclear warhead would blast the city to atoms very soon after any conflict begun that involved them.

This fatalistic attitude of the part of the troops deployed to West Berlin didn’t mean that they were either ill-disciplined or incompetent. There were good officers in charge of the garrison and the standard of conscripts sent to the city was high; the garrison prepared as best as possible for a war that if was fought they would lose but would achieve a little measure of glory in.

Late the previous evening, in a coordinated political move made by Paris, London and Washington, all Western garrisons in West Berlin had received firm instructions to stay in their barracks and only maintain a guard force suitable for protective security. The civil disturbances and the violence were being manipulated for political purposes by the East Germans, the garrison commanders were told, and it was best that no further excuse could be given to Mielke and his ilk. Thus, the French Army had in the most part pulled back as ordered into its quarters.

The garrison commander’s orders though had not been worded by politicians in the Defence Ministry within Paris but instead by senior French Army officers in Strasbourg who looked at the situation in West Berlin from a soldier’s perspective. These orders allowed the commander on the ground leeway to act as he saw fit to defend his command from attack. Thus while there were watchmen in positions overlooking the barracks where the soldiers slept, small detachments from the garrison were out on patrol in platoon strength near those barracks. The patrols were conducted during the night in both four-wheeled VAB armoured vehicles and AMX-30 tanks and didn’t stray too far away from French military encampments.

There were two separate occasions when clashes between the French and East Germans were only narrowly avoided due to both opposing forces only just missing each other in the darkness, but eventually one of those French patrols did stumble into the invaders. An infantry company mounted in BTR-60’s from the East German 1MRD’s 3rd Regiment was racing towards an electricity substation within the French sector of West Berlin when a platoon of AMX-30’s came out of seemingly nowhere and positioned themselves ahead of the East German’s line of advance. The road which the East Germans were using was blocked by the four French tanks, tanks which levelled their rifled 105mm main guns at the ten BTR-60’s. This occurred within half a mile of the French garrison headquarters at Quartier Napoleon and on a road that the East Germans wouldn’t have taken had they hadn’t been making an unexpected detour around a road closed due to major construction work.

Following their orders, the East Germans backed up a bit to deploy into positions where they could surround the French force in-place while reinforcements were urgently called up over the radio. In addition, the guns on the French tanks were far superior to their mounted heavy machine guns.

The French troops were on their radios too with the platoon commander making urgent contact with his squadron headquarters. However, the East German retrograde manoeuvre – which was visible under the illumination offered by bright streetlights – alarmed that officer because it looked like the vehicles were preparing to deploy troops. The Frenchman, who assumed that the BTR-60’s were Soviet and not East German, also believed that infantry in those vehicles would be carrying anti-tank weaponry.

He ordered his tanks to open fire rather than be engaged by man-portable weapons fired from foreign troops here inside West Berlin and near his brigade headquarters.

This was the very first incident, though very quickly there were fire-fights all across West Berlin. The civilian police fought to stop their stations being overrun by armed troops that invaded them in the pre-dawn darkness and security guards at civilian utilities and communications stations also tried to protect their installations. All of these civilians thought that they were facing Soviet troops that would be busy invading the rest of their country that morning and that was why these civilians were quite eager to go up against professional soldiers with the tragic results that entailed.

Nevertheless, had they known they were fighting soldiers of the cruel East German regime the results probably would have been the same too.

Along with the lack of either air or artillery strikes into West Berlin to prematurely announce their attempt at a coup de main, the attacking East Germans also conducted their assault without the use of electronic warfare. There was no overt radio jamming or attempt at subterfuge with silent jamming either. The radio frequencies that were known to be the ones which Western forces in West Berlin were left open to allow for communication within the city and to the outside too.

American, British and French troops in West Berlin had for many years worked together at times of international tension and communications links between them were set up. This radio network was backed up by buried cables that carried telephone links. The French garrison commander used the radio link that he had with his American and British counterparts to inform them of the incursion that his deployed patrol platoon was telling him about before adding to that information that those tanks of his had engaged ‘invading foreign forces’. However, word was already reaching the Frenchman’s counterparts of fighting taking place across the city with the police and both commanders were getting spot reports from their watch officers of sentries watching armoured vehicles rolling past Western bases.

Neither the American nor British garrison commanders had orders as to what to do in this situation. Their bases and their troops were not being attacked while the rest of the city was being overrun. Reports came thick and fast to them that where their troops met the invaders – at first misidentified as Soviet troops then corrected to East German Army units when vehicle markings were recognised – were backing away though taking up position to surround them.

For the French commander, it was a different matter though. His tanks had engaged and devastated an East German armoured column and thus already spilt blood. Further East German units in the same area were spotted moving to the scene of the initial fire-fight and these included T-72’s, tanks which outgunned his AMX-30’s. The platoon of his had pulled back to guard his headquarters with those heavier tanks following close behind. If he was in the position of his East German opponent, he would attack the men who had attacked his when they were pinned in their bases; he really wanted to strike out first to pre-empt such a move.

The garrison commanders all had satellite uplinks from their headquarters back home as well as to the NATO Supreme Commander at his own headquarters in Belgium. They each contacted the American General Galvin’s senior staff and told them of the incursion into West Berlin while also requesting orders. General Galvin was unavailable though at that crucial moment though as he himself was talking to Washington.

Apparently, General Galvin had been told by Washington of the East German assault to seize West Berlin long before his subordinates on the ground could report this news to him.


Washington was six hours behind West Berlin and thus due to the lateness of the hour when the staff of the Soviet Ambassador in the United States called the Secretary of State’s office requesting an urgent meeting with the President, the initial reply was that such a thing would best be done first thing the following morning. Such a remark at once brought a response from the Soviet Embassy that sent chills down the spines of those at the State Department who had read up on the diplomatic activities right before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in World War Two.

Ambassador Dubinin’s chief-of-mission stated that the matter was of utmost urgency and that the Soviet Ambassador must see Reagan at 10:45 Washington time.

The new Secretary of State, Charles ‘Chuck’ Grassley – who had only weeks before been the senior Senator from Iowa before his surprise nomination and confirmation to replace the assassinated George Shultz – understood his staffers concerns, but at the same time knew that the Soviet request for an audience with the President must be important. He didn’t believe that Dubinin was trying to get the President to be at a certain place at a certain time so that the Soviets could declare war with a nuclear detonation in Washington like the expressed opinion of some people in his office did: that was just unfathomable to him. Instead, he realised that they must want their Ambassador to share something with the President that was time-sensitive.

Furthermore, if Grassley had been wrong in his estimation of the Soviets… well, Vice President Bush and Speaker of the House of Representatives Jim Wright were both currently purposely out of Washington so the United States would still have a President should the very worst happen.

Yuri Vladimirovich Dubinin was one of the very few Soviet Ambassadors abroad in a Western country who had not been recalled to the Soviet Union and replaced by someone else since the Moscow Coup late the previous year. Those diplomats in Western capitals had all gone home and the feeling among Western spooks was that they had been replaced because it was felt that they had too strongly supported the foreign policies of Gorbachev.

Apart from his senior position, there was nothing unusual about Dubinin in comparison to those other departed Ambassadors. His survival was an anomaly…

No one in the Washington cared much for Dubinin. They knew that he was a very smart man and was an effective diplomat for his country, but he was not someone who was friendly nor agreeable. He was a cold man – like most Soviet diplomats – and was also the personal representative of a hostile regime in Washington. Reagan was naturally wary of the man while George Shultz had always stated that he was dangerous because he had the intelligence to wrap the unwary around his little finger when he wished with the nuances of his attempts at persuasion in diplomatic matters.

When Dubinin arrived at the White House the time was twenty minutes to Eleven. His official car brought him from the Embassy and he had been driven through an empty and quiet city. The District of Columbia Police had finally managed to get civil order in the city back under control – they had refused an offer of assistance from the Defence Department using military police units – the evening before after days and nights of serious disorder. Many residents of the city had decided that American military mobilisation meant that their city was soon to be destroyed in a nuclear war and so had acted accordingly either by fleeing or looting. Violence and arson had occurred as a consequence… just it had recently done so in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco and more than a hundred other American cities. Washington was now quiet though because the rioters had run out of steam and the police had finally had to resort to the use of CS gas and mass arrests to stop the looting, the burning and the killing.

Safe in his Embassy behind a wall of police offices that could have been out protecting their city, Dubinin had missed all of this violence that the actions of his country had caused.

Grassley met Dubinin upon his arrival and had to hold in his nerves. He was a competent and well-experienced politician yet the former city college lecturer and one time assembly line worker regarded himself as greatly out of his depth here. The two men briefly shook hands and then moved inside to see the President with each of them having an interpreter in tow but no other aides.

As the Soviet diplomat was brought through the White House towards the Oval Office, the Secret Service agents on duty – the size of the detachment on-site had been quadrupled from its usual size – threw laser death states at Dubinin and the young woman from the Embassy who walked behind him. Though they wished to, the Secret Service agents were forbidden from conducting a physical search of both foreigners here in the White House. Yet at the same time, the route taken to the Oval Office passed through a metal detector whose presence was hidden and the Soviets were given thorough visual checks as they walked. If there had been any doubt that over whether either of them might be doing something as utterly foolish as bringing a weapon into the White House, then neither would have got anywhere near Reagan.

As he had requested, Dubinin was shown into see a tired and worried Reagan at a quarter to Eleven. In the Oval Office with the President were Howard Baker and Lieutenant-General Colin Powell: his Chief of Staff and his National Security Adviser. Furthermore, Grassley and his State Department interpreter came in too along with a pair of Secret Service agents. The Oval Office is smaller room than people realise and thus was rather crowded with everyone in attendance.

Despite him bringing along the woman from Embassy who could translate English into perfect Russian for him (and vice versa), Dubinin spoke more than passable English when he addressed Reagan. He said that he was speaking on behalf of the Politburo – by which he meant Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky – as well as the Soviet people in stating that the Soviet Union only desired peaceful relations with the United States and the rest of the world too. He then moved to criticise NATO military mobilisation, the invasion of Nicaragua, the sinking of the ship Friendship in the Caribbean that had Soviet military personnel aboard and alleged CIA activities in West Berlin to encourage civil disturbances.

To the listening Americans, it appeared as if Dubinin was reading from an unseen but memorised script. He was also talking rather fast as if he had to say all of this before something else of greater importance was mentioned. There was no passion in his voice and no one present actually thought the he believed what he was saying.

Reagan stared hard at the man, facing down yet another communist as he had always done through his political career. He remembered being in West Berlin only the previous June and how the people of that city had such a passion for their own freedom and that too of their imprisoned Germans just across the Berlin Wall. Baker and Powell both found themselves waiting for what they thought was the inevitable follow-up stating that the Soviet Union was about to declare war. Grassley believed that the Soviet Ambassador was going to deliver an ultimatum that his country would have no choice but to refuse to accede to.

Dubinin informed the Americans that he was meeting with that troops from the East German Army were only minutes away from entering West Berlin. He added that they were not going to engage Western troops garrisoned inside the city and further too that would shy away from any fighting of that manner. This was being done to protect the sovereignty of the German Democratic Republic and also as a humanitarian measure to protect those people from the West Berlin Police.

Reagan and those with him were thus given twelve minutes notice of CENTRE.

Once Dubinin had said this, Colin Powell asked the President if he could leave the room for a moment and Reagan gave him a gentle nod of his head in acknowledgement; the National Security Adviser and serving officer of the United States Army briskly walked straight out of the Oval Office for the White House’s secure communications facilities.

Grassley was the next to speak when he asked Dubinin what was the Soviets role in all of this? He wanted to know why the Soviet Ambassador here in Washington was informing the United States Government of the East German incursion into West Berlin moments before it was about to occur? As a follow-up to that, Howard Baker questioned Dubinin as to whether the British and French governments, as well as the West Germans, were being informed of this all as well?

Answering the Secretary of State’s questions first, Dubinin said that the Soviet Union stood by their allies in East Germany. He declared that his country had only found out in the past few hours that the assault into West Berlin was to take place and there was nothing that the Soviet government could do to stop such a thing. He was here in the White House to help keep the peace by giving the United States notice that its troops deployed there might face a dangerous situation on the ground. As to Baker’s queries, Dubinin stated that only the United States was being informed in advance of this matter.

The lies that Dubinin told to Grassley were so ludicrous that they would have been funny had it not been for the seriousness of the situation. He and everyone else knew that the East Germans did exactly what their masters in Moscow told them to do and there was no way that such a thing would have occurred without their express blessing. With his follow-up point concerning only Washington being informed of what was about to occur, it was clear to Grassley that the Soviets were playing games with the West on this in trying to diplomatically isolate the United States in the fall out from the assault into West Berlin.

He expected that in the following days, the Soviet KGB would be spreading lies about the length of warning time that was given and also dropping dark hints concerning sufficient warning not being given by the United States to its European allies.

Turning to talk to Reagan directly, Dubinin reminded the American President that only moments before he had said that the Soviet Union only wanted peace; he didn’t think that there was much future for peace if American troops were surrounded inside their barracks in West Berlin with East German troops outside their garrisons. The Soviet Union could make an effort to try to persuade the East Germans to open up airports in the city that they were about to seize to allow American troops to leave (no mention was made by Dubinin of British or French troops), but his government back in Moscow would need encouragement to do this…

…encouragement could come if American troop levels in West Germany and in other places bordering the Soviet Union returned to what they had been before REFORGER.

This was superpower-level blackmail pure and simple.

There was a lot that Reagan could have said to Dubinin or even communicated directly to Moscow over the Ambassador’s head. Instead, he chose to speak for the first time in this extraordinary meeting with a simple comment that Dubinin could easily report back to Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky. The American President said ‘the United States of America will not have its serving soldiers held hostage, the United States of America will not be blackmailed and the United States of America will not have democracy imperilled like this’.

Dubinin left the White House straight afterwards to return to his Embassy and his secure telephone link back to Moscow.

Meanwhile, other people in Washington were communicating with those far away too. Powell had urgently contacted the Defence Department who had accordingly got in contact with General Galvin in Belgium. Baker had started making calls for a meeting of the National Security Council. And then there was Grassley who was tasked by his President with setting up a trans-Atlantic conference call between Reagan and three leaders in Western Europe: Kohl, Mitterrand and Thatcher.

By the time that latter call was getting underway, CENTRE had already begun.


Brigadier Patrick Brooking was the Commandant of the British Sector in West Berlin. He had a brigade of the British Army under his command along with a very small RAF detachment. A career officer who had risen high at a steady rate, Brooking was someone who knew very well the business of soldiering. He had never actually seen any direct military action himself, yet he was regarded highly as a leader of men.

On the morning that the East German Army poured into West Berlin, Brooking’s first instinct had been to order his soldiers to attack them because they were inside the British Sector of the city and surrounding his bases. The airport at Gatow had been overrun and the East Germans were quickly spotted seizing any high ground that they could find to overlook the garrisons where his command was. It was only natural for him to want to strike out fast and hard before the military situation on the ground became impossible.

Yet, Brooking would never have risen to the rank that he had in the British Army had he been a man to act on impulse and without or against orders either. Only the evening before he had personally received instructions from General Galvin – the American commander of NATO forces in Europe – that his brigade was to retire to its barracks in the face of civilian strife in the city. Brooking had done as ordered and been aware of why such instructions were sent to him. Even when that inflaming of tensions that General Galvin had warned about broke out in an inferno, Brooking still remembered his orders: he would only order his command into action unless told to do so.

This didn’t stop him musing for a few moments when he was informed of the East German presence within the British Sector.

His command had been able to stand-to with much haste despite the early hour and he had some good men with him here in West Berlin who were well-equipped and well-trained. Should he have given the word, the company-sized squadron of eighteen Chieftain tanks under his command from the 14th/20th King’s Hussars could have lead his three infantry battalions in an attack against the East Germans. He reckoned that he could have taken on the invaders of the British Sector… but then there was however many other East German troops elsewhere inside West Berlin and outside the city plus Soviet troops in East Germany too including their own heavy-armour brigade across in East Berlin.

Still, it would have been one heck of a fight and Brooking’s brigade would have made a good show of itself…

Rather than attack straight away, Brooking found himself talking over the radio to Lieutenant-General John Akehurst: one of General Galvin’s two deputies (the other being a West German Luftwaffe officer). Akehurst informed his fellow British Army officer on the ground in West Berlin that the Soviets had meet with the American President in Washington to claim that the East Germans were acting on their own and were not about to attack Western garrisons in the city. Furthermore, they had delivered an ultimatum to the Americans demanding a troop withdrawal from West Germany before any East German departure would be considered. Brooking was asked to confirm whether the first part of this was true: were there any Soviet Army units detected with their East German comrades?

Unlike both the American and French garrisons in West Berlin, the British one had quietly been slightly reduced in the past month. Politically, the British Sector was fully-manned and there had never been any statements made from London about any sort of reduction in strength there. However, officers and men that had returned from West Berlin on leave and those transferring between units assigned had not been replaced. This only affected less than a hundred personnel and had been covered by junior men taking on the roles of those more senior, but it was a significant reduction in force because it showed that the British Army of the Rhine was being given greater importance than the forward-deployed garrison.

Even with this minor reduction in numbers, there were still many component soldiers in West Berlin who had experience from postings all around the world, many in combat situations too. Brooking’s men had identified those troops flooding into the British Sector from five separate points of the western portion of the Berlin Wall as all being East German. Their vehicle markings and the weapons they carried along uniforms that they wore marked them out as such… unless there had been a wide-scale and deliberate effort at deception.

Akehurst’s follow-up as to the whether the barracks housing Brooking’s men had been attacked was met with the assurance from West Berlin to Belgium that such a thing had not occurred. Brooking told Akehurst that he was greatly worried that this could happen at any moment because the East Germans were manoeuvring into position to do so, but there had been no engagement of his men as of that point.

Though he wasn’t about to ask permission to do so, Brooking was then informed that his forces were not to engage East German forces unless they were attacked first. Akehurst told him this in his capacity as General Galvin’s deputy and also because he had had brief contact with the watch officers at the British military headquarters underground outside London at Northwood who had passed on instructions for him to convey to West Berlin.

There would be no need for the inevitable slaughter of British troops to occur should they strike out now against what would be a numerical superior force surrounding them on all sides with no outside help for Brooking’s command forthcoming in any manner.

The British troops in West Berlin were to remain in their barracks.

It was the same with the American and French military forces in the city too. Both commanders on the ground were given orders from NATO headquarters to keep their troops confined in the bases that they maintained in the city.

All around the Western troops, there was ongoing violence as the East German Army set about eliminating any and all resistance to their occupation. The West Berlin Police put up brave but tragic stands and so too did certain individuals with registered and unregistered firearms of their own. In addition to the losses that they took from that one engagement with French tanks, more than a hundred and twenty East German troops were lost in these sporadic fire-fights.

They inflicted almost six times as many casualties on those civilians in return.

Meanwhile, the Stasi went about their assigned tasks across West Berlin…


The troops that the East Germans quickly trapped inside West Berlin were subordinate directly to General Galvin’s NATO European command but their situation brought the British Second Army to full wartime alert. What was happening was of great significance and could easily be the start of an attack westwards across the North German Plain no matter what had been said in Washington by the Soviet Ambassador there.

General Kenny’s five corps headquarters each woke up their men and everyone was stood-to. In the skies above them, aircraft of the Second Allied Tactical Air Force patrolled the skies too waiting for Soviet fighters and paratrooper-carrying transports to cross the Inter-German Border.

What had occurred in West Berlin was shared among individual commanders under General Kenny’s command throughout the morning. Corps commanders were instructed to bring their divisional commanders up to speed and then the news was meant to be further shared downwards along the chain of command. This was an established practise to let those who needed to know what was going on.

As the news from West Berlin was disseminated, it was briefer and more to the point. Thus all the Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant-Colonel) in command of the West German Army’s 314th Panzer Battalion was told was that the city that he had been born in had been overrun by the East Germans and his battalion was to stand ready to stop any further incursions of West German territory.

The 314th Battalion was part of the 11th Panzergrenadier Division, which was attached to the West German I Corps. The corps’ assigned sector was between the Dutch and British contingents to the north and northeast of Hannover with this one particular combat battalion residing in the area around Erha-Lessien: specifically near the Volkswagen testing facility in that part of the country. Between the 314th Battalion and the Inter-German Border five miles away there was no other NATO force apart from random patrols conducted in light vehicles or on foot by special forces teams.

The 314th Battalion was right at the frontlines, set only a reasonable distance back from Soviet troops just on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

The Oberstleutnant had a perfect career record in the service of his country’s army and was a man earmarked for later promotion. He had never disobeyed an order in his life nor ever thought about doing so.

Yet… his family lived in West Berlin. He thought of his parents and his younger sister in the city as East German troops poured into it. His father had once been a CDU politician representing the city and the Oberstleutnant couldn’t help but think that the Stasi would be in West Berlin arresting civic leaders like him for what would certainly be a gruesome fate.

The Oberstleutnant drove himself a little crazy thinking about this before deciding to personally doing something about it. He spoke to his friend and Operations Officer, a young Major who held passion beliefs about German nationalism, and with that man’s aid he set about an attempt to save the life of his father from what he believed would be communist captivity and death.

The 314th Battalion had been given an ‘order’, the Oberstleutnant would soon explain to his command staff and company commanders when he gathered them together, and it was one which would have the battalion take part in a NATO offensive to retake West Berlin. This would mean crossing the Inter-German Border and heading eastwards engaging any opposition that lay in their way.

Of course there was much comment from the junior officers of the battalion about this. They had so many questions that the Oberstleutnant was nearly overwhelmed by it all and thought of telling another lie by saying that this was all just a staff exercise. The thoughts of his father and the city he grew up in were foremost in his mind though.

The Military Police Captain who should have been assigned to the 314th Battalion in a wartime deployment was a civilian police officer in the city of Oldenburg – the region of the country where the battalion’s parent division was home-based – and he had been hospitalised during a riot there the day before West German mobilisation. In his place was a young trainee military policeman direct from the military academy at Munich who was with the battalion in the field. That military policeman was very easy manipulated by the Oberstleutnant into arresting the battalion’s Intelligence Officer and the commander of one of the 314th Battalion’s three tank companies on charges of ‘attempted mutiny’.

With those arrests out of the way, the 314th Battalion started moving forwards with its forty-one Leopard-1 main battle tanks, seven tracked armoured vehicles and handful of trucks. No artillery or engineering units moved with the battalion nor was there any anti-air assets deployed: in a combat situation the battalion wouldn’t be able to fight effectively.

The Oberstleutnant took his command away from their well-defended positions near Erha-Lessien and headed for Highway-248. That road would take him towards the distant West Berlin but first it would reach the town of Brome and then the Inter-German Border.

Everyone in the 314th Battalion apart from the Oberstleutnant and his Operations Officer was certain that they were part of a major NATO effort and that they were following lawful orders. There was great discomfort among them though at the thought of what lay ahead of them that day. Still, the battalion made quick haste in reaching the near-abandoned village of Voitze and rolling through there. Brome then the bridge over the little Ohre River was to be the next point along the route to the border…

…but before that next village could be reached the battalion vanguard came across an unexpected halt.

One of those NATO special forces teams scouting the border area watching for Soviet or East German reconnaissance patrols illegally crossing over the Inter-German Border had instead spotted the 314th Battalion coming towards them. This group of commandos was a British unit of men in Land-Rovers from the 22nd Special Air Service Regiment and they were more than a little curious about what the West German tankers were up to. Questions were asked by German speakers in the SAS patrol of the tankers and not sufficient answers were given to them. The commandos thought quick on their feet and delayed the West Germans as best as they could while quickly making an urgent radio report to their headquarters about this unexpected movement right on the border.

The Oberstleutnant personally came up and tried to bluff his way past the SAS men. He claimed to have orders to cross the border and queried whether the commandos had not been given the necessary orders themselves to let him past. He was not very successful in this effort and the SAS wouldn’t let him past.

Rifles were levelled at the Oberstleutnant and then tank guns were turned the British Land-Rovers. In an act of extreme bravery, the SAS refused to budge and detained the Oberstleutnant. At any moment, those present waited for the various pointed weapons to be used yet at the same time none of those present were actually willing to open fire first on men that they regarded as their allies.

A flight of two Dutch F-16 patrolling fighters soon appeared in the skies overhead after being urgently redirected to the area from their patrol area to the south. The pilots of these strike-fighters didn’t have much idea of what was going on down on the ground below them because their redeployment orders had been quick, but their presence begun to refocus the mind of the Oberstleutnant’s co-conspirator. The 314th Battalion’s Operations Officer Major didn’t know whether those aircraft had any air-to-ground weapons carried that could stop the battalion if he kept it moving towards the border, but he didn’t want to take the chance. Instead, he spoke to the SAS men who were holding his commander and gave a confession to them of what exactly what was going on.

The 314th Battalion soon turned back around while both British and West German military police units converged upon it and all over the general area as it retreated back the way that it came. There would very quickly be further arrests made of officers within the battalion (all of those except the Oberstleutnant and the Major were innocent) and the formation would be pulled far back from the frontlines too.

While that brief stand-off near Brome had been going on and especially after the low-flying Dutch aircraft had arrived, Soviet reconnaissance assets just across the border had been visually monitoring the situation from afar and wondering what was going on.

General Kenny was greatly alarmed by the mutiny with the 314th Battalion. He had his deputy fly from Cannerberg as soon as possible and go talk to the brigade, division and corps commanders who were in the chain of command there. Secret orders went out from his headquarters to all NATO special forces patrols on the border to watch out for similar moves from other units who might want to mutiny like the Oberstleutnant in command of the 314th Battalion had done.

He thanked his lucky stars that such an effort at mutiny had been stopped in time. General Kenny didn’t want to think of the consequences had that West German tank force reached the border and begun crossing as the information that he received stated that they were about to do so…

As the Tuesday afternoon went onwards, further information came into General Kenny’s headquarters concerning the details of the mutiny and while that was all important, he had other pressing matters to deal with. General Galvin sent over one of his senior intelligence briefers to personally give the British Second Army a summary of important ongoing geo-political events as well as what was further known of Warsaw Pact forces on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

There had been diplomatic efforts ongoing for a while now from outsiders to try to halt further East-West tension and this had been intensified once news came out through the late morning and early afternoon that West Berlin had been seized. Both the Swedish and Swiss governments had tasked their diplomats to try to get both sides talking and made efforts to set up a summit of some sort in any location where anyone would agree to meet. There was absolutely no disagreement made from Western nations to this, but no matter what effort was made, neither the Swedes nor the Swiss could get any solid commitment from Moscow to attend any talks. The Pope in Rome and the United Nations Secretary-General had diplomats trying to do the same as well with an identical lack of success.

General Kenny was informed how it was believed by Western intelligence agencies that all diplomatic efforts by those attempted to offer meditation services, no matter how sincere they were, would come to naught.

He was then briefed upon the wave of massive sabotage incidents that were taking place across the Rhineland and the Low Countries. General Kenny knew all about those in the Dutch province of Limburg (where Cannerberg was) but he was told how these had taken place further afield too. Starting from late last night, there had been explosions and fires at many civilian and military facilities over a huge area. Many of these sites had guards and in some instances saboteurs had been killed or captured yet that hadn’t always been the case. Bridges over the Rhine and the Meuse in West Germany and Belgium along with those over the various waterways in the Scheldt Delta in Holland had been attacked with some of those badly damaged or even brought down by explosive charges; the nearby destruction of the railway bridge in Roermond had been what he had first heard of. Chemical plants and natural gas storage tanks in the Ruhr area had been struck at and so too had distribution points of the NATO underground fuel pipeline across the Rhineland.

Initial intelligence pointed to Western nationals conducting these attacks not Soviet commandos as first thought. West Germany and the Low Countries had brought in restrictions on the movement of civilians just like Britain had with TtW and those had stayed in place after some of those back across the Channel had recently been lifted. Yet still these attacks, which would have required a lot of coordination and movement of people and explosives, had taken place on a near unimaginable scale.

General Kenny was very concerned at such news.

As to Warsaw Pact military preparations across the Iron Curtain, there was plenty of worrying information for General Kenny to think about there too.

Soviet combat forces from the Baltic, Belorussian and Carpathian Military District's were now known to be in-place all across the Northern Tier countries. They had linked up with Soviet forces already in those countries and were deploying into field armies that NATO intelligence could point to as having invasion missions westwards as either a first or second echelon strike force. East German, Polish and Czechoslovak forces had joined those Soviet troops as well.

New airfields and air defence sites had sprung up all across the Northern Tier countries and these were all poised to support warfare efforts directed westwards. Freight-carrying trains crowded rail-yards and terminals everywhere satellites looked while the few highways in Eastern Europe were jammed too with convoys of trucks. There were ports all across the Polish and East German Baltic coastlines and many of these too were full of unusually high levels of civilian shipping that NATO intelligence analysts said had come from Soviet ports on the Baltic loaded with military supplies.

All told, this was the greatest military deployment effort that had ever been witnessed. The only good news that General Kenny could get from it all was that the intelligence pointed to the Soviets being nowhere near ready to strike westwards yet. He was still hoping against hope for a diplomatic solution despite knowing that that wasn’t going to be successful.

At the end of the intelligence summary, General Kenny and his briefers were informed that news had come from naval sources that the Soviet Navy had just started putting to sea worldwide…
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James G

Gone Fishin'

Trying to compare the Soviet Navy of the late Eighties to those navies of the West wasn’t something that was easy to do. The Soviets did things vastly different to how things were done across the ideological divide; their ship designers, their naval strategists and their admirals had a wholly diverse mind set to their opponents in World War Three.

When Western naval thinkers looked at the Soviet Navy, they deemed the majority of the fleet to be a ‘one-shot force’, especially with the surface units built and deployed and even to an extent with subsurface assets too. Soviet warships were built with massive and impressive missile-based armaments that were designed to be used just the once in a tremendous offensive bombardment of enemy vessels. Ocean-going vessels for what Western navies deemed ‘underway replenishment’ were near unknown in the Soviet Navy and therefore their warships would have to return to port to be rearmed to conduct further missile-striking missions. The Soviet Navy only had one partially-complete fleet aircraft carrier in the traditional Western sense; instead they had four light carriers from which short-range strike aircraft could fly as well as a pair of helicopter carriers.

The majority of the Soviet submarine force was only impressive through numbers. Their vessels were not up to Western standards in noise suppression or electronic sensors and the submarines never carried enough torpedoes. There were missile submarines in the Soviet Navy that had launchers for barrage missions like the bigger warships did, but these were again ‘one-shot’ assets. Only in the land-based naval aviation force with the massed air regiments of long-range subsonic and supersonic bombers did the Soviet Navy have a reusable striking arm as far as Western naval thinkers were concerned.

This analysis was supported by evidence that the Soviet Navy was dead last among funding and political influence among the branches of the Soviet Armed Forces.

There were four fleets of the Soviet Navy that included surface, subsurface, aviation and support assets: the Northern Fleet (for Atlantic operations), the Baltic Fleet, the Black Sea Fleet (including operations in the Mediterranean) and the Pacific Fleet (with responsible for the Indian Ocean too). Each of these fleets could support each other with the transfer of assets in peacetime with lines of communication that didn’t run through the immense Eurasian landmass though the ability to do so in wartime would be greatly curtailed unless the Soviet Army made substantial gains through NATO or neutral territory. This was thought in the West to be another reason why the Soviet Navy was at the bottom of Soviet military importance.

There was the matter of the missing allies that the Soviet Navy suffered from as well. The US Navy could be considered the primary competitor to which the Soviets should aim to emulate in peacetime and which it would have to fight in wartime, but the Soviet Navy would never just be fighting the Americans at sea. The US Navy would have the support of the navies of the West and many of those were of great strength; allies of the Soviet Union had paltry naval forces when compared to Britain, France, Japan and many other ocean-faring countries. Moreover, those smaller Western navies often had specialist capabilities that complemented those of the US Navy in many vital ways: there was no comparison among allies of the Soviets.

No matter what those with a political or economic agenda said, the Soviet Navy was in no way anywhere near ready to reach a position where it could truly threaten the West. Their warships were nice, big targets for American naval air power and any Soviet carrier-based aircraft would be shot out of the sky with contemptuous ease. Their submarines were plenty in number but would be hunted down in a well-practised methodical manner by British and American anti-submarine warfare assets. The scores of Soviet Navy coastal patrol and missile boats would be taken on by littoral naval forces belonging to naval powers like Norway, Denmark, West Germany and Japan. As to those much talked about Soviet naval bombers… well there were the F-14 Tomcat fighter-interceptors that the US Navy operated as well as a host of airbases along the coastlines of much of the world’s oceans and seas that could combat them.

Western naval analysts who were component and weren’t working to an agenda could easily see the flaws in the Soviet Navy and realised what a collection of targets that it would be in open warfare. The more astute among these intelligence specialists and strategists wondered whether the Soviets actually realised the same thing…


Early in the evening of March 8th, as a generally-censored Western media was telling the world about the seizure of West Berlin, the majority of the Soviet Navy put to sea.

The Soviet Pacific Fleet stayed in port (for the time being), but the three other fleets sortied from their bases and into the Barents Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea. The strength of the deployment in terms of vessels pointed to this not being an emergency sortie but rather one that had been planned over a period of time. All of those sailors would not have been gathered up so quick from their barracks nor as many vessels taken out of maintenance and put into the water on short notice.

The Black Sea Fleet had once held great strategic importance for the Soviet Union and Imperial Russia beforehand. Many wars had been fought over control of the Black Sea and others had been narrowly avoided – in particular Soviet desire post-WW2 to control access to the Black Sea through the Turkish Straits. The advent of large stockpiles of nuclear weapons along with intercontinental-range missiles had brought about a lessening of a need for a strong naval presence in the Black Sea by the late Eighties though along with Soviet dominance of much of the surrounding coastline. The northern and eastern coastline was in direct Soviet hands while to the west the communist states of Romania and Bulgaria were under Soviet influence. It was only to the south that the Soviets didn’t have control; and it was to the south too where all uses for the Black Sea Fleet lay.

NATO member Turkey controlled the southern shorelines of the Black Sea and any access to open water beyond – the Aegean Sea and then the Mediterranean – for Soviet vessels had to pass through the lone waterway towards there that the Turks controlled: the aptly named Turkish Straits. The Bosporus, the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles were all owned by the Turks and they had military facilities to defend them.

As to the Turkish Armed Forces, these were large and the weapons and equipment that they used was all Western-built though often hand-me-downs. In a straight fight between the Soviets and the Turks, the Soviets would certainly be able to overwhelm the Turks and take control of the vital waterways around Istanbul that would give the Black Sea Fleet access to the distant, open seas beyond… but Turkish membership of NATO made sure that the Turks wouldn’t be fighting alone. How to overcome this difficulty had been the subject of many political intrigues throughout the Cold War on the part of Soviet intelligence operatives but those had all come to naught.

In peacetime, the Soviet Navy was allowed to transit warships, submarines and even their light aircraft carriers (by designating those as ‘aircraft-carrying cruisers’) through the Turkish Straits to send vessels built on Black Sea ports to their other fleets as well as establishing a semi-permanent naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. The 1936-agreed Montreux Convention gave them the right to do this, subject to Turkish approval though. Since the attack in early February upon the pair of American warships off the coast of Soviet Crimea, the Turks had been making things very difficult there. Consequently, the flotilla of Soviet Navy ships in the Mediterranean – the 5th Operational Squadron – wasn’t up at full strength.

When the order came for the Black Sea Fleet to sortie and move into planned positions, the warships and submarines left their many bases along the northern and eastern coastlines of the Black Sea and headed for the Turkish Straits. No official communique to the Turks requesting permission to transit their waters was sent nor was any other intention stated. The vessels just bore down upon those Turkish-controlled waterways in great numbers.

The Baltic Fleet was another Soviet Navy flotilla with long-established strategic importance. In Imperial Russian and early Soviet times, it had like its Black Sea counterpart been of great value. The traditional enemy of Russia and the subsequent Soviet Union had been Germany and the Germans had a Baltic coastline. In the modern era, the West Germans only had a small stretch of their coast on the Baltic, which was now much further westwards than it had ever been, but they had military bases on the Baltic still. Moreover, just as they did in the Black Sea, the Americans sent warships into the Baltic whose presence threatened Soviet interests. The neutral powers of Sweden and Finland were Baltic nations and the Swedes in particular had naval forces that affected the balance of power in the region. To the south there were naval forces operated by the Poles and the East Germans which were nothing to be sneered at while the Danes had light naval forces of their own who would be expected to operate in conjunction with their NATO partners the West Germans in wartime.

Nonetheless, the Soviet Baltic Fleet was the strongest in the region. There were many warships, patrol and missile boats, coastal submarines, naval aircraft and naval infantry (marines in all by name) at Soviet bases that spread from Leningrad and the Gulf of Finland region down through the occupied Baltic States and to Kaliningrad. There was also access available for the Baltic Fleet to Polish and East German naval facilities in their countries too.

However, once again, Soviet naval access to the open ocean beyond the Baltic was blocked by geography.

At the western end of the Baltic were the Danish Straits. There were three separate shipping channels around islands of the archipelago that was Denmark. Sweden and then Norway sat on the northern shores of these waterway’s openings into the North Sea and Norway was another NATO member. Unless the geo-political situation saw great change, then the Soviet Baltic Fleet would always find itself bottled up in the restricted Baltic in wartime.

Those stretches of water that connected the Baltic to the North Sea were not under Danish control like the Turkish Straits were by the Turks. The Danes didn’t have the legal right nor the naval strength to close them to Soviet access. Thus the Soviets had been transiting vessels through the Danish Straits before their multi-fleet, coordinated naval sortie despite NATO military forces conducting harassment operations against this effort.

When the Baltic Fleet put to sea all at once and in great numbers, it was towards the Danish Straits that it headed in a great concentration of force.

The Soviet Northern Fleet was where the majority of the strength of the Soviet Navy was. Strategic submarines carrying ballistic missiles were assigned to the Northern Fleet as they were to the Pacific Fleet because there was open access to the world’s oceans from the Barents Sea that didn’t go through any choke-points. There were capital ships operated by the Northern Fleet where there weren’t in the Baltic and Black Sea Fleet’s due to this unrestricted access to the North Atlantic.

The Northern Fleet didn’t have a glorious (or infamous in places) history like those smaller fleets but where its bases were located was all that mattered to the Soviet Union. These were concentrated on the Kola Peninsula and around the Arkhangelsk-Severodvinsk on the entrance to the White Sea. This cold, wind- and snow-swept region of the Soviet Union was barren in many places apart from where the Northern Fleet had its naval bases – there were other military bases across the Arctic coast too – and there were many Soviet shipyards too.

In any war with the West, the Northern Fleet was always going to be of great importance due to the access it had to the North Atlantic and the Arctic region too. Europe and North America were physically separated by the Atlantic so ships and aircraft would have to cross that stretch of ocean. Across the Arctic was the North American mainland too and in a nuclear war scenario then that empty region would be of immense significance as well to Soviet interests.

Norway was adjacent to the Soviet northwest where the Northern Fleet was based yet while the Norwegians had military bases across their nation, these were not home to assigned NATO forces in peacetime. There were often Norwegian, American and British warships and submarines that would enter the Barents Sea and on occasion approach the White Sea though they would be harassed by Soviet forces when doing so – not the other way around as in the case of the Black Sea Fleet and Baltic Fleet when those flotillas went near NATO-controlled choke-points at the Turkish and Danish Straits.

With Western mobilisation, NATO forces had entered Norway, Iceland and the Norwegian Sea. They had troops on the ground now as well as land-based aircraft from all those airbases that had been built throughout the Cold War for such a thing in Norway and Iceland. It was the naval forces of NATO that greatly threatened Soviet interests though, especially the US Navy-led carrier task forces that formed up in the Norwegian Sea. The Americans had three of their aircraft carriers off Norway which were escorted by their own and NATO warships. From these aircraft carriers flew combat aircraft capable of hitting the Soviet mainland very efficiently and also engaging the Northern Fleet afloat. There was also a task group formed around an American battleship – the USS Wisconsin, which like the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt had been hastily commissioned for REFORGER – and groups of amphibious assault ships to support the landings of marines afloat from Britain, Holland and the United States.

This NATO naval presence was clearly meant to make sure that neither Norway nor Iceland fell to Soviet military action; in addition, that the all-important trans-Atlantic trade lines were not threatened. All told, the NATO naval strength in the Norwegian Sea was several times bigger than what the Northern Fleet could sortie.

Yet, like the Black Sea and Baltic Fleet’s, the Northern Fleet put to sea.


‘Anna Townsend’ was a thirty-two year-old single woman living in Barnstaple, Devon. She had a birth certificate, a National Insurance card and a passport that had stamps inside from trips to Ireland, Holland, Sweden and Australia. There was a bank account that she used into which her wages were paid and she used for everyday and monthly expenses while she also had a saving account for her modest savings. She paid income tax and National Insurance and also local rates. Her small, two-bedroom semi-detached house on the outskirts of Barnstaple was rented and she paid all of her utility bills and television license fees always on time. Her employer had leased her a car to go along with her job and that sat on the driveway outside and everything was always paid for and up to day legally-wise with the vehicle. A newspaper was delivered to her house by a paperboy every morning and the milkman also left a pint of milk by her doorstep as he made his early morning rounds. She had a membership card for the video rental store in town and also a library card which she sometimes used to lend books. There was a Neighbourhood Watch sticker in the widow of her front door and she had filled out all the necessary forms though had politely declined to assist any further in that. The postman had once accidentally delivered a letter for her to a neighbour and that was from overseas – in Australia where she had a pen-pal, Anna had explained – while there were also a few general interest magazines delivered weekly and monthly too.

Anna lived alone, not even with a cat, and very much kept herself to herself as English people liked to say. There had never been any sign of a boyfriend and when a nosy neighbour had managed to talk her way inside she had afterwards gossiped to the others who lived nearby how Anna’s little home was extremely tidy though somewhat bland in décor; there was gossip too for the neighbours about the empty vodka bottles in Anna’s kitchen bin. There were a few pictures of Anna holidaying abroad when she was younger in both Australia and Sweden and also a black-and-white framed picture of a little girl with two parents; Anna said that that was her with her parents taken when they were young and living on the Kent coast.

Anna worked for a local estate agent that had its office in Barnstaple though had affiliates throughout Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and Somerset. She was the only one there with a university degree – hers was a Bachelors in English Literature from the University of Manchester – though she never boasted about her education to her co-workers. In fact, Anna was regarded as a bit of an outsider among her colleagues because she seemed to avoid overtly socialising with them and wanted to go home to read even on a Saturday night! Nonetheless, she was noted as being very good at her job and there was even idle speculation as to why she didn’t go to work for a bigger company where there would be more money on offer to her.

The estate agents that Anna worked for specialised in finding properties for those looking to rent homes for a fixed period of time while they were working in Devon and the South-West of England in general, in particular those who had families with them. Contractors for industrial projects and construction were the main clients of Anna’s employer though there were also military families who were looking to move into a home that was not on an armed forces site. This was Anna’s forte: she was really good at helping find properties for such people. There were British Armed Forces as well as American military installations across the South-West and not everyone working at those wanted to have their family live on official quarters. Anna was on an approved list of estate agents to be dealt with by the Base Housing Officers at many military facilities and had established a good working relationship with such people. She was shy and didn’t flirt back with such military men, but they all knew that she knew her business very well indeed.

Anna knew where many officers in the military services of Britain and the United States who called the South-West of England their temporary home lived.

Up in Lancashire, ‘Daniel Nicholson’ called the town of Wesham home. The twenty-eight year-old who was registered as deaf in one ear but in otherwise fine physical condition: he was often seen jogging in the local area and went to the gym three times a week. He rented a smart flat above a shop in the centre of the town and lived a very unassuming lifestyle where he again kept himself to himself.

Monday through to Friday, Daniel would take the train from Wesham into Preston where he worked or travel direct from Wesham to other big towns in Lancashire like Blackburn, Blackpool, Bolton and Wigan. He was employed by a company that provided health and safety advice to factories across the region that manufactured military equipment. Daniel was an expert in this field and his company helped to protect such places, big and small, from the risks of fire, Irish terrorism or even sabotage-caused explosions. His company had a license from the MOD in Whitehall and all of its field employees like Daniel had passed a cursory check by MI-5 before they started their employment.

His physical condition and his good looks – Daniel was blond-haired with blue eyes – along with a trace of a South African accent attracted attention especially from the ladies. He would always smile at gentle innuendo from those ladies at his company offices and the women he met at the factories and industrial concerns he visited, though he never acted upon the opportunities for love or even a bit of fun that was offered to him. As to his accent, he would casually mention that his father was from Rhodesia (never Zimbabwe) but his mother had been a Lancashire lass born and bred before her untimely passing a few years back: hence his slightly odd accent.

There were seven other people living in Britain like Anna and Daniel. All were British citizens with no criminal records and each of them lived alone and had jobs that required them to travel widely. Each had access to information through their chosen profession that would be useful to a foreign nation attacking the country but none of this would be regarded as secret. The three of the nine who were women could never be reasonable expected to be called up for military service because they were all in their thirties while the half dozen men each had a physical disability that would also prelude them from military service apart from in the most dire emergencies. Each was considered a little bit of an outsider to those who knew them with no immediate family or close friends in their lives yet each lived in urban or suburban areas not little villages where such things would cause a great deal of local comment.

None of the nine were ‘real’ in terms of their identity. They each had a legend long crafted by specialists who knew exactly how to make someone ‘real’ in the West.

Anna, Daniel and the others were all born in the Soviet Union and long-serving undercover agents of the GRU (the Soviet military intelligence organisation) sent to live quiet and unassuming lives in Britain and to one day wait for the signal to be sent to them to finally put all of the effort into creating them to good use for the military objectives of their country of birth.

Along with collecting what the GRU regarded as valuable intelligence, these undercover agents were assigned to establish bases of operation inside Britain where their comrades from the GRU’s Spetsnaz commando force could operate from if and when they arrived in the country. The Soviet military intelligence service had a lot of plans for pre-wartime and wartime operations inside Britain and establishing multiple commando teams on the ground ready to act was key to many of them. After their arrival – either by overt civilian means in peacetime or by covert means during a period of international tension – those commandos would need safe and secure locations from which to operate from. Such places would have to be well out of the way of any sweeps by civilian authorities or military patrols and also the curious. There would need to be basic food and medical supplies on-hand along with methods of transportation. In addition, while the commandos were expected to bring their necessary weapons and military equipment with them during their insertion into Britain, the GRU had long ago realised that this might not always be possible. Thus, guns and explosives were smuggled into Britain beforehand and placed at and near the hideouts for the Spetsnaz commandos to use alongside or in the place of their own.

This whole effort had taken the GRU years to achieve and it was something that required constant updating. The nine agents in Britain in March 1988 had all been in the country for a different length of time to replace others who had come and gone. Other previous information had been gathered by their predecessors and similar hideouts for commando teams now abandoned. The agents in the field only knew their own missions while the actual commandos who would go into Britain had no details on-hand of the situation on the ground that they would be entering.

Britain was only one of many Western and Western-aligned countries where the GRU had agents like Anna and Daniel preparing hideouts for commandos. In every NATO country there were undercover agents just like there were the major neutral countries of the world alongside American-allied nations like Japan, South Korea and Australia to name just a few. They all kept a low profile and were chosen because they were very loyal Soviet citizens… plus had family members back home who were never going to be allowed to leave the Soviet Union.

For those commando teams to be sent to meet with the undercover agents, the GRU would only do so at the very last moment when there appeared to be the danger of warfare breaking out with the West. Unlike people such as Anna and Daniel, the Spetsnaz teams would attract attention to themselves nor would they have ever-so carefully crafted legends to allow them to avoid detection. For instance Anna in Barnstaple had a two hidden complete set of separate identities that she could fall back on in an emergency that would portray her as either an Australian or Swedish national; this wasn’t possible to do with the Spetsnaz personnel. Therefore the GRU would only send their valuable commandos into hostile territory where they were likely to be later caught and/or killed unless the situation demanded such a move.

NATO military mobilisation and the simultaneous series of pre-wartime restrictions on civilians that resembled martial law caught the GRU utterly unawares. They had no warning from the KGB that the West was about to do such a thing nor any political guidance to act first. All of a sudden the countries of the West shut down their borders and the only access in and out of them was to citizens of other countries heading home, the transfer away from the frontlines of military dependants and the movement of troops. There were opportunities with these, but nothing like the open borders beforehand.

It was an utter disaster for the GRU and their carefully-drafted plans to get their key personnel westwards to support the coming war…

…a war which the West believed was coming though one that no one in charge behind the Iron Curtain had actually been on the brink of launching either. This was why the commandos hadn’t been sent into NATO countries: the Soviet Union hadn’t been planning a strike.

Western mobilisation for what the Soviets saw as Barbarossa #2 meant that there would be rear-areas in those countries that it would be most opportune to attack just like if the Soviets themselves were about to strike. As the Soviets themselves mobilised to defend against a NATO strike the GRU was instructed to send its commandos into Western nations and conduct attacks on rear-area targets once the signal was given for them to begin: when that would occur would be a political decision.

There were still gaps in the borders of Western countries that the GRU set out to exploit to get their Spetsnaz teams into place to meet up with their undercover agents. Throughout mainland Europe and from Central America into the United States there were infiltration routes that could be used if care was taken. Military patrols by NATO forces on their borders were predicable with study and the great deal of internal movement of military equipment and supplies between NATO countries offered further opportunities.

The British mainland was something different though. The British had been very effective at sealing their borders when Transition to War (TtW) began in an effort to stop infiltration attempts. Any aircraft was likely to be shot down and a boat ran the very real risk of being sunk. The country was being used as a military base and there were too many radars, sensors and pairs of eyes looking outwards. Moreover, Britain’s geographic position at the western edge of Europe meant that any attempt at infiltration by air or on a boat meant passing through multiple patrol zones of the armed forces of other nations too.

Thus, the only route into Britain for the Spetsnaz teams assigned to operate in the country would be by using ‘friendly’ ships or submarines landing them on (hopefully) deserted stretches of coast.

Once the commando teams were underway to Britain, coded radio signals were sent to the nine undercover agents there. Anna, Daniel and the others had radio equipment in their homes that they were supposed to monitor at certain times (not every day either) for such a signal as the GRU sent them. This equipment was state-of-the-art and disguised as anything but what it was: a radio or a Sony Walkman for example. They were never to use this equipment to broadcast messages of their own unless certain situations allowed for that because the GRU knew all about the capabilities of NATO radio tracking equipment and didn’t doubt how good those Western operators of such systems would be at their jobs.

With a matter such as this though, the nine agents in Britain were expected to make a simple acknowledgement of the signal. This would be extremely brief and would also involve them removing their radio equipment out of their homes and to somewhere out of the way where quick use could be made.

Seven acknowledgement signals were received back to the GRU, not nine. To contact those other two agents in Britain, the GRU repeated their efforts at radio communication, but to no avail. They had no idea why two of their agents didn’t respond. Was their equipment faulty? Were they under surveillance at the time and didn’t want to risk capture? Had they been caught up in civil disturbances that the Soviet Embassy in London was reporting had plagued Britain? Had the two agents forgot their duties to the Motherland? Or, worse, had those agents defected recently to the British authorities?

The GRU had no answers to this worrying development.

Anna found solace from the missing of her homeland and the parents she had back home in the copious amounts of (neat) vodka she would consume at home alone at night. Daniel liked to work out in the gym to escape reflecting upon the wife and young child that he had at home in the Soviet Union. The separation from their lives back home hit all GRU undercover agents abroad in different ways. Their lives were intentionally lonely and they were in foreign countries where at any moment there could come the crashing in of their front doors by armed men seeking to arrest them. There was even the chance that they could face execution as spies.

One of the nine GRU agents in Britain – ‘Steven Douglas’, an employee of British Aerospace’s military division who oversaw field maintenance of aircraft across Scotland for his company but who spied on installations for his real home country – had recently fallen head over heels in love with a woman in Glasgow where he was living. He had for a while been answering adverts in the local newspaper for dating to release his inner sexual needs but there was one woman who stole his heart. She didn’t know the ‘real’ Steven Douglas, and if he had his way she never would, but for many years now his whole life had been based around successfully telling lies. The lovebirds were inseparable and Steven spent most of his free time at her house rather than his own. He had no time for monitoring his radio at home despite his inner fears and occasional nightmare of his GRU employers sending a hit squad to take his life due to his betrayal of his mission. When TtW occurred, his love’s neighbourhood had seen much violence and there had been rioting outside her home; he had moved in there and forgot about both of his employers and their needs for him.

It wasn’t Romeo and Juliet, but it was why Steven didn’t acknowledge the signal sent to him from his GRU masters.

Another undercover GRU agent was ‘Michael Carnegie’, a computer technician living in London who was working for a small company that had recently managed to secure a portion of a Government contract to install personal computers in the offices of workers across many ministries. This job gave Michael plenty of access to buildings and installations across Whitehall and he had been busy copying keys and drawing diagrams of the internal layouts of the places he visited: visits that often took place late at night where no one was around to watch over him. Unfortunately, Michael had been the victim of a street robbery near his home in Shoreditch in East London during the first days of TtW. Gangs of teenagers from the East End had been at that time conducting a crime wave to steal and even loot. Michael had been attacked by one of these gangs and refused to hand over his wallet – which held much of his carefully-crafted legend – to them and they had resorted to stabbing him to death with a kitchen knife before taking that wallet, pocketing the little amount of cash inside and then discarding it.

They didn’t know what a service they had done to their country for Michael had been someone very committed to acting for his GRU masters.

Anna and Daniel were among the seven who acknowledged their signal to prepare for the arrival of their comrades from abroad, yet one of those other five had already gone and done something that no one would have expected.

Her name was apparently ‘Lauren Turner’ and she had set up home in Portsmouth. Lauren’s cover was that of a civilian employee of the Royal Navy (RN) working in the personnel office sector of the RN base in the city, HMS Nelson (shore establishments of the RN were given names such as these following tradition). She had for a long time been gathering personal details of warship officers and conducting any spying activities around the base that she could. In all honestly, she had not been as successful at this she had hoped to be yet she had managed to fulfil the main part of her mission in Britain which was to establish a pair of separate hideouts in southern Hampshire for the arrival one day of Spetsnaz troops as well as stocking those locations with what was smuggled into the country for the commando’s use.

Lauren was a very intelligent woman who had proved herself before on operations for the GRU in the United States as well as at home in the Soviet Union. She was a natural-born liar with an expressed passion for the Soviet way of life and its communist form of government which she actually secretly detested. This was down to her hatred for her parents, both of whom were GRU personnel themselves though who had never served abroad as their daughter did. Her father had molested her as a child and her mother had slapped Lauren – then known as Irina Ivanovna Pavlenko – right across the face the one time that she had dared try to bring this horrible sexual abuse to light. Given an opportunity, a psychologist would have diagnosed this incident, occurring at the young age that it did, as being the root cause of Lauren’s later total rejection of the Soviet way of life, but the only psychologists Lauren ever saw worked for the GRU and would never have any further dealings with her had they knew about what her father had done and how her mother had been complicit in the continuation of that abuse through indifference.

Like she lied to everyone else, Lauren had been utter deceptive with the GRU psychologists who had spent time with her before she had come to Britain as they tried to seek the inner depths of her mind to look for possible hints of future betrayal inside of her. Lauren had long ago learnt to shut her mind off when she needed to.

Those hatreds that Lauren held deep down inside her hadn’t stopped her serving her country at home and abroad with the GRU though. She had decided that she would only do something when she thought that the best possible results could come of her actions. She wanted to damage the organisation that her parents belonged to, hurt her parents by having the GRU turn on them and also get away clean from any retaliation by the GRU. During her many years of training and indoctrination, Lauren had learnt how the families of those who betrayed the Motherland would suffer just as the traitor would and also that the GRU would spare no expense in tracking down anyone foolish enough to turn against it.

When Portsmouth became one of the closed naval towns on March 2nd, Lauren had been inside the cordons that went up to isolate the city from the rest of Britain. Civilian employees like her were all semi-conscripted by the RN and there was suddenly no way of her getting to those hideouts that she had prepared for the possible arrival of commandos; her little flat in Portsmouth’s Hilsea district was inside that cordon though along with the apparently fault video recorder in a cupboard which was actually her radio.

Lauren went to see the officer in charge of the RN Police’s Special Investigation Branch (SIB) at HMS Nelson the following day. She knew the man’s name and where he lived, but thought it best to see him in his office. After waiting for a while for an appointment without saying what it was all about, Lauren was called into see the Lieutenant-Commander (Lt-Cdr). He didn’t really have the time to be dealing with civilian employees being all mysterious with his secretary but the SIB officer was aware of instructions from the Commodore commanding the whole of Portsmouth, not just the naval base, that the civilians inside the outer cordon needed to be handled with care unless the city erupt into violence against the necessary military rule imposed to protect HMS Nelson.

The Lt-Cdr was very quickly told everything by Lauren and was left more than a little bit shocked at what she told him. He had doubted her for a few moments before she started reeling off the particulars of GRU spying techniques, many of which he had read about before in briefing documents. A junior SIB officer was called in to the Lt-Cdr’s officer to continue talking to Lauren while phone calls were made by the senior military policeman.

The radio equipment was recovered at Lauren’s house along with the sealed polythene bag buried in her garden containing her two other sets of identification. Lauren was able to give the SIB the name of a now-retired RN staff officer who had worked at the MOD in London and who been the man responsible for allowing her to get her job in Portsmouth; she told them that the man was paid by the GRU to be a traitor to his country. Maps were produced and Lauren pointed out the two hideouts that she had set up for the Spetsnaz commandos to use at their leisure. Moreover, she went over the improvised bobby-trap systems she had installed at each site plus the details of what was stored at those locations. The names of the few GRU operatives that she had had dealings with since being in the country – a list that was rather short in all honesty – was given over to the SIB.

Lauren could tell them a lot and promised to be the source of more information on GRU activities elsewhere too. She was a goldmine of intelligence and had a real willingness to be as helpful as possible… as long as those to whom she had defected to were willing to give her a new life and identity somewhere, anywhere that the GRU wouldn’t be able to find her.

As to Lauren’s radio, she told her latter questioners from MI-5 and the military intelligence service DIS all about it. Thus this was why the signal went out from the radio issued to Lauren like six others did to acknowledge the fact that Spetsnaz commandos were on their way to Britain. As to other GRU agents using deep cover like hers, Lauren had been unable to give any information there. Yet, British Intelligence would were able to track response signals like the one they sent back to the unwitting GRU to general areas of the country and then attempt to further hunt down Soviet agents in those places while monitoring nearby stretches of coastline to those regions.

Down in Hampshire, the coast would be watched like in other places for small submarines landing commandos, but it was known exactly where such a Spetsnaz team would be heading to lay low and move into an established base camp. When they did so, they would have a ‘meeting’ with British commandos ready in ambush positions to properly ‘greet’ them into the country.


H.M.’s Government was just as angry about the situation that its soldiers found themselves in inside West Berlin as Washington was.

Moreover, there was also the question of its diplomatic staff – some of whom conducted day to day activities that would be regarded as clandestine intelligence work – that were stranded not only in West Berlin at the Consulate there but at the British Embassy to East Germany across the still-standing Berlin Wall on the eastern side of the city.

The garrison complexes for the soldiers of the Berlin Infantry Brigade were surrounded by East German troops and tanks and so too were other official British buildings in the now-occupied western half of the city that were of diplomatic use. It was the same over the East Berlin though there were paramilitary policemen outside the Embassy there. Attempts by British diplomats and also senior British Army officers accredited to the official Four Power Allied Control Commission (an organisation that was a holdover from the end of WW2 and the initial occupation of the then Nazi capital) to leave the buildings in which they had become imprisoned had been met with the very bare minimum of physical force applied by the East Germans and no one on the ground in either part of Berlin had yet been willing to mount a serious challenge to these obstacles keeping them pinned up.

Such actions against British diplomats was a gross violation of various articles of the Vienna Treaties on diplomacy. Even in wartime, diplomats representing their home nation abroad were never meant to suffer any kind of physical impediment in their duties let alone be near roughed up by soldiers.

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) – which was operating a skeleton staff behind the barricades that still surrounded Whitehall – had of course made multiple complaints about such behaviour towards their diplomats and also the state of siege imposed upon its military bases in West Berlin to the East Germans. Their embassy in London, which was located on Belgrave Square and just outside that security zone, had been visited by the late on the evening of March 8th by David Mellor MP, the Minister of State at the FCO. Mellor, a trained barrister and also a Queen’s Counsellor, had brought with him legal documents to deliver to the East German Ambassador. He passed by a trio of Metropolitan policemen deployed on the pavement at the front of the building and also a parked car inside which sat another trio of men, these being MI-5 personnel. The East Germans refused him entrance to their Embassy however and neither would they take his offer official documents that made demands of their government.

Mellor was humiliated by this and was thankful that there had been no media present to witness him being ignored in such a manner.

In New York, where France had called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the actions of East Germany, the British Ambassador to that international body Sir Crispin Tickell attempted to speak to this East German counterpart there. Again British diplomacy was ignored and no headway made in New York like it hadn’t been in fashionable Belgravia either.

Away from diplomatic efforts, Thatcher requested that her military advisers offer solutions to the West Berlin situation.

Admiral Fieldhouse and General Bagnall, both of whom were splitting their time between the UK’s underground war headquarters at Northwood and the MOD, hesitantly told their Prime Minister that nothing could realistically be done. West Berlin lay deep behind the immense Soviet military build-up on the other side of the Inter-German Border with thousands of tanks and hundreds of aircraft in between. The air corridors that linked the seized city to the rest of West Germany were now being patrolled by massed numbers of both Soviet and East German fighters.

No ground force from the British Second Army or aircraft from the recently-established Allied Second Tactical Air Force were going to cross over into East Germany due to the very real risk that they would be put in a situation where the only option was to fight.

Thatcher took the news better than either military man expected; afterwards George Younger told her that any military move to relieve or evacuate the British garrison – along with those diplomats – would have to be a NATO operation anyway. The Prime Minister asked of her two principle military advisers how long the Berlin Infantry Brigade could hold up in West Berlin. She asked about the supplies of food, water and medical supplies on hand to them. They were under siege and thus how long could they hold for?

That was a difficult question for Fieldhouse and Bagnall. The military complexes were spread all over West Berlin and so too were the diplomatic buildings. Thus anything that one installation had in terms of supplies would not be available to another. The electrical and water supplies provided from civilian facilities in West Berlin had been cut off not long after the East German seizure of the city and this was going to be a major problem for the diplomats in particular who only had limited power generation facilities on-hand and no access to running water.

The situation on the ground there in West Berlin was only going to get worse yet it would be staggered over time in the case of how long those British servants of the crown in uniform and civilian attire could survive trapped as they were.

It was all a waiting game and not something than anyone in HM Government could yet influence no matter how much Thatcher, her ministers and military advisers wanted to.

Also on the minds of those in HM Government was the fates of the nearly two million West Berlin civilians now at the mercy of the Stasi


Vice-Admiral of the Soviet Navy Feliks Nikolayevich Gromov would much rather have been back at the Northern Fleet’s headquarters at Severomorsk on the Kola Peninsula rather than at sea in the cold Arctic waters aboard the missile cruiser Kirov. Fleet commander Admiral Kapitanets had remained on shore to oversee the deployment of his ships and submarines instead and thus his deputy had been sent out as the Northern Fleet sortied into the Barents Sea on its way towards the Norwegian Sea.

During his studies to rise in rank as he had, Gromov had read the works of many naval strategists. The theories on naval warfare from the great Mahan to the hero Gorshkov had been studied by Gromov and he had also been given (limited) access to recent open source material from Western naval officers who put their thoughts to paper too. All told, he was a well-read man who understood what naval warfare should be about.

It was just a shame that the rest of the Soviet Navy wasn’t of the same mind as he was.

The Northern Fleet was rather impressive to the layman.

Gromov was on the mighty Kirov heading westwards and the missile cruiser (deemed a ‘battlecruiser’ by those in the West) which displaced twenty-eight thousand tons of seawater bristled with armaments that apparently gave naval officers in the West nightmares. They didn’t know of the herculean effort it had taken to get the behemoth of a warship to sea with all the engineering problems that the Kirov came with ever since it had entered service nor that many of the radar systems that were meant to guide all of the weapons that the ship carried refused to work properly.

If this had been an American task force, then Gromov would have had his command post aboard the aircraft carrier Baku that was sailing nearby to the Kirov. That vessel had only recently been finally completed after ten years of building and there had been almost as many problems getting it out of port as had been the case with Gromov’s flagship. Twelve short-range aircraft were carried by the Baku whereas Gromov was aware that the aircraft carriers in service of the Americans had eighty, even a hundred aircraft aboard them all of which had phenomenal range to them.

Another aircraft carrier was with the Northern Fleet as it sortied. This was the old and decrepit Kiev: sister ship to the Baku. Gromov considered it good fortune that tugboats weren’t pulling her through the Barents Sea.

A helicopter carrier – the Leningrad – accompanied the Kirov, the Baku and the Kiev as well as five cruisers, nine destroyers and eight frigates. These were all big and powerful vessels which carried multiple batteries of missiles and guns. Four non-combat support ships were also present and so too were three submarines tasked with close-in missions to defend the surface vessels from hostile subsurface threats. There were Yak-38M aircraft flying from the aircraft carriers overhead along with many helicopters on various missions while radars scanned the skies and the surface in all directions.

As a task force – to use American military parlance – Gromov’s command was a gathering of combat power that should have been able to carry out the mission orders that he and Kapitanets had received for what the Northern Fleet was to do once it sortied… if it hadn’t been facing the opponent that it was.

The massed surface flotilla was meant to enter the Norwegian Sea and establish a barricading position there to stop a NATO naval task force from heading the other way and entering the Barents Sea. There would be support from Soviet Naval Aviation (Backfire’s and Bear’s) and Soviet Air Defence Force (land-based long-range interceptors) on-hand as well as other Northern Fleet submarines that were deployed away from Gromov’s flotilla. How this ‘barricade’ was meant to function was to be done with apparent ‘intimidation’ of Western naval forces in the Norwegian Sea so that they would focus on the threat to themselves offered by the Northern Fleet rather than conduct their own forward mission.

Even the humourless Kapitanets had allowed himself a chuckle at such orders just as Gromov had when the two of them had read the communique to that effect from Soviet Navy Headquarters.

If anyone was going to be conducting intimidation operations then it would be the NATO naval forces gathered in the Norwegian Sea and also reinforcements for them steaming from the North Atlantic and the North Sea. Gromov had seen the intelligence reports stating that the Americans had two of their aircraft carriers in the Norwegian Sea with a third on its way. The French Navy had their Foch in theatre while the British had a pair of their light aircraft carriers in the Norwegian Sea too. As to warships… the numbers blew Gromov’s mind. There were meant to be vessels from the United States, Canada, Britain, France and the Netherlands in attendance along with Norwegian naval forces close to their coastline.

The Northern Fleet was outnumbered by several factors, chief among those aircraft: as many as four hundred NATO aircraft in total could conceivably fly from the decks of those aircraft carriers. In the air and on the surface he could be surrounded on all sides and face mock attacks launched over and over again.

Gromov was in no way looking forward to reaching the Norwegian Sea and trying to intimidate the NATO forces there seemingly gathering to move into the Barents Sea. Moreover, he hoped too that he was never having to actually fight such an opposing force because the flotilla under his command was not going to come out of any such engagement victorious.


The British military commitment to Norway was quite significant. While the majority of the armed forces was either deployed at home or in West Germany, there were still troops, aircraft and marines sent to Norway. Not only were those forces sent there to defend that country’s sovereignty as part of a NATO commitment, but their deployment was to enhance the security of Britain from there too.

Making sure that Norway wouldn’t fall to Soviet occupation and become a base for attacks launched against the UK was very important to the British Armed Forces.

When LION had begun, an RAF squadron had been the first of many British military assets to reach Norway. No. 1 Squadron with sixteen Harrier GR5’s had flown from their base at RAF Wittering in Cambridgeshire to Sola Air Station in southern Norway first before then moving northwards to Bardufoss Air Station. Victor tankers refuelled the aircraft during their ferry flights all the way up into the Norwegian Arctic while Hercules transports moved personnel and some lighter equipment.

1 Squadron had previously deployed to Bardufoss on many exercises and there was fuel, weapons and equipment stored at the airbase for their use. The Norwegian guard force at the warehouses at once assisted the RAF personnel who came in by the Hercules’ in moving those stores so that 1 Squadron could quickly begin flight operations.

Behind those Harrier’s came troops from the second battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (2 RRF). 2 RRF was the British Army unit assigned to the NATO multi-nation ‘Allied Mobile Force – Land’ (AMF-L): a brigade-sized force of troops tasked with rapid movement to potential trouble spots to help defend NATO nations. The battalion was based at Bulford Camp on Salisbury Plain and had been expecting to join with Canadian, Luxembourgish, Italian, Spanish and West German units. The AMF-L was instead going to Denmark and without either Canadian or Italian troops attached, but the cold-weather trained men of the 2 RRF – along with an attached battery of guns from the Royal Artillery – was transferred out of that formation and sent by more RAF Hercules aircraft up to Evenes Airport. Like Bardufoss, Evenes was in western Finmark and near Narvik, which would quickly become the centre point of British and then American military activity in northern Norway.

The troops travelled light but there were stores waiting for them on the ground; the Norwegians had for many years agreed to warehousing much military equipment at secure sites inside their country as long as no military units were garrisoned on their territory. Once they gathered up what they needed to from those warehouses, they set off for the little town of Skibotn located on the Lyngenfjorden – a place that would soon become famous in British military history.

These first moves to establish a British military presence on the ground in Norway were undertaken with great haste by the lead units and there were very few logistical difficulties in getting them there. Such a deployment had been long practised and there was smooth Norwegian cooperation because the government in Oslo had been watching with alarm the ongoing situation with Soviet aggression.

Following those Harrier’s and then troops from Bulford Camp came other forces in the following days. The RAF moved a squadron of Jaguar GR1 strike-fighters to Norway from RAF Coltishall in Norfolk and then two RAF Regiment squadrons: one of Rapier SAM-launchers and another of airfield defence troops in light armoured vehicles. These follow-on assets moved with many supporting assets and nearly everything apart from the Jaguars and the personnel needed was sent by ship. Requisitioned civilian ships were sent from Britain to Narvik and from there the RAF was able to prepare for sustained combat operations in Norway when the need arose.

Later RAF deployments to Norway came No. 240 Squadron. This formation was an Operational Conversion and training unit in peacetime for the RAF, but it was sent with five Chinook HC1 heavy-lift and seven Puma HC1 medium-lift helicopters. These helicopters were to assist in operations for the troops that followed the 2 RRF to Norway.

The 5th Airborne Brigade was to be the main British Army fighting force in Norway and it deployed initially with its three infantry battalions – two from the Parachute Regiment and the third a Gurkha formation – along with attached battalion-sized regiments from the Royal Artillery, the Royal Engineers and the Army Air Corps. Bodo Air Station, which was further down the coast from Narvik, was where the 5th Brigade initially formed up before it was moved up to Narvik first and then to link up with 2 RRF at the Lyngenfjorden.

Within days, the 5th Brigade was joined by two squadrons from the Life Guards with their light armoured vehicles and then another battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers was flown up from their barracks at Dover. Once again this was a light formation of troops expected to move on foot or at best in trucks, but the terrain to which they were deployed to was rather rugged. There were further smaller detachments of British Army units – mainly reservists and rear-area support troops – later added, but the reinforced 5th Brigade was the main British land combat force in-place in Norway.

The Royal Marines split their forces during their deployment. Two of their combat battalions – 40 and 42 Commando – joined the flotilla of amphibious ships that left Devonport and Portsmouth to join with the RN presence in the Norwegian Sea. The 3rd Commando Brigade’s gunners, engineers and helicopters also went with the HMS Fearless, HMS Intrepid and transport ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Conditions aboard for those marines were tight but not too uncomfortable as they would have been had the extra men from 45 Commando joined them afloat. Instead, that battalion was flown from its base in Arbroath on the east coast of Scotland to Evenes where the marines were joined by instructors from the famed Mountain & Arctic Warfare Cadre – an elite unit which had spent much time training marines up in northern Norway over the years.

The Royal Marines on land were then joined by Royal Marine Reservists and small detachments fused together in the reformed 41 Commando. This battalion was two thirds strength compared to the other three, but the quality of its men was just as good as all of the others. All Royal Marines were expected to be tough and independent soldiers ready to face any conditions.

Keeping some Royal Marines afloat and the rest in the Narvik–Evenes area wasn’t just about making life more comfortable for the men.

The Royal Marines were concerned that having all of their troops aboard ships would mean that they would be running the risk of seeing all of those men drown if there was a concentrated missile attack upon those ships by enemy action. The ships would be greatly protected, but it was still not best to put all ones eggs in the same basket. 3rd Brigade was tasked as a counterattack force to defend Finmark and those marines of 41 and 45 Commando could easily be moved by ship or air when the need arose.

In addition to these deployments by the RAF, the British Army and the Royal Marines, the RN sent personnel to Norway. The part NATO-funded base at Haakonsvern near Bergen would support RN vessels at sea while the civilian facilities at Narvik were turned into a major trans-Atlantic shipping point. Having personnel on the ground at these facilities would assist RN activities in the Norwegian Sea.

Norway, along with Denmark and the Schleswig-Holstein province of West Germany, were areas assigned to Allied Forces Northern Europe (AFNORTH). This regional headquarters of NATO was answerable to General Galvin in Belgium and was commanded in-theatre by General Sir Geoffrey Howlett from Kolsas near Oslo. This former Parachute Regiment officer and commandant of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst had previously spent much of his engaged in keeping the peace politically between Norwegian, Danish, West German, American and British military personnel attached to his command. Each had different ideas as to what military forces from their country would do in preparation for a wartime situation and arguments were known to often break out between them.

With Norway now at the frontlines in the brewing East-West conflict, many of those difficulties were resolved due to the realisation that everyone needed to work together. Still, it wasn’t an easy position for anyone to hold because AFNORTH covered such a large geographical area from the mainland of West Germany and the Baltic Approaches in the south all the way up to Finmark. Thankfully, Howlett had subordinate commanders for these different geographical areas and as NATO mobilised his Danish officer-in-command down at Karup Airbase took over command of that southern area; this delegation took away much of the drama that commanding a multi-national command brought about.

Operational command for Norway was then split in two with the southern and northern portions of the country under different Norwegian military officers commanding each. The Norwegian in command of the part of his country north of Norway was an effective soldier concerned greatly about the territorial sovereignty of his country though also someone willing to work well with the American and British forces flooding into the region.

The mission of Howlett’s Northern Norway command was to stop a Soviet attempt to seize Finmark and smash NATO forces there. Intelligence reports from satellites and electronic intercepts pointed to large Soviet ground and air forces being established in the Kola Peninsula opposite Finmark. The border between Norway and the Soviet Union was small and very far eastwards with much of northern Finland geographically positioned in between.

Trying to think like their Soviet counterparts, Howlett’s operations staff devised what they thought would be a sensible Soviet military strategy for attacking and conquering Finmark. There would be airmobile and amphibious assaults to seize key points across eastern Finmark as the prelude to a land offensive following Highway-6 by the Soviet Army. That one, lonely road ran from the Soviet frontier all the way to Narvik though it was only a two-lane road that went all over the place rather than in any sort of straight line. There were countless ways to block that road as it wound through valleys between mountains and over rivers. NATO special forces troops would make any effort to put that road to use hell for the Soviet Army no matter how many paratroopers and marines of their own that they used to try to seize and guard key points. Therefore, a major flanking attack was expected to be made through Finnish Lapland, Finnish neutrality notwithstanding. There were more roads and easier terrain to traverse for an attacking force coming westwards that way.

This predicted strategy envisaged the Soviets not striking through Sweden to violate their neutrality.

Howlett knew that there was nothing wrong with such thinking on the part of his planning staff and he would be very surprised if the Soviets did anything else once they finally launched open warfare against the West. They would want to engage and destroy NATO forces in Norway because these would be seen as posing a strategic threat to the Kola Peninsula and that a-joining area of the Soviet Union. Their naval activities would want a secure left (southern) flank and by holding Finmark there would be no use of the airfields in the region against Soviet military targets.

Most of Finmark, everything east of the Lyngenfjorden, had long been written off by NATO commanders… long before Howlett arrived as AFNORTH commander. There were no large Norwegian military bases in that area and once Norwegian military mobilisation begun, the civilian authorities begun making mandatory evacuations of those Norwegians living east of the Lyngenfjorden. All Norwegian and NATO military activity – apart from fighter patrols and special forces on the ground – was thus afterwards concentrated in what was known as ‘Fortress Norway’. Between the easily-defendable Lyngenfjorden and the mountains that formed the Swedish frontier, there was just one access route for the expected Soviet spearheads to try to pour through. The Norwegians had missile boats and coastal artillery to protect the seaward flank of Fortress Norway stretching more than a hundred miles all the way back west which were supported by NATO forces too.

NATO would let the Soviets come to them after crossing much of Finmark and Lapland too and then fight them at a place of Western choosing in a position thought to be very defendable.

As the final countdown for war begun, NATO forces in Norway – with a strong British presence – waited for that coming offensive.


To the civilians who lived near Geilenkirchen Airbase in the Rhineland the last few years had seen the arrival of many big four-engined jet aircraft which made plenty of noise during their flight operations. The Dutch and West German locals (the airbase was right up against the border with the Netherlands) were told by NATO public relations people that the twenty-one militarised Boeing-707’s were vital for the national security of Western nations. All those civilians wanted was just a little bit of peace from the constant flying operations!

Geilenkirchen was home to the NATO ‘E-3A Component’. This was a collection of eighteen E-3A Sentry airborne radar aircraft and three full-sized training aircraft that came without the rotating radar-dome mounted above the fuselage. The aircraft and the base were manned by a wide collection of personnel from many NATO countries and was a joint-funded effort with the aircraft wearing the registration on their tails of the Luxembourgish Air Force (all aircraft were required by international agreement to be registered in a nation state). There were three operational squadrons which conducted regular deployments away from their home bases to various airfields across the NATO nations.

When NATO mobilised, all of the big jets flew away. Some went to Norway and others to Turkey though the majority moved to Melsbroek Airbase in Belgium; a location which was very far from the Inter-German Border and the Soviet tactical missile forces lined up behind that frontier.

Into Geilenkirchen instead came A-10A Thunderbolt attack-fighters from USAF airfields in Britain. These fighters conducted even more intense flight missions than the departed E-3A’s including very loud combat take-offs to guard against the risk of being shot down as they got airborne.

Of course, by that point the locals had more things to worry about than aircraft noise with their government making even stringent restrictions on their daily lives than the British authorities had done to their own.

The Welsh island of Anglesey was home to two military airfields: RAF Mona and RAF Valley. The former was a relief airfield for aircraft operating for the busy latter though RAF Mona had long been tasked with a wartime role.

Hawk T1 jet trainers usually flew from RAF Valley. Pilots who wanted to fly combat aircraft for the RAF were put through advanced training from this facility and the Hawk’s were a regular sight over the skies of this part of Wales as well as the Irish Sea. The locals on Anglesey didn’t really object to the airbase or the aircraft because of the significant contribution that the RAF put into the local economy. There were rules for peacetime flying that the RAF stuck too as well. In addition, there were Sea King search-and-rescue helicopters that flew from RAF Valley that were known to provide mountain and sea rescue to civilians – in this instance the military public relations people didn’t need to make any effort to reassure the people of Anglesey about the need for a military base on their island.

LION saw the Hawk’s leave RAF Valley. Like other Hawk trainers from across Britain, those aircraft were fitted with gun pods and Sidewinder missiles to provide air defence of the country. New bases were sought for the Hawk’s away from RAF Valley as ‘shadow squadrons’ were activated for their command.

Into RAF Valley and the nearby satellite airfield came the Americans. Night-time flights saw the arrival of aircraft viewed in daytime as futuristic and strange-looking black jets. Civilians were kept away from both airfields though the aircraft were photographed by a few fascinated locals. They were called ‘F-19 Ghostrider’s’, one resident of Dyffryn assured anyone who would listen to him, and written about in a technothriller book that he had read the year before.

Whatever they were called, they rarely flew during the daylight and the American airmen didn’t want anyone coming near their secretive aircraft.

On Sicily, the USAF and US Navy airbases on that Italian island had all been abandoned midway through the final week before World War Three erupted. With the Italian Parliament meeting and debating a move to intern the American military forces based there, the United States Armed Forces acted first and commenced an evacuation.

The US Navy had for many years been making use of Sigonella Airbase to base maritime patrol aircraft, helicopters and liaison aircraft there to support their Sixth Fleet operations in the Mediterranean. Sicily was centrally located and perfectly suitable for such a facility. Italian political moves to abandon its NATO allies had made such a position untenable and so the US Navy moved everything and everyone out and transferred its base in the Mediterranean across to British facilities on Cyrus… Greek-Cypriot complaints notwithstanding.

Comiso Airbase was a USAF facility where nuclear-armed BGM-109G Gryphon cruise missiles were based like they were in Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands and West Germany. Much money had been spent on constructing the infrastructure at Comiso for the missiles while at the same time the Italian Communist Party had put a lot of effort into protesting that deployment. As the Italians set about vacating their treaty commitments, a decision was taken at the highest levels in Washington that the missiles would have to go.

Once again, it was to the British bases on Cyprus to where those cruise missiles were sent. If the Greek-Cypriots were upset at the presence of conventional American military forces on their island, then they were soon going to be absolutely furious with the nuclear warheads on the BGM-109G Gryphon’s arriving too.

NATO moves like these were just the tip of the iceberg when it came to redeploying their military air and missile assets as the Western alliance prepared for war. All across the western half of the European continent, aircraft, missiles and personnel were transferred to new locations.

There was haste employed though at the same time generally everything (apart from the abandonment of bases in Italy and Greece) fell back on long-established NATO plans.

There were headquarters formations long organised for command and control of NATO air forces in Europe as well as the anticipated large reinforcement of aircraft coming from the United States. Geographical areas of operation were set up and aircraft arriving in Europe or transferring across the continent would then come under the command of these. For operations over the northern portions of West Germany as well as the Low Countries there was the Second Allied Tactical Air Force (2ATAF). The Fourth Allied Tactical Air Force (4ATAF) would command air operations over central and southern West Germany. In the north of Italy, the Fifth Allied Tactical Air Force (5ATAF) would be the headquarters there while out in Greece and Turkey there would be the Sixth Allied Tactical Air Force (6ATAF). Air operations over the Baltic Approaches and Norway didn’t have a numbered air force assigned, but one wasn’t actually needed there.

The behaviour of the government in Rome meant that the 5ATAF was not activated in-place when NATO mobilised. The Portuguese and Spanish air assets meant to deploy to Italy with American aircraft weren’t now going there. NATO military officers departed the headquarters facility that they had at Vicenza just as the battalion of American paratroopers nearby flew out for good and headed for Denmark. It was decided that the 5ATAF would be established in Denmark and Schleswig-Holstein instead.

The Greeks weren’t behaving as hostile as the Italians were to their NATO ‘allies’ but at the same time there was no way that they were willing to host NATO forces on their soil. Athens regarded such a thing as an invite to attack by Soviet forces and while they would defend themselves from external attack, they were going to do so on their own. Therefore, 6ATAF was activated only in Turkey and Cyprus. American aircraft flew into Turkish bases – the Turks were more than glad to have the reinforcement of their country’s defences – and Turkey became the southern flank of NATO.

Both 2ATAF and 4ATAF quickly doubled in size from their pre-mobilisation strengths. The two command formations previously had American, Belgian, British, Canadian, Dutch and West German aircraft assigned and those countries reinforced their commitments to the two joint air forces while the Spanish sent some aircraft to the 4ATAF too. The French Air Force was mobilised ready to support both though, mirroring what the French Army had done, stood behind NATO forces as a separate formation ready for reinforcement missions.

In Britain, both the RAF and the USAF maintained significant strength. The RAF kept many aircraft back home despite deploying some aircraft to Norway and also reinforcing those already in West Germany with the 2ATAF. There was air defence missions of the UK to be undertaken as well as the need to keep behind a long-range strike force for strategic missions. The USAF brought two extra wings of F-111’s into Britain to join the two already there while at the same time adding to their established forces for long-range strike missions a wing of F-15A Eagle fighters, a wing of their FB-111A’s, two wings of B-52G Stratofortress’ and their tactical-group of secretive F-117A Night Hawk’s: those so-called ‘Stealth Fighters’ were the aircraft sent to Anglesey.

This massive reinforcement of American air power in Britain alongside the substantial RAF forces remaining in-place meant that there were more than six hundred combat aircraft flying from British airbases ready for war. There was a large staff of British officers at RAF High Wycombe meant to command the UK Air Defence Region while the USAF had their Third US Air Force headquarters at RAF Mildenhall. Prestige-wise the British would have wanted command over all air forces based in their country, yet two thirds of that six hundred number were American aircraft. It was decided to re-designate the American command staff as headquarters for the Third Allied Tactical Air Force (3ATAF) as long as RAF High Wycombe remained a strong subordinate role in that set-up for air defence missions. With the USAF using British bases as a secure rear-are base for their planned long-range operations against attacking Soviet-led forces, the idea was that the small RAF strategic striking force would be assisted in terms of logistics, air-refuelling and intelligence by their American counterparts.

The headquarters of 5ATAF was deployed to Karup Airbase and ended up being the smallest of the NATO numbered air forces ready to defend the West against attack. There were Danish and West German aircraft as part of 5ATAF (including land-based aircraft of the West German Navy) as well as some American combat aircraft too. Many of the airbases from where 5ATAF assigned aircraft were stationed were considered at risk of direct enemy assault though and many preparations were made away from the attentions of the concerned Danes for 5ATAF to pack up and leave Denmark for southern Norway should the worst happen.

There wasn’t a numbered NATO air force for Western forces in northern Norway. AFNORTH had an air staff under General Howlett’s Norwegian subordinate commander and a USAF Lieutenant-General was sent to fill this role from the command base at Reitan near Bodo.

By establishing these separate commands with distinct areas of operation, NATO wasn’t engaged in a vanity exercise. It was a very necessary thing to do as the final countdown to war begun and the Soviets were showing no effort to come to a diplomatic solution to ease tensions. Aircraft were going to be more important in the Third World War than any other previous war and with NATO being the multi-national organisation that it was, there needed to be effective control over them with clear chains of command established.

203no RAF combat aircraft and 428no USAF combat aircraft
RAF No.1 (Strike) Group

Located at RAF Marham and RAF Honington in East Anglia
No.27 Squadron with 12no Tornado GR1’s
No.45 (Shadow) Squadron with 18no Tornado GR1’s
No.617 Squadron with 12no Tornado GR1’s

RAF No.11 (Air Defence) Group
Located at RAF Leuchars and RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Stornoway in Scotland, at RAF Leeming in Yorkshire, at RAF Coningsby and RAF Wittering in Eastern England, at RAF Wattisham in East Anglia, and at RAF Benson in Central England
No.5 Squadron with 12no Tornado F3’s
No.11 Squadron with 15no Lightning F6’s
No.29 Squadron with 15no Tornado F3’s
No.43 Squadron with 12no Phantom FGR2’s
No.65 (Shadow) Squadron with 16no Tornado F2’s
No.74 Squadron with 15no Phantom F-4J’s
No.79 (Shadow) Squadron with 18no Hawk T1’s
No.234 (Shadow) Squadron with 18no Hawk T1’s

RAF No.18 (Maritime) Group
Located at RAF Kinloss and RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Machrihanish and Prestwick Airport in Scotland, and at RAF St Mawgan in South-western England
No.8 Squadron with 5no Shackleton AEW2’s
No.12 Squadron with 12no Buccaneer B2’s
No.42 Squadron with 8no Nimrod MR2’s
No.51 Squadron with 3no Nimrod R1’s
No.120 Squadron with 8no Nimrod MR2’s
No.201 Squadron with 8no Nimrod MR2’s
No.206 Squadron with 8no Nimrod MR2’s
No.208 Squadron with 12no Buccaneer B2’s
No.235 (Shadow) Squadron with 4no Nimrod MR2’s
No.237 (Shadow) Squadron with 16no Buccaneer B2’s

USAF 17th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing
Located at RAF Machrihanish in Scotland, and at RAF Fairford in Western England
95th Reconnaissance Squadron with 6no SR-7A Blackbird’s and 13no TR-1A Dragon Lady’s (aka U-2’s)

USAF 20th Tactical Fighter Wing
Located at RAF Upper Heyford in Central England
55th & 77th & 79th Tactical Fighter Squadrons with 72no F-111E Aardvark’s

USAF 27th Tactical Fighter Wing
Located at RAF Alconbury in East-Central England
522nd & 523rd & 524th Tactical Fighter Squadrons with 72no F-111D Aardvark’s

USAF 42nd Bombardment Wing
Located at RAF Fairford in Western England
69th Bombardment Squadron with 16no B-52G Stratofortress

USAF 48th Tactical Fighter Wing
Located at RAF Lakenheath in East Anglia
492nd & 493rd & 494th Tactical Fighter Squadrons with 54no F-111F Aardvark’s
495th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron with 18no F-111F Aardvark’s

USAF 49th Tactical Fighter Wing
Located at RAF Coltishall in East Anglia
7th & 8th & 9th Tactical Fighter Squadrons with 72no F-15A & F-15B Eagle’s

USAF 66th Electronic Countermeasures Wing
Located at RAF Upper Heyford in Central England, and at RAF Lakenheath in East Anglia
42nd Electronic Combat Squadron with 18no EF-111A Raven’s
43rd Electronic Combat Squadron with 6no EH-130H’s on COMPASS CALL

USAF 366th Tactical Fighter Wing
Located at RAF Bentwaters and RAF Woodbridge in East Anglia
388th Electronic Combat Squadron with 24no EF-111A Raven’s
389th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron with 24no F-111A Aardvark’s
391st Tactical Fighter Squadron with 24no F-111A Aardvark’s

USAF 416th Bombardment Wing
Located at RAF Fairford in Western England
668th Bombardment Squadron with 16no B-52G Stratofortress

USAF 509th Bombardment Wing
Located at RAF Cottesmore in East-Central England
393rd & 715th Bombardment Squadrons with 24no FB-111A’s

USAF 513th Airborne Command & Control Wing
Located at RAF Mildenhall in East Anglia
10th Airborne Command & Control Squadron with 4no EC-135H’s on LOOKING GLASS / SILK PURSE missions

USAF 552nd Airborne Warning & Control Wing
Located at RAF Mildenhall in East Anglia
964th & 965th Airborne Warning & Control Squadrons with 16no E-3A & E-3B Sentry’s

USAF 4450th Tactical Group
Located at RAF Valley and RAF Mona in Wales
4450th & 4452nd Tactical Squadrons with 36no F-117A Night Hawk’s ]
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James G

Gone Fishin'

It was always going to be France. Thatcher had called it several day’s beforehand saying that it wouldn’t be Reagan who would blink but rather Mitterrand. The French President wasn’t going to sit twiddling his thumbs while thousands of his country’s soldiers were left stranded in West Berlin.

On the afternoon of Thursday the 10th, Mitterrand spoke to both Thatcher and Reagan via secure communications channels. He told them that later that evening he was intending to send two unarmed C-160F transport aircraft towards West Berlin. They would fly through the international air corridors over East Germany towards the city that the Soviets were holding hostage via their East German vassals. Radio broadcasts in French, German and Russian would be made over open channels proclaiming that these were humanitarian flights intent upon parachute-dropping food and medical supplies over French bases. Mitterrand wouldn’t accept the requests of either the British Prime Minister or the American President to delay such flights so maybe just maybe diplomacy could work. Instead those flights were going ahead that evening.

Both French Air Force aircraft were shot down inside East German territory not long after crossing into it and long before they reached West Berlin.

Radar images from one of the NATO E-3 radar aircraft flying over the Rhineland depicted each C-160 being approached from ahead and below once they crossed the frontier following one of the established air corridors. Radio calls had been made to the French aircraft with a ‘suggestion’ that they turn back though there were simultaneous calls made for them to continue by the French Air Force hierarchy with the stated belief that the approaching fighters were only out to escort or at worst intimate the flights. When each fighter had fired a pair of missiles from close range at both transports, the radar operators on the AWACS aircraft had only seen these at the last moment and very little warning had been given to the pilots in the defenceless transports.

As to the identity of the attacking fighters, no one on the NATO side could be sure of that. The fighters were flying from airbases inside East Germany which were known to operate East German Air Force fighters before Warsaw Pact mobilisation, but airbases behind the Iron Curtain were like those on the Western side – now flying aircraft wearing the markings of many different nations. There had been instructions issued to those fighters coming from the ground and these had been intercepted by a USAF electronic warfare aircraft also flying safely far back from the border, but such communications had been encrypted and again there wasn’t much hope of an answer being given as to who was directly responsible for the attack.

Unexpectedly, Mitterrand wasn’t as furious and ready to lash out like Thatcher and Reagan thought that he might be when they were both informed that the French aircraft had been shot down. There would have been a temptation on the French President’s part to launch some sort of military attack on those airbases where those fighters had come from, but he had restrained himself.

Over the second telephone conference of the day between the three Western leaders, Mitterrand was foremost the main speaker in that conversation like he had been in the initial one that took place. He reminded his fellow leaders that their countries – and many others – were all on a war footing and had caused untold damage to the social and economic structures of their nations. They had mobilised their armed forces and caused great upheavals in the lives of their citizens because of the threat posed to West Germany by Soviet military aggression. West Berlin had been overrun, Western troops held hostage by the Soviets and Warsaw Pact armies were now massing on the other side of the Iron Curtain. To top that off, unarmed civilian aircraft on a humanitarian mission had been shot down with their crews presumably killed.

Something had to be done, he said, something had to be done.

But what was there to be done?


The French aircraft had been downed upon the explicit orders of Shcherbytsky acting without advice of anyone else, let alone his fellow Moscow Coup conspirator Chebrikov. As soon as the rudderless Foreign Ministry informed him that the Embassy in Paris had been contacted by the Élysée Palace of French intentions, he had made sure that the equally impotent STAVKA passed on orders to Frontal Aviation assets in East Germany that those transport aircraft were to be shot out of the sky.

Shcherbytsky didn’t want any food or medical supplies dropped over West Berlin in an effort to break the stranglehold that he had instigated there.

Full of self-congratulation, Shcherbytsky then sent off a bombastic message informing Chebrikov of his ‘success’. His co-ruler, who was at that point engaged in a flying visit across Eastern European capitals meeting with the puppet rulers that Moscow had in Warsaw, Prague and Budapest, didn’t react as expected. Chebrikov was told that such an action was sure now to bring the West to accede to Soviet demands to withdraw their massed troops from the borders of the Soviet Union and its all-important vassal states.

A torrent of obscenities was released by Chebrikov in response to this. He had his aircraft put down in Budapest as planned but only to refuel and not to allow him to get off and meet the Hungarian government. Instead, his aircraft was soon airborne and flying back to Moscow.

That night, the final act of the drama that had been playing out since November 30th the previous year commenced. Like his other co-conspirator Marshal Akhromeyev had been, Shcherbytsky found himself gunned down and his body disposed of in a shallow grave. Chebrikov finally snapped and got rid of the man in a night that also saw others who had been drawn into their government – the nauseating previously disgraced Grigory Vasilyevich Romanov, Gorbachev’s one-time enemy who had been working for Shcherbytsky as his ‘consultant’ on foreign affairs, prominent among them – in what was to be a bloodlust. KGB assassination squads were busy just as they had been in November though this time they were joined by armed men wearing the uniforms of GRU too.

The military intelligence service of the Soviet Union was now subservient to the spooks of the KGB while the politicians were firmly and finally out: Chebrikov was now in sole charge of his country.

Once the killings were over and done with and the cleaning up of the spilt blood dealt with, there was the business to be done of running a country… a country which Chebrikov had acted as he had done to save from the impending disaster that it faced.

Shcherbytsky’s actions in having those French planes shot down – and presumably killing most if not all of the crews aboard them – had now made Barbarossa #2 certain.

As far as Chebrikov was concerned, this act was going to be the final straw for the West. They were now going to be hopping mad and making fast preparations to retaliate with military action of their own. He’d seen the intelligence reports from both KGB and GRU field operatives reporting back to Moscow on how strong the massed armed forces of the United States, NATO and other Western allies were as they were standing ready for war. In contrast, he had been able to read between the lines of STAVKA reports on the inadequacies of Soviet and Soviet-led military forces that stood ready to defend against a Western attack. If only numbers and strategic geography were enough then his country could deter an attack…

…but the West would be enraged by now and they would have their own spies telling them how brittle the military forces of the Soviet Union were.

Chebrikov had long being playing a delicate chess game with the West to offset this weakness that he knew his country had in not being able to defend itself. Everything had been going roughly as planned until the foolish Shcherbytsky had done what he had.

There was only one thing left to do to stop Barbarossa #2.

Marshal Nikolai Vasilyevich Ogarkov arrived in Moscow before dawn early the next morning after flying from Legnica in Poland. Marshal Ogarkov had once held Akhromeyev’s position before being removed from power and then sent to Poland because even though he had interfered where he shouldn’t have in politics, even Gorbachev had known that the man was an extremely effective soldier. He came back to Moscow because Chebrikov had demanded an audience with him and Marshal Ogarkov did exactly what he was told in returning as fast as possible.

Chebrikov wanted to know whether the armed forces of the Soviet Union could successfully launch a spoiling attack against the massed forces of the West that surrounded the country’s borders.

Marshal Ogarkov was told that Chebrikov was soon expecting an attack to come over those borders, but that the mistakes of Stalin in dealing with Hitler before June 1941 were not going to be repeated this time around. There would be no nuclear weapons used in a Western attack; Chebrikov stated that he was sure of this because he knew all about the West, but he still expected a conventional military attack.

Chebrikov wanted to know whether that coming attack could be beaten off by the Soviet Union striking out first: could this be done or not?

There were many reactions that Marshal Ogarkov could have given to this question. He could have asked Chebrikov whether the man was crazy and told him that from all of his years studying the armies of NATO they were never going to be in a position to do anything but defend their territory rather than invade that of the Soviet Union. Or, he could have informed Chebrikov that his current assignment in Legnica as that of Commander-in-Chief of Western Strategic Direction meant that he was ‘out of the loop’ when it came to making such an assessment of the worldwide capabilities of the Soviet armed forces to launch a pre-emptive attack.

If he had chosen to reply in either of those manners, or maybe just told Chebrikov that it couldn’t be done, then Marshal Ogarkov was sure that he would have been yet another victim of the murderous regime which ruled over his country and that he served too. However, at the same time, what Chebrikov was asking him to give his opinion on the feasibility of doing was actually something that Marshal Ogarkov was suddenly aware could actually be done… as long as it was done with haste. He knew all about the military technological might of the West yet they didn’t have the numbers that the Soviet Union had nor did they have the political will to assure themselves of a victory like his country could if the need arose.

A military spoiling attack to take on and defeat the opposing armed forces of the West could be undertaken with a very reasonable chance of success if its aim was to stop Barbarossa #2 – such was Marshal Ogarkov’s response.

At once, Chebrikov told his visitor that he was needed here in Moscow not in Eastern Europe. Surely there were capable and reliable men that could take the Marshal’s place there in commanding the forces assigned to attack in Western Europe? Marshal Ogarkov was needed in Moscow to command STAVKA. All the military forces of the country were to be at his disposal so that a worldwide attack against the enemies of the Soviet Union could be undertaken. Weapons of mass destruction were not to be used unless upon Chebrikov’s direct orders – he wanted to save his country, not see it destroyed in Western retaliation – but everything else was ready for Marshal Ogarkov to command.

Chebrikov’s final question for Marshal Ogarkov was to ask when was the earliest point that the pre-emptive attack could begin in this time of great danger for their country. The Army, the Air Defence Forces, the Air Force, the Navy and the forward operatives of the GRU’s Spetsnaz were all mobilised, but when was the earliest that they could be sent into action?


Operation GORDON was the first instance of military combat conducted by the British Armed Forces of the Third World War though it took place two and a half days before that war begun. Lieutenant-General Peter de la Billière, the General Officer Commanding of the South-Eastern District, organised and the led the operation that took place during a windy and rainy Friday night along the south coast of England.

GORDON had initially been a RN affair before de la Billière took over because the original information pertaining to the need to arrange a ‘welcoming party’ for Soviet commandos on the South Coast had come through them. The Soviet undercover agent Irina Ivanovna Pavlenko – who much preferred to be known as Lauren Turner – had been detained in their custody and had spoken to them at first before both the Defence Intelligence Staff and MI-5 wanted to grill her for all the information they could get out of her. The RN had fought had to maintain her as theirs though because she had told her initial questioners about the coming arrival on the South Coast of a GRU Spetsnaz team. Unfortunately for the RN, they didn’t have the assets available that the British Army’s South-Eastern District command had to interdict those special forces troops. Furthermore, the Defence Intelligence Staff chief General Sir Derek Boorman had a good relationship with his fellow British Army man de la Billière.

Nevertheless, GORDON was a joint operation between units remaining in the UK from all three armed services as well as the intelligence services and so the RN had a role to play even if it was de la Billière’s show.

Earlier in the morning, an RAF Nimrod MR2 maritime patrol aircraft detected a Finnish-registered freighter coming out of the North Atlantic and heading towards the English Channel and the Straits of Dover beyond. This aircraft was flying from RAF St Mawgan in Cornwall and engaged in routine surveillance of the sea lanes heading towards Britain. For the past week, the United States had been exchanging diplomatic notes with the Finnish government concerning Soviet military aircraft overflying that country and the use of Finnish passports and visas by suspected Soviet foreign agents.

Allied as Britain was to the United States, this meant that relations between London and Helsinki had turned sour too. It was understood that the Soviets were exerting immense pressure on the Finns, but Finland wasn’t standing up for its sovereignty as it should have been. Therefore, the Finnish freighter, which was seemingly heading back home before being caught at sea during the prelude to war and thus risking attack even as a neutral, quickly had more and more surveillance directed against it. Lauren had told her de-briefers that the GRU made much use of Finland and that she was aware of GRU activities in Britain in the past being unwittingly facilitated by Finland.

The Leander-class frigate HMS Euryalus was in the English Channel assigned to patrol duties there and it was an easy thing for the warship to do to follow the Finnish freighter as it headed towards the Dover Straits. The Euryalus used its radar to track its prey while at the same time staying out of visual range; storm clouds coming off the North Atlantic further darkened the skies as the evening wore on. Their prey was noted as not sailing directly in the main shipping lane that would take it down the center of the English Channel but rather taking a course that kept it close to the British coastline.

This suspicious behavior brought the Euryalus in closer to the Finnish vessel especially once darkness fell. In the nearby skies, another Nimrod from Cornwall joined the warship’s little Wasp HAS1 helicopter in shadowing the ship too. These British military assets were all using their radars to scan their prey watching for a smaller boat (or even possibly a lightweight helicopter) to peel away and make a dash for the coast. In addition to those radars, the Euryalus had her sonar active and searching underwater for activity. It was this that detected unusual noises coming from the Finnish freighter which were soon classified as an internal dock inside the vessel being opened and then mini-submersibles entering the English Channel.

How the RN would love to get a look at the inside of this supposedly civilian ship!

Afterwards, the ship continued onwards but British military attention was focused upon the sonar images that the Euryalus was depicting. There were two underwater vessels moving northwards away from where they had departed from their mother-ship. This point of departure was fourteen miles away from and almost due south of the mouth of Chichester Harbour on the West Sussex coast – the exact location where Lauren said that arrangements had been made by herself to establish initial shelter for a group of between twelve and sixteen men.

de la Billière had seen the vast majority of the British Army forces under his command leave the South-Eastern District over the past few weeks. The 5th Airborne Brigade had departed from Aldershot for Norway while barracks at Canterbury and Dover were empty of the troops regularly garrisoned there. Nonetheless, there were still Territorial Army forces across Kent, Surrey, East Sussex, West Sussex and Hampshire (the countries over which he had geographic responsibility) that de la Billière commanded. These troops were meant to guard the Channel ports from enemy commandoes and also vital installations like Gatwick Airport. Instead though, those part-time soldiers had been assisting in combatting civil disturbances in places like the Medway Towns, Brighton and Southampton.

Thankfully for de la Billière, there was a Special Air Service unit recently attached to South-Eastern District control and these highly-trained men had been on standby for the past few days. Most of the SAS was either in West Germany or Norway, though two companies of reservists from Britain’s elite special forces formation had remained behind in the UK and split up to serve within multiple district commands. There was a troop (a platoon-sized force) from B Squadron of 21 SAS under de la Billière’s command and these twenty-one men were deployed at Baker Barracks in Hampshire along with three helicopters and a vast array of arms.

Chichester Harbour was a wide inlet that didn’t see much use by civilian shipping and was one of the very few undeveloped areas along the South Coast. Little sailing ships and row boats used for recreational purposes were a common sight in the inlet and much of the area was a nature reserve. There were little villages all around the water’s edge but rarely any major maritime activity taking place on the water.

It was towards this inlet that the pair of Swimmer Delivery Vehicles (SDV) headed laden with their human and weapons cargoes. These mini-submersibles moved just below the surface with men in scuba gear holding on to them and weapons stored within. The SDV’s were not typical submarines with pressurised hulls offering protection to those inside but rather a moving vehicle with ‘wet’ conditions for those travelling with each.

The passengers riding the SDV’s were all GRU Spetsnaz commandos who were well-trained in the use of scuba gear among other skills. They had come a very long way from their base deep in the heart of European Russia and had been at sea for the past two weeks now and were very eager to finally get back on dry land. None of them had ever been to Britain before nor met anyone British, but they had been told that they were off to fight in the land of their enemy. They came with a wide array of armaments, but little else. Everything that they would need to survive whilst in Britain – from food and shelter to transport and intelligence on their objectives – was meant to be supplied to them when they reached Britain.

As the two SDV’s reached the entrance to Chichester Harbour, the engines aboard the little vessels struggled to enter the inlet against the tide there. Each was crewed by two of the commandos (acting as pilot and co-pilot) and much effort had to be made to enter the shelter from the English Channel that was on offer inside. Sonar operators on the Euryalus had remained tracking the mini submersibles since they had left their mother-ship and these extra noises of the engines straining were noted too. This was the final confirmation that all previous intelligence on the matter had been confirmed and a message was sent off to Aldershot by the frigate. The RN’s role in GORDON was at this point meant to come to an end, yet the Euryalus would remain offshore until the operation was over just in case the need arose for further assistance.

de la Billière was a former SAS man himself and had had no desire to remain at Aldershot while GORDON was ongoing. He expected that his decision to go out ‘into the field’ would lead to later criticism – a Lieutenant-General shouldn’t act as he was – but he was prepared to weather that when it came. Anyway, he only went as far forward as Baker Barracks on Thorney Island, it wasn’t as if he was out on the mudflats with the SAS themselves.

From Baker Barracks, which had seen the departure of its Royal Artillery garrison the week before, de la Billière watched the trio of helicopters lift off once confirmation came from the RN that the enemy commandos were inside Chichester Harbour.

One of these was an Italian-built A-109 assault transport model that the SAS had captured from the Argentinians during the Falklands War and been flying ever since while the other two were Gazelle HT2 light training helicopters that could carry a trio of passengers. Twelve of the SAS men were aboard those helicopters and on their way to meet their comrades-in-arms less than a mile away to the southeast.

Radio contact with both the airborne special forces soldiers and those on the ground was maintained through the SAS commander on-site at Baker Barracks and de la Billière listened to the communications. Everything was very professional and going just to plan.

The intelligence from Lauren pointed to one of the more sheltered bits of the inlet being the site where the Spetsnaz would land. There was a beach and some farmland near the village of West Wittering. From there, they were supposed to head to a nearby abandoned farm where there was a barn supposedly stocked for their needs. From positions above that beach, de la Billière listened as the pair of two-man teams watching over the waterline make radio calls confirming that men were coming out of the water. The SAS had starlight scopes and counted off fourteen contacts many of which were seen carrying rifles and others dragging packs out of the water too. As to the SDV’s, there was no sign of them on the beach.

GORDON was still in the watching stage at this point and so those initial SAS spotters didn’t intervene with the landing and neither did the five-man reaction force hidden in a field nearby move to engage the enemy yet either. The numbers were on the side of the Spetsnaz and they were also naturally on their guard as they came out of the water.

Intelligence stated that the Spetsnaz team had tactical maps of the immediate area but the SAS were nonetheless surprised at how well they moved from their landing site towards their ‘safe house’. It was dark and the Spetsnaz carried no artificial light with them yet they crossed that distance with haste and without drawing any attention to themselves. The SAS had been on the ground here all day long and also overflown the area so they knew the lay of the land but these foreign invaders had just come in from the sea and moved like they’d been here for years.

de la Billière was the overall commander for GORDON yet the tactical details of the operation were in the hands of lower level subordinates. He kept aloft from a conversation between the SAS field commanders – the Captain leading the men on the ground and the Major in the circling A-109 – as they decided when to strike. Hitting the Spetsnaz on the move was considered though it was eventually decided to attack them when they reached their destination where they were supposed to be spending the night. Therefore the ground force moved ahead of their prey and went fast towards that barn while the airborne force stayed in their helicopters above Thorney Island and out of sight for the time being.

It took twenty minutes for the Spetsnaz to reach the farm and when they did they stopped within a reasonable distance of the barn. A whistle was blown into by one of them and then came the signal from the barn of a flashlight being flicked on and then off again. That was the signal for them that the way ahead was clear and they were to approach.

Inside the barn, the brave young MI-5 female officer who had given that signal – she carried a physical resemblance to Lauren and was instructed to be where she was and act as she did just in case the Spetsnaz wanted further confirmation that ‘Lauren’ was there – quickly slipped out of a rear door and towards a sheltered position dug for her. She had a pistol in her coat pocket and knew that there were SAS men in close proximity yet she was frightened for her life; her duty was done though.

Three members of the Spetsnaz team went into the barn first while the others waited in two groups nearby. They were wary and on their guard but not enough that they were prepared to be physically man-handled by the SAS men inside taking them by surprise in the darkness. Afterwards the official post-mission report into GORDON would praise the unnamed soldiers in the barn there who managed to knock those men unconscious without shouts being raised or weapons being fired.

The helicopters now appeared right above the field where the rest of the Spetsnaz team was. They dropped down from a high altitude with their engines at full power while the A-109 helicopter activated a powerful spotlight recently fitted beneath the machine’s nose. There was also a megaphone speaker attached and an announcement was made in Russian:


Maybe the Spetsnaz commandos didn’t hear the call for them to give up over the noise generated by three low-flying helicopters or they were too confused by what was going on to act in the way that the SAS wanted them too. Whatever the reason, they didn’t do as they were told and put down their weapons.

Bullets from silenced AK-74M assault rifles raced up skywards towards the source of light and noise while the eleven Spetsnaz men darted in all directions while also trying to seek cover. In response, multiple shots from the SAS ground force rang out from inside the barn and positions nearby. Those special forces soldiers were using American-built M-16’s with attached night-vision sights and they scored hits on many of their targets.

Using the same helicopter to carry six SAS men as had been the one to give such a rude awakening to the Spetsnaz hadn’t been the best of ideas and though it wasn’t hit by ground fire, the A-109 did have to turn away and there was a delay in getting its passengers on the ground. There was no such problem with the other two whose pilots quickly set down to unload their passengers before getting airborne again ready to provide surveillance support in case there were any escapees from the kill zone on the ground.

For the next five minutes, there was much gunfire and instances of grenades being thrown as the Spetsnaz team found itself pinned down and trapped whilst out in the open. Their commander had foolishly gone into the barn that the SAS were using as their fire base and had himself taken prisoner and this was a major morale loss to the commandos. They had no luck against the helicopters in the sky nor any against the men all around them who were carefully taking well-aimed shots at anyone who made any movement. Only a few were soon left unharmed with everyone else either badly hurt or lying dead. Spetsnaz demanded the best from its men but these men were not here in Britain to make a last stand dying for a cause they didn’t truly understand. They realized that they must have been betrayed and there was nothing that they could do but give up. There was no way they were getting back to their landing site and the SDVs left in the water and even if they had managed that their mother-ship was now long gone.

Calls for surrender were made in Russian by the SAS and eventually these were answered by the Spetsnaz.

Back at Baker Barracks, de la Billière listened to the ‘butchers bill’ from GORDON. One of the SAS men had been killed (his life taken by a thrown grenade) and another two hit by gun shots. In return, there were eight prisoners taken: three captured in the barn and the other five who surrendered in the field where they were ambushed with two of that number badly wounded. Another six Spetsnaz men lay dead.

GORDON had been a wholesale success.

However, while de la Billière’s South-Eastern District command managed to stop this Spetsnaz team in its tracks and kill or capture all of its members, other regional commands across Britain were unable to stop infiltrations of the coastline in their sectors. Two commando teams landed in the area commanded by the Scotland District (they came by submarine), a further two teams arrived by SDV’s from a Greek-registered ship in the Eastern District, another team infiltrated Britain into the Western & Wales District by a submarine, and the final Spetsnaz team entered the South-Western District after simply walking off a Canadian freighter docked at Torbay during a massive breach of security there.

When these commando teams went into action over the next two days, the Grey Terror returned to Britain.


Sir Bryan Cartledge was given instruction early in the morning of March 12th that the British Embassy in Moscow was to close and that all diplomatic staff remaining there were to at once leave the Soviet Union just as they were doing from other Warsaw Pact countries too. Such a thing had been expected for the past week now by the Ambassador especially after all non-essential Embassy personnel had left Moscow last weekend while several consulates across the Soviet Union had closed too. Cartledge acknowledged the signal from the FCO telling him that diplomatic relations with the Soviets were being broken and also that him and his few remaining staff were to meet a specifically-charted Aer Lingus jet at Sheremetyevo Airport.

There were very few British citizens remaining in the Soviet Union – those who were foolish enough to ignore FCO advice for the past several months not to travel to the country – and the Soviet Foreign Ministry was no longer dealing with Cartledge or his staff. All intelligence gathering activities by MI-6 personnel operating from the Embassy had long ago been curtailed and there was a heavy presence of paramilitary Militia policemen outside the Embassy grounds at all times.

Cartledge was very glad to be leaving.

Not only had Dublin been persuaded by London to provide an aircraft from their national airline for the British Ambassador and his staff to use, but the Republic of Ireland was also preparing to act as a ‘protecting power’ for the little remaining British interests in the Soviet Union. This diplomatic status meant that British citizens who were left in the country could seek assistance from the Irish Embassy while government-to-government level communications between the UK and the Soviet Union would be handled through the Irish too.

Cartledge and his staff were quick to move and were aboard the jet-liner waiting for them by lunchtime.

From Moscow there was also the departure of many other diplomatic staff from many nations not just in NATO but by Western allies around the world. The threat of war was now seem by many countries as being near certain and no one wanted to see any of their representatives caught up in such a thing by remaining behind inside the Soviet Union when that country had such an awful history of respecting human rights and diplomatic privileges.

The staff from the United States Embassy joined with their Canadian counterparts in taking an Air Canada flight that also left Sheremetyevo while diplomats from the rest of the NATO countries flew out on other aircraft. Australia, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Oman and Singapore all closed their Embassies in Moscow as well.

There was no media reporting in either the Soviet Union or in the West at this move by the West and its allies to break diplomatic relations on the ground; such a thing for the time being was being kept out of the public eye.

The same situation occurred across Warsaw Pact nations and selected Soviet-aligned nations as embassies were closed and diplomatic presence by the West in those countries withdrawn after an extended period of representation being scaled back. Buildings were shuttered, official residencies emptied and diplomats flew out of capital cities.

In comparison, Soviet diplomats stayed where they were. Of the Soviet Embassies in NATO nations, only Ambassador Dubinin in Washington had had any recent contact with the government in his host nation. However, the Soviets didn’t start withdrawing their diplomats from their official buildings but rather remained silent to all efforts at communication from inside the countries where they were based.

The action that the West took with regard to its diplomats was in direct response to events that took place starting during the previous day and which would continue all weekend right up to the outbreak of war. Terrorist attacks struck civilian and semi-military targets across many nations and these instances of violence were proved to be the direct work of Soviet agents through prisoner interrogations and other intelligence means.

In the United States, American civilian authorities were overwhelmed in many cases in trying to deal with these. Explosions rocked the New York subway system during Friday morning rush-hour in a city already traumatised by rioting, looting and ethnic violence over the past week. The walking wounded streamed from station entrances all over Manhattan while there were hundreds of dead underground. Across the Hudson River from the Big Apple, the military ocean terminal at Bayonne in New Jersey was engulfed in flames from multiple points of fire as arsonists went to work there disrupting shipping operations of military equipment to Europe. Governor's Cuomo (NY) and Kean (NJ) quickly worked together to combat this pulling in national guardsmen not readying for deployment to Europe; dismounted soldiers from the famous 1/69 INF were soon on the streets of Harlem and the Bronx with Jersey City and Newark having men from the 2/113 INF on foot patrol there.

In other big American cities, local public transportation facilities faced bomb attacks. The bombs in Chicago didn’t explode as planned, but elsewhere, from coast to coast, civilians were killed and injured on their way to work. Power stations in rural areas, which supplied many of the big cities, faced sabotage efforts of immense proportion as well. Then there were the attacks directed against airports and sea ports which were being used by the military: Long Beach in California and Jacksonville in Florida saw extensive damage done to them even with the military presence on-site at each.

The trans-Alaskan pipeline was attacked with pumping stations blown up while the Alaskan State Legislature building saw shootings take place on the steps outside the building in Juneau before it met to decide how best to support military efforts there.

In Japan, the hyper-sensitive Japanese people were left cowed and frightened when two nuclear power stations suffered explosions; reactors were shut down and evacuations commenced. A mosque was bombed in Oman’s capital Muscat – the government there had agreed to host American ships and marines for an established Middle Eastern presence – and rumours spread fast blaming Westerners for the act. A super-tanker docked in Singapore was destroyed by fire and thick smoke from it poured over portions of the city state. Armed men were shot dead near Capital Hill in Canberra where the Australian government was meeting to discuss whether to send military forces to the Middle East; the security there was tight because there had been an intelligence briefing tipping them off that an attack might come.

This immense worldwide action on the part of the Soviets – in conjunction with those already ongoing in Western Europe – came as a surprise to Western governments not in its occurrence but in the intensity of the attacks and how they were in the main directed against defenceless civilians. Those who planted bombs or started fires generally avoided immediate arrest or detainment, but many of those who launched armed raids (like the attempted one in Australia) on government facilities were shot down by alert guard forces. The Soviets seemed not to care and considered these people they sent to strike at the West expendable.

When identified, those who launched the terrorist attacks were split into two defining groups by Western intelligence. There were domestic terrorists with known connections to the Soviet Union and many of these were among those who lost their lives in the attacks. The remaining terrorists were identified as being of suspected Soviet origin though few of them were caught or killed. These people were carrying false identifications that linked them to third countries when they struck but the weight of evidence pointed to many being deep-cover Soviet agents.

The last days of peace were wracked by violence being committed with civilians among the majority of the dead… as had been the case all during the build up to the Third World War.
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James G

Gone Fishin'

In the last few days of official peace, Western intelligence efforts against the Soviet Union fell into the strategic sphere as many of the usual methods of observing what was going on behind the Iron Curtain became impossible. There were no diplomats on the ground and neither were there any traditional spying operations available to be conducted. Therefore, gaining an understanding on the eve of war as to what the Soviets were doing and how they were preparing to act was left up to satellites and specialist aircraft carrying stand-off surveillance equipment – those manning the latter were put at enormous risk.

High up in space, there were no national frontiers and despite the best efforts of the superpowers, neither the United States nor the Soviet Union had the ability to enforce their claims of sovereignty high up above their countries from the passing of reconnaissance satellites. Throughout the weekend of March 12th and 13th, American reconnaissance satellites carrying various payloads of surveillance equipment flew above the Soviet Union and looked down upon that country. Photographs, video recordings and radar images were collected and internal radio communications recorded. There were various attempts to ‘dazzle’ many of these flybys from the ground with electronic interference and even laser beams, yet the satellites did their work. Many would soon afterwards be left near useless because their re-routing was urgent and their manoeuvring fuel depleted, but such things were accepted.

Along the maritime and land borders of the Soviet Union in the north, the east, the south and the west, many reconnaissance aircraft flew similarly urgent missions. There were high-flying U-2’s, supersonic SR-71’s and antenna-sprouting RC-135’s all engaged in this effort and the crews of these aircraft faced grave danger. Soviet air defence radars lit them up and fighters came up to intimidate them. No shots were exchanged, though on many occasions it was a very close-run thing.

As all of the intelligence data was collated, the conclusions were obvious: the Soviets were in the final stages of their preparations for instigating open warfare with the West.

The United States maintained the largest and most capable military forces of all those in the West. Other nations provided valuable contributions to the available armies, navies and air forces of the West, but the Americans were pre-eminent in this field due to their high-spending on defence, worldwide capabilities and political will to use military force when it came to the crunch.

The majority of the United States Armed Forces moved to the alert level DEFCON 2 on the Friday after the first wave of terrorist attacks against civilian targets across America commenced. These were regarded as a concentrated effort to deplete the countries will to resist and a sure sign that conflict was imminent. However, at the same time, strategic forces went to DEFCON 1 alert: in effect preparing for the imminent commencement of warfare that would involve nuclear weapons being used. These high levels of military alert were instigated on Presidential orders and meant that all elements of the United States Armed Forces were ready to go into action at any moment.

With those massed strategic forces of the United States being on such a high state of preparedness, this meant that the missile silos the housed ICBM’s across the country were ready to launch and so too were the SLBM’s on submarines that were out in the world’s oceans. All of these missiles had targets assigned to them and were ready to fly should America be attacked with nuclear weapons first. The intercontinental-range bombers of Strategic Air Command (SAC) were on airborne alert with bombs and missiles armed and ready to be deployed as well.

Britain and France both had nuclear weapons too, but neither nation had the numbers or the capability for the use of such as the Americans had.

This readiness by the Americans of their strategic nuclear forces for immediate use was due to a political realisation occurring in the White House that war was coming and nothing could be done to stop it. Reagan had hoped against hope that his refusal to be intimidated by Soviet blackmail efforts using their East German proxies would cause the Kremlin to back down, but this had not occurred. All the signs were now pointing to war being launched against the United States and its allies worldwide.

Whether that war would be nuclear, conventional or even both was an unknown and therefore he and Secretary of Defence Carlucci had issued instructions that the military be prepared to fight effectively in either case.

Secretary of State Grassley was unable to tell his President why the Soviets were about to launch a war or what their objectives in one would be. No one in the CIA, the DIA, the NSA or any other intelligence agency could answer that question with a definitive answer that would satisfy Reagan and there was no comfort in knowing that his fellow Western leaders who were also preparing for the Soviet onslaught couldn’t get an answer as to that intention from their advisers either.

Reagan initially wanted to remain in the White House to project an image of what he regarded as strength to the American people by doing so. His Vice President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives remained on aircraft twenty-four hours a day while the President pro tempore of the Senate and other government official high up in the line of succession were established in secure locations should the worse happen. Remaining in Washington, and letting the world know that he was, was also a strategy chosen by Reagan to maintain that image of strength abroad too; he wanted America’s enemies to know that the country would not be cowed.

However, the Secret Service didn’t want their #1 charge to remain in this fixed location… especially after a pair of near simultaneous security breaches relating to the President’s working location and his emergency transport arrangements.

Keeping close surveillance upon Reagan ready to assassinate him when military action was about to commence was regarded by the Secret Service as a certain Soviet objective. That was why security at the White House had been massively increased after George Schultz’s murder. Almost everyone who came to the White House or was anywhere near the President was regarded with the utmost suspicion. This mistrust was shown to be far from paranoid when an intern working for the office of the White House Counsel Arthur Culvahouse arrived at the White House on the morning of the 12th with a portable phone on her person. Most interns had been released from their duties due to the current international situation but Culvahouse had insisted that the young lady in his office from his native Tennessee remain. The phone had never been brought into the White House before and was examined by the Secret Service and found to have a very odd series of internal components within that resembled some sort of tracking device; it was sent off to the NSA for further verification.

Culvahouse’s intern was taken in for some tough questioning while the Secret Service strove to re-examine her initial vetting to work in the White House.

A much more serious security break occurred when a trio of armed intruders were spotted and then engaged by Marines at Anacostia naval airfield just outside Washington. All three trespassers were unfortunately shot dead before any interrogations of them could be tried, but the young men from ‘Helicopter Marine Squadron One’ (HMX-1) naturally decided to shoot first and ask questions later because those Marines tasked with providing emergency evacuation to the President. HMX-1 operated green- and white-painted VH-3D helicopters and were on forward detachment at Anacostia from their home base at Quantico.

These instances led the Secret Service to insist that Reagan leave the White House; they were greatly alarmed that there would be further threats to the President. There was an underground communications facility at Raven Rock in Pennsylvania’s Blue Mountains (also known as ‘Site R’) that was regarded as immensely secure, but Reagan made it clear that he wasn’t going there. Instead, like Bush and Jim Wright, Reagan ended up entering an aircraft for the foreseeable future: an E-4B, the Doomsday Plane.


Thatcher was much more mentally prepared that Reagan was for war to break out.

She had seen such a conflict occurring for some time now and pinned little hope on the Soviet leadership – whoever was in charge there – being placated. Furthermore, she had been ready to put a stop to any Western concessions to the murderous and undemocratic regime in Moscow. This wasn’t warmongering on her part, far from it, but a realisation that Chebrikov and Shcherbytsky (who no one in the West was aware yet was pushing up daises) just wouldn’t be satisfied with anything less than abject surrender of everything the West held dear: democracy, free trade and the right of sovereign countries to choose their own destinies.

She decided that she would stay in Whitehall along with her War Cabinet and not take the advice of either the Civil Service or the military to evacuate to an underground bunker in the Chilterns. There were Ministers of the Crown in bunkers up and down the country ready to assume leadership should London be destroyed by a Soviet missile; her place was at the seat of Government… even if steel barricades manned by soldiers separated a good chunk of Central London from the rest of the city.

When asked why she was staying put, she stated that the British people were not hiding in bunkers so neither could she. That would have made great politics, if anyone was listening. In reality, Thatcher knew that if nuclear weapons were used against the UK, even just the one, then the country would face irreplaceable damage and the loss of life would be immense. There would be nothing left behind. Britain was too small and there was no effective civil defence for sheltering civilians from the immediate and then after effects of a nuclear attack.

Whether the Soviets would attack Britain with their nuclear weapons was the great unknown. All intelligence pointed to them being ready to launch a conventional attack worldwide against the West, but the potential for the use of nuclear weapons was something that couldn’t be gauged because the thinking of those in the Kremlin was too difficult to understand. As far as Thatcher saw it, war with the Soviet Union meant an eventual Western victory. Unless the ultimate weapons of warfare were used – after which the Soviets could expect a devastating nuclear counterattack to come down upon their heads – then she saw that the West would prevail in such a conflict. The naysayers weren’t convinced, but Thatcher was. Millions may lose their lives, countries near destroyed and governments would fall, but in the end final victory would be achieved by the West.

That would be the death of communism too – an outcome that Thatcher would much prefer to happen peacefully, but understood was only going to come about by war.

The Prime Minister was working eighteen hour days and tiring herself out. As was her style, Thatcher wanted to be kept thoroughly informed of everything that was going on and be involved wholly in the decision-making process when it came to all matters. With Parliament not sitting because its members were dispersed to their constituencies and most of the Government hiding in bunkers, everything seemed to fall upon her shoulders.

Her days and nights were spent listening to briefings on military matters, the national security state of affairs and the still terrible social situation that Britain was in. The things that she was told often left her mad or outraged, but she got on with her job and kept telling herself that she was doing the right thing. Of course history would not be kind to her… but when had it been?

When briefed upon the military situation, Thatcher listened carefully to what she was told on how the Soviet-led military build-up was continuing in their final preparations for war. She was told of how the armies of the West were outnumbered thought at the same time understood there was a marked qualitative edge that NATO and its allies had. The British military and it’s allies faced off against a more numerous enemy yet at the same time was expected to hold its own in combat. There were many offhand comments from the military about how if things had been done different in the past – if more money had been allocated to defence, if there had been the political will to expand the armed forces etc. – then the dangers wouldn’t be so great, yet that was the way things were and nothing could change that now.

The results of Operation GORDON had been relayed to Thatcher and she had been impressed by that military action had taken place, though at the same time she wasn’t best pleased when efforts to counter the entry into Britain of other Soviet commandos had failed. These Spetsnaz teams had at once started attacking Britain and while not acting as they had done in the United States in going directly after civilians, many people were still losing their lives while the security forces tried to hunt down and eliminate these invaders. Thatcher made it clear that no effort was to be spared in putting a stop to their activities while at the same time thankful that when TtW had begun, the entry into the country of further Soviet commandos had been stopped.

The general public was still living in fear of being atomised in a Soviet nuclear attack, yet it was reported to the Prime Minister that the worst excesses of social disorder – rioting, mass outbreaks of arson and widespread looting – had come to an end. There were many explanations offered for this, but Thatcher felt that it hadn’t been at all to do with a political settlement being made or trouble-makers detained by the security services. Instead, the easing of those draconian restrictions had been eased and so of social order had been restored.

She had come to realise that TtW had been implemented too fast and with little regard as to how it was going to affect people. The decisions made to enact rationing overnight, stop people travelling and shut down the media had not been the wisest thing to do. It had cost many lives too.

As to those people detained in the initial stages of TtW – before the Security Service started acting like grown-ups – Thatcher read a report authored by the Cabinet Secretary, the head of the Civil Service Robin Butler, concerning those suspected subversives held by MI-5. She had not been best pleased at all by what Butler had found out was going on with the conditions of those detainees being held and also the ‘evidence’ that the Security Service had used to arrest and then continue to detain them. When first briefed upon the need to apprehend such a large number of civilians from the wide background that they hailed from, she had put a lot of faith in Antony Duff’s judgement: that had been another bad mistake on her part.

Thatcher expected that for many years after the coming war ended, there was going to be a lot of political debate about this issue and none of those involved in it all – from her downwards – were going to come out of it well. It was on the Sunday morning that Thatcher read this report (the day before the war, yet she didn’t know that) and therefore too late to act properly. However, she did instruct Antony Duff that some of the detainees should be released and given priority access to medical care. Many of those elderly Marxist historians and CND organisers were really not a threat to their country and also in a bad way.

Such issues aside, Thatcher, like the rest of the country, waited for the opening salvoes of armed combat that would be World War Three to finally commence.


Marshal Ogarkov needed much more time than he was given. Chebrikov had made it clear that he wanted the military attack – now named RED BEAR – which could pre-empt the expected Western strike to begin as soon as possible but STAVKA had made such a mess of the initial deployments of Soviet military forces into defensive positions that Marshal Ogarkov really needed several weeks rather than the several days he was given to get everything ready. Too much of the Army and Navy were in the wrong position and it was only the relatively easy movable Air Force and Air Defence Forces that Marshal Ogarkov was able to redeploy into new locations that he was happy with so to allow RED BEAR to succeed.

There was nothing but foul guttural curses that Marshal Ogarkov had for his predecessors.

Chebrikov’s instructions were that the Soviet military needed to strike out to stop the West from invading the Soviet Union and its allied buffer states first and so the focus of what would become RED BEAR was to combat the military forces of the West. Therefore, Marshal Ogarkov’s plan was less about conquering territory and more directed against combating Western military forces. Of course, immense areas of land belonging to other nations would need to fall into Soviet hands, but the aim was to fight and destroy the enemy’s combat arms. It had been immensely difficult for Marshal Ogarkov to get the remaining staff officer planners at STAVKA to understand this and draw up the final details of RED BEAR to reflect this strategic aim because they were not used to thinking in such a manner.

RED BEAR was not perfect. Marshal Ogarkov knew this and he did explain this to Chebrikov. The plan would be implemented though because the situation that the Soviet Union found itself in – with enemies all around ready to strike first – was dire.


While other theatres of military operation were of great importance, it was primarily in Western Europe were the main weight of Soviet military activity would commence. There NATO had concentrated the bulk of its military might ready to invade the German Democratic Republic and ‘liberate’ West Berlin. Marshal Ogarkov agreed with Chebrikov that that would just be a cover for conquering East Germany and then Poland and Czechoslovakia too. Afterwards, NATO armies would be poised to enter the European portions of the Soviet Union too…

‘Western Strategic Direction’ (West-TVD) was Marshal Ogarkov’s former command and he had previously done as instructed and positioned the assigned forces and reinforcements to defend Eastern Europe from attack. RED BEAR had those massed armies and air assets now preparing to move forward and a reorganisation took place there from a defensive to offensive role.

East German, Polish and Czechoslovak (not near useless Hungarian units) ground and air forces were integrated into West-TVD’s structure for their planned attack westwards, which consisted of seven separate combined arms ‘Fronts’. Four of these – the Baltic Front, the First Western Front, the Second Western Front and the Third Western Front – were tasked with the first echelon strike role invading the southern reaches of Norway, Denmark and West Germany in a co-ordinated massive assault. Behind them would be the Polish Front as a second echelon penetration and counterattack force with the Belorussian Front and the Carpathian Front following as a third echelon ready to finish off any remaining NATO forces that might survive the initial and follow-up assaults.

The commanders of these army groups, which had attached air forces, had been made to understand that they were to engage and destroy all Western military forces that they came across and also to chase those who might try to escape rather than let them flee. Civilian casualties and the destruction of infrastructure was of no importance in their primary mission of eliminating the threat to the invasion of the Soviet Union.

The make-up of these army groups that were led by Front commanders that Marshal Ogarkov had personally chosen consisted of Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces that were a mixture of units in-place in Eastern Europe before Soviet mobilisation and those moved in afterwards. In addition, many formations had been shunted around from their usual peacetime higher formations and placed within different groupings. Where NATO intelligence could beforehand point to the known divisions assigned to both the Soviet Third Shock & Eighth Guards Army’s (two well-regarded field armies stationed in East Germany) there had been transfers and additions undertaken with both so that they could perform their assigned missions for RED BEAR. The Soviet Sixteenth Air Army was rolled in peacetime as the higher command for all Air Force units in East Germany but now fighter regiments had been taken away from it and assigned to the Soviet Fourth Air Army that had moved in from Poland so that both numbered air armies were of near equal strength and could provide air support for the Second and First Front’s respectively.

The ground and air units of the West-TVD were at full strength and so too were the combat supporting arms dedicated to direct assistance of all those infantry, tanks and combat aircraft. There was plenty of artillery, rocket launchers, engineers, helicopters and anti-aircraft missile batteries on-hand. Ammunition and fuel were further commodities in-place to support RED BEAR in Western Europe. What the Front’s stationed in Eastern Europe were short of were what NATO would call ‘service support’: logistics, transportation and equipment maintenance support. The ability to fully support the massed armies and air forces for sustained combat operations over a long period was something that the Soviet forces were going to struggle with.

Soviet forces located in the north-western portion of the Soviet Union were under the command in peacetime of the ‘Leningrad Military District’ headquartered in the city after which it was named. This headquarters controlled a field army, a pair of independent army corps and the Soviet Seventy-Sixth Air Army; the Navy and the Air Defence Forces were not part of this command.

In preparation for RED BEAR, Soviet forces massed to strike against both Norway and Finland; the ground and tactical air forces came under the command of the Arctic and Leningrad Front’s with Army and Air Force staff. Above these pair of headquarters was the newly-formed ‘North-Western Strategic Direction’ (NW-TVD), one which was under the command of officers from the Navy. Military action in this region of the Soviet Union and beyond was going to encompass operations out into the oceans not just on land. Marshal Ogarkov had made sure that the Navy task force sent out into the Norwegian Sea was pulled back to the Barents Sea so that the long-established ‘Bastion Defence’ strategy would come into play. The Barents and White Seas were areas of great importance to the Soviet military and they needed defending despite other objectives of the NW-TVD to smash NATO forces assembling opposite them.

NW-TVD kept its forward deployed submarines out in the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic though when the surface forces were pulled back and there were many Soviet Naval Aviation aircraft ready to conduct missions like they were far out at sea.

The vast majority of Soviet forces stationed in Moldova and the Ukraine were assigned to the West-TVD yet there were still other assets left behind as well as in the Caucasus, in particular Navy and Air Defence Forces now assigned to the ‘South-Western TVD’ (SW-TVD) headquartered in Kishinev. Marshal Ogarkov had told Chebrikov that Turkish military forces and the small American presence there didn’t pose an immediate threat to the Soviet Union. To the west lay Romania and Bulgaria – through which no Turkish attack was going to come – and there were mountains in the Caucasus to the east. The Black Sea lay in the centre and the Navy had established a strong presence there that made any attack across the water impossible.

Before Marshal Ogarkov returned to Moscow, attention had been focused on moving the Black Sea Fleet forward to a position north of the Turkish Straits. The intention was to threaten the Turks into thinking that Soviet forces would be able to seize that strategic waterway but the forces of the SW-TVD were not strong enough to achieve that aim and neither did Marshal Ogarkov want that to be tried. Trying to capture the Turkish Straits would meant occupying Istanbul and that was far beyond the capabilities of the Soviet forces in theatre.

For RED BEAR, forces of the SW-TVD would concentrate on attacking NATO air and naval bases in Turkey and striking military forces concentrated around the Turkish Straits but no more.

The Mediterranean theatre had once been immensely popular to Soviet foreign policy objectives but Chebrikov had no interest in the region for the time being. With Italy and Greece both not supporting their NATO allies, there were few Western forces there apart from American, French and Spanish ships along with some marines from those countries moving towards Turkey.

Soviet ships and submarines assigned to the Black Sea Fleet had either entered the Atlantic and the Red Sea (the latter on their way to the Indian Ocean) or had entered Libyan and Syrian ports. Marshal Ogarkov didn’t see that it was worth any investment in the region and let Chebrikov scheme up ideas for the post-war world there instead.

Like in the Mediterranean, Soviet forces in the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean were primarily naval and were not that strong. There had been no time to reinforce them even if Marshal Ogarkov wanted to. Again, there were no major RED BEAR objectives in the region. At the same time there were American ships and marines there but there was little that they could do to threaten the Soviet Union from such a positioning.

Soviet Navy forces were sent to Indian ports for the time being where the expectation was that the Americans wouldn’t attack them without the risk of drawing India into conflict. In addition, Chebrikov had told Marshal Ogarkov that KGB operations in the volatile Middle East were going to keep the American military very much occupied.

The Far Eastern Strategic Direction (FE-TVD) headquarters was located at Ulan-Ude near Lake Baikal. The command staff there controlled all Soviet forces positioned near China, in Mongolia and along the Soviet Pacific coast. Large numbers of troops, aircraft and missiles were under command along with the Pacific Fleet; the latter like the Northern Fleet contained many strategic missile submarines.

Under RED BEAR, Marshal Ogarkov ordered many staff officers from the FE-TVD to instead establish a new headquarters at Khabarovsk: the ‘Pacific-TVD’. Chebrikov assured his top military commander that China was going to stay neutral in an East-West conflict but that guard needed to be maintained against that country in case things changed there. Thus the FE-TVD kept the majority of its Army and Air Defence Forces under command while Air Force and Navy assets moved to be reassigned to the headquarters at Khabarovsk instead.

There were substantial American and Western-allied military forces deployed facing the Soviet Far East from those in Alaska, at sea in the western Pacific and in Japan and South Korea. Those in Alaska and South Korea posed no real threat to the Soviet Union, but those in Japan and at sea were a real danger. Pacific-TVD was instructed to attack and destroy them but to overall maintain a defensive position by not overreaching themselves.

The Pacific Fleet moved backwards towards the Soviet coast where Naval Aviation aircraft as well as land-based maritime missiles were concentrated. The Air Force dispersed itself in expectation of attacks on its bases though at the same time was ready to hit American forces too.

Cuba was one of the very few Soviet allies outside Eastern Europe that would take part in RED BEAR. There was a Soviet garrison on the island along with access to a submarine base. Meanwhile, the Cuban Armed Forces were large and well-armed.

The American military intervention in Nicaragua had shown how the United States cared little for Latin American public opinion and both Havana and Moscow expected that when the West struck at the Soviet Union they would attack Cuba too. There were still large and capable American military forces in the Caribbean from southern Florida to Guantanamo Bay at sea and down in Belize, Honduras and Nicaragua. None of these had been rushed to Europe like other American forces and they remained in-place in a threatening position towards Cuba.

RED BEAR would involve Soviet and Cuban forces launching naval and air attacks across the region as well as marching into Guantanamo Bay. This would stop an attack against Cuba and also distract the Americans from elsewhere by combating them close to home.


Marshal Ogarkov had done all that he could with the forces available to him and the little time that he had to prepare. Like Chebrikov, he too was utterly convinced that the West was about to strike first against his country and therefore he truly believed that he was doing the right thing in pre-empting that attack first.

[ Warsaw Pact Forces in Europe
Soviet Northern Fleet
Soviet Northern Fleet Aviation

ARCTIC FRONTpositioned in the western Kola Peninsula
Soviet Sixth Combined Arms Army (with six divisions)
Soviet Seventy-Sixth Air Army

LENINGRAD FRONTpositioned in Karelia
Soviet Thirtieth Guards Army Corps (with three divisions)
Soviet Baltic Fleet
Soviet Baltic Fleet Aviation

BALTIC FRONTpositioned in northern East Germany
Soviet Ninth Airborne Corps (with three airborne divisions)
East German Fifth Combined Arms Army (with five divisions)
Soviet Fifteenth Air Army
elements of the Polish Air Force

FIRST WESTERN FRONTpositioned in western East Germany
(with one airborne division)
Soviet Second Guards Tank Army (with five divisions)
Soviet Third ‘Shock’ Combined Arms Army (with five divisions)
Polish Second Combined Arms Army (with five divisions)
Soviet Twentieth Guards Combined Arms Army (with four divisions)
Soviet Fourth Air Army
Soviet Twenty-Sixth Air Army
elements of the East German Air Force

SECOND WESTERN FRONTpositioned in western East Germany
(with one airborne division)
Soviet Twenty-Eighth Combined Arms Army (with five divisions)
Soviet Eight Guards Combined Arms Army (with five divisions)
Soviet First Guards Tank Army (with four divisions)
East German Third Combined Arms Army (with four divisions)
Soviet Sixteenth Air Army
Soviet Twenty-Fourth Air Army
elements of the East German Air Force

THIRD WESTERN FRONTpositioned in western Czechoslovakia
(with one airborne division)
Soviet Thirty-Eighth Combined Arms Army (with four divisions)
Czechoslovak First Combined Arms Army (with four divisions)
Soviet Eighth Tank Army (with five divisions)
Czechoslovak Fourth Combined Arms Army (with four divisions)
Soviet Thirty-Sixth Air Army
Soviet Fourteenth Air Army
Czechoslovak Air Force

POLISH FRONTpositioned in eastern East Germany
Polish First Combined Arms Army (with five divisions)
Soviet Eleventh Guards Combined Arms Army (with five divisions)
Polish Fourth Combined Arms Army (with three divisions)
Soviet Fifth Air Army
elements of the Polish Air Force

BELORUSSIAN FRONTpositioned in western Poland
Soviet Seventh Tank Army (with four divisions)
Soviet Fifth Guards Tank Army (with four divisions)
Soviet First Guards Combined Arms Army (with four divisions)

CARPATHIAN FRONTpositioned in south-western Poland & Czechoslovakia
Soviet Thirteenth Combined Arms Army (with four divisions)
Soviet Sixth Guards Tank Army (with four divisions)
Soviet Fourteenth Guards Combined Arms Army (with four divisions)

The field armies and numbered air armies are not exclusively ‘national’. For example, the East German 5th CA Army contains Polish and Soviet units too and this is repeated elsewhere, especially with the air armies.]


NATO and the Western allies, led predominantly by the United States, assembled their military forces ready for combat just as the Soviets did. By the night of March 13th these were as prepared as they were ever going to be.

For overall command organisations, the West fell back on long-established headquarters commanding theatres: Pacific Command, Atlantic Command, European Command and Central Command (the latter commanding the Middle East deployed military forces of the West). Each had an American military officer at its head though they were truly international affairs especially European Command now with SACEUR out of his Mons headquarters and ‘in the field’.

Unlike the difficulties that the Soviet-led forces were having with their necessary but weak rear-area military support assets, this was an area that the NATO forces excelled at. Technical support for complicated military equipment was something that the West had in abundance and so too were excellent logistics links. In comparison though the West was facing the problems of immense civilian disturbances where the Soviets and the Warsaw Pact forces had internal security troops on-hand ready to shoot anyone who caused them any difficulties.


Like the Soviet-led forces, the majority of the military focus of the West was on Western Europe. SACEUR General Galvin had complete control over all military forces in the northern and western portions of Europe and the a-joining waters. His two principle subordinate commands were in Northern Europe under General Howlett and the German General Hans-Henning von Sandrart in Western Europe.

Up in Norway, the American 10th Light Infantry Division had now arrived in-country and deployed into the Fortress Norway position. The formation was understrength with only two combat brigades and it had taken time to get it across the Atlantic because there had to be last-minute training done with the division’s soldiers. Three Norwegian divisions were lined up alongside the US Army division in-theatre. The majority of these troops were reservists and conscripts but the Norwegians were well-armed and wholly committed to defending their country. The British 5th Airborne Brigade was on the ground in Norway too with a counterattack mission assigned to it.

Off the Norwegian coast, there were American, British and Dutch marines aboard amphibious ships ready like the British Army Paras to be sent into action to oppose any long-range Soviet assault. The American 2nd Marine Division was the largest of these forces with the Royal Marines having a brigade of troops and the Dutch just a single but effective marine battalion present (working with the Royal Marines).

On land in northern Norway there were few NATO aircraft actually flying from airbases such as Andoya, Bardufoss, Bodo and Evenes. This was due to necessary commitments elsewhere as well as the massing of naval aircraft flying from aircraft carriers off the coast. Still, the RAF Harrier’s and Jaguar’s, along with the A-10’s, F-4’s and F-16’s of the USAF (mainly flew by reservists crews), were regarded as being capable of fully supporting the Norwegian Air Force in defending their territory from Soviet attack.

The carriers carrying those combat aircraft out in the Norwegian Sea were surrounded by a massive armada of Western naval power. The forces up in the Norwegian Sea and off the coast of Norway were just the frontlines of the massive presence of NATO naval power that stretched back to the west and to the south too protecting the sea lines of communication that connected North American and Europe. Command of this naval effort was in the hands of Atlantic Command at Norfolk in Virginia and not General Galvin’s headquarters. The American aircraft and troops in Iceland did come under SACEUR’s command though.

Despite the vast majority of Norwegian troops being deployed up in the north around the Lyngenfjorden position, there were still many other Norwegian forces deployed throughout the country. Unlike the rest of NATO who seemed convinced that the Soviets would respect Swedish neutrality, the Norwegians were taking no chances with that. They left troops at many other locations all throughout the central and southern portions of their country in case an attack came through Sweden against the many ports and airports that littered the coast of their country.

As it turned out, the Norwegians were not as unnecessarily paranoid as their allies thought that they were.

In Denmark, the Danish government and military high ranks had secretly written off the chances of defending significant portions of their country from Soviet attack. The intention was that the capital Copenhagen on Zealand could be held along with the Jutland Peninsula, but that most of the islands that made up the southern and central portions of the country were going to fall into Soviet hands.

In the waters of the western Baltic, the Danish Navy had been joined by much of the West German Navy in massing to combat the expected Soviet-led amphibious assaults into Denmark. The Germans had most of their bigger vessels out in the North Atlantic on combat duty, but their missile boats and coastal submarines joined with the fast ships of the Danish Navy there.

Across in the Jutland Peninsula and in Schleswig-Holstein there was the Allied LANDJUT Corps consisting of American, Danish and West German troops; three divisions. Their mission was to stop a Soviet attack coming across Holstein and racing for the Kiel Canal before taking Schleswig and the Jutland Peninsula behind. Airmobile operations by the Soviets, and their East German and Polish allies, were expected but the LANDJUT Corps was positioned ready to stop such an attack… or so NATO hoped.

The 5ATAF had settled into its new position in the Baltic Approaches theatre. A wing of four squadrons of F-16 multi-role fighters from Florida formed the USAF component of this multi-national force with the Danes providing their own F-16’s while the Luftwaffe had Alpha-Jet lightweight fighters and the West German Navy had maritime-rolled Tornado strike-bombers available.

The British Second Army had faced little change in the past week with all five corps commands still assigned to defend their assigned areas. General Kenny had wanted the newly-arriving American XVIII Airborne Corps to come under his command but instead the three divisions – 24th Mechanized Infantry, 82nd Airborne (with two not three brigades) and the 101st Air Assault Infantry – that formed that command had gone to join the US Seventh Army. Nonetheless, the Second Army was still regarded by its commander of being able to hold its own in the defensive positions established on the North German Plain.

NATO forces would be fighting on territory that they knew very well indeed and over which they had for decades been practising defending. There were multiple fall-back positions for General Kenny’s command to withdraw to in carefully-planned stages but to overcome those the attacking Soviets would need to concentrate their fire power effectively. Soviet Army doctrine called for the massing of numbers so that the attacking force of any well-defended position would be three-to-one, even four-to-one in favour of the attacker. Unless all of General Kenny’s intelligence was wrong, the Soviets were going to push those numbers of troops into the defended areas that his command occupied.

Within the British Second Army, the British 3rd Armoured and West German 7th Panzer Division’s, both of which General Kenny had previously assigned as independent counter-attacking formations, had been joined together as ‘Kampfgruppe Weser’. Their commander was a West German and the two divisions were tasked to act together to smash any Soviet armoured penetration into the British Second Army’s rear.

The 2ATAF was on-hand to support the British Second Army with hundreds of combat aircraft from the Belgian and Dutch Air Forces, the Luftwaffe, the RAF and the USAF. Their bases were spread all over the western reaches of West Germany and into the Low Countries with heavy defences against enemy attacks using aircraft, missiles and commando teams.

The US Seventh Army was positioned all across the German states of Hessen and Bavaria and in defensive positions like the British Second Army was that it had long practised fighting from. There were five corps commands within the US Seventh Army: three were American and two were West German. In addition, the Canadians had formed a division from their established forces in West Germany and reinforcements flown in from Canada.

Recently, the Spanish Army had arrived with troops of their own reaching southern Germany too.

Up on the North German Plain, the British Second Army had some room to manoeuvre and thus operate a better defensive strategy than there was in the central and southern reaches of the country. The West Germans were insistent that their cities and industrial areas couldn’t be abandoned in the face of Soviet attack. Where the US V Corps was positioned in the Fulda Gap behind them lay the approaches to Frankfurt, the financial heart of West Germany. Down in Bavaria, the West German II Corps were positioned between the Czechoslovak frontier and the historic city of Munich. The Americans worried over how concerned their West German allies were about these cities and what lengths that they might go to defend them and therefore were glad that at least with Frankfurt it was American troops positioned east of the city.

The 4ATAF was an immensely strong force stationed at airbases mainly located within the Rhineland. Like those of the 2ATAF, those bases were believed to be reasonably safe against enemy attack and they were home to Luftwaffe, RCAF and USAF combat aircraft. With the USAF F-15C’s that the command held, there was a confidence that air superiority, even if the face of massed Warsaw Pact aircraft, was going to be near assured.

The French First Army was positioned from the southern Netherlands down through the Rhineland and into western Bavaria. There formations under command were suited to mobile warfare rather than defensive operations and individual corps and divisional commanders of the First Army were eager to be let off the leash the moment that main Soviet axis’s of advance were plotted.

French Air Force combat aircraft were massed ready to provide support for forward-deployed NATO air and ground forces too from their many bases. France wanted to keep many of their aircraft back for air defence of their country as well as nuclear strike missions should the worst occur, though they still had many of their aircraft ready for NATO missions.

The Turkish Armed Forces were fully prepared for combat operations that they expected to take place by the Soviets to seize control of the Turkish Straits along with other amphibious operations against their Black Sea coastline. Unless all NATO intelligence was wrong, there would be no attack via Bulgaria or from the Caucasus but rather straight against their country from the north.

Troops, aircraft and warships were ready to defend against Soviet aggression and most of the military equipment was advanced weaponry from the United States and West Germany. Their civilians were the least affected of all those in the NATO countries and GRU Spetsnaz attacks within Turkey had been rather ineffective due to Turkish domestic security forces having a long (and bloody) history of dealing with terrorists.

Geographically located as Turkey was, the government hadn’t been happy with the behaviour of Rome and Athens in abandoning them and the rest of NATO though what did the Turks ever expect from either the Italians or the Greeks anyway?

There were USAF aircraft in Turkey at several bases and also American marines from the 6th Marine Brigade in-country too. Fighting would mainly be done by Turkish units, but the government was glad that the Americans would be shedding their blood too in defending the country: such action would make sure that the United States wouldn’t abandon them.

The American aircraft carriers USS America and USS John F. Kennedy were both in the Mediterranean with the former near the entrance to the Aegean Sea and the latter south of Sicily and near Libya. The United States didn’t have any intelligence pointing to Libya preparing to attack in conjunction with the Soviets, but the Libyans had never been predicable. Less than two years before Operation EL DORADO CANYON had hit the Libyan military hard though and it was thought that they hadn’t recovered.

There were French and Spanish naval forces in the Mediterranean too, but it was an American affair overall. The America was assigned to upcoming operations near Turkey but unless the Libyans acted the Kennedy was soon to leave the region and head for the Middle East via Suez and the Red Sea.

Operating under the banner of Central Command, Western forces in the Middle East and the Indian Ocean were not that large and again mainly American.

The carrier USS Enterprise was in the Arabian Sea monitoring Soviet vessels heading for Indian ports while the battleship USS Iowa was off Oman where the 1st Marine Division had established itself. Should American military intervention be needed anywhere in the Middle East, or even further afield, then these forces were ready to be redeployed.

Meanwhile, their presence was to make sure that even with World War Three about to erupt, cheap oil kept flowing from the Middle East to the West. The oil exporting countries that were not hostile to the West there had seen American pressure exerted upon them to make sure that nothing changed there.

There were American troops and marines in both Japan and South Korea along with a USAF presence. Tasked with defensive missions against North Korean and Soviet attacks, these forces were not capable of major offensive action. British Gurkhas from Brunei and Hong Kong were also in attendance, but once again this theatre was in the main an American affair.

At sea, Singapore and New Zealand had warships in the Western Pacific near the Asian mainland though all naval forces were dominated by the presence of three American aircraft carriers with their attendant escort forces. These were tasked with assisting in the defence of Japan and South Korea as well as making sure that the Soviet Navy didn’t break out into the Pacific to cause trouble.

The 6th Light Infantry Division in Alaska and USAF assets there had recently been reinforced by reservist troops and aircraft (plus some Canadian units) ready to defend the state against Soviet attacks which were expected to take place there. No one gave any serious thought to an invasion of all things, but preparations were made as best could be against attempts to put Soviet troops on American soil.

In the Bering Sea, Pacific Command had held on to the aircraft carriers USS Nimitz and USS Carl Vinson from attempts by the Atlantic Command to have these vessels diverted to the North Atlantic by way of the long route around the bottom of Southern America. Admiral Hays in Hawaii had argued that it would take far too long to send those two carriers on that long journey and before they reached the North Atlantic hostilities might even be over.

He wanted them to help strike against Soviet targets in the Far East just like the other three carriers under his command – USS Midway, USS Ranger and USS Constellation – were tasked with too. A follower of the ‘Lehman Doctrine’ drawn up by the former Secretary of the Navy after which this was named, Admiral Hays subscribed to that theory that by striking at the Soviet Union in the Far East, the Soviet military would face great distractions to its efforts in Europe.

In the Caribbean, American military forces were deployed surrounding Cuba to the north and east with a presence further south. The USS Coral Sea was still in theatre with land-based US Navy aircraft flying from Florida too alongside USAF aircraft. Troops from the 7th Light Infantry Division alongside the brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division were ready for action while the marines in the region were operating under the command of the 4th Marine Division with many of them being reservists rather than full-time marines.

American military intelligence noted the mobilisation of the Cuban military though they believed that the Cubans would only defend themselves if attacked first. Instructions from the President were that no pre-emptive action was to take place so a stand-off was expected when fighting would erupt elsewhere. This annoyed many American military officers who had desires to take on the Cubans in a fight they expected to win.

What no one on the American side expected was Cuban air attacks against Florida and that Guantanamo Bay was to be invaded.

Across in western France, a build-up was taking place with American troops arriving in great numbers to join with French soldiers. The former were tens of thousands of National Guardsmen from across the United States with the latter being French reservists who had not been sent direct to West Germany.

NATO hoped that this effort wouldn’t be noticed by the Soviets until these formations – to be named the US Fifth Army and the French Second Army – were ready to move into West Germany once they had been sufficiently massed. Immense casualties were expected of those forward forces and while these troops were of lower grade than those at the frontlines, these two armies represented the reserves of NATO in Europe and something that they wanted to keep secret for the time being.


These worldwide Western military preparations for conventional war were kept separate from those moves to prepare for nuclear warfare too. Britain, France and the United States all maintained stockpiles of nuclear weapons with both strategic and tactical uses… if there was such a separation in deployment.

The United States had missile silos across the American Mid-West and the French had their own down in the eastern-central part of their country. Submarines carrying SLBM’s from all three nations were at sea with American ones not just in the North Atlantic like their British and French allies but rather under the Arctic, in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific too.

As to aircraft-delivered nuclear weapons, the Americans had released some of their SAC-assigned aircraft for conventional missions while keeping the majority of their B-52’s and FB-111’s as well as their B-1B Lancer’s ready to unleash Armageddon. Other American aircraft from both the USAF and US Navy flew tactical aircraft that had nuclear weapons assigned ready for use should the need arise. This use of tactical aircraft that would otherwise be on conventional missions for use in strategic nuclear roles was mirrored with both the French Air Forces and the RAF too.

Then there were the mobile ground-based short-range ballistic and cruise missiles that both the Americans and the French had. These were widely-dispersed across Western Europe and in Asia too (the South Korean’s didn’t mind as much as the Japanese did, not by a long shot) ready to be fired.

The West had to prepare for nuclear warfare while worrying over conventional warfare too.

American II Marine Amphibious Force
American 2nd Marine Division (4th + 8th Brigade’s)
American 10th Light Infantry Division (1st + 2nd Brigade’s)
Norwegian 6th Infantry Division (14th + 15th + Nord Brigade’s)
Norwegian 7th Infantry Division (2nd + 5th + 6th Brigade’s)
Norwegian 8th Infantry Division (4th + 12th + 13th Brigade’s)
British 3rd Commando + 5th Airborne Brigade’s
Norwegian 1st + 3rd + 7th + 8th Brigade’s
Danish Zealand Corps
Danish Zealand Division (1st + 2nd Brigade’s)
Allied AMF(L) Brigade-Group
Allied LANDJUT Corps
American 9th Motorized Infantry Division (1st + 2nd + 3rd Brigade’s)
Danish Jutland Division (1st + 2nd + 3rd Brigade’s)
West German 6th Panzergrenadier Division (16th + 17th + 18th Brigade’s)
Danish Jutland Battle-Group
West German 51st + 61st Brigade’s

British 2nd Reserve Infantry Division (15th + 49th + 52nd Brigade’s)
Belgian Para-Commando Regiment
Belgian 6th + 7th + 8th Provincial Regiment’s
Dutch 302nd + 304th Brigade’s
West German 52nd + 53rd + 62nd + 63rd Brigade’s
Dutch I Corps
Dutch 1st Armoured Division (11th + 12th + 13th Brigade’s)
Dutch 4th Armoured Division (41st + 42nd + 43rd Brigade’s)
Dutch 5th Reserve Infantry Division (51st + 52nd + 53rd Brigade’s)
Dutch 101st Infantry Brigade
West German I Corps
West German 1st Panzer Division (1st + 2nd + 3rd Brigade’s)
West German 3rd Panzer Division (7th + 8th + 9th Brigade’s)
West German 11th Panzergrenadier Division (31st + 32nd + 33rd Brigade’s)
West German 27th Airborne Brigade
British I Corps
British 1st Armoured Division (7th + 12th + 22nd Brigade’s)
British 4th Armoured Division (11th + 19th + 20th Brigade’s)
British 5th Infantry Division (1st + 8th + 24th Brigade’s)
Belgian I Corps
Belgian 1st Infantry Division (4th + 10th + 17th Brigade’s)
Belgian 16th Armoured Division (1st + 7th + 12th Brigade’s)
American III Corps
American 1st Cavalry Division (1st + 2nd + 194th Brigade’s)
American 2nd Armored Division (1st + 2nd + 3rd Brigade’s)
American 5th Mechanized Infantry Division (1st + 2nd + 157th Brigade’s)
American 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment

Allied Kampfgruppe Weser
British 3rd Armoured Division (4th + 6th + 33rd Brigade’s)
West German 7th Panzer Division (19th + 20th + 21st Brigade’s)
Canadian 1st Infantry Division (4th + 5th Brigade’s & Canadian Airborne Regiment)
Spanish 1st Armored Division (1st + 11th + 12th Brigade’s)
American 75th Ranger Regiment
Spanish Parachute Infantry Brigade
West German 54th + 55th + 64th + 65th + 66th Brigade’s
West German III Corps
West German 2nd Panzergrenadier Division (4th + 5th + 6th Brigade’s)
West German 5th Panzer Division (13th + 14th + 15th Brigade’s)
West German 12th Panzer Division (34th + 35th + 36th Brigade’s)
West German 26th Airborne Brigade
American V Corps
American 3rd Armored Division (1st + 2nd + 3rd Brigade’s)
American 4th Mechanized Infantry Division (1st + 2nd + 3rd Brigade’s)
American 8th Mechanized Infantry Division (1st + 2nd + 3rd Brigade’s)
American 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment
American XVIII Corps
American 24th Mechanized Infantry Division (1st + 2nd + 197th Brigade’s)
American 82nd Airborne Division (2nd + 3rd Brigade’s)
American 101st Air Assault Infantry Division (1st + 2nd + 3rd Brigade’s)
American VII Corps
American 1st Armored Division (1st + 2nd + 3rd Brigade’s)
American 1st Mechanized Infantry Division (1st + 2nd + 3rd Brigade’s)
American 3rd Mechanized Infantry Division (1st + 2nd + 3rd Brigade’s)
American 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment
West German II Corps
West German 1st Mountain Division (22nd + 23rd + 24th + 56th Brigade’s)
West German 4th Panzergrenadier Division (10th + 11th + 12th Brigade’s)
West German 10th Panzer Division (28th + 29th + 30th Brigade’s)
West German 25th Airborne Brigade
French Rapid Action Force
French 6th Light Armored Division
French 11th Parachute Division
French III Corps
French 2nd Armored Division
French 8th Infantry Division
French 10th Armored Division
French I Corps
French 1st Armored Division
French 7th Armored Division
French 12th Reserve Light Armored Division
French II Corps
French 3rd Armored Division
French 5th Armored Division

French 15th Infantry Division ]


The British I Corps was positioned back from the Inter-German Border in the south-western portion of Lower Saxony. The corps was concentrated together to defend an area that contained cities and large towns, major roads, rural countryside and mountainous terrain. The area where Lt. General Peter Inge had his troops emplaced ran north from near the city of Braunschweig, down through Salzgitter and Goslar and then into the Harz Mountains. Highway-4 lay to the east and part of Autobahn-7 was in the centre of the corps’ operational area with the Leine River behind.

This part of West Germany was regarded as an area of vital importance for a Soviet-led assault to seize first when setting about conquering the rest of the country. The Hannover and the Weser River were to the west and on the northern edge of the corps zone was Autobahn-2 that ran all the way from Berlin to the Ruhr. Like all of West Germany, this was a region with a high population density in places though tens of thousands of Germans had already fled from what they regarded as somewhere soon to be a war zone.

The British Army was determined to put up a good fight in the defence of their initial sector even though the expectation was that eventually they would have to withdraw from there and back over the Leine… maybe the Weser too. The British I Corps was a mechanised force with many tanks and armoured vehicles yet a significant portion of the formations assigned were light infantry units too, particularly those TA units added as reinforcements to defend fixed positions.

Heavy casualties were anticipated even though the British Army knew that it couldn’t afford to take losses. Thus the infantry dug thousands of individual fighting holes for themselves ready to ‘ride out’ massive Soviet artillery barrages and they had chemical warfare suits at-hand as well. Challenger and Chieftain main battle tanks, Warrior and FV432 tracked armoured vehicles and M-109 and Abbot self-propelled artillery pieces with the British I Corps all had multiple fall-back fighting positions dug by both the Royal Engineers and West German reservists.

The deployment of the units assigned to the British I Corps ran according to long-established planning for this eventuality apart from the exchanging of the new 5th Infantry Division for the 3rd Armoured Division. The 5th Infantry Division sat in protected positions near the half-empty city of Hildesheim with the 1st Armoured Division to the east. The latter division was to defend the frontlines with the former ready to move forward to seal off any local enemy penetrations. The 5th Infantry Division also had the mission of assisting the 4th Armoured Division located southwards from the area around Goslar and into the Harz Mountains, though this was less easy terrain for forward advance by Soviet forces than up where the 1st Armoured Division was.

The three divisions had twenty-four batteries of field artillery (each of eight guns) assigned between them but there was also extra artillery available under the command of a separate artillery brigade assigned to the British I Corps directly. Those divisional guns were of 155mm calibre, whereas the guns in the artillery brigade were 175mm and 203mm models. This mass of firepower was available on-call down to battalion-level commanders though the British did expect their guns to be spending a lot of their time on the move running from Soviet counter-battery fire.

No Western military was more in love with helicopters than the Americans were, yet the Army Air Corps still fielded quite a few helicopters to support the British Army. There were multi-role Lynx and Gazelle helicopters with the British I Corps and these could all carry weapons as well as moving small numbers of troops around. The Lynx’s were all armed with TOW missiles too: weapons which were expected to take a heavy toll on Soviet tanks and armoured vehicles.

There were combat troops assigned to the British I Corps headquarters directly and these were spread all over the corps’ area. There was infantry assigned to General Inge’s mobile headquarters and also to the corps’ supply network; more troops were tasked for close defence of the mobile Lance nuclear-armed missiles with the artillery brigade. Then there were the two battalions from the Parachute Regiment manned by TA ready to move into any large urban areas that the Soviets would enter; the Paras were going to take as many anti-armour weapons as they could with them when they did that and turn somewhere like Braunschweig, Salzgitter or Hildesheim into a death trap for Soviet tanks.

Ammunition and fuel supplies were available for the British I Corps and it was plugged into the overall NATO logistics system on the Continent. There were worries though over what would happen when NATO eventually run out of supplies immediately at-hand with resupply having to cross the North Atlantic and the later reach the frontlines. Morale was reasonably strong within the British I Corps despite all the worries about what was going on at home and the drills to protect the command against nuclear and chemical weapons. As to the quality of the troops under General Inge’s command they were all well-trained with the British Army being an all-volunteer force and many of them had real experience of being in a combat environment, that being Ulster. Public order duties in Northern Ireland weren’t the same as full-scale warfare with a mechanised army like the Soviet Union and the very few officers and soldiers who had seen some action in Falklands War six years before were even less in number within the British I Corps.

Conflict with the Soviet Army was going to be one hell of a bloody affair.

RAF forces on the Continent had been significantly reinforced from UK-based units and they were spread out over a wide area in many different 2ATAF airbases. There were close-support Harrier attack-fighters, Jaguar strike aircraft, multi-role Phantom’s and Tornado strike-bombers. Many of the pilots didn’t expect to survive past their first mission with the numbers being against them when they were up in the skies. At the same time, they were all professionals trying to maintain the traditions of the RAF.

Chinook and Puma helicopters from the RAF were in the main assigned to support the British I Corps by moving troops around, though at the same time their assistance would be sought in helping up set up emergency field bases for RAF jets – the Harrier’s in particular. The RAF Regiment provided airfield defence formations and all of those company-sized squadrons had light armoured vehicles with them ready to help repel Soviet assaults on their airbases. Rapier surface-to-air missile launchers were fielded by the RAF Regiment to not only to stop air attacks against RAF facilities but as part of the Continent-wide NATO air defence network too. There had been calls from some for the Rapier’s to stay on the British mainland to defend the country, yet they had gone to West Germany and Holland instead.

The RAF was expected to work alongside their NATO partners in air operations across Western Europe in multi-national missions against the Soviet invasion. Of course, the RAF would be helping out the British Army on the ground and other countries’ air forces would be doing the same with their own deployed armies, yet still the RAF was meant to work with its partners in helping them and getting the same in return.

The Royal Navy had put a lot of effort into getting as many of its ships and submarines to sea as possible. Over the previous few weeks since LION had gone into effect, nothing had stood in the way of the primary task that the RN had of getting their vessels out and ready for war. Manpower issues were overcome by using reservists and even officer-cadets who were given what was very much on-the-job training. Only vessels undergoing the most serious of maintenance issues were still in port with others being sent to sea after hasty patch-up jobs or missing equipment.

There were multiple missions that the RN was tasked to preform: providing anti-submarine warfare support to NATO convoys in the North Atlantic, defending the approaches to British waters from enemy submarines and mines, preparing ‘force protection’ against expected Soviet activity on the Danish and German parts of the North Sea coast, nuclear deterrence missions with the trio of submarines carrying SLBM’s and then there was the Task Force up in the Norwegian Sea.

All three RN light aircraft carriers – HMS Invincible, HMS Illustrious and HMS Ark Royal – were now at sea with almost the entire fleet of Sea Harrier’s that the Fleet Air Arm had on their decks. Instructors and trainee pilots helped to man these aircraft that had done so well in the Falklands though now faced going up against Soviet naval missile-bombers rather than Argentinean short-range lightweight fighters. Destroyers and frigates surrounded the capital ships of the Task Group with a few submarines nearby for close support and replenishment ships were present too.

There were a few NATO warships with the Task Force just as there were some RN warships assigned to the American carrier group – ‘Striking Fleet Atlantic’ – and a multi-national force operating close to the Norwegian coast off the Narvik area: ‘Standing Naval Force Atlantic’. Close co-operation between the RN and its naval allies was very good due to decades of working together for a situation just like this.

As to the Task Force, this extraordinary gathering of RN combat power had been tasked by Atlantic Command as operating as the forward line of NATO defence up in the Norwegian Sea. By nightfall on March 13th the Task Force was in position about two hundred miles west of Tromso with the Sea Harrier’s flying airborne patrol missions while linked to the radar coverage of NATO E-3’s flying from Orland Airbase on the Norwegian mainland. The deep waters of the Lofoten Basin was below the ships and everyone was on full alert ready for the Soviet attack.

The previous day had seen the withdrawal back into the Barents Sea of the Soviet Northern Fleet that the Task Force had initially come up into these cold and lonely waters to confront. The Soviet ships had sailed away back around the North Cape and been shadowed all the way by NATO reconnaissance aircraft that relayed their date to the Task Group.

RN submarines not directly assigned to the Task Force had followed those retreating Soviet warships though with many of the submarine captains eyeing up the bigger vessels – the missile-carrying aircraft carriers and the battlecruiser Kirov – ready for attack. They wanted to do as the commander of HMS Conqueror had done in 1982 and sink a capital ship…

Like the British Army and the RAF, the RN was as ready for war as it was going to be.
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James G

Gone Fishin'

Marshal Ogarkov and the planners of RED BEAR had given weighty consideration with regards as to the timing to start their great military offensive. Timing was a very important aspect of war and this particular military operation – the largest and certainly the most ambitious in world history – was to be all about timing.

There were many different times of day or night when military operations were best conducted. Air strikes were preferred by bomber crews to be launched at night while fighter pilots wanted to operate in bright and clear skies. Generals wanted to send their tanks and infantry into action as early in the day as possible so they would have as many hours of daylight afterwards; special forces soldiers wanted to act during the darkest hours of night-time.

With RED BEAR being a worldwide operation, Marshal Ogarkov wanted the offensive to begin simultaneously across the areas of the globe where forces of the East and those of the West would clash. The Central European battlefield was seen as key over everything else and thus the best time chosen to start the offensive there would mean that every other theatre would be affected good or bad by that.

0500 local time in Germany was settled upon for the time of Soviet attack. There was to be a few hours before dawn and then the first sign of the sun coming up over the eastern horizon. It would be dark all across the Continent and thus plenty of time for aircraft and helicopters to operate while at the same time giving commandos the darkness they desired. Those on night duty in the NATO forces would be tired and looking forward to their night-watch ending: therefore having their guard lowered after a quiet night. Plenty of daylight in these short March days would be offered once the first light of dawn arrived so the generals would be pleased with that too once they got their forces moving.

Yet there was the all-important matter of time zones.

When it was 5am in the morning in Central Europe, it was 7am in Moscow and 2pm in the Russian Far East. Britain was an hour behind Central Europe with the Eastern Seaboard of the United States – where Washington D.C. was – 11pm the day before; in the latter case this is why Americans post-war regard March 13th not the 14th as the date that World War Three begun. The difference in time zones meant that where the local time was different, Soviet-led forces assigned to RED BEAR operations still had to begin their attacks when those over in Central Europe started. Nowhere was this really a problem for there were always advantages that could offset disadvantages. Nevertheless, choosing the correct time to strike had been most optimally applied for those military operations about to commence in Central Europe.


The first shots fired by the Soviets in Central Europe were actually before the 0500 mark when aircraft from Long-Range Aviation (DA) – a command which was roughly similar to the American’s SAC – launched cruise missiles when flying over Poland. These were Tupolev-16K Badger C and Tupolev-22K Blinder B turbojet-powered missile-bombers that were airborne and hidden from NATO detection by near walls of radar interference. The launches of the cruise missiles that they were carrying were co-ordinated from DA ground stations and under the direct instruction of the operations staff of West-TVD.

Those missiles thundered through the dark skies at high altitude and at amazing speeds. Exactly at 0500 they tore through the border lines traced in the sky between the two Germany’s, the West German-Czechoslovak frontier and Danish sovereign maritime waters. NATO ground and air radars had by this point started to detect them even through all the electronic radar jamming and alarms were going off in countless locations and urgent communications made: these missiles could easily have been carrying nuclear warheads…

…but the warheads in these many missiles were conventional and the missiles that carried them cared nothing for the blind panic that they caused. The small computers encased within each of the Kh-22M and -22P missiles (codenamed ‘AS-4Kitchen’ in NATO’s secretive classification system) had targets that they were flying towards and that was the only focus of these weapons.

NATO air defence commanders had been given authority to open fire in self-defence against a Soviet attack for the past week now. There had been many occasions where they nearly had done against Warsaw Pact aircraft that had come close to the frontiers in the sky above the Iron Curtain. This had occurred with reconnaissance aircraft that nearly strayed over those lines, but no shots had been fired even in the most-tense situations. In this instance, faced with a very real attack, there were actually some NATO officers in command positions of the front line air defences who hesitated at this very crucial moment. They worried over whether some sort of test was being undertaken against them or thought that their radar screens might be playing up; a few men were witnessed emotionally breaking down at the thought that they were about to witness the end of the world.

The vast majority of these NATO officers did as they were meant to though and did order defensive measures to be undertaken against the missiles lancing towards Denmark, West Germany and the Low Countries at high Mach numbers. Patrolling fighters were given emergency vectors to engage the spotted Kitchen’s with their own air intercept missiles while SAM batteries on the ground were tasked to fire off their missiles. There were still worries that these missiles were carrying the ultimate weapons of war, but NATO air defence officers held their nerve and begun the process of trying to incept the incoming missiles while also trying to alert those on the ground in the expected impact areas.

Time was not on the side of NATO though because the Kitchen missiles had a phenomenal speed: Mach 5, which was seventeen hundred miles per hour.

Within minutes, they started impacting when they struck (or on occasion missed) their targets all across NATO rear areas. The 2200lb warheads in the nose cones of the missiles went off with thunderous roars when they exploded and immensely bright flashes lit up the darkened ground, though none of these flashes were those of a nuclear detonation.

The Kh-22M version of the Kitchen was an upgrade of the standard production model. The speed had been slightly increased to its current rate, the range increased and the accuracy of the missile improved. When those warheads exploded they had were in the majority of cases pushed deep into their targets like a hot knife going through butter in a lance motion due to the power of the rockets motors that propelled the missile body. Almost all of the targets that these Kitchen’s hit (as long as the guidance was correct) were totally destroyed due to the combining factors of the large warhead and the missiles being lanced into them.

The targets that the Kh-22M’s had been sent against were airbases full of NATO aircraft back from the soon-to-be frontlines. The missiles buried themselves into above ground hangars and maintenance buildings as well as smashing into the asphalt-covered surfaces of runaways. Nineteen of these airbases were struck and each of them had been specifically targeted because last-minute Soviet intelligence showed that they were crammed full of NATO combat aircraft all waiting to get airborne and into battle. Multiple missile strikes were achieved against each target; the success of RED BEAR wouldn’t allow for the chance that just one missile might go astray and leave an important NATO airbase untouched.

Other Kitchen missiles fired were Kh-22P models. These were anti-radar variants with an inbuilt search-and-destroy system fitted. The missiles were fired towards the known locations of main NATO air-search radars on the ground and where E-3 Sentry aircraft were circling in the sky. On final approach to their targets, this variant of the Kitchen would then turn on that tracking system to guide the final approach using the wings and tail-fins fitted that made them resemble aircraft. This was important because all radars needed to be mobile to move to survive a wartime environment.

The firing of three of the Kitchen’s towards AWACS aircraft circling above West Germany and using the on-board radar tracking systems of the missiles to go after them was a novel approach for warfare that the Soviet Air Force employed. E-3 airborne radar aircraft were always accompanied by fighters, ones which would be expected to fight very hard to defend the defenceless radar aircraft with their large crews. There was no defence against a cruise missile shooting towards the aircraft at Mach 5 though apart from the radar aboard the AWACS being shut down and thus not guiding friendly fighters in battle as the aircraft was designed for.

NATO mobile radars dropped off-line throughout the wide-area defensive SAM belt that ran down the length of West Germany back from the border as more cruise missiles hit these like airbases were struck. Oftentimes the radars and the crews survived the attack against them by the fact that they were mobile and the Kitchen’s couldn’t get to them due to local geography; on other occasions the radar crews shut down their systems in time and the there was nothing for the radar-seekers to lock-on to.

Still, many radars were knocked off-line.

There had been intensive Soviet electronic jamming directed against NATO radars for the past few days originating from both ground stations and aircraft behind the Iron Curtain. NATO radars had only been partially blinded by this and often overcome the jamming by their superior technology in the face of a brute force Soviet approach. There was no civilian air traffic for this to effect, just the tracking of military aircraft.

Hidden behind this jamming, several fighter regiments assigned to the Soviet Fourth & Sixteenth Air Army’s had taken to the skies in the lead-up to RED BEAR getting underway. These were elite units flying MiG-29 Fulcrum’s: the vest best Soviet tactical fighter-interceptor available.

As the cruise missiles started impacting inside NATO territory, the MiG-29’s raced towards the border following behind them. They were guided not only by ground control intercept (GCI) stations but by some of the few airborne radar aircraft that the Soviet Air Force had. These aircraft were A-50 Mainstay’s – inferior to the American-built E-3 in capability, but still reasonable radar warning and control platforms – and were not under sudden and unexpected missile attack like their NATO opponents.

The Mainstay’s sent the MiG-29’s on intercept courses towards airborne NATO fighters in the skies just over the Iron Curtain.

The resulting air battle was not the success that the Soviets intended it to be. Their MiG-29 aircraft were very potent weapons of war that bristled with lethal air-to-air missiles and flown by excellent pilots, but they were up against advanced NATO aircraft flown by crews who were even better trained than they were and which came with their own missiles. Neither side saw each other through the pitch black skies and the engagements that took place were not in typical visual range either. Where Danish F-16’s and Luftwaffe F-4’s were met, the MiG-29’s had much success though they didn’t fare well at all against the American F-15’s and the F-16’s flown by Dutch pilots that they encountered.

Aircraft wearing the colours of the Soviet Air Force and various NATO air forces exploded in the skies and pilots ejected from other stricken jets as more aircraft from both sides soon joined the fight. Coming from untouched airbases in the East, Soviet-led forces quickly had the advantage of numbers over the NATO forces who had suddenly seen airbases closed and no reinforcements on-hand. SAM’s from both sides soon joined in the resulting air battles too while E-3 Sentry aircraft previously targeted by those cruise missiles re-joined the action.

NATO forces were left reeling by the initial Soviet attack but they quickly got into the fight as soon as they could and with much gusto.

These very first air battles of World War Three above the two Germany’s and Denmark were very important for RED BEAR though they were in effect only a distraction for something else going on below.

The Soviet Army was premier among the branches of the military of the Soviet Union and with a Soviet Army man being behind RED BEAR, its needs came first. Those MiG-29’s and then many other fighters went into the skies to clear the way for the Soviet Army even if the Soviet Air Force didn’t quite understand that.

Five of the airborne divisions of the Soviet Army were assigned to West-TVD: the 7GAD & the 76GAD with the recently-formed Ninth Airborne Corps, the 103GAD attached to the First Western Front, the 106GAD with the Second Western Front and the 98GAD with the Third Western Front. These nearly fifty thousand parachutists were all very tough and well-armed soldiers who were regarded as elite even though the men were all conscripts. All the transport capability of the Soviet Air Force couldn’t provide the lift capabilities for such an immense force all at once though and the fears of pre-war NATO ‘thinkers’ about an air assault by tens of thousands of parachute-borne infantry all at once was really stupid.

Many transport aircraft had been marshalled to lift the 7GAD and the 76GAD for their missions into Denmark and southern Norway from their deployment sites in northern East Germany, but the other three divisions were going into battle as West-TVD’s advance guard in helicopters.

The movement of these helicopters from forward sites near the Inter-German border and along the West German-Czechoslovak frontier was what those fighter battles covered. Hundreds upon hundreds of helicopters were loaded with troops at the 0500 mark and they got airborne. Command and control for these helicopters was an absolute nightmare and Soviet planning here in airspace management was terrible. Helicopters started colliding with each other or crashing into the ground to avoid collisions while others found themselves the targets of Soviet SAM’s off-course.

The helicopters stayed low and went over the borders into West Germany in an advance that appeared on NATO radar screens to look like a medieval horde. The helicopters were flying low but there were too many of them not to be noticed and action had to be taken against them.

As NATO fighters were redirected from the high altitude air battles to drop low and go after the massed Soviet helicopters, gun fire and missiles raced up from NATO ground positions first. Man-portable SAM’s were in the hands of many infantrymen on the ground and there were also mobile anti-aircraft guns with the NATO armies. Again, these took a heavy toll on the advancing helicopters even with dedicated escort helicopters flying alongside the transport models.

The two rifle regiments from the 103GAD which were sent westwards (the third being held back) landed all across the Dutch I Corps’ sector within the British Second Army defensive zone. About a fifth of the helicopters didn’t reach their landing zones and then more were shot out of the sky after landing and then taking off again empty as NATO fighters arrived. For the paratroopers, staying with the helicopters was a bad idea and they also had objectives to secure. Yet the disorder during the journey had brought many helicopters off-course and the troops on the ground often found themselves in hostile territory in the dark and of which they had no maps.

This area was the northern reaches of the Luneburg Heath between Hamburg and Hannover. The Dutch 4th Armoured & 1st Armoured Division’s were manning forward defensive positions to the east of the paratroopers but the area wasn’t devoid of troops with both the 5th Reserve Infantry Division and the 101st Brigade nearby. The objectives for the paratroopers was to secure river and canal bridges, portions of Autobahn-7 and to sweep away lightly-armed service support units of the Dutch I Corps. All of these aims suddenly became impossible in the face of an unexpected stubborn Dutch resistance to this landing in their rear areas.

The men of the 103GAD died in great numbers long before there was any hope of the leading tanks of the Soviet Second Guards Tank Army reaching them as RED BEAR planned for.

Both the 106GAD and the 98GAD achieved similar loss rates and failed in their initial objectives of seizing large rear areas for the coming Soviet Army main body. The former division went into the soon-to-be infamous Fulda Gap and landed to the west of that river in the hilly, rural terrain there. This was the defensive sector held by the US V Corps and those troops weren’t about to roll over and die. Their man-portable Stinger missiles as well as Vulcan anti-aircraft guns had killed so many helicopters on the way in that the whole mission by the division was almost called off.

Troops from the West German III Corps engaged the 98GAD as it arrived in eastern Bavaria after coming across from Czechoslovakia. Gepard twin-barrelled 35mm anti-aircraft guns that the West German’s fielded made short work of Soviet helicopters and then tanks were sent after the Soviet paratroopers even with several Soviet field armies about to assault the border by land.

This slaughter of Soviet paratroopers rolled as airmobile troops was a very unpleasant experience for West-TVD when word reached the command headquarters that they were not achieving their objectives. These assaults were meant to prise open avenues of advance for the oncoming waves of tanks and infantry waiting for first light to appear.

Only up in the Baltic Approaches would Soviet paratroopers have any major initial success when they were deployed as they were meant to be…


More than a hundred Antonov-22 Cock and Ilyushin-76 Candid jet-powered transport aircraft laden with paratroopers arrived over airports on the south-western coast of Norway about thirty minutes after the initial air combat had begun over the Inter-German border and across Denmark. They had avoided the missile barrages over those other theatres – especially the missile duels between the 5ATAF and the Soviet Fifteenth Air Army above Denmark – by taking a round-about route from airfields in northern East Germany that had seen them and the escorting fighters that came with them pass above ‘neutral’ Sweden before entering Norwegian air space.

On command, men from the 7GAD assigned to the Bergen mission and the 76GAD tasked with attacking the Stavanger area jumped out of those airplanes and descended upon their targets: Flesland Airport for the former division and Sola Airport for the latter. SAM’s from Norwegian- and American-manned air defence batteries rose up from the ground to strike at the aircraft that they were jumping from, but the men fell towards the ground and their targets.

No one had seen their fast approach coming as it was, especially not the Swedes who had moments before the air transport armada had arrived over its airspace seen multiple air defence headquarters be destroyed by missiles fired from submarines off their coast.

NATO fighters would afterwards try to finish what the SAM batteries from the ground had started in engaging those fleeing transport aircraft, but by that point the An-22’s and Il-76’s were no longer carrying the thousands of troops that they had been.

The 108th and 119th Regiments of the 7GAD were both based in peacetime in the Lithuanian SSR (along with the division’s third regiment which was to be used later in the day against a different target in Denmark) where the men of each were trained to a very high standard. After being deployed to East Germany last week there had been further intensive training undertaken and Norwegian-speaking GRU personnel attached to the regimental headquarters staff of both regiments assigned to the Bergen mission. Only the senior officers knew where the 7GAD was going to be sent into action even up until the last minute: the Soviet Army saw no need to allow access to maps to conscript soldiers or tell them about the perceived strategic value of Flesland Airport. The men were simply told to get in an aircraft and later jump out of it, nothing more was needed than that.

Flesland Airport lay about five miles away from the city of Bergen – nearly twice as far following the connecting roads – and in one of the few areas near Bergen where the local topography had allowed construction of an airport. It was a dual-use facility with military aircraft being regular visitors in peacetime and since NATO mobilisation the base for many maritime patrol aircraft and civilian helicopters now taken over by the Norwegian military for use in force protection of the many offshore oil and gas installations that made Norway as rich as it was. To seize and hold the airport would give the Soviet military an airport with a long concrete runaway that also came complete with military bunkers and even a secure fence that surrounded the whole facility. The local geography would be beneficial for them too with the airport not being very near the city – a potential trouble spot in any necessary occupation – and protecting the airport from a NATO counterattack on the ground.

The 108th Regiment was dropped directly onto Flesland Airport from medium altitude with the paratroopers quickly opening their chutes and floating downwards towards the runaway, taxiways and extended airport grounds. The efforts of a strong morning breeze coming off the nearby Atlantic coast only pushed the paratroopers that it caught further inland rather into the waters of lethally cold fjords to the west. Rifles, machine guns and lightweight rocket launchers were the weapons that the men of the 108th Regiment carried into battle with them and a fight on the ground with security troops was expected. Yet, the paratroopers would easily outnumber defending troops who were anticipated to be few in number and lightly-armed themselves.

The other regiment was dispersed from their transport aircraft inland from the airport above the localities of Søreide and Kokstad. These small villages and the a-joining farmland were the landing sites where the paratroopers of the 119th Regiment aimed to land in sat and they at points where the roads towards Flesland Airport approached. There were no defenders at these places, just civilians woken up by the roars of low-flying aircraft above them.

Air-portable BMD-2 tracked armoured fighting vehicles were on the strength of the 119th Regiment and these vehicles were para-dropped like the Soviet Army troops were too. The BMD-2’s each contained a 30mm cannon, an anti-tank missile-launcher and a coaxial-mounted machine gun while there was room inside for four infantrymen. Two members of the four-man crew of each were already inside these vehicles when they were parachuted into action (what fun!) while the further two crewmen for each parachuted with the infantry teams that would become vehicle passengers.

There were a few ‘interesting’ incidents where the BMD-2’s parachute systems couldn’t stop them being blown off course or the retro-rockets that were meant to be fired at the very last moment to provide a soft landing didn’t work, but still the majority of the vehicles landed and were in shape to fight too. Parachutists ran to their vehicles – guided by simple radio frequency beacons – and the 119th Regiment begun operations in this dark and unknown territory to establish a wide perimeter around Flesland Airport.

The airport itself fell very quickly into Soviet hands.

Norwegian security troops didn’t stand a chance against the thousands of parachutists that descended upon them and all of whom were straight into action. There was no time for the specially-laid demolition charges that were meant to deny the airport ammunition dump, the aviation fuel pumping station and other important facilities to be activated: the GRU officers who inspected these were very glad that the Norwegians were too overcome with shock to denote all that explosive power.

Flesland Airport was in Soviet hands.

Sola Airport near the city of Stavanger – further southwards along the coast – had back in April 1940 fallen to a near identical parachute assault (though admittedly a smaller one forty-eight years before) conducted by German troops to the one that the 76GAD conducted against it. All three regiments of the division which was usually based in the European portion of the Russian SSR were involved in the drop over this target with one of those three fielding BMD-2’s.

Sola Airport was another dual-use facility though like Flesland there was no civilian air activity present. Instead, using the airport’s two runaways were USAF transport aircraft on ferry flights bringing in supplies to be used by the Norwegian Armed Forces as well as the 10th Infantry Division and US Marines up in the north of Norway. In addition, cargo aircraft from American air freight companies were present – large multi-engine jets. A company of USAF security police reservists home-based in Indiana manning a company-sized force provided protection for the airport along with Norwegian Home Guard personnel who operated a battery of anti-aircraft guns firing old weapons with calibres of 40mm, 20mm and 12.7mm.

The American security troops and the Norwegian gunners ran to their stations when the alert was broadcast that many high-flying aircraft were coming in from the east and weapons were fired into blind into the sky. There was no hope for them though, not with a full regiment of paratroopers landing atop of them and another two reaching the ground both to the north and south of the airport.

Like Flesland, Sola Airport was located some distance away from the city which it served and there were few transport connections to that Stavanger and beyond. The 76GAD quickly took the airport and secured a large area of the surrounding countryside. In doing so the port city would be cut off from the rest of Norway and open to occupation, though that wasn’t an initial objective of the assault on Sola Airport.

What the Soviets wanted by seizing Sola Airport like they had Flesland was to establish secure airbases deep in NATO’s rear areas on the coastline of the Norwegian Sea.

The south-western coast of Norway was near devoid of troops in-place and retaking both places would cause NATO great difficulty, especially once the Soviets got established. The planners of this part of RED BEAR anticipated that the 7GAD and the 76GAD might soon be cut off from resupply unless Sweden was suitability subdued and the Danes caved in as expected and so maybe the two airports wouldn’t be home to Soviet aircraft if that happened… but then both locations would be denied to NATO anyway.


Further to the north, airmobile troops from the Soviet Army – not those of the airborne divisions who reported to the semi-independent Soviet Airborne Forces (VDV) – were like their ‘cousins’ sent into action straight from the first moments the opening salvoes of the war were fired. The men of the 36th Independent Landing-Assault Brigade, a Leningrad Military District unit in peacetime and now with the Arctic Front, were sent by helicopters and also aboard Antonov-12 Cub tactical transport aircraft into the eastern reaches of Norway’s Finmark and the northern parts of Finnish Lapland.

The Soviet Sixth Army was soon to enter these two a-joining Arctic regions too and the airmobile troops of the 36th Brigade set about helping to clear the way for their advance.

Into Finmark the helicopters carrying troops went from field assault strips near Pechenga and Nikel’ right near the Soviet-Norwegian border. Their course took them westwards and towards the Tana River which defined much of the Norwegian-Finnish border; this was an important water feature that ran north to south through where the ground troops that would later follow the airmobile troops needed to traverse. There were several areas of embankments either side where the local geography had been scouted and deemed suitable for the construction of temporary military bridges, though it was where the Tana Bridge in Norway was where most to those 36th Brigade forces assaulting Finmark went towards.

This suspension bridge was over two hundred meters in length and was the only fixed crossing for more than a hundred miles of river length. It was a strong and sturdy construction that had stood for the past forty years in all weathers. The Soviet Army wanted it intact and there were meant to be GRU Spetsnaz commandos on the ground in control of it waiting for the 36th Brigade to arrive. Those special forces reported that they had seized the positions of the Norwegian defenders after striking moments before 0500 local time and were busy disarming the explosive devices recently installed to bring it down should the Norwegians wish to do that even with bobby-traps fitted to many of those devices.

When the helicopters started to arrive the pilots of those Mil-6 and Mil-8 transport models were just in time to watch explosions tearing through the Tana Bridge and then the whole construction begin to fall into the fast-flowing river below. Though the Soviets didn’t know it, the Spetsnaz had faced a counter-ambush by US Green Beret commandos operating in the area who had been too late to save their Norwegian comrades, but just in time to smash the Spetsnaz team at the Tana Bridge and take that vital transport link down.

Across in Lapland, the rest of the 36th Brigade had much better luck in their mission to secure vital transport links and infrastructure. The propeller-driven aircraft that flew them into small Finnish airstrips brought them into locations where there were no NATO commandos and the local defence forces had been stood down on central government orders.

The much smaller bridge over the Tana River near the Finnish border village of Karigasniemi was taken when the An-12’s landed nearby and unloaded Soviet troops mounted in four-wheeled GAZ jeep-type vehicles that rolled out of the back of the aircraft. The 36th Brigade elements here at once got across the river into Norway though they didn’t advance far or anywhere near the major town of Karasjok at that point.

The little civilian airports at Ivalo and Kittla should have been defended by troops from the Finnish Defence Forces but there were no armed men in-place at such locations and thus Soviet troops quickly seized them. These were to become two airheads to support the left wing of the Soviet Sixth Army’s main advance once dawn arrived and would be vital for allowing that force’s effort to pass through Lapland and head towards the ‘Finnish Wedge’ over to the west.


Two days before RED BEAR commenced, submarines at sea with all four Soviet Navy Fleet’s were sent coded instructions that when they received a certain series of seemingly meaningless numbers and letters in the next shore-to-submarine communication, they were to wait a period of six hours before they were to undertake wartime operations. Those initial messages to the submarines at seas close to and far from Soviet shores were specific to the area that they were operating in, though the second message sent was a general order.

Northern Fleet submarines operating under the Arctic and in the Barents and Norwegian Seas were instructed to attack all NATO and Western military vessels that crossed their path. Moreover, civilian shipping of those countries as well as the majority of any other maritime vessels encounter were to be attacked too. The Soviet Navy was regarding those waters as war zones and unless civilian vessels that their submarines came across were from a select few countries then those were to be attacked like they belonged to NATO countries.

Out in the North Atlantic, the Baltic and the Mediterranean, the waters around the Middle East, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean there were tighter restrictions on Soviet submarine operations. Warships, submarines and civilian shipping of countries that the Soviet Union were launching war against were to be struck but not unarmed maritime vessels of neutral nations.

Furthermore, when the orders went out to the submarines at sea, a definition was supplied to submarine captain as to what was a ‘neutral nation’. Countries such as Brazil, India and China were regarded as such but Panama, Liberia and the Marshall Islands were most certainly not. Western ships were often registered in these countries and therefore only flew flags of convenience. If ships from those nations were attacked by Soviet submarines then none of those countries would make any noticeable response as far as the planners of RED BEAR were concerned.

The operational orders given to Northern Fleet submarines allowing them to regard the waters that they were travelling through as a free-fire zone were given because the Soviet Navy knew that any supposedly neutral vessel in those areas of the world’s oceans was more than likely to be hostile to their interests. If the home nation of an attacked vessel made a diplomatic fuss then the Soviets could always deny that their submarines attacked such a ship and blame NATO forces should there be the need to actually make comment on an event like that.

All Soviet submarines used Moscow time when they were at sea no matter where they were operating or home-ported. This was easier than relying on time zones and a measure to insure against time-related mistakes. At 11pm on the Sunday night that second coded message went out to submarines of the Soviet Navy worldwide to wait the necessary six hours and then undertake combat operations.

The numbers of major warships that the Northern Fleet operated and the capabilities of many of those vessels were not that impressive when compared to the naval might that NATO could mass, but their submarines were something else. There were so many of them home-ported in bases along the many fjords that cut into the Kola Peninsula from the Barents Sea.

By the morning of March 14th, almost all of the Northern Fleet’s submarines were at sea after a rush deployment that had occurred over the past few days as the Soviet Navy prepared to assist in the defence of their country by pre-emptive wartime missions. The strategic missile submarines carrying a good proportion of the nation’s nuclear arsenal were some of the first vessels that left their bases and headed for the ice that covered most of the Arctic Ocean or the ‘secure’ White Sea. They would be generally safe from attack while under the icepack or in those closed waters, and in a position to force a surfacing and fire their weapons if needed.

The large number of coastal submarines that served in the Northern Fleet had been put to sea as well and these didn’t stray that far away from the shores of the Kola Peninsula. Their mission was to remain as protecting force against enemy submarines that would wish to enter the Barents Sea and launch missile attacks against the Soviet Union from close-in.

Other diesel/electric powered submarines – ocean-going patrol models – and nuclear-powered submarines left their bases too but these went further afield than either the icepack to the north or staying offshore. Forty-seven of these submarines had departed from their bases and travelled westwards heading for the open waters beyond. They had to round the North Cape first and many were detected by NATO sensors from their engine noises or in the case of the diesel/electric submarines when they had to surface to snorkel for battery recharging. NATO aircraft had littered the seas with air-dropped sonobuoys while there were also hydrophones emplaced on the sea floor. The Soviet Navy knew that satellite reconnaissance would show that these submarines were no longer in port and so didn’t worry about NATO detection when they rounded the northern tip of Norway: there was deeper, wider waters ahead and their soon-to-be mortal enemies were not going to be able to track them there in any number.

The Northern Fleet was in no way intending to operate its submarines in coordinated actions like German ‘wolf-pack’ tactics of WW2 or try to individually control their actions by sending a multitude of constant shore-to-submarine communications. Western naval forces had been exercising for many years to fight against such practises. The submarines sent forward had their own sonars and surface-search radars and they were tasked to patrol areas where they would conduct operations when the order was given. On occasion, specific submarines would be given direct orders and maybe ordered to operate together, but that would be the exception rather than the norm.

In addition to this surge deployment of submarines heading westwards to race into position before RED BEAR got underway, there were already Northern Fleet submarines at sea in the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic. Eight of them were conducting patrol missions before the bigger deployment and a trio of those had come from the Mediterranean before changing command designation from the Black Sea Fleet to the Northern Fleet. Several of these submarines already out in open waters had faced harassment operations from NATO naval forces who had used every detection asset available to them to do so. Yet, the Northern Fleet knew that there was no way that NATO could handle fifty plus submarines all at once conducting combat missions.

Literally within minutes of the countdown ending, a trio of Northern Fleet submarines went into action against NATO forces.

Out in the middle of the North Atlantic and nearly a hundred miles south of the Azores Islands, a 949-class (better known by the NATO designation Oscar) missile submarine launched a massive salvo of the anti-ship cruise missiles it was carrying at a nearby convoy of ships heading from Florida towards France. The Minskiy Komsomolets had been at sea since late February and had originally been tracking the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal before losing sight of that vessel and its escorts after they all conducted a speed run through bad weather. Later, the Minskiy Komsomolets had been tasked to stay in the North Atlantic watching for convoys of ships heading towards Europe laden with military equipment like the one which the submarine attacked. There were thirteen civilian merchantmen – flying flags of convenience as well as a scattered few from NATO nations – in this convoy that the submarine had been trailing for the past twenty hours along with three warships: a destroyer from the US Navy, another from the French Navy and a Spanish frigate.

All these vessels were on their way to La Rochelle in western France and emergency signals were being received at the moment of attack from Atlantic Command warning that hostilities had commenced.

The dozen P-700 Granit (NATO: SS-N-19 Shipwreck) missiles that the Minskiy Komsomolets fired were very potent weapons of warfare with large warheads and fantastic speed. The targets which they flew against at near wave height were easy prey for the Shipwreck’s and only at the last minute did guns on the warships start firing and a few SAM’s sent skywards.

One Shipwreck had a major malfunction and crashed itself into the cold North Atlantic while another one was hit by a missile from the French destroyer in what was honestly a lucky shot. The other ten missiles found targets…

Nine of the civilian merchantmen and the Spanish frigate all took a lone missile hit. While autonomous from their firing platform once in flight, the Shipwreck’s had programming that allowed them to act together and communicate with one another. They thus didn’t go after the same target when one missile would do the job.

Each of those struck ships was finished. Some would burn themselves out while others were torn apart by explosions and would quickly sink. Crews escaped from a few ships though died in great numbers in others. Meanwhile, the Minskiy Komsomolets escaped unscathed and ready to undertake another mission of the submarine captain’s choosing. He still had half of his Shipwreck battery left and a wide ocean to hunt for targets in.

HMS Battleaxe had been at sea for more than four weeks now up in the Norwegian Sea first with the Eisenhower Carrier Battle Group and later with what became Striking Fleet Atlantic when the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower was joined by two other carriers (the Forrestal and the Theodore Roosevelt) in addition to many other warships. The RN frigate stayed with the American naval force when other NATO ships departed to join either the British-led Task Force further northwards or Standing Naval Force Atlantic. This exchange-type mission for the Battleaxe hadn’t been a problem for either the US Navy or the RN with it continuing as the British ship became fully integrated with the Americans. The replenishment ship RFA Fort Austin had twice paid a visit to the Battleaxe to transfer equipment and stores, but there was a lot of supply effort and all the refuelling of the frigate from a similar US Navy vessel to keep the British warship functioning.

The US Navy was well-trained in anti-submarine warfare (ASW) but they could appreciate the valuable skills in undertaking the same mission that the Battleaxe had in addition to their own. The Battleaxe was linked into Striking Fleet Atlantic’s anti-submarine mission and operated as part of the combined effort to guard against subsurface threats.

As soon as word arrived that warfare had broken out, the Battleaxe went to general quarters alert like the American ships with she was with. RN crewmen rushed to their battle stations and all the weapons and sensors of the frigate were ready for action.

There wasn’t much of a wait for the Battleaxe to see action.

Independently and in an uncoordinated manner, two Northern Fleet submarines attacked Striking Fleet Atlantic within the first hour of the war. A 641-class (Tango) submarine coming westwards down into the Norwegian Sea attacked the outer northern-facing ASW screen of the US Navy flotilla and launched a trio of torpedoes against the frigate USS Underwood. The intention of the Soviet captain was clearly to sink or disable the Underwood before striking deeper into the US Navy flotilla through such a gap created.

Unfortunately, the deployment of the Tango from its Kola Peninsula base had been rushed and during that haste substandard torpedoes had been loaded aboard. Seven of the twenty SET-65 torpedoes were not in a fit shape to be fired with accuracy and a pair of those bad ones were within the three launched. Therefore only one torpedo lanced straight and true towards the Underwood… and smashed into the towed noisemaker trailing behind the frigate. The warship itself fired a pair of its own torpedoes straight back at the submarine who had attacked it while its airborne ASW helicopter dropped some more into the water as well.

The Tango was able to escape from this sudden counterattack and live to fight again.

This action were the Underwood was left undamaged occurred some distance away from the Battleaxe though it served to make everyone aware that this was the real thing. For so long the crew aboard had been at sea up in these waters that the danger posed to them if the Soviets ever did attack had lost some of the fear that should have been there. The frigate’s captain let his crew know over the tannoy that Striking Fleet Atlantic had faced an unprovoked Soviet attack – like the rest of NATO – and reminded all of his sailors about their patriotic duty and also their oaths of service.

Soon enough, the crew of the Battleaxe saw combat up close and personal for themselves when the 705-class (Alfa) nuclear-powered attack submarine K-493 fired a salvo of four torpedoes right at the RN frigate. Thankfully the range was enough for the Battleaxe to get a little warning of what was coming their way as the noises of the torpedo tubes on the submarine being flooded and then those torpedoes being fired by compressed air was heard. The threat axis was quickly defined and the Battleaxe was able to swing her stern round to face that while at the same time decoys and torpedoes of her own were fired.

This wasn’t to be how it was in the movies though; there was no chance that the Battleaxe was going to escape from such an attack by either luck or guile. The torpedoes were closing-in hard and nothing would stop them. First one then two more torpedoes smashed into the rear of the Battleaxe; the fourth struck one of the noise-making decoys.

By positioning his ship in this manner to take the expected impacts, the frigate’s captain had hoped to at best provide the smallest possible target for those torpedoes and at worst limit the damage. If his ship was going to get struck by underwater projectiles then the stern was the best place to have those impacts occur. The engine room presented tough armament in an era where ship armament was a thing of the past and the compartment there could be rapid evacuated.

Only sixteen of the frigate’s two hundred plus crew lost their lives when the torpedoes hit – an immensely low number of casualties considering the devastating attack upon the Battleaxe.

The frigate was left dead in the water after the attack. The danger of sinking was something to keep in mind though wasn’t really expected unless a follow-up attack or bad weather was encounter because the rear areas of the ship had been sealed off and seawater aboard pumped out. There was a Norwegian tugboat that could offer a tow available with Striking Fleet Atlantic for such an eventuality as this and the initial hope was that maybe the Battleaxe could be towed to shore.

The gap in ASW defences created by the knocking out of the Battleaxe was soon covered by American warships moving about. These joined the Lynx helicopters from the stricken frigate in trying to hunt down the attacking K-493 but to no avail.

In a few hours, Striking Fleet Atlantic would have more serious things to worry about than just a lone escort frigate disabled by a submarine attack.

Throughout the rest of the morning, Northern Fleet’s submarines would be busy engaging in combat operations. Of civilian ships encountered in the Norwegian Sea these were very rare and warships were found only in battle groups, which fought back.

It was a different story out in the North Atlantic…


The Soviet artillery barrage begun at 0545 local time.

From up near Lubeck on the shores of the Baltic Sea all the way down to where the borders of West Germany, Czechoslovakia and Austria met several thousand howitzers, heavy mortars and tactical rocket launchers opened fired in a crescendo of noise and projectiles. Artillery divisions, independent brigades and regiments as well as the regiments from divisions all joined in. There were so many guns involved that they could almost have been parked wheel to wheel from north to south.

Waves of waves of projectiles poured into West Germany and exploded when they hit the ground; the barrage wasn’t going to come to a stop anytime soon. The Soviet intention was to blast the NATO armies into submission before attacking with their ground forces afterwards.

The only flaw with this was that a large number of the areas that they targeted weren’t where NATO troops were located.

A series of fierce arguments had raged back in Moscow in the days before RED BEAR was launched among the officers of Marshal Ogarkov’s planning staff and when studied post-war by Western intelligence operatives looking into the history of World War Three, they called this the Artillery Debate.

The political line that the Soviet military was told was that the West was about to launch an invasion of the Soviet Union, mainly by the way of the country’s fraternal socialist allies in Eastern Europe. To stop this from occurring, the Soviets, their Warsaw Pact partners and a few other countries worldwide were being forced to strike first to stop that attack. The naval flotilla off the coast of Norway which was positioned to undertake air and missile attacks on the Kola Peninsula was one of those threatening Western forces and so too were the massed NATO armies in West Germany.

The ground attacks by the Front’s operating from East Germany and Czechoslovakia were to be preceded by air and artillery strikes and these were just as important as the invasion of West Germany to smash NATO’s armies. In the case of the artillery ‘softening-up’ of Western forces, the Soviets knew that there would be many NATO troops in defensive positions all across that country ready to repel just the sort of pre-emptive strike that they were planning and so those were targeted with artillery. In addition, and more importantly, the offensive forces that NATO was preparing to be the first wave of their invasion force was to be smashed to pieces straight away too with shells, mortars and rockets.

The Artillery Debate in Marshal Ogarkov’s planning headquarters had seen major disagreements among Majors, Colonels and junior Generals over how much effort to concentrate in the artillery barrage to these different groupings of NATO ground forces; there were even a few brave, younger men who argued that there were no massed NATO invasion forces just those sitting in defensive positions up and down West Germany. Furthermore, there were heated differences of opinions over where exactly NATO would position those offensive forces. Defensive positions could be accurately judged, the RED BEAR planners believed, from tactical maps and combat experience of their own, but pinpointing where offensive forces would gather before attacking eastwards was up for debate.

In the end, the Soviet artillery barrage blasted huge areas of West Germany in a continuous, unbroken barrage that would go on for the next hour again and again hitting the places where they believed NATO forces would be positioned.


Tactical aviation assets of the Soviet Air Force belonged to Frontal Aviation (FA). Comparable to the USAF’s Tactical Air Command and the RAF’s Strike Command, FA was an organisation responsible for the introduction of new aircraft into service along with training and personnel deployment; individual FA combat regiments were commanded directly through the Air Armies that they were assigned to. FA formations had been recently moved around across the western regions of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe into new bases and under new headquarters. There had been little training done in the past few weeks as there were continued bouts of major maintenance work being undertaken on aircraft to keep them in peak condition. When they were airborne, FA pilots found themselves instead of practising air combat or bombing missions instead working tirelessly to perfect command-and-control procedures.

All throughout the afternoon and evening of the last day of peace, the crews of FA aircraft deployed to bases across East Germany, Poland and Czechoslovak were asleep. This was done under strict orders that came down from the top that told them that they were to go to sleep and thus be awake and alert for the coming night. These were all junior officers who were affected by this rather odd order, not enlisted men, but they still did as they were told and tried to get some sleep.

Meanwhile, as pilots, co-pilots, navigator and bombardiers all lay in their bunks, the air forces of those three Northern Tier countries patrolled the skies of Eastern Europe in their fighter aircraft. Their take-off and landings caused an immense amount of noise at the airbases where their Soviet comrades were trying to sleep and where also Soviet ground crews were working on more than eighteen hundred tactical aircraft that the FA had in-place.

These FA aircraft that were being last-minute maintenance were all built at factories across the Soviet Union and designed by the Mikoyan-Gurevich, Sukhoi and Yakolev design bureaus. The first of these provided MiG-21 fighter-interceptors, MiG-23 fighters and fighter-bombers, MiG-25 interceptors and reconnaissance aircraft, MiG-27 fighter-bombers and MiG-29 multi-role fighters. From Sukhoi there were Su-17 fighter-bombers, Su-24 strike-bombers and reconnaissance aircraft and Su-25 attack-fighters while Yakolev-designed Yak-28 electronic warfare aircraft were present. These models all came in multiple variants that gave similar aircraft different capabilities and missions. They were all jet-engined tactical aircraft and the best available to FA for front-line combat. The weapons that they carried along with their combat systems were all very potent if not as ‘fancy’ as what comparable NATO aircraft had.

The few MiG-29’s that FA formations flew had gone forward into combat when RED BEAR had commenced on fighter sweeps to engage alert NATO aircraft while backed up by MiG-21’s and MiG-23’s from the air forces of the Northern Tier countries. NATO resistance to these highly-regarded FA fighters had been greater than expected and there had been terrible losses to the MiG-29 force that would later leave the Soviet Air Force reeling… and the Soviet Army with little smiles at seeing how their stupid and smug comrades from the Air Force had been humiliated.

Inter-service rivalry within the Soviet Armed Forces was nothing to be underestimated.

Despite these shocking losses of what were meant to be the very best fighters available, almost all of the rest of the FA regimentstasked with initial RED BEAR operations commenced an immense air attack westwards at the same time as all those guns opened fire. All across West Germany there saw the appearance of Soviet aircraft attacking ground targets, combating defending NATO fighters and also aiming for more distant targets in Denmark, the Low Countriesand France too. NATO air defences launched SAM’s which raced up from the ground to engage these aircraft despite the launching of anti-radar missiles against the guidance radars of these missile batteries.

The objectives of this massed Soviet air offensive were to deliver a stunning blow to NATO forces in the air and on the ground that they wouldn’t be able to recover from. The Soviets wished to own the skies over Central Europe to stop their own offensives on land from being attacked by air as well as to conduct further air attacks after the ‘Big One’ that this was. Airbases over on the western side of West Germany were targeted and so too were bridges and other transportation points. Supply points for the NATO armies as well as identified headquarters units of combat commands were targeted as well by either overhead bombing or the launch of tactical missiles.

Like the Artillery Debate situation with the Soviet Army, the Soviet Air Force too was ordered to strike where planners had decided that NATO’s invasion force would be positioned ready to attack eastwards. There were defensive positions targeted, but great importance was directed towards bombing troops and tanks on the ground in these suspected offensive positions.

A hell of a lot of ordnance was expended against non-existent targets.

Losses to FA aircraft engaged in these missions were horrendous like they had been with the very first air attacks. NATO was prepared for this to occur and had been readying itself to meet such a massed air strike coming westwards for the past forty years. Their fighters attacked Soviet aircraft trying to knock out the defensive SAM belt that ran north-south down the middle of West Germany and aircraft that got past that too. Orbiting E-3 aircraft wearing NATO and USAF colours did impressive work in guiding fighters towards strike packages and trying to make sure than none of these managed to wrought serious damage.

NATO took losses of their own – grievous losses too – but the scorecards were soon in their favour in the number of aircraft knocked down. Moreover, when NATO fighters were destroyed in the air their pilots who managed to eject were landing inside West Germany, not direct into enemy hands like Soviet ones were. Nevertheless, NATO aerial victories couldn’t take away the fact that many of their own aircraft were shot down while immense damage was being done to military and civilian targets all across West Germany and later into the surrounding NATO countries too. There were so many Soviet aircraft conducting combat missions that they couldn’t all be stopped.

The only consolation for NATO was that soon enough they would get the chance to strike back with their own offensive air operations.


The artillery barrage and the air attacks in the lead-up to dawn covered the approach towards NATO’s frontlines on the ground in West Germany by leading elements of the Soviet, East German, Polish and Czechoslovak armies. Reconnaissance units from the field armies lining up to move forward in strength when it got light took the opportunity to conduct armed surveillance right into NATO territory under the cover offered by all the shells, rockets and bombs arching high above them.

There were a few helicopters used in this effort though in the main it was conducted by men on foot and in specially-designed vehicles. The subordinate units of West-TVD wanted to know exactly where its opposition was positioned and also get a first look at how well the artillery attacks were going.

The reconnaissance units that entered the defensive sector of the British I Corps came from the Soviet Third Shock and Polish Second Army’s, which were both attached to the First Western Front. Minefields on the eastern side of the Inter-German border had been avoided and entry made through the defensive works erected just back from the actual demarcation line that divided Germany in two. Men and vehicles then slipped into West Germany at multiple points and did so with great caution.

Where the British 1st Armoured Division was saw the approach to their forward positions of detachments from the reconnaissance battalion of the Soviet 120th Guards Motorised Rifle Division (120GMRD): a unit based in Belorussia in peacetime but one that had been among the first combat divisions to move forward when the Soviet Army had mobilised. Platoon-sized groups of tracked BRM-1 and wheeled BTR-70 reconnaissance vehicles came over the border and so too did dismounted scouts. These reconnaissance troops were well-trained but they had of course never gone up against real-life Western anti-infiltration measures before.

The 1st Armoured Division’s 12th Armoured Brigade was positioned ahead of the two other brigades of the division with its four combat-manoeuvre battalions formed into combined arms battle groups. The men of the 1 CHESHIRE battle group and the 1 R IRISH battle group – each infantry heavy with attached tanks from the 4 RTR – found themselves watching vehicles and infantry probing the outer areas of their defensive positions between three and five miles back from the border line. These formations had seen artillery blasting their positions and the German countryside around them and while they had suffered some losses, the men had dug their foxholes well and the Royal Engineers had constructed sturdy earthworks for the tanks.

Landmines took out even the most careful of Soviet scouts while felled trees blocked access routes and caused vehicles to detour towards ditches where they got stuck. There had been heavy rain overnight and everywhere was wet, further slowing the Soviet approach. The battle group commanders at first had their men hold their fire to let the Soviets come closer though very quickly orders come down from the brigade headquarters – which had taken a battering from Soviet artillery – to take out as many enemy scouts as possible.

MILAN missiles flew, sniper rifles cracked and tank cannons spewed 120mm armour-piercing shells. Firing from hidden positions and using night vision equipment, the British units did fantastic, especially with their opening shots. The reconnaissance detachments from the 120GMRD fell back with haste only to then find themselves harassed by the guns from the 1 RHA (Royal Horse Artillery) battle group giving the Soviet Army a taste of its own medicine.

Some of the Soviets managed to get off return fire with a few scouts finding targets despite the British troops being well hidden. Infantrymen from Cheshire and Ulster died alongside Soviet conscripts from the far flung regions of Moscow’s empire in this clash before the heavyweights joined in.

This series of bloody engagements over a wide area was still a partial success for the 120GMRD though because at least they had found the enemy. Artillery from the division’s own regiment shifted fire and was joined by battalions from the Soviet Third Shock Army’s organic independent artillery brigade. Moreover, when the division attacked, they knew that the way ahead was where NATO troops were.

To the south, the 19th Infantry Brigade from the 4th Armoured Division led a similar resistance to Polish efforts at reconnaissance efforts across the Harz Mountains region too. Lighter BRDM-2 scout cars and Mil-2 helicopters as well as dismounted infantry trying to get a fix on their British opponents did so only by shedding much Polish blood. The helicopters in particular faced man-portable SAM’s coming up off the ground in great numbers stopping them from surveillance using mounted equipment and dropping of men onto high ground.

British resistance was as strong and determined in the south of their defensive sector as it was in the north.

Up and down the NATO frontlines, there were countless clashes in the darkness as the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies eased forward. In a few cases their missions were achieved where gaps were found in NATO defences, but those occasions were few and far between. Instead, there were Western troops manning defensive positions everywhere all willing to open fire at once on scouting efforts. As this information went backward and then up the chain of command, questions were asked as to if there were so many NATO troops forward in defensive positions, what troops were in those offensive positions further westwards ready to invade eastwards?

Dawn was fast approaching and all these little engagements would soon be forgotten when the opposing massed ground forces met in battle.


Soviet Bear’s filled the skies above the North Atlantic.

They had taken off from their bases in the Kola Peninsula and from Cuba before RED BEAR had commenced and flown out over the ocean and above the dark clouds into what would quickly become hostile skies.

The Bear’s were from both DA and AV-MF (Soviet Naval Aviation) and on a variety of missions before and after the outbreak of war. Those with Long-Range Aviation were carrying loads of multiple cruise missiles, all with non-nuclear warheads; the naval-tasked aircraft were laden with radars and electronic sensors. There were a few giant Myasishchev-3M Bison airborne tankers over the ocean too, yet the majority of the Bear’s wouldn’t need inflight refuelling because they were all carrying large amounts of fuel in their internal tanks.

With four engines and eight contra-rotating propellers, the Bear’s were immense aircraft with wingspans of one hundred and sixty-four plus feet and they measured one hundred and fifty feet in length. These aircraft currently over the North Atlantic were Tupolev-95M Bear H bombers flown by DA crews and AV-MF Tupolev-95RT Bear D maritime reconnaissance aircraft. Being as large as they were, and despite the best efforts of the pilots of these aircraft to avoid it, they were always going to be detected by NATO military radars.


The Bear H’s had entered the skies over the North Atlantic after coming down over Greenland and trying to avoid radars operating from Canada and Iceland as well as E-3’s operating from the latter island location and smaller E-2C Hawkeye’s from US Navy carriers. They were flying either individually or in pairs on multiple missions up where the air was thin and thus less of a drag on their fuel reserves. Some were carrying six cruise missiles in their belly bombs bays as armament while others had another ten missiles in addition to those internal half dozen on external hard-points. The need for so many missiles to be carried was due to the range of targets that the Bear’s were sent after.

Keflavik Airbase on the south-western coast of Iceland was the first target attacked by the DA bombers. Twenty-four Kitchen cruise missiles (a quarter being the anti-radar versions of the Kh-22) from four Bear’s were launched towards this strategically important NATO facility with two of those having inflight malfunctions but the rest preforming perfectly. These launches were made from outside the range of radars on the ground though within the range of coverage offered by one of the USAF E-3’s flying from Keflavik. Unfortunately, the squadron of F-15C Eagle fighter-interceptors flying from the airbase were all airborne and out eastwards over the edges of the Norwegian Sea hunting Bear’sfrom the AV-MF and in no position to confront either the retreating aircraft that had just launched against their home base nor those missiles themselves.

The Kitchen missiles came in from the south racing for the sprawling airbase that was home to US Navy maritime patrol aircraft and USAF airborne tankers in addition to the already airborne F-15’s and E-3’s: two of the latter being airborne but the third one sitting on one of the runaways. While officially a NATO facility, Keflavik was in the main an American base with the USAF ground personnel only being joined by a very few airmen from other nations. There were troops at the airbase and all across the Reykjanesskagi Peninsula in addition to being near Reykjavik too.

When the sirens wailed and word was quickly spread that missiles were inbound, Americans and Icelanders alike ran to get shelter.

Soon enough, those Kitchen missiles arrived and started exploding.

Vágar Airport and the port at Torshavn in the Danish Faroe Islands were hit with more missiles from other Bear’s with those Kitchen missiles coming from a western direction unlike the perceived threat axis to the north and east. There were NATO military forces at these locations and those were targeted by the attack with casualties among the local population not being figured into Soviet objectives but occurring in great numbers.

Across on the other side of the North Atlantic, Gander International Airport and the harbour at St. John’s on Newfoundland and Goose Bay Airbase in Labrador were hit as well as targets in New England. The Canadian facilities were regarded by the planners of RED BEAR as being of vital importance to the NATO war effort in their preparation for Barbarossa #2 as they were positioned ready to be transit points for American and Canadian forces moving to Europe.

There were further American F-15’s at these two Canadian airfields, which were flying Continental Air Defence missions. The 101st Fighter Interceptor Squadron from the Massachusetts Air National Guard (ANG) had eighteen of their F-15A’s at Gander and Goose Bay and these got airborne when NORAD radars first detected Bear’s heading for the Labrador Sea. In these very first stages of the war, there was still the grave threat of the usage of nuclear weapons being on everyone’s mind and so the volunteer pilots from Massachusetts gave everything that they had in getting skyward as fast as possible. Two pairs of the F-15’s on five-minute alert from both airfields raced out in the direction of Greenland with each aiming for one of the targets being tracked as heading inwards.

There were six aircraft tracks at first (two had no F-15’s sent against them because other fighters needed longer to get airborne) but the NORAD radar displays soon showed that number growing at a rapid rate up above twenty then fifty before reaching ninety-nine. The six original radar tracks were then shown withdrawing backwards towards Greenland again with the remaining tracks flying several times faster above the Labrador Sea. Though many times this had been witnessed in practise, mock attacks by USAF aircraft, the NORAD radar operators were seeing a real-life missile attack taking place.

Armed with AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles as well as ammunition for their internal cannons, the Massachusetts ANG fighters were overwhelmed with targets. There were generally three waves of missiles inbound though those were in no way clustered together. Therefore all these volunteer pilots could do was their best and try to shoot down as many Soviet missiles as they could.

In the end, nine Kitchen missiles were ‘splashed’ by the F-15’s out of a total of ninety-three. Like another three with had suffered problems immediately after launch from the Bear’s, another four didn’t make it to their targets in Canada. The rest did though and while none carried nuclear warheads like everyone had first feared they might be, they wrought an extremely immense amount of damage to the trio of chosen targets. The runaways at the two targeted airfields in Canada were cratered in many places and buildings levelled. In St. John’s, the harbour facilities were hit hard with a trio of ocean-going freighters at anchor taking impacts as well; one of the cruise missiles missed the port and slammed into a residential area close to but thankfully just out of blast radius from the city’s general hospital.

Those Massachusetts ANG pilots had done their best but were none too pleased to have failed to stop a bigger number of those missiles, especially when they returned to both Gander and Goose Bay to see the death and destruction caused at those places; they never saw what occurred in their home state nor nearby New Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Military targets in New England were hit by more cruise missiles with varying degrees of damage done. Pease AFB and the nearby Portsmouth Naval Shipyard were both struck on New Hampshire's shoreline. Several airbases across Massachusetts – including the home-base of the 101 FIS at Otis – saw impacts take place state-wide. The only target in Rhode Island hit was the small Newport Naval Station with several missiles targeted against there missing the facility and crashing into the nearby water. In Connecticut, the US Navy submarine base at New London and the nearby Groton submarine construction yard were also in the way of those incoming Kitchen's; Bradley Airport which was now being used for solely military purposes with regards to REFORGER was another target.

These missiles had come from another half dozen Bear's who had taken a less-direct route rounding Newfoundland and then racing for the Gulf of Maine to reach their launch points. The American fighters which should have intercepted them were either drawn off over Canada or over European skies.

The US mainland, here in New England, had been struck with conventional military strikes… and this wasn't to be the only time when this occurred during the war.

Other Bear’s, ones which would need refuelling on the way home from the M-3M tankers that they were later supposed to meet, flew all the way down towards the Azores with the intention of destroying Lajes Field Airbase in those Portuguese islands.

However, during their final approach towards their missile launch points far out to the west, the Bear’s came under the radar surveillance of a small RN-US Navy joint task force heading towards the distant Norwegian Sea as reinforcements for Striking Fleet Atlantic. Had these Long-Range Aviation Bear H’s been Naval Aviation Bear D