Allied Forces Northern Norway (NON) was reeling from the introduction of Soviet ground forces into its area of responsibility on D+3. Even before the first Soviet motor rifle troops crossed the frontier, NON’s plans for the defense of its region were severely disrupted. Soviet air superiority, coupled with the seizure of the air station at Banak, and other Norwegian military facilities in the far north removed the prospect of establishing an effective ground defense east of Banak. Norwegian Home Guard units positioned between Banak and the border had already gone to ground and were preparing to harass Soviet motor rifle troops as they moved down the E-6. After the first Soviet columns passed by, Home Guard units would concentrate on harassing follow-on units and causing chaos in the Soviet rear.
Brigade North, the principal NATO ground force in northern Norway, was not expected to stem the Soviet tide on its own. With the Soviet invasion of the Norwegian north now underway, NATO reinforcements were supposed to be streaming up from the south to take up positions and establish a strong defensive line. Losing control of the air had put a temporary hold on that plan. Until the air situation was rectified, moving additional Norwegian land units, the British 3 Commando Brigade, USMC 4th MAB, and the ACE mobile force north was all but impossible. For the time being, NON ordered Brigade North to begin taking up positions at the Skibotn line.
The capture of Andoya by Soviet naval infantry had put the Skibotn line’s durability in question. The geographic location of the airbase made it a logical point for NATO fighter squadrons to operate from. A number of USAF and RAF fighter squadrons slated to reinforce Norway had been scheduled to begin arriving at Andoya later on D+3. Circumstances were forcing them to bed down at airbases in central and southern Norway as they arrived. Instead of NATO aircraft flying missions in support of friendly ground forces from Andoya, it could be Soviet fighters flying strikes against Brigade North from the same base in a matter of hours.
By 1200 local time Andoya was completely under Soviet control. Ham radio operators in Andenes, the village adjacent to the airbase, reported hovercraft ferrying vehicles, troops, and supplies. These reports were unable to be confirmed but, nevertheless, caused alarm in the NATO chain of command. From NON in Bodo, to AFNORTH in Kolsas, Andoya’s fall sparked urgent requests for accurate information. The requests, and thinly masked demands went unanswered until mid-afternoon.
At 1515 local time an RAF Jaguar fitted with a reconnaissance pod took off from Orland air station and headed north to take photographs of Andoya to determine if Soviet aircraft were operating from the base. The aircraft made a single low level pass over the airbase, capturing a series of detailed photos. The pilot encountered serious resistance, being engaged by a number of hand-held SAMs and triple-A fire from a pair of ZSU-23s. The Jaguar recovered at Bodo. Its reconnaissance pod was removed and the film developed and immediately analyzed.
There were no signs of Soviet fighters or fixed wing aircraft near the hangars, on the ramps or runways. Nor was there any indication of SAMs being present except for the hand-held ones fired by paratroopers there. In his debriefing, the pilot indicated there were no no fire control, or radar emissions in the vicinity of the base. Off the coast, where the amphibious task force sat was a different story. Guided-missile cruisers and destroyers kept watch on the skies in the area. If the Jaguar had not been flying at low level, it would’ve attracted their attention. As it was, though, the aircraft and pilot escaped unharmed.
The data gathered by the recon mission would only be useful for a short period of time. AIRNON was eager to launch an airstrike against Andoya immediately to render the field useless before Soviet fighters arrived. Regrettably, AIRNON’s forces were in shambles and in the process of reorganizing. The commander of air forces Southern Norway ( COMAIRSONOR) was reluctant to part with any of his strike assets until a broader strategy for dealing with Andoya could be put together. CINC-NORTH stepped at this point to untie the knot that was forming between two of his subordinate air commanders.
Unfortunately, by the time the issue was completely resolved, it was after 2000. Planning for a medium-sized air strike against Andoya began, though a more up to date picture of the base was going to be needed. A second RAF Jaguar took off after 2100 bound for Andoya, but radio contact with the pilot was lost shortly after he reported commencing his photo run. When the Jaguar failed to return to its recovery base, it became clear to AIRNON and AIRSONOR planners that a strike against Andoya would not be possible before midnight.