This is another old story of mine, my second TL written but my first WW3 one. It is massive. It is full of glaring errors, only seen when those were pointed out and also by later reflection too. Excuses over with, here is the story.
Lions Will Fight Bears - Britain in World War Three, Spring 1988
Introduction 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.
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 absolute certainty that nothing untoward was going to come of this confrontation between elements of the Danish and East German navies.
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 vessel before 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?
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 guerrilla 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 exposé in 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…
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.
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.
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.
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 Bears 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.
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…
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 guerrilla 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 Divisions 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 Hueys 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-16s 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-16s 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-16s flown by American pilots who knew their business.
The other pair of F-16s 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-16s 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-16s 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-16s 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.
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 Lightnings and brand new Tornados 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 Lightnings and Tornados 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 F3s 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 Lightnings 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 Lightnings 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 Badgers.
The Badgers 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 Badgers had little warning after their electronic detection systems had gone off and many of their number – those who could see the Lightnings visually – were very shaken up by the experience.
While the pilots of the Lightnings turned back around while in the clouds and started another climb to come back up at the Badgers 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 Lightnings, but they were not here out over the North Atlantic on a real combat mission.
As fast as possible, the Badgers 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 Tornados 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 Lightnings 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 Badgers that had preceded them. Eight of their number were supersonic Tupolev-22M3 Backfires that were carrying a total of ten cruise missiles each; the other nine aircraft were Tupolev-95MS Bears 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 Backfires and Bears 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.