The Northern Flank: 11 July, 1987 Part II

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One positive occurrence for NATO in the late morning of the 11th was the appearance of the amphibious group carrying equipment and supplies for the British 3 Commando Brigade and two companies of infantry belonging to the Dutch Marine Corps. The group and its escorts arrival was twelve hours later than expected, largely due to circumstances beyond its control. Russian sub attacks the day before sank a frigate and damaged the British landing ship RFA Sir Lancelot. Shock damage from the impact of a torpedo had reduced her speed by eight knots, altering the entire group’s overall speed. As if this weren’t enough, the group’s original staging area was now considered by AFCENT to be located a bit too far north for current circumstances. Andoya and Bodo were under significant pressure and the overall safety of the waters off Narvik were in question.  Helicopters and landing craft commenced moving men, equipment and supplies ashore at 1300 under air cover provided by USMC F/A-18A Hornets flying from airfields in central Norway, and Sea Harriers operating from HMS Illustrious just to the southwest.

The arrival of 3 Commando’s gear could not have come at a better time. Reports were starting to reach Bodo and Oslo about increased activity on the Soviet side of the border in Finnmark county. An SAS team actually operating in Soviet territory transmitted an alarming report via satellite radio about large formations of armored vehicles and troops staged close to the border. The British commandos were even able to identify some of the vehicles as belonging to the Soviet 131st Motor Rifle Division.

AFNORTH and NON were concerned by the reports. Now that the Soviets had mastery of the skies over northern Norway they seemed to be preparing for their long-awaited land invasion. There were already pockets of  enemy airmobile and airborne troops around Kirkenes and other sites in the north. If Soviet motor-rifle troops were committed, the battle for northern Norway would enter an entirely new phase. The main friendly land forces in the Finnmark area were elements of the Norwegian Brigade North, and attached Home Guard units. For the last thirty-six hours Norwegian troops in and around Finnmark were subjected to intense air attacks, especially those units that were maneuvering against Soviet-held airfields. If and when Russian motor-rifle troops crossed the border in force, it would be up to Brigade North’s troops to slow their advance until NATO reinforcements arrived in the area. That would not be possible until the air situation could be made more favorable.

Following the enforced respite for pilots and maintenance period for aircraft, Soviet fighter regiments were back to work in the late afternoon and early evening. Heavy MiG patrols boldly pushed farther south than normal, essentially goading Norwegian and other NATO fighters based at Bodo and other bases south of there to scramble and challenge the MiGs. Pressure was kept up on Andoya. Following heavy Soviet counter-air sweeps, the airbase was struck by Su-24 Fencers twice in a period of six hours. The attention being lavished on Andoya made AFNORTH commanders suspect an amphibious or airborne assault could be coming shortly. The Russian amphibious group that had been moving south before contact was lost had yet to be found again. The spike in activity around the exposed airbase suggested the Soviets had plans in store for Andoya and northern Norway as a whole.

The next twenty-four to thirty-six hours could very well determine the fate of northern Norway, and of NATO’s entire Northern Flank.

2 Replies to “The Northern Flank: 11 July, 1987 Part II”

    1. Yeah, I thought a lot about Harpoon while putting this one together. Also Command, which is a modern day version of Harpoon. You’ll love next week’s posts. North Atlantic coming up.

      Like

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