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.

 

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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.

Strategic Considerations: Red Banner Northern Fleet 8 July, 1987

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Commander of the Soviet Red Banner Northern Fleet Admiral Ivan Matveyevich Kapitanets looked down at the stack of yellow message forms on his desk and shook his head tiredly. He did not bother to even glance at them when they’d arrived, already aware of the disappointing news they carried. Each one was a report detailing the position, speed, and course of a ship under his command as of one hour ago. His operations chief had delivered a summary of those reports fifteen minutes earlier. To put it bluntly, the Northern Fleet’s timeline lay in shambles.

The majority of Kapitanets’ attack submarines were a half day north of where they should have been by this point. His largest, and most powerful surface groups were supposed to be steaming south and entering the Norwegian Sea at this very moment. Unfortunately, the ships were still gathering in the Barents Sea and would not be in position to open hostilities as per the fleet’s battleplan until M+12 hours at the earliest. This particular setback was going to cause the most havoc with the operational timeline, but there was nothing Kapitanets could do about it.

The fleet had sortied much later than he intended. Doctrine called for the Red Banner Northern Fleet to sortie fully seven to eight days previous to the outbreak of fighting. Because of vacillating on the part of Moscow, Kapitanents, as well as his counterparts in the Black Sea, Baltic and Pacific fleets, did not surge their forces as quickly as they wanted to. The delay would adversely affect his fleet more than the others because of distances between the main fleet bases on the Kola Peninsula and the Norwegian Sea, and North Atlantic. His attack submarines had gotten off at a moderate pace instead of one massive surge as doctrine had also called for.

Luckily, his NATO and US Navy opponents were responding sloppily to the tensions and this afforded Kapitanets precious additional time to move his assets into position. NATO convoys bound for Europe would not be in range of his submarines and, potentially, his bombers for at least three days. The amphibious assault groups carrying reinforcements into the Norwegian Sea would be struck as they came into range too. The admiral also wondered if the reports about the vaunted US aircraft carriers were true as well. Intelligence estimated it would be at least ten days before enough carriers were massed together to begin a move north into the Norwegian Sea. By that time, even after contending with early setbacks, the Red Banner Northern Fleet would be ready to do battle with them.

There were other strategic issues to contend with. Foremost was Moscow’s decree to keep all Soviet ballistic missile submarines in port for the time being. The Kremlin appeared reluctant to make any moves that might be considered as signs of escalation by the United States. Kapitanets understood the reasoning by his political masters. Unfortunately, they did not sympathize with the problems this decision had on his fleet and its war plans. Obviously, the US Navy would be gunning for his ballistic missile submarines. He intended to place them in a bastion, defended by an impenetrable wall of submarines, ASW forces, and aircraft as a counter. By rights, those ballistic missile subs should be under guard in the White Sea and beneath the ice pack right now. As it was, Moscow’s decree meant they would remain in port for the time being. As long as they stayed there, a sizeable portion of his ASW units, and some attack submarines did too.

Looking out of the large window in his Severomorsk office, Kapitanents thought about how dependent his command would be on airpower, especially in the opening days. Success or failure of the entire Norwegian Sea/North Atlantic campaign might very well be determined by the heavy bombers of Naval Aviation and their Long Range Aviation comrades. He was intimately familiar with what advantages land based airpower brought to the table, but having to rely so heavily on it went against his very nature. It was a necessary evil though, and one he could support for the moment. Thirty six hours from now if northern Norway and Iceland were not pacified, Kapitanets take on airpower might be entirely different.

 

 

Strategic Considerations: SACLANT 7 July, 1987

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Inside of the operations center at his headquarters in Norfolk, SACLANT studied the large, computerized map display of the North Atlantic and Norwegian Sea intently. Blue NTDS symbols indicated the current positions of NATO surface ships, submarines, and air units. Red symbols showed the known or suspected positions of their Soviet counterparts. At the moment, it was the Soviet subs not visible on the map that concerned him most.

The Red Banner Northern Fleet had not yet sortied en masse. Admiral Baggett was not surprised. The crisis had exploded in a flash and was evolving at a near reckless pace. Diplomats and general officers on both sides were having a difficult time keeping pace with events, let alone try to slow them down. His counterpart in Murmansk was doubtless contending with his own problems and would have preferred to have his surface ships and submarines at sea already. The Soviets had their own designs for the Norwegian Sea and North Atlantic. If the Northern Fleet’s assets were out of position when hostilities kicked off, their wartime tasks would be that much more difficult.

SACLANT’s intelligence chief estimated that the Northern Fleet would begin putting to sea within the next eight to ten hours. The latest satellite intel showed the main surface elements of the fleet preparing to get underway, and activity at the main submarine base at Polyarny was extremely high, with a large number of Red submarined getting ready to sail. When it happened, the news would reach Norfolk quickly. Baggett had three submarines operating in close to the coast up there.

It was widely believed in Norfolk, Brussels, and Washington that once the Northern Fleet sailed, hostilities would begin forty-eight hours from that point. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and SACEUR checked in with Baggett at the top of every hour for an update. Admiral Crowe had another reason for making frequent calls. One major component of Maritime Strategy, the playbook which the US Navy and its NATO partners would use to fight the Third Battle of the Atlantic, was being hotly debated in the White House and Pentagon; Taking out the Soviet SSBNs operating under the Arctic ice pack. There was growing question inside of the Reagan administration about the prudence of targeting Soviet strategic assets directly from the start of hostilities. Doing so could invite a disproportionate response which in turn might dangerously escalate the conflict. Right now, a number of US and British SSNs were moving north towards the Barents Sea exclusively for this mission.

SACLANT would not be disheartened if the SSBN hunt were postponed. Operationally, a delay would give him more subs to interdict Soviet surface ships and submarines heading into the Norwegian Sea and North Atlantic. As the situation stood, his command would need every additional asset it could get its hands on to keep the Soviets bottled up in the Norwegian Sea until Baggett was ready to move Strike Fleet Atlantic north and take control of the sea. To do this, he needed two or more carrier battlegroups to form the vaunted strike fleet. Forrestal and Eisenhower were steaming northeast through Atlantic waters right now. However, it would be at least four days until both were in position. Kitty Hawk was expected to leave from Philadelphia tomorrow. When the time came, he could move north with two decks if the situation called for it, though he was admittedly not comfortable with the possibility.

SACLANT was in ‘transition to war’ phase of Maritime Strategy, more commonly referred to as Phase One. It involved the marshalling of naval forces and their movement into the forward areas, specifically the Norwegian Sea, and to a lesser extent the Barents as well. The time frame of the phase served as preparation for Phase Two: seizing the initiative and taking the fight to the enemy.

Baggett’s forces were not ready to move north at the moment and would not be ready when the shooting began. Therein lay the first strategic problem of the war for SACLANT: To go north with what was available, or wait until significant forces were massed and ready. The Norwegian Sea, as well as northern Norway were a cornerstone of the alliance’s SLOC defense. If NATO was forced to withdraw from the waters north of Iceland, and cede control of them to the Soviets, the pressure then placed on convoys crossing the Atlantic could be overwhelming.

It was a race, Baggett realized, of which side could muster the needed forces, and begin its operations first. For the moment, neither SACLANT or the Red Banner Northern Fleet was in the position it wanted to be. With every hour that passed, the equation changed. However, for every hour that went by with the Soviets still in port, NATO benefitted.

 

 

 

 

 

The View From The Flanks: AFNORTH, 5 July, 1987

Allied_Forces_Northern_Europe  The Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Northern Europe, British General Sir Geoffrey Howlett had been monitoring the deterioration of the international situation with great trepidation. Like most general officers in Europe and North America in early July of 1987, his focus was on his command, the role it would play in a conflict, and, last but not least, ensuring that it was properly prepared if hostilities broke out. AFNORTH (Allied Forces Northern Europe) had an operational area which covered vast areas. Howlett’s forces were charged with defending every square mile of land and airspace from the North Cape south to the Kiel Canal, as well as the Norwegian, North, and Baltic seas.

He was eager to get on with the preparations for war. Even before Reagan’s speech announcing the call up of reservists and reinforcement of Europe, Howlett was quietly making sure that his command would be ready if the orders to begin mobilizing and reinforcing AFNORTH came from Brussels. His dilemma was that AFNORTH was made up of military units from three separate nations in peacetime. In war, that number would inflate to at least six. Nation-states, even allies, rarely ever march in lockstep. Denmark, and Norway were two particularly special cases. Although NATO members, they were among the more liberal member nations. The governments in Oslo and Copenhagen made concerted efforts to avoid provoking the Soviet Union. Norway did not allow foreign soldiers to be permanently stationed on its soil in peacetime. Denmark followed a similar policy for Jutland and Zealand. In wartime, the bans did not apply, of course.

For Norway, though there were no foreign troops on its territory,  a large amount of pre-positioned military equipment belonging to Royal Marines, US Marines, and the US Air Force was in place there. War plans called for the immediate and heavy reinforcement of Norway in a time of crisis. There was equipment on hand to fit out a US Marine Amphibious Brigade, and the Royal Marine 3 Commando Brigade. The troops simply needed to be flown in and marry up with its equipment. The concept was quite similar to REFORGER in principle.

Following Reagan’s speech, Howlett received a telephone call from SACEUR. He did not know General Galvin very well, having only met the new supreme allied commander at the change of command ceremony in Brussels back in late June. Five minutes into the conversation and any questions or concerns he’d had about the his new commander were melting away. SACEUR informed him that REFORGER was beginning immediately and although the initial focus was going to be reinforcing Germany, he was going to make certain that a number of transport aircraft were earmarked to begin bringing US Marines into Norway within 24 hours. It would be Howland’s task to get permission from the Norwegians for foreign troops to begin landing on their soil. The request was a formality, though at this stage a crucial one. Should US or Royal Marines begin arriving in Norway without the government’s official blessing, the Soviets could use it as a potential reason to make war.

After hanging up with SACEUR, Howlett made a quick call to England and confirmed that 3 Commando’s troops were packing. Next,  he contacted the office of Norway’s Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland and requested an immediate audience with the PM. It was granted and five minutes later, Sir Geoffrey was in a car departing AFNORTH’s headquarters at Kolsas, Norway for the short ride into Oslo. On the drive, CINC-AFNORTH stared out the window as his mind cataloged the endless list of tasks that needed to be accomplished once this essential political ritual was complete.