In Lapland, the 54th Motor Rifle Division’s withdrawal back to Soviet territory was well underway and starting to make headway despite growing resistance from Finnish and newly arrived Swedish troops in the north. The 281st Motor Rifle Regiment was now screening the division’s rear. Its troops were dueling around the clock with Finnish and Swedish regulars. As D+20 progressed, the skirmishes grew larger and started to involve heavier weapons. This development indicated to the Soviets that the Swedish troops being introduced into Lapland were equipped with small amounts of heavier artillery and anti-tank guided missiles as well as a limited number of light armored vehicles. The pressure placed on the Soviets by the Finns and Swedes was consistent, but the effort was not intended to collapse the 281st MRR’s rear guard action and throw the Soviet’s eastward movement into chaos.
That was the job of the small groups of well-dispersed and concealed Finnish Jaegers staked out along the anticipated exit route of the Soviet division. Some of these troops were inserted after the Soviet invasion. Others had already been in place when the first Soviet troops and convoys came through. Since then they’d been busy striking at targets of opportunity when possible, but generally remaining in place and waiting for the second echelon Soviet division to come through. Now that it was clear there would be no second-echelon, these troops were preparing to give the enemy another warm reception as they fled east.
Through D+20, the number of attacks launched by the Jaegers increased. The rise in numbers was accompanied by significant successes, especially as Soviet convoys entered areas south and east of Lake Inari. These were areas that the Jaegers were quite familiar with. Ambushes and other coordinated operations had been planned in detail and now the time came to execute them. Usually at the worst possible places and times. By the afternoon on D+20, Jaegers had cut roads and lashed out at a number of Soviet convoys. Yet this was only the start. The Finns and Swedes in Lapland intended to raise the temperature on the Soviets a few degrees higher come D+21.
Missile trails appeared over the north of Norway throughout the morning and afternoon on D+20 following a 30-hour reprieve. The source of the multiple engagements between Soviet and NATO fighters was the resumption of Strike Fleet Atlantic’s air attacks against targets on the Kola Peninsula. AFNORTH was informed of the attacks ahead of time, as well as the fact that the egress routes of some US Navy flights would bring them over Northern Norway. AirNon coordinated the placement of NATO combat air patrols over the north to help clear the airspace of MiGs as the US Navy warplanes were on the outbound legs of their missions.
During the early morning hours and again in mid-afternoon, USAF F-15s, US Marine Corps F-18s and a mixed bag of RAF Tornados and Norwegian F-16s fought multiple engagements with MiGs and Flankers and later in the evening provided top cover for a Combat Search and Rescue operation which successfully retrieved a downed US Navy A-7 pilot from Soviet territory. In many instances, when it became clear to the Soviet pilots that they would not be able to catch the fleeing US carrier warplanes, they disengaged and headed for friendly airspace. This demonstrated a disciplined approach by Soviet air commanders who appreciated that their dwindling resources were best employed defending the airspace over the Kola.
Author’s Note: I was going to include a third section to this entry but the day has run a bit late. So, I will attach it to the upcoming North Atlantic entry since it will fit there too.—Mike