The Northern Flank D+1 (10 July, 1987) Part II


The loss of air superiority over Northern Norway brought immediate ramifications for NATO’s entire Northern Flank defensive strategy. Air and sea surveillance of the Norwegian coast and Barents Sea would now be severely limited. The same was true for subsequent air and naval operations north of Tromso and Bardufoss. NATO land units in the northern areas, primarily elements of Norway’s Brigade North, were now faced with the grim reality of operating without friendly air support for the time being. It did not take very long after the air raids against Andoya and Bardufoss for AFNORTH to appreciate that NATO’s position in Northern Norway was on the verge of unravelling entirely.

Losing air and sea surveillance in the Barents was perhaps the most consequential development of the second day. It was known that the Soviets had multiple surface groups at sea in the Barents. Two, perhaps three were surface action groups (SAG) making up the bulk of the Red Banner Northern Fleet.  This would be the force responsible for breaking out into the Norwegian Sea and seizing control of it. The remaining group was built around a quartet of amphibious assault ships. This was the group NATO was most concerned with for the time being. A Soviet landing somewhere along the Norwegian coastline was anticipated, however, without accurate intelligence there was no way to determine when or where the event might take place. The last known position of the amphibious group was  71° 52 North 26° 14 East at 0800 CEST.

AFNORTH, with SACLANT’s reluctant approval ordered all Norwegian and attached allied surface ships operating in the northern Norwegian Sea and Barents to speed south and regroup in the waters off of the central Norwegian Coast. Their survival in northern waters was doubtful without air support. Only nuclear powered attack submarines were exempt from the orders. NATO fast attack boats operating in the Barents Sea were undertaking vital missions separate to the action going on in Norway and had to continue. They could not be diverted to support the Northern Flank right now regardless of how dire the situation was becoming.

AFNORTH’s plan was to concentrate most theater air and sea power in and around central Norway for the moment. Three convoys carrying equipment of the Royal Marines 3 Commando Brigade, and a Dutch Marines unit were approaching their disembarkation ports. Troops of the US 4th MAB were arriving at a steady pace, marrying up to their prepositioned equipment as air reinforcements from the US Marines, and RAF were beginning to arrive at airbases in southern and central Norway. This defense of this area was essential at the moment to allow NATO forces additional time to arrive and prepare ahead of an effort to reestablish control in Northern Norway.

The Soviets, for their part, were making every effort to consolidate their hold on the northern region as rapidly as possible. Paratroopers were dropped on the airfields at Kirkenes, and Hammerfest in the afternoon and by the evening both facilities were secure and under Soviet control. Closer to Norway’s border with Russia, air strikes were now being launched against the Norwegian Army garrison at Sor-Varanger. As the remainder of the day and evening went on, additional strikes were made against garrisons at Alta, and Porsanger. Their purpose was clearly to keep the Norwegian forces there pinned down, unable to disrupt Soviet operations at the airfields.

By 2100 hours Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Northern Europe, British General Sir Geoffrey Howlett had grown increasingly frustrated by his command’s inability to directly affect the situation in the north. Howlett understood it was simply a matter of time before the Soviets began deploying combat aircraft to the captured airfields. Then there was the prospect of Soviet motorized forces crossing the border at any given moment. The limited reconnaissance photos and reports from the area painted a picture of growing activity on the Soviet side of the border. That evening, Howlett’s opponents in Murmansk started making use of their newly established air corridor through Norwegian airspace. A large force of Backfire bombers was reported to be transiting the area on a southeast heading. Raid warnings were sent out to naval units in the region, but as time went on it became obvious the Backfires were heading for Iceland. The incident unnerved Howlett and pressed home the urgency of closing off the air corridor before its existence could have an adverse effect on NATO’s efforts to keep the sea lanes across the Atlantic open.

Unfortunately, there was little AFNORTH could do about it for the moment.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: