The View From The Flanks: AFNORTH, D-4 (5 July, 1987) **

Allied_Forces_Northern_Europe  The Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Northern Europe (CINC-NORTH) in July, 1987 was British General Sir Geoffrey Howlett. He’d been monitoring the deterioration of the international situation with great trepidation. Like every other general officer in Europe and North America at the time, his focus was on his command, the role it would play in a conflict, and, last but not least, ensuring it was ready if hostilities did break out. AFNORTH (Allied Forces Northern Europe) had an operational area covering a vast area. Howlett’s command was charged with defending every square mile of land, sea, and airspace from the North Cape south to the Kiel Canal.

He was eager to get the war preparations underway. Even before President Reagan’s speech announcing the call up of reservists and reinforcement of Europe, Howlett had been taking measures to ensure that his command was ready if the orders to begin mobilizing and reinforcing AFNORTH came from Brussels. The predicament for him lay in the structure of his command. AFNORTH consisted of military units belonging to four separate nations in peacetime. In war, the number would inflate to at least six. Nation-states, even those closely allied, rarely 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 bent over backwards to avoid provoking the Soviet Union unnecessarily. Norway did not allow foreign soldiers to be permanently stationed on its soil in peacetime. Denmark followed a similar policy for Jutland and Zealand. Naturally, in wartime these limitations did not apply.

For Norway, although there were no foreign troops stationed on its territory,  large stocks of pre-positioned military equipment belonging to Royal Marines, US Marines, and the US Air Force were in place on Norwegian soil. War plans called for the immediate and heavy reinforcement of Norway in a time of crisis. There was equipment on hand to fit out much of a US Marine Amphibious Brigade, and part of the Royal Marine 3 Commando Brigade. The troops simply needed to be flown in and married up with their equipment. In principle, the concept was very similar to REFORGER.

After 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  in late June. Just two minutes into the conversation and any concerns he had regarding his new commander evaporated. SACEUR informed him that REFORGER was commencing immediately and although the initial focus was going to be on reinforcing Germany, he would make sure that some  transport aircraft were earmarked to begin bringing US and Royal Marines into Norway within 36 hours. It would be Howland’s task to get formal permission from the Norwegians for foreign troops to begin landing on their soil. The request was a formality, though at this stage a critical 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 beginning to pack. Next, he contacted the office of Norway’s Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland and requested an immediate audience with the PM. This was granted without delay and ten minutes later, Sir Geoffrey was in a car departing AFNORTH’s headquarters at Kolsas, Norway for the short ride into Oslo. On the drive over, CINC-NORTH stared out the window as his mind cataloged the endless list of tasks that had to be worked on as soon as this essential political ritual was completed.

2 Replies to “The View From The Flanks: AFNORTH, D-4 (5 July, 1987) **”

  1. For those interested, John Lund’s Don’t Rock the Boat – Reinforcing Norway in Crisis and War isa RAND study looking at exactly the problem described here and from roughly the same period, written in 1987/88.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good choice. Lund did some interesting studies while he was at Rand. This one is one of his most thoughtful. Thanks for checking in, Martin!


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