Baltic Approaches D+8 (17 July, 1987) Part I


At 0400 hours on the morning of 17 July, 1987 Soviet ambassador to Sweden Boris Pankin requested an audience with Swedish Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson at 0500. The Swedes readily agreed to the request and the Soviet diplomat strode into the prime minister’s office at Rosenbad promptly at the prescribed time. He informed Carlsson that in forty-five minutes a Warsaw Pact military operation was going to begin against Bornholm in the Baltic Sea. Given the close proximity of Bornholm to southern Sweden, the Soviet Union wanted to inform Stockholm of the operation beforehand to give the government time for any Swedish air and naval forces in the area to be withdrawn. The Soviet Union, Pankin went on to explain, did not want there to be an unfortunate incident between Soviet and Swedish military forces seeing how the two countries were not at war. Carlsson thanked the ambassador for his candor and remarked that Sweden did not want to spark a conflict with the Soviet Union.

Pankin regarded the Swedish leader’s remark as an opportunity. Since the Soviet Union saw fit to inform Sweden of its intentions vis-à-vis Bornholm, Moscow would appreciate the same concerning Swedish military activity on and around the Aland Islands. “After all,” Pankin concluded. “Both our nations have treated the other with respect as this conflict plays out. For that to change now could be detrimental to all parties involved.”

The thinly veiled threat and its meaning was not lost on Carlsson. He was deeply disturbed by it, and by Pankin’s bluntness. Events of the past thirty-six hours had pushed Sweden into an unenviable position, the prime minister was just now realizing. The choices facing his government were boiling down to either do nothing and allow the Soviet Union to potentially conquer Norway, and Finland or oppose Moscow militarily, and conceivably join NATO. When Pankin left, Carlsson wasted no time in calling an emergency meeting of his cabinet and the nation’s military leaders. There were significant topics to discuss and time was at a premium.


As the talk between Carlsson and Pankin was underway in Stockholm, East German and Soviet ground-attack fighters launched a number of air attacks against Danish radar sites and airbases. The intent was to keep NATO’s attention off of Bornholm until it was too late to respond effectively. To make it appear even more convincing, the number of warplanes used was significant and the attacks were pressed home even in the face of determined NATO fighter and SAM defenses.

Shortly before 0600 the first wave of paratroopers from the 108th Guards Airborne Regiment, 7th Guards Airborne Division began landing on Bornholm. Advance parties, working with KGB operatives established drop zones south of the towns. As the airborne troops landed, they organized into companies and spread out to secure objectives in the southeast corner of the island. The most important one of these was Bornholm’s only airport, located just 3 kilometers from the main drop zone. The first Soviet troops arrived there at 0710 hours local time and by 0800 the airport and surrounding area had been entirely secured. No opposition was encountered there or anywhere else. Intelligence reports about all NATO military personnel leaving the island days earlier appeared to be correct.

By 0845 the first transports carrying the rest of the regiment’s troops and equipment were taking off from airbases in Poland bound for Bornholm. The division’s commander, Major General Vladimir Toporov wanted to have the entire 108th Guards regiment on the ground by 1800 hours that evening. He was unsure if that schedule would be kept, however, his paratroopers were off to a good start.

12 Replies to “Baltic Approaches D+8 (17 July, 1987) Part I”

  1. I have followed your blog from the very beginning and I want to start off by praising it. Its well written, well researched and interesting plot-wise.

    My background is in the Danish Army and Home Guard, and I have a master degree in history, so everything related to how WWIII in Denmark plays out has my special interest.

    Your description of the occupation of Bornholm surprises me a great deal, and I want to explain why. This is not a critique – we are (luckly) talking about a theoretical scenario 😊

    There are 3 reasons why I don’t think Bornholm would have been undefended:

    1) The Danish surrender after the German invasion 9. April 1940, came to be seen as a national disgrace after the war. Many felt that the politicians had failed to prepare the nation for war, and had surrendered to easily. Confusion during the invasion as to what was official policy made matters worse. As Bornholm was the only part of Denmark “liberated” by the Red Army at the end of WWII, it experienced more hardship and destruction than elsewhere.

    As a guarantee against defeatist politicians and to protect against confusion in the opening stages of an invasion, a royal proclamation was made, that established a duty for all military personal to defend all part of the kingdom. This proclamation is on the level of law, and it would take a formal meeting in the Danish State Council to change it.

    This meant that no major par of the kingdom could (and cannot today) be sacrificed or left undefended for political reasons.

    2) The Danish Defence of Bornhom was centered around a Independent Brigade that would form a battlegroup, complete with all supporting arms. All ammunition, mobilization depots and war-time planning for this battlegroup was focused on Bornholm.
    In addition, there would be around 800 Home Guard soldiers, equipped as light infantry and trained for anti-invasion duties. Defense against parachute attacks was their main role and by using local knowledge, ambushes, guerilla-tactics they were well suited for the role.

    3) There was no military capacity ready, that could take the above-mentioned forces away from Bornholm. Civilian ferries, with civilian crews, making several trips might be used, but these were also needed elsewhere. Home Guard units had no transport at all and was exclusively trained (and legally limited) to service in their home area.

    So Bornholm being military abandoned seems to me very unlikely…

    Sorry for my language – Danish is my main language 😊

    Liked by 3 people

    1. No worries about your language, it was fine 🙂 I love readers such as yourself who have reams of knowledge about a certain aspect of a theater, and much of it from personal experience.

      This is a bit of a work weekend for me so unfortunately I can’t respond back to all of your points tonight. I will, however, respond either tomorrow or on Sunday so please keep an eye out for it. I’ll post it on this thread.



      1. Yep, you guys were both right. Homeguard would’ve remained behind at the very least regardless of other events in theater. I’ll have to revise this in the future


        1. Great! – hope I does not come acros as a complainer. I find it very interestning to discus these things 🙂

          Home Guard vs WAPA units is a very interesting subject and something that has always been a bit controversial in Denmark. Nobody knew how effective they would be or how the could impact WAPA operations. Even WAPA military analysts at the time were bewildered at how to classify these units. In 1987 there would have been around 1000 Home Guard members on Bornholm, but not all of theses were “army” Home Guard. Some had duties for the Navy and Air Force.

          In a full on WWIII-scenario it could properly field 800 soldiers. These would range from a fat 60+ lawyer, guarding the local phone exchange with an Garand – to a 25 year old commando-level trained die-hard with a sniper rifle in a stay-behind position.

          All would have had about 1 year as a conscript in the regular army and plenty of training in their weapon of choice.

          In 1987 most would have had a Heckler & Koch G3 – and every squad included a MG3 and often also a Carl Gustaf recoilless rifle.

          Liked by 1 person

    2. Morning, Christian. To be honest, I think you’re right about Bornholm. I spent some time over the weekend thinking it through, and reviewing a lot of background and research material. At the very least the Home Guard would’ve remained behind on Bornholm. It would not of been abandoned entirely by NATO, and Denmark.


  2. Why would the Soviets wait until D + 8 to attack Bornholm? Surely it’s use as a advanced warning post in the Baltic means that military logic says you take it on the day of the invasion. Thereafter the air/heliborne forces used in the assault in Bornholm could be used later in an attack on Jutland, Zeeland etc

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In the early or mid-80s the Soviets and Pact changed their strategy….and this is real world, not the blog world. 🙂 Instead of going into Denmark on Day 1, the plan was to wait until air superiority was established over Denmark and the Baltic approaches. They estimated this wouldn’t happen until around one week or so into the conflict. NATO air strength had increased significantly. When I gamed out the conflict, I found the same thing to be true. Only by D+8 air superiority was not yet won by the WP. But there were other events in theater, such as Sweden’s moves, that helped bring the seizure of Bornholm about


    2. Denmark had (have) two important installations on Bornholm:

      1) An electronic intelligence gathering station, ELINT, at the southern end of the island. This was run by Danish Military Intelligence, and was mostly used for strategic intelligence gathering – listning to communications, ID-ing enemy units and equipment. It could pick up transmissions deep into Poland.

      2) A radar station at Almindingen. In 1987 this would be a Martello with a range of 470 km, and classified as a Automatic Reporting Post in the NADGE-system . It was war-staffed by around 200 personnel, and had a wireless data-link to the rest of Denmark. The whole facility was in underground bunkers and the radar it self could be retracted into a bunker. The Danish Marine also had a radar for costal surveillance.

      The facility would have been defended by a reinforced company of light home guard infantry. These had prepared defenses with covered concrete fighting positions and barbed wire. No mines or dedicated air defense.

      So the Soviets would very much like to take out the facility – but could do it with a determined air attack. If they wanted to take it from the gound, they would have needed a pretty big comitment in airmobile units.

      Some pictures here:

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I thought you may be interested in this OOB from the 1987 English language edition of the (Austrian) Truppendienst Handbook ‘The Armies of the NATO Nations:

    “The Bornholm Combat Group at Ronne is to consist after mobilization of 1 signal company, 2 motorised infantry battalions with organisationally integrated 12 M-41 and 12 “Centurion”, 4 TOW, eight 120mm mortars, 1 artillery battalion (18 105mm M101 light field howitzers), 1 anti-aircraft battalion (12 40mm anti-aircraft guns L/60), and one engineer company. In peacetime, there are only 1 motorised infantry battalion, 1 armoured company, and 1 field artillery battery.”

    I can’t vouch for the reliability of the source, but if it is anything like accurate it should offer some challenge to a lightly equipped airborne force.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is great. Thanks! 🙂 It looks pretty reliable but I’ll try and confirm it and use it when I make revisions on the Bornholm operation


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