The first naval engagement of the Third World War came off of the North Cape shortly after 0200. A trio of Norwegian Storm-class fast attack boats were patrolling the approaches to inland waterways when they stumbled across three radar contacts moving southwest at moderate speed north of Svaerholt. The contacts would turn out to be two Soviet Nanuchka class fast attack craft escorting a minelayer. The Soviets had detected the Norwegians too. Fearful of other Norwegian ships or subs in the area, the commander of the tiny Soviet task group opted to turn and run back towards the southeast and friendly waters. As the group made the turn to starboard, the Nanuchkas loosed a volley of SS-N-9 anti-ship missiles at the Norwegians, who promptly responded by launching their own Penguin anti-ship missiles at the Soviets. The end result was a draw. Both sides lost one fast attack boat and roughly thirty sailors each. But this was not fated to be the only clash between the opposing naval forces in the area that morning. A running skirmish between Soviet and Norwegian ships and subs would break out at 0550 and last into the early afternoon.
Denmark & The Baltic Approaches
From the early days of the alliance, Denmark was always a vital piece of the NATO jigsaw. Geographically, the modest sized nation-state served as the bridge between NATO’s central and northern regions. Even more significant was Denmark’s role as the gatekeeper to the Baltic Sea. Whichever side controlled Denmark also had control over the Baltic and North Sea. If NATO retained its hold on Denmark during wartime, the Soviet Baltic Fleet could not break out into the North Sea, as war plans called for. On the flip side, a Soviet/Warsaw Pact occupation of Denmark would be a potentially irrecoverable blow to NATO. The defeat of a member nation-state so early in the war could shake the alliance’s political foundation to its core. Operationally, the loss of Danish airspace, and the Danish Straits would be have a decidedly negative effect on the battlefield in West Germany.
In the early morning hours of 9 July, 1987, Soviet commandos and KGB operatives were on the move around Denmark. As in the case of the rest of Western Europe, raids here were planned against civilian and military targets, though the emphasis for Denmark was on civilian targets. The intent here was to weaken Danish resolve perhaps enough to force the government in Copenhagen to rethink its commitment to NATO in the short time span between the first morning, and the scheduled start of the Denmark phase of military operations. It was a long shot, however, the potential reward was worth the effort.
The first action came at 0220 hours. A twenty man team made up of Spetsnaz commandos, and KGB operatives broke past security and entered Radiohuset, the headquarters of the Denmark Broadcasting Company’s radio operations. Engineers, DJs, and other staff on duty at the time were rounded up, and Denmark’s most popular radio channel went off the air for an hour. When it returned, an announcement was made claiming the station was now under the control of the Danish Workers Army of the People. For the next thirty minutes, a recorded statement was played repeatedly, extolling the dangerous waters that NATO membership had placed their native homeland in. Citizens of Denmark were urged to reclaim their government before it was ‘too late.’ Soon after, the two largest radio transmitters in Denmark exploded and toppled over with the help of Spetsnaz-laid plastique explosives. The airwaves around most of Denmark went silent and remained so for much of the morning.
Moments after 0300 a similar attack took place at the Denmark Broadcasting Company’s television studios. A rapid response by a team of Danish Huntsman Corps troops who happened to be heading to Radiohuset prevented the TV network from sharing the fate of its wireless counterparts. By now, radio and television weren’t the only targets under fire. In Copenhagen, bombs were going off in the Frederiksstaden district, and near the palace.
Spetsnaz teams were also busy in other parts of Denmark. A large raid was launched against the Allied Forces Baltic Approaches headquarters in Karup. Casualties were inflicted and damage caused, but COMBALTAP and his staff survived, thanks to the reinforced security detail that had been arrived at Karup in the previous week. Road junctions, munitions depots, and oil storage facilities were also given attention. Some attacks were successful, while most were not.
On the waters around Denmark, the sting of the intruders was being felt. The Danish minelayer Lossen struck a mine that had been quietly placed by a Swedish-flagged fishing trawler after midnight. The trawler was not Swedish, of course, but Soviet, crewed by Russian sailors with a contingent of naval infantry commandos aboard. The boat laid six mines in an area of the Danish Straits that COMBALTAP had restricted from being sewn with mines. Lossen sank with the loss of nearly her entire crew.
A Naval Home Guard vessel patrolling near the shore of the island of Bornholm was struck by two AT-3 Sagger ATGMs fired by a KGB team staked out ashore. The ship ran aground shortly after and burned brightly in the early morning shadows.
In those pre-dawn hours chaos descended on Norway, and Denmark and their populations as the extent of Spetsnaz sabotage and covert actions became clear. For AFNORTH’s senior officers, the chaos was but a precursor to what was surely about to fall upon them. As apprehensive as those hours were for civilians and soldiers alike in the Northern Flank countries, it paled in comparison to what their counterparts in Central Europe were forced to contend with around the same time, or what they’d have to face in the coming hours.