The North Atlantic: 10 July, 1987 Part I

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Through thirty-eight years of multinational naval exercises from the Barents Sea to the Bahamas,  naval conferences, and spending innumerable hours at sea, NATO naval officers had developed a staunch respect for the significance of the North Atlantic to alliance plans. Senior officers especially recognized it as the lynchpin of the alliance in a time of war. Its importance inextricably linked it to every other theater. Norway, the Mediterranean, and especially Western Europe could not be reinforced unless NATO maintained control of the North Atlantic. Now that the balloon had gone up, SACLANT’s naval and air forces, as well as those of his counterpart in Murmansk were maneuvering and positioning themselves for the monumental battle both sides knew was coming within the next 24-36 hours.

In the Barents Sea there were ten NATO SSNs present. Three were staking out the homeports of Soviet SSBNs watching for telltale signs that the missile subs were preparing to sortie. Another three were evaluating the ASW defenses in the area or, in the case of the converted ballistic missile submarine USS Sam Houston, laying Captor mines along the routes Soviet SSBNs and their attack sub escorts were expected to use in the event of a sortie. The remaining four were tasked with acquiring the Soviet surface groups steaming south and tailing them, transmitting periodic location reports. As events in northern Norway played out, one of the subs, USS Minneapolis-St Paul, was diverted to take up station from a position where she could provide raid warning of Soviet bombers coming south.

SACLANT had a fairly accurate idea of where the Red Banner Northern Fleet’s surface action groups were located. Everyone already knew with certainty what direction they were steaming in. The time would come when sufficient NATO sea and air power was on hand to contend with these seaborne threats before they wrestled control of the Norwegian Sea and effectively cut off Norway from seaborne reinforcement. Regrettably, that time was not going to be soon in coming. The primary objective for NATO navies in the Norwegian Sea and North Atlantic on 10 July were, respectively, to ensure the safe arrival of the first convoy carrying the equipment of 3 Commando Brigade and forming an impenetrable ASW barrier along the GIUK gap to defeat the main group of Soviet submarines as they transited the gap.

The first convoy carrying war material to Norway from England was under twelve hours from reaching port when it was attacked by a two Soviet Foxtrot diesel subs. The RFA Sir Lancelot suffered a torpedo hit that severely reduced her speed. HMS Brave, a Type 22 class frigate was less fortunate. A torpedo impacted directly amidships broke her back and she sank in under twenty minutes, taking over one hundred men with her. Lynx helicopters managed to localize and sink one of the Foxtrots as it attempted to depart the area. Sea Kings from HMS Illustrious spent hours hunting for the second diesel sub but came up empty.

Submarines were the greatest danger to the convoys bound for Norway on 10 July. Russian fighter bombers, Backfires, and Badgers did not venture that far south to engage the groups. Their attention was focused primarily on northern Norway, and air cover from land based fighters and the Illustrious’ air wing would make any effort a costly one. Over the coming days, the threats would expand somewhat.

In the early afternoon STANAVFORLANT was ordered to detached from supporting Norway-bound convoys and ordered to head southwest towards the GIUK gap. The multinational group of destroyers and frigates were not the only NATO warships heading in that direction either. HMS Invincible and her escorts, in the North Sea at the same time, received similar orders. Simultaneously, P-3s from Iceland and RAF Nimrods operating out of Scotland were increasing their tempo of operations, and SACLANT was querying his submarine commander as to the availability of attack boats in the vicinity of the Iceland-Faroes gap.

As previously mentioned, the focus in the North Atlantic was to establish an impenetrable ASW barrier along the extent of the GIUK line. The first group of Russian subs was expected to begin approaching the area before midnight.

 

 

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The Northern Flank: 10 July, 1987 Part II

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The loss of air superiority over Northern Norway brought immediate ramifications for NATO’s entire Northern Flank defensive strategy. Air and sea surveillance of the Norwegian coast and Barents Sea would now be severely limited. The same was true for subsequent air and naval operations north of Tromso and Bardufoss. NATO land units in the northern areas, primarily elements of Norway’s Brigade North, were now faced with the grim reality of operating without friendly air support for the time being. It did not take very long after the air raids against Andoya and Bardufoss for AFNORTH to appreciate that NATO’s position in Northern Norway was on the verge of unravelling entirely.

Losing air and sea surveillance in the Barents was perhaps the most consequential development of the second day. It was known that the Soviets had multiple surface groups at sea in the Barents. Two, perhaps three were surface action groups (SAG) making up the bulk of the Red Banner Northern Fleet.  This would be the force responsible for breaking out into the Norwegian Sea and seizing control of it. The remaining group was built around a quartet of amphibious assault ships. This was the group NATO was most concerned with for the time being. A Soviet landing somewhere along the Norwegian coastline was anticipated, however, without accurate intelligence there was no way to determine when or where the event might take place. The last known position of the amphibious group was  71° 52 North 26° 14 East at 0800 CEST.

AFNORTH, with SACLANT’s reluctant approval ordered all Norwegian and attached allied surface ships operating in the northern Norwegian Sea and Barents to speed south and regroup in the waters off of the central Norwegian Coast. Their survival in northern waters was doubtful without air support. Only nuclear powered attack submarines were exempt from the orders. NATO fast attack boats operating in the Barents Sea were undertaking vital missions separate to the action going on in Norway and had to continue. They could not be diverted to support the Northern Flank right now regardless of how dire the situation was becoming.

AFNORTH’s plan was to concentrate most theater air and sea power in and around central Norway for the moment. Three convoys carrying equipment of the Royal Marines 3 Commando Brigade, and a Dutch Marines unit were approaching their disembarkation ports. Troops of the US 4th MAB were arriving at a steady pace, marrying up to their prepositioned equipment as air reinforcements from the US Marines, and RAF were beginning to arrive at airbases in southern and central Norway. This defense of this area was essential at the moment to allow NATO forces additional time to arrive and prepare ahead of an effort to reestablish control in Northern Norway.

The Soviets, for their part, were making every effort to consolidate their hold on the northern region as rapidly as possible. Paratroopers were dropped on the airfields at Kirkenes, and Hammerfest in the afternoon and by the evening both facilities were secure and under Soviet control. Closer to Norway’s border with Russia, air strikes were now being launched against the Norwegian Army garrison at Sor-Varanger. As the remainder of the day and evening went on, additional strikes were made against garrisons at Alta, and Porsanger. Their purpose was clearly to keep the Norwegian forces there pinned down, unable to disrupt Soviet operations at the airfields.

By 2100 hours Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Northern Europe, British General Sir Geoffrey Howlett had grown increasingly frustrated by his command’s inability to directly affect the situation in the north. Howlett understood it was simply a matter of time before the Soviets began deploying combat aircraft to the captured airfields. Then there was the prospect of Soviet motorized forces crossing the border at any given moment. The limited reconnaissance photos and reports from the area painted a picture of growing activity on the Soviet side of the border. That evening, Howlett’s opponents in Murmansk started making use of their newly established air corridor through Norwegian airspace. A large force of Backfire bombers was reported to be transiting the area on a southeast heading. Raid warnings were sent out to naval units in the region, but as time went on it became obvious the Backfires were heading for Iceland. The incident unnerved Howlett and pressed home the urgency of closing off the air corridor before its existence could have an adverse effect on NATO’s efforts to keep the sea lanes across the Atlantic open.

Unfortunately, there was little AFNORTH could do about it for the moment.

 

The Northern Flank: 10 July, 1987 Part I

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10 July, 1987 began with redoubled Soviet efforts to establish air superiority over Northern Norway and pave the way for future air and sea operations farther south. The  Northwestern TVD, like its sister commands, was contending with sizable delays to its  timeline of operations. The air situation over Norway especially was a half day behind schedule in spite of the gains made against NATO air defenses in the region on 9 July. With NATO convoys a day or so away from entering range of Long Range Aviation and Naval Aviation heavy bombers, it was imperative that an impervious air corridor be established over Northern Norway and the Soviet air defense perimeter be expanded to cover the northern third of Norway and the Norwegian Sea.

Losses in aircraft, namely tactical fighters, had so far been higher than anticipated. The experiences and lessons learned on the first day of war underscored the strengths and shortcomings of the Soviet Quantity vs NATO Quality argument. Soviet air commanders had openly expected NATO’s fighters, sensors, and weapons to be technologically superior to their Soviet counterparts. Nevertheless, they were still shocked by the loss ratios and the stories that surviving Soviet pilots were bringing back after their missions.

It was evident that a maximum effort had to be made to break what the Soviets viewed as a deadlock in the skies. On the morning of the 10th, that effort commenced.

NATO’s assessment of the situation was strikingly different. The Royal Norwegian Air Force was hanging on by a thread in the northern counties. The reinforcements reluctantly dispatched to AIRNON from airbases in the south were a welcomed addition, however, their numbers were  nowhere what was needed to plug the hole in Norway’s air defenses.  Difficult decisions were made regarding priorities and assets were allocated accordingly. Airbases and radar sites essential to NATO’s overall defensive plan for the North Flank would be defended extensively for as long as possible. Other less critical installations were to be left practically naked.

Right after dawn, the first formations of Soviet fighter-bombers and their escorts crossed into Norwegian airspace virtually unmolested. Air defense radars that survived the first day’s effort, and forward airfields in Finnmark were the first priorities. The northern-most radars had already been written off by AIRNON. Minimal effort was made to intercept the attacking MiGs and Sukhois. Ground based SAMs in the area did manage to inflict some losses before they too were silenced by air-defense suppression missions. Banak air station was a different story. F-16s and NF-5s defended Banak as much as circumstances allowed. Unfortunately, in most cases the Norwegian fighters expended their ordnance against Soviet aircraft that had already expended their air to ground ordnance. The hit and run type tactics employed by the Norwegians minimized their losses, however, the damage done to the air station was too great to warrant further effort. Banak was declared ineffective and surviving support personnel and the few aircraft to survive the morning’s airstrikes were evacuated to bases in the south. By midafternoon, two companies of Soviet heliborne troops assaulted Banak and after a brief firefight with Norwegian security troops that had been left behind, took control of the base.

Later that morning much larger Soviet air attacks were launched against the airbases at Bardufoss. and Andoya. Both suffered major damage, though the HAWK missile batteries at both acquitted themselves quite well. At Andoya, five of 333rd Squadron’s six P-3C Orion aircraft were destroyed on the ground. The survivor was in the air at the time of the attack and survived. It was these attacks that brought AIRNON to accept the bitter reality that the Soviets had achieved air superiority over the whole northern area of Norway.

 

 

The North Atlantic 9 July, 1987 Part II

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The Russian attack on Keflavik accentuated the importance of the facility, and of Iceland as a whole, to both sides. The Russians were not going to be able to successfully fight a naval war without Iceland being knocked out of action for an extended period of time. For NATO, mounting a successful defense of the North Atlantic without Iceland would be extremely difficult, but not impossible. The timing of the  first attack also underscored the emphasis that the Russians had placed on closing Keflavik air base down. The early morning air raid on 9 July cannot be considered a smashing triumph or defeat, though it did provide some useful lessons for both sides to consider and apply to later operations.

For the Russians, the bombers that made up the Keflavik attack force took off from bases on the Kola peninsula and detoured far northwest before making the turn south into the Norwegian Sea. The longer flight time had a significant effect on fuel consumption and ordnance loadout. Instead of the Tu-22 Backfires carrying a pair of AS-4 missiles each as the mission profile called for, they could only carry one. The reason for the dogleg in the mission course was simply that the battle for air superiority over northern Norway had not begun at the time. If the bombers had been able to cut across northern Norway it would’ve cut flight times, given them a greater fuel reserve, and allowed the Backfires to carry two ASMs each instead of one.

Of the original thirty Backfires to launch, two had to abort because of mechanical and avionics issues. The remaining twenty-eight approached Iceland from the north and northeast, spread out on a line one hundred and twenty miles wide and into seven flights of four aircraft each. US Air Force E-3 Sentries patrolling over central Iceland and off the northern coast detected the bombers and directed the F-15s on combat air patrol to intercept the nearest ones. Warnings were flashed to Keflavik and the remaining F-15Cs of the 57th Fighter Interceptor Squadron were scrambled. Surprised by the swift NATO reaction, the Russian mission commander did not waver. He ordered his bombers to increase speed past Mach 1 sooner than he’d planned to. The moment the bombers were in AS-4 range, they popped up, launched their missiles and then turned back to the north, in many cases with Eagles in pursuit.

When all was said and done US fighters claimed eight Backfires and five AS-4s. Of the remaining twenty-three missiles only seven impacted inside of Keflavik’s base perimeter. The amount of damage done was not overwhelming, but three missiles struck the air bases runways, causing damage which would take some time to repair. Keflavik was closed during the repair time.

For the Russians, it was made clear that air superiority over northern Norway would be essential. Once this was accomplished, larger raids could be sent south against Iceland, NATO convoys at sea, and, most importantly, against the US carrier groups that might be steaming north at that very moment. The sting of Keflavik’s defenses also made an impression. Long Range and Naval Aviation commanders would ensure that future raids had accompanying ECM aircraft and jammers if they were available.

 

In the Norwegian Sea on the first day of war, the major NATO naval maneuver was the movement of STANAVFORLANT northeast to a position closer in to the central Norwegian coast. From there, the multinational collection of frigates and destroyers could better provide support for the convoys carrying the equipment of Royal and Dutch Marines, which would begin arriving in the area early the next day. SACLANT decided on the move after reviewing the progress of the air battle over northern Norway. Casualties were extremely high there, and he was anticipating that the Soviets might gain air superiority over the area for a 24-36 hour period of time. Should that happen, the air threat to NATO ships in the Norwegian Sea could double for a stretch of ti me. STANAVFORLANT’s ships could contend with both air and sea threats.

SACLANT’s third major concern on the first day of war was keeping a lid on the whereabouts of his carriers. Forrestal and her battlegroup was in the mid-Atlantic boring circles in the mid-Atlantic. Eisenhower was a day behind, and Kitty Hawk three to four. Until all three carrier groups were in the same staging area, they’d remain under EMCON in an attempt to keep their presence hidden. To avoid the RORSAT satellites searching for them from high above the earth, the carriers were undertaking periodic course changes whenever a Russian satellite was expected to be in the area. Thanks to USAF efforts early on 9 July, F-15s armed with ASATs were unleashed against some RORSATs in orbit. Two out of three targeted birds were destroyed, giving NATO convoys and carriers in the North Atlantic a brief respite.

 

Northern Flank: 9 July, 1987 0600-1800

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The Northern Flank was a geographic area vital to Soviet war plans. Northern Norway was of especially high value in the eyes of the Soviets. Capturing it entirely, or simply destroying the NATO airfields there was essential to the defense of the Soviet homeland, as well as the Soviet Union’s ability to fight a naval war in the Norwegian Sea and North Atlantic. Since the 1950s Moscow had designs on disrupting NATO’s Northern Flank early on in a war. Plans had evolved over the years to include or rule out amphibious assaults, commando raids, limited overland assaults, and the use of nuclear weapons. By the mid-1987, the Soviets had put together a comprehensive, periodically updated operational plan for contending with northern Norway and the rest of the Northern Flank. The opening phases of it relied heavily on airpower.

Air activity over the Kola Peninsula and Barents Sea was becoming pronounced in the early hours of 9 July. Although NATO  did not yet have the benefit of AWACS support in northern Norway yet, the array of radar and early warning stations in the region provided a relatively complete photograph of the air situation for a period of time. Of particular interest were two large formations of Soviet aircraft moving northwest over the Barents. Both had taken off from airfields on the Kola. Judging by the speed, altitude, and other characteristics, the first group of twelve radar contacts were thought to be Tu-16 Badgers, while the second group, made up of twenty-six contacts, appeared to be Backfire bombers. The plotted course positions made it seem that Norway was not either group’s target.

The bombers proceeded northwest farther out into the Barents and away from Norway, finally making turns that took them on southern headings. Soon afterwards, more aircraft were taking off from airbases on the Kola and beginning to mass over the southern Barents. These aircraft appeared to be tactical fighters judging from their increasing numbers. The Commander Air Forces Northern Norway (AIRNON) was anxious. On his own authority, he began issuing orders to scramble fighters from airbases in his AO, fearing this was the start of concentrated action against Norway and NATO’s northern flank.

He was right.

Hostilities began in earnest on the Northern Flank with Soviet airstrikes across the region. Tu-16 Badgers struck the NATO communications station on Jan Mayen causing significant damage, while a larger force of Tu-22 Backfires hit the NATO airbase at Keflavik, Iceland. In Norway, two waves of strike aircraft, primarily MiG-27 Floggers and Su-17 Fitters spread out to attack airbases and radar sites in the north with heavy jamming and fighter support.  The initial Soviet theater objective was to close the northern Norwegian airbases for a extended period of time. On the flip side, those same air bases were essential to NATO’s planned defense of Norway and the alliance intended to defend them fiercely.

Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16s, supported by a limited number of RAF Tornado fighters rose to challenge the Russians. A series of fluid air battles broke out over northern Norway and raged through much of the morning. Losses were heavy on both sides and though damage was inflicted on a good number of airbases and civilian airfields from Kirkenes to Bardufoss, none were knocked out of action. But the day was not over yet. After licking their respective wounds, and evaluating which weapons systems and tactics worked and which ones didn’t, the battle would pick up and increase in intensity as the afternoon went on.

Like its sister service, the Royal Norwegian Navy had its hands full on the first day of war. The fast attack craft assigned to Naval Forces Northern Norway (NAVNON) as well as a handful of diesel submarines were heavily engaged in the morning and early afternoon hours. From the deep fjords in the North Cape area, missile armed fast attack craft sprang out to search for and locate the Soviet amphibious group that was expected to be moving southwest to the Norwegian coast. When they encountered Soviet fast attack craft, it was thought that they’d located the screening force for the amphibs. Little did NAVNON realize until mid-afternoon, the Northern Fleet’s main amphibious group was still farther east in the Barents Sea. It would not make its presence felt for another thirty six hours.

As described in a previous entry, Soviet and Norwegian fast attack craft and diesel submarines fought a running battle from Kirkenes to Akkarfjord. The Norwegians lost four out of seven ships and the diesel submarine Utsiera was damaged by a torpedo dropped by an Il-38 May. The sub skipper was able to surface his ship and get the surviving crew members off safely before scuttling her. Soviet losses were slightly higher. Six fast attack craft were sunk, all of which fell victim to the very effective Penguin anti-ship missile, and two Foxtrot class diesel submarines were sunk. By mid-afternoon both sides had retreated. There were smaller engagements throughout the remainder of the day, but nothing as intense as the day’s earlier battles. By the evening hours, NAVNON’s inability to locate any sign of major Soviet combatants led SACLANT to turn responsibility for the task over to NATO submarines in the area.

Farther south, naval activity was limited to a cat and mouse game played between Norwegian frigates and Soviet diesel submarines. Around 1500 a Tango class submarine managed to fire a pair of torpedoes at a Norwegian frigate south of Narvik. The fish missed and the Tango scurried off, beginning an intensive three hour search that yielded nothing. AFNORTH was cautious to allow the Norwegian frigates to move too far north. NAVNON was in need of help, but until the Soviet’s surface groups were located, AFNORTH was reluctant to push too many  naval assets north, especially with the air situation unresolved.

Round two of the northern Norwegian air battle began shortly after 1500 with Soviet airstrikes aimed again at airbases in that particular geographic area. Once more, Norwegian F-16s and RAF Tornados rose to defend, only their numbers were significantly less than they had been earlier in the day. To be fair, the number of Russian aircraft was also less, however, the Russians had more aircraft and pilots to spare. Banak and Bardufoss airbases received most of the attention, and subsequently, much damage. Both had been targeted earlier in the morning too, and damage from those first strikes had not yet been fully repaired. Banak remained open- just barely. Bardufoss had to close briefly in order to allow repairs to its taxiways and runway.

Allied airpower in northern Norway had inflicted heavy losses on Soviet air units, but it had come at a price. Of the forty Norwegian F-16s and twelve Royal Air Force Tornados that were committed to the air battle that morning, only four Tornados, and half of the F-16s remained. The Soviet 76th Air Army had suffered significantly heavier losses. Twenty four MiG-23s, thirty Su-17 and -22 Fitters, twelve Su-24 Fencers and eight MiG-25 Foxbats.

AIRNON saw the writing on the wall. Without quick replacement of his losses,  NATO would suffer its first strategic defeat with the loss of air superiority over northern Norway. And at the current pace it would happen within the next thirty six hours. Unfortunately, AIRNON’s superiors were reluctant to commit any of the squadrons tasked with the air defense of central Norway to the north until more reinforcements arrived. Convoys carrying the equipment of British and Dutch Marines were approaching their intended ports of disembarkation and AFNORTH wanted to be sure he had the air cover to protect those ships from a sudden Backfire or Badger raid.

At 1800, AIRNON’s screams for help were partially answered. Grudgingly, a contingent of additional Norwegian F-16s and NF-5s was chopped to AIRNON. Behind these reinforcements, though, there was little left in the pipeline and it did not appear that the operational tempo over the north was going to slow down anytime soon.

 

 

 

 

The Northern Flank: 9 July, 1987 0100-0400 Part II

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Norway Continued

The first naval contact of the Third World War came off of the North Cape shortly after 0200. A trio of Norwegian Storm-class fast attack boats patrolling the approaches to inland waterways stumbled across three radar contacts moving southwest at moderate speed north of Svaerholt. The contacts would turn out to be two Soviet Nanuchkas class fast attack craft escorting a minelayer. The Soviets had detected the Norwegians too. Fearful of other Norwegian ships or subs in the area, the commander of the tiny Soviet task group decided to turn and run back towards the southeast and friendly waters. As the group made the turn to starboard, the Nanuchkas loosed a volley of SS-N-9 anti-ship missiles at the Norwegians, who promptly responded by launching their own Penguin missiles at the Soviets. The end result was a draw. Both sides lost one fast attack boat and roughly thirty men each. But this was not fated to be the only clash between naval forces in the area that morning. A running skirmish between Soviet and Norwegian ships and subs would break out at 0550 and last into the early afternoon.

 

Denmark & The Baltic Approaches

From the early days of the alliance, Denmark was always a vital piece of the NATO jigsaw. Geographically, the modest sized nation-state served as the bridge between NATO’s central and northern regions. Even more significant was Denmark’s role as the gatekeeper of the Baltic Sea. Whichever side controlled Denmark also had control of the Baltic. If NATO retained its hold on Denmark during wartime, the Soviet Baltic Fleet would be unable to break out into the North Sea, as war plans called for.  On the flip side, a Soviet occupation of Denmark would be a potentially irrecoverable blow to NATO. The defeat of a member nation-state so early in the fighting could shake the alliance’s political foundation to its core. Operationally, the loss of Danish airspace, and the Danish Straits would be have a decidedly negative effect on the battlefield in West Germany.

In the early morning hours of  9 July, 1987, Soviet commandos and KGB operatives were on the move in Denmark. As in the case of the rest of Western Europe, raids here were planned against civilian and military targets, though the emphasis for Denmark was on the civilian type. The intent here was to weaken Danish resolve and possibly force the government to rethink its commitment to NATO in the short time span between the first morning, and the scheduled start of the Denmark phase of military operations. It was a long shot, yet the possible reward was worth the effort.

The first action came at 0220 hours. A twenty man team made up of Spetsnaz commandos, and KGB operatives broke past security and entered the Radiohuset, the headquarters of the Denmark Broadcasting Company’s radio operations. Engineers, DJs, and other staff on duty at the time were rounded up, and Denmark’s most popular radio channel went off the air temporarily before returning a bit later. An announcement was made claiming the station was now under the control of the Danish Workers Army of the People. For the next thirty minutes, a recorded statement was played repeatedly, extolling the dangerous waters that NATO membership had placed their native homeland in. Citizens of Denmark were urged to reclaim their government before it was ‘too late.’ Soon after, the two largest radio transmitters in Denmark exploded and collapsed with the help of Spetsnaz plastique explosives. The airwaves around much of Denmark went silent and remained that way for much of the morning.

After 0300 a similar attack took place at the Denmark Broadcasting Company’s television studios. A rapid response by team of Danish Huntsman Corps troops that happened to be heading to Radiohuset prevented the TV network from sharing the fate of its wireless counterparts. By now, radio and television weren’t the only targets under fire. In Copenhagen, bombs were exploding in the Frederiksstaden district, and near the palace.

Spetsnaz teams were also busy in other parts of Denmark. A large raid was launched against the Allied Forces Baltic Approaches headquarters in Karup. Casualties were inflicted and damage caused, but COMBALTAP and his staff survived, thanks to the reinforced security detail that had been placed at Karup the previous week. Road junctions, munitions depots, and oil storage facilities were also paid attention by the Soviets. Some attacks were successful, while most were not.

On the waters around Denmark, the sting of the intruders was also being felt. The Danish mine layer Lossen  struck a mine that had been quietly placed by a Swedish-flagged fishing trawler after midnight. The trawler was not Swedish, of course, but Soviet, crewed by Russian sailors with a contingent of naval infantry commandos aboard. The boat laid six mines in an area of the Danish Straits that COMBALTAP had restricted from being sewn with mines. Lossen sank with the loss of nearly her entire crew.

A Naval Home Guard vessel patrolling near the shore of the island of Bornholm was struck by two AT-3 Sagger ATGMs fired by a KGB team staked out ashore. The ship ran aground shortly after and burned brightly in the early morning shadows.

 

In those pre-dawn hours chaos descended on Norway, and Denmark and their populations as the extent of Spetsnaz sabotage and covert actions became clear. For AFNORTH’s senior officers, the chaos was but a precursor to what was surely about to fall upon them. As apprehensive as those hours were for civilians and soldiers alike in the Northern Flank countries, it paled in comparison to what their counterparts in Central Europe had to face at the moment, or would have to face in the coming hours.

 

 

 

The Northern Flank: 9 July, 1987 0100-0400 Part I

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As was the case on the Central Front, the Soviets planned to make use of their special operations assets in the opening hours of hostilities on the Northern Flank. There were unique obstacles facing the Soviets in the northern region, however. Foremost was the meteorological restriction brought on by the midnight sun. During this time of the year, a sizeable portion of northern Norway was bathed in long periods of constant sunlight. The farther north one traveled from the Arctic Circle, the longer the period of midnight sun days extends. Cities and towns nearer to the Circle were receiving three or so hours of sun per day while the North Cape area was still ensconced in 24 hours of sunlight on 9 July, and would be for some time yet.

These conditions were not conducive to successful employment of special operations forces like Spetsnaz. Special operations soldiers prefer to cloak their movements, and operations in darkness, and early morning shadows. This was clearly not possible in key areas of the Northern Flank and the Soviets were aware. Thus, the Soviets did not intend to employ special operations forces here to the same degree that they were going to be used in Central Europe. They could not have done it even if they had wanted to. The Northwestern TVD’s pool of available Spetsnaz teams was a fraction of what the Western TVD had available. West was the military district responsible for operations the Central Front, which was the primary theater of operations. It had priority on reinforcements during the buildup of forces. Northwest would simply have to make do with what was on hand.

At 0100 on 9 July, as their counterparts in Central Europe were getting underway, or in some cases beginning operations prematurely, Soviet special operations groups, and KGB operatives in Norway remained concealed for the most part. Most of their missions were planned to take place between 0500 and 0700 to coincide with other operations scheduled for the Northern Flank.  A select group of operatives and Spetsnaz types had been tasked with particularly critical, or time sensitive missions, however, were already in position or awaiting the final order to proceed.

At AFNORTH headquarters in Kolsas, a brief report on the Spetsnaz attack at Geilenkirchen arrived from Brussels at 0115 as it was still in progress. Although the attack’s outcome was not yet known at the time, SACEUR thought it prudent to transmit a message to all NATO commands apprising them of the situation, and warning them that hostilities could be expected to begin at any moment. CINC-AFNORTH, General Geoffrey Howlett was of a similar mind. He was in his operations center already, quite confident that the line between peace and war would be crossed in a matter of hours.

Howlett was satisfied that he’d done everything possible to ready his command for war. Every military installation in Norway and Denmark was on maximum alert. Status reports from the field were arriving at a brisk clip. Air and sea patrols were out and searching the Norwegian Sea, Baltic, and North Sea for signs of approaching trouble. So far, there was nothing. As 0200 approached, all was quiet on the northern front and remained so even as things in Germany appeared to be coming to a head.

AFNORTH’s first indication of trouble came at 0213 when the Norwegian Coast Guard passed along news of an explosion on a Norwegian oil platform in the North Sea. The coast guard copied a distress call and was preparing to mount a rescue effort. Howlett ordered SAR helicopters stationed at Sola air station to assist in the operation. Less than ten minutes had passed before a second report told of a second platform on fire in the vicinity. The British general was watching his operations group go about their tasks when his aide rushed into the room and informed him that there had been an explosion outside of Victoria Terrasse, the building that housed the Norwegian foreign ministry in Oslo.