D+8 marked the onset of a decisive period for both NATO and Soviet fortunes on the northern flank. The fighting in Lapland, and arrival of the US and French aircraft carrier groups in the Norwegian Sea were making the northern reaches of Norway the most valuable plot of real estate in the world at the moment….aside from Central Europe of course. More to the point, it was the airspace above Northern Norway that was of greater market value. Whichever side controlled the skies over the north in the coming days would enjoy a substantial strategic advantage in the battles to come. Soviet and NATO air commanders were well aware of this and planned their moves accordingly.
A large portion of the air action, and activity in the north on D+8 was connected in some form to the drama about to play out in the Norwegian Sea. For the Soviets maintaining control of the air corridor across Northern Norway was critical. The Backfires and Badgers of Long Range Aviation, and Naval Aviation needed the corridor as a short cut to attack Strike Fleet Atlantic before the NATO carriers were in range to launch attacks against targets on Soviet soil. As the carriers approached nearer, the airspace would become essential for shorter-range fighter bombers like the Su-24 Fencer and MiG-27 Flogger to attack the formations of ships.
The Backfires and Badgers were now preparing for extended operations, as was the majority of Northwest TVD’s air arm. Only in Lapland were strike and CAS missions continuing, but the number of aircraft involved was far lower than on the previous day. At first light, Tu-95 Bears took off from bases on the Kola and flew out over the Barents before turning south towards the Norwegian Sea. The enemy’s carrier groups had to be found before the bombers could be sent against them.
NATO attack aircraft went into action early in the day. Andoya was attacked again by RAF Tornados and USAF F-111s before dawn. This time the amount of damage inflicted was significant. The Tornados targeted the runways and taxiways with cluster munitions while the -111s struck large hangars, individual aircraft shelters, and the nearby mobile radar site with precision-guided munitions. Two Tornados were downed, however the price was deemed acceptable. The damage caused kept Andoya closed until later in the day. For this period of time the MiGs based there were unable to support the defense of the Red Banner Northern Fleet to the west or attack the growing presence of NATO ground units inland.
NATO also conducted two fighter sweeps in the north during the day. As expected, Soviet MiGs flying combat air patrols turned to meet them, as did the small number of fighters based at Banak. On this day, the advantage was with the NATO pilots. A US E-3 Sentry operating safely over central Norway, the picture produced by its radar enabling the US F-15, Norwegian F-16, and British Phantom pilots to see the MiGs first and get the initial missile shots in before their Soviet opponents. The sweeps created a hole in the enemy fighter coverage over Northern Norway. AIRNON took immediate advantage of it, launching a series of interdiction strikes against Soviet supply convoys moving south along the E-6 highway.
By later in the day and into the evening, events in the Norwegian Sea were taking center stage. These will be talked about at length in the North Atlantic posts to follow Northern Flank D+8 Part III. However, both NATO and the Soviets provided land-based air support to the efforts that were underway. From the evening of D+8 forward, the air situation in Northern Norway, and the Norwegian Sea naval theater were to be inextricably linked together.