The View From The Flanks: AFNORTH, 5 July, 1987

Allied_Forces_Northern_Europe  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 it 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 ever march in lockstep. Denmark, and Norway were two particularly 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,  a large amount of pre-positioned military equipment belonging to Royal Marines, US Marines, and the US Air Force was in place there. 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 the Royal Marine 3 Commando Brigade. The troops simply needed to be flown in and marry up with its equipment. The concept was quite 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 he’d had about the his 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 certain that 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 begin landing on their soil. The request was a formality, though at this stage a crucial one. Should US or Royal Marines begin arriving in Norway without the government’s official 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. Next,  he 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.


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