carrier group’s attack subs, a storm of robotic killers droning in on
stub wings to seek out SAM sites, radar complexes, command posts,
communications centers, and even individual vehicles with deadly
precisionist accuracy. Larger or more dispersed targets were hit
repeatedly by A-6 Intruders of VA-84 and VA-89, flying mission after
low-level mission off the Jefferson.
These attacks, particularly the air attacks, were not intended to
destroy all opposition. Indeed, the strike planners had recognized early
on that there were simply too many targets to hope for a clean sweep.
Rather, they had been designed to throw the defenders into disorganized
confusion for a critical several hours, isolating them from outside
communications, and misleading them as to the exact scope and target of
the Marine incursion.
Since the 1970s, U.S. Marine doctrine had stressed the MAGTF concept, or
Marine Air-Ground Task Force, as a means of providing combined
arms–sea, air, and land–at all levels of Marine unit deployment. The
largest MAGTF unit was the Marine Expeditionary Force, or MEF, which
consisted of an entire Marine division, an aircraft wing, and ancillary
support units, with a total of over fifty thousand Navy and Marine Corps
personnel deployed from a task force consisting of about fifty
amphibious ships. The recent operation in the Kola Peninsula had been
carried out by II MEF.
Next in size and complexity was the Marine Expeditionary Brigade, which
deployed fifteen thousand Marines and six hundred seventy naval
personnel–not counting the ships’ crews–from twenty-one to twenty-six
amphibious ships. It consisted of a Regimental Landing Team, a
reinforced aircraft group, and support units.
Smallest of the deployable MAGTF units in the Marine Corps was the MEU,
the Marine Expeditionary Unit, composed of a Battalion Landing Team, a
reinforced helicopter squadron, and an MEU Service Support Group. Total
strength, not counting the Navy crews of its four to six amphibious
operations ships, totaled 2,150 Marines and 116 Navy personnel. Colonel
Winston Howell commanded MEU-25’s ground forces.
Twenty-five-hundred-odd men was not much of an invasion force, but they
had the advantages of speed and surprise, backed by the tremendous sheer
firepower of CVBG-14. MEU-25 had shifted position during the night,
keeping pace with the fast-moving carrier group. The LPH Guadalcanal,
the LHA Saipan–only recently detached from service with II MEF–and the
LPD Shreveport made up the core of the naval half of the MEU, together
with several other amphibious vessels, a scattering of supply ships, two
Perry-class frigates, and the guided-missile destroyer Isaiah Robinson.
Another advantage was the wing of twenty CH-53A Super Stallions.
Normally, an MEU included only four of the smaller CH-53E Sea Stallions,
relying for most of their air-mobile needs on twelve of the older CH-46
Sea Knights. The helicopter carrier Guadalcanal had been recently
attached to MEU-25, however, specifically to carry out the Marines’
mission in Georgia, and the Super Stallions aboard were a welcome
addition to an operation that in most other areas was already feeling
the pinch of limited supplies and assets.
The air attacks on various Russian installations had been continuing
since well before 0500 hours. The first heliborne troops were
disembarking at a dozen different locations half an hour before sunrise.
By the time the amtracks were coming ashore, the most stubborn defenses
had already been overrun or neutralized. Resistance was fierce in spots,
but only briefly. When a pillbox or heavy weapons site pinned down an
advancing Marine party, Cobra gunships or Harrier jump jets would appear
within minutes, blasting the site with Hellfire missiles, Zuni rockets,
and high-speed 30mm rotary cannon fire.
In most areas, the Russian defenders had fled the fire and death raining
from the predawn skies. Marines entered the outskirts of the Kerch naval
base on foot at just past 0830 hours to find it deserted, with half a
dozen guided-missile corvettes and patrol boats, a couple of armed tugs,
and a Riga-class frigate, all of them aflame or already settled into the
dark, shallow waters of the port, as oil-black smoke stained the blue
Throughout the landing area, prisoners were rounded up and interrogated.
Morale among the defenders, it turned out, was low, though a few elite
naval infantry troops were defiant and possessed undeniably high