The Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Northern Europe, British General Sir Geoffrey Howlett had been monitoring the deterioration of the international situation with great trepidation. Like most general officers in Europe and North America in early July of 1987, his focus was on his command, the role it would play in a conflict, and, last but not least, ensuring that his command was properly prepared if hostilities broke out. AFNORTH (Allied Forces Northern Europe) had an operational area which covered vast areas. Howlett’s forces were charged with defending every square mile of land and airspace from the North Cape south to the Kiel Canal, as well as the Norwegian, North, and Baltic seas.
He was eager to get on with the preparations for war. Even before Reagan’s speech announcing the call up of reservists and reinforcement of Europe, Howlett was quietly making sure that his command would be ready if the orders to begin mobilizing and reinforcing AFNORTH came from Brussels. His dilemma was that AFNORTH was made up of military units from three separate nations in peacetime. In war, that number would inflate to at least six. Nation-states, even allies, rarely march in lockstep. Denmark, and Norway especially were two special cases. Although NATO members, they were among the more liberal member nations. The governments in Oslo and Copenhagen made concerted efforts to avoid provoking the Soviet Union. Norway did not allow foreign soldiers to be permanently stationed on its soil in peacetime. Denmark followed a similar policy for Jutland and Zealand. In wartime, the bans did not apply, of course.
For Norway, though there were no foreign troops on its territory, there was a large amount of pre-positioned military equipment belonging to Royal Marines, US Marines, and the US Air Force. War plans called for the immediate and heavy reinforcement of Norway in a time of crisis. There was equipment on hand to fit out a US Marine Amphibious Brigade, and Royal Marine 3 Commando Brigade. The troops simply needed to be flown in and marry up with its equipment, a concept very similar to REFORGER in principle.
Following Reagan’s speech, Howlett received a telephone call from SACEUR. He did not know General Galvin very well, having only met the new supreme allied commander at the change of command ceremony in Brussels back in late June. Five minutes into the conversation and any questions or concerns about the new commander were melting away. SACEUR informed him that REFORGER was beginning immediately and although the initial focus was going to be reinforcing Germany, he was going to make sure a number of transport aircraft were earmarked to begin bringing US Marines into Norway within 24 hours. It would be Howland’s task to get permission from the Norwegians for foreign troops to land on their soil. The request was a formality, however, a crucial one. Should US or Royal Marines begin landing in Norway without the government’s blessing, the Soviets could use it as a potential reason to make war.
After hanging up with SACEUR, Howlett made a quick call to England and confirmed that 3 Commando’s troops were packing, Howelett contacted the office of Norway’s Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland and requested an immediate audience with the PM. It was granted and five minutes later, Sir Geoffrey was in a car departing AFNORTH’s headquarters at Kolsas, Norway for the short ride into Oslo. On the drive, CINC-AFNORTH stared out the window as his mind cataloged the endless list of tasks that needed to be accomplished once this essential political ritual was complete.