Cold War defense included plans to sacrifice Finnmark in the north

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The Norwegian government would have been prepared to give up the northern region of Finnmark in the event of an invasion by the Soviet Union, according to claims made in a new book released this week by a Cold War-era general.

Finnmark is a vast area in northernmost Norway, bordering on Russia, Finland and Sweden. MAP: Wikipedia

Retired Major-General Gullow Gjeseth, now age 71, has revealed previously unknown military proposals regarding the country’s Soviet-era defense strategy in his new book Landforsvarets krigsplaner under den kalde krigen (National defense battle plans during the Cold War). Gjeseth’s access to secret documents from the Cold War years suggest that Finnmark would not have been defended if the Soviets invaded.

Instead, at a meeting in 1951 between army chiefs and the defense minister at the time, famed resistance hero from World War II Jens Christian Hauge, discussions reportedly included proposals to raze and abandon Finnmark if the Soviets attacked, in order to make the forward march of the communist superpower more difficult.

It is not known exactly who put forward the idea, but the plan was considered as one of several contingencies in the event of an assault. The plan, according to Gjeseth, was that the people of Finnmark themselves would execute the scorched earth strategy before putting up the greatest possible resistance to the invaders, with the help of any soldiers in the region.

The army’s troops would then mobilize en masse in the neighbouring county of Troms, joined by allied soldiers trained to fight in Norwegian conditions, and attempt to hold off the invaders there. Finnmark had been burned by retreating German forces just seven years earlier, towards the end of World War II, and rebuilding had not been completed.

The book reveals that fear of an invasion from the former Soviet Union was rife among the Norwegian defense forces immediately after the end of World War II. Several imagined scenarios included ocean-based assaults, invasions launched from Finland or paratrooper drops at key locations in the north, although all strategies hinged on the belief that an invasion would not come through Sweden.

It was apparently an open secret that Finnmark would play a key role as a bulwark against any attack from the north. In anticipation, forces were built up and kept prepared at bases in Bardufoss, Setermoen and Skjold, all part of the Troms region, along with a series of coastal defenses and radar arrays to monitor air and sea movements. Just 15 years ago, a secret underground base was still in construction in Lyngen, near where a new border would have been formed after the loss of Finnmark.

Gjeseth, now a researcher for a defense study institute (Institutt for forsvarsstudier) has been unable to access Soviet archives to find any plans for an attack on Norway.

‘Just one idea’
“This is frightening, but not surprising,” Arvid Petterson of Porsanger, who has written Finnmark’s evacuation history, told newspaper Aftenposten. “Ideas that the people should raze their own infrastructure … are war tactics that our neighbouring countries used, for example when Napoleon attacked Russia.”

Historian Stian Bones at the University of Tromsø in northern Norway wasn’t surprised either, noting that razing Finnmark “was just one idea.” Bones told Aftenposten that it didn’t eventually apply to Norwegian defense plans and that at least one general was strongly criticized for taking it up.

Gjeseth’s book was released just days after Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, who has stressed the importance of Norway’s northern territories, and Queen Sonja attended ceremonies in Kirkenes, near the Russian border, tied to border issues in the area, where movement over the borders is being eased for local residents. Art exhibits on “Borderlines” were unveiled in both northern Norway and in Oslo.

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher and Nina Berglund
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