AFNORTH’s preparations to commence offensive operations in the north were well underway on the morning of D+17. Additional US Marines, as well as their British counterparts were being airlifted to Banak, reinforcing the troops already on the ground there. The Norwegian air station, which had been under Soviet control until recently, would be established as a forward staging area for NATO forces in the northern reaches of Norway. Later in the day, after Banak’s runway had been lengthened and reinforced, a brigade from the US 10th Mountain Division was set to be airlifted in.
AFNORTH’s heavier formations were going to take a bit more time to arrive in Northern Norway. The Norwegian Brigade North and US 4th Marine Amphibious Brigade were moving, but network of roads in the region left much to be desired. It was thought that another twenty-four hours would be needed until the bulk of these two units were in position and prepared to start offensive operations. The estimate put together by AFNORTH’s staff was less optimistic: thirty-six hours at best.
Either way, time did not seem like it was going to be problematic. From all accounts, Soviet Army units in the north were still digging in during the first part of D+17. The 113th Motor Rifle Division, as well as what remained of two airborne battalions had established series of skirmish-lines in the rough terrain north of the E47 highway. It appeared the Soviets intended to mimic the strategy of NATO earlier in the war and bog down advancing on the E47 with ambushes and costly raids. As for the main line of resistance, photos captured by the morning NATO reconnaissance flight suggested it was taking form in the vicinity of Kirkenes.
In northern Finland, the Soviet 54th Motor Rifle Division was withdrawing west at a gradual, deliberate pace. The purpose for this was to buy time for its sister division in Norway to complete defensive preparations and prevent a potential envelopment out of Lapland. The Finns had picked up on the Soviet plan and were attempting to take advantage of it. Unfortunately, Finnish ground forces in Lapland were in no condition to give effective pursuit. The Finns were attempting to move fresh forces into northern Lapland in time to trap the Soviets, and Swedish troops were also moving towards Lapland. It was unclear if enough reinforcements could make it north in time to bring about a decisive battle with the 54th MRD.
Author’s Note: One more Northern Flank D+17 post this weekend and then come next week we dive into the Central Front D+17.