The Northern Flank D+19 (28 July, 1987)

NATO and Soviet ground forces were largely inactive during the first part of the day. The confusion and anxiety formed by events elsewhere in the world dominated thoughts, preparation and action. NBC precautions were in place on both sides of the battleline. Troops moved around in bulky protective suits and masks. The restrictive nature of the equipment minimized their movement and activities. By noon, NATO and Soviet commanders were coming around to the notion that no further nuclear weapons were likely to be used in the coming hours. Gradually, platoon and company-sized units were ordered to begin planning patrols and probes beyond the line of contact. Small firefights and engagements would break out sporadically throughout the remainder of the day. In most cases, these skirmishes broke out when troops from NATO unknowingly stumbled across their Soviet counterparts or vice versa. Neither side was eager to press the fight and in every instance the battle ended as swiftly as it had formed.

At battalion and brigade command posts, commanders studied maps and considered what the coming hours and days might have in store for them. Assuming the conflict in Norway and Lapland remained conventional. The rough, mountainous terrain in the north of Norway would now favor the Soviet defender, forcing NATO to utilize airmobile assaults as centerpieces for offensive action whenever possible. This would tax the helicopters and equipment of the Royal Marines and their US counterparts. Helicopter maintenance was a priority for the rotary-wing aviation components of the 3Commando Brigade and the 4th Marine Amphibious Brigade.

Maintenance was a major concern for fixed-wing aircraft as well. Days, and in some instances, weeks of round-the-clock air operations had worn down the aircraft of more than one NATO fighter squadron. The Royal Norwegian Air Force was taking advantage of the brief lull in operations to repair and regroup. Norway’s air arm had absorbed heavy losses in the nearly three-week old war so far. Periodic replacement of lost F-16s from US stocks had helped keep the Norwegians airworthy and relevant. But now, more complex problems were plaguing the RNoAF. Particularly how to cope with the loss of nearly all of its F-5s and P-3B Orions, along with a need to refill the ranks of qualified combat pilots.

While the Norwegians worked on these issues, USAF, US Marine Corps and Royal Air Force squadron commanders and their staffs tackled their own maintenance and supply concerns, and simultaneously drew up proposals for what shape the next phase of the air war in the north would take, provided it remained neutral. Still, the prospect of escalation and more nuclear exchanges was addressed. Quartets of nuclear-armed US F-111 and RAF fighter bombers stood Victor Alert at three airfields in central Norway. An unusually thick combat air patrol of USAF F-15C Eagles covered these bases through the day, with E-3 Sentry and KC-135 support. Allied Air Forces Northern Norway (AirNON) was also keeping a respectable number of CAPs over Northern Norway. Engagements here were rare. Although it wasn’t known at the time, both NATO and Soviet air forces in the north were under orders to not cross the Norwegian-Soviet frontier under any circumstances.

This was observed and respected by both sides until early the next morning when aircraft from the three US carrier air wings in the Norwegian Sea made an appearance over the Kola Peninsula.

Author’s Note: Northern Flank, like most other theaters was quiet on D+19. Next we’ll look in on the North Atlantic and then the Central Front. D+19 will end with a third Politics of Armageddon post and then we shift gears to the tournament. Hope everyone is enjoying the weekend. – Mike

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