Finnmark, June 6, 1968 – Norway on the brink of war
Finnmark people have traditionally had a positive attitude towards Russia, and trade relations have existed for centuries. Before the Tsarist Empire, the area around Sør Varanger was once a common administrative zone with Russia before an agreement was reached on a fixed border. At the time, Finland was still a Russian neighbor.
The feeling of belonging to Russia is underlined once again when the Red Army liberated Kirkenes from the German Wehrmacht in 1944. However, since Finland’s detachment from Russia was its direct neighbor, there is now a direct border with Russia over a length of almost 200 kilometers.
Norway is a founding member of NATO and maintains the north flank of the Warsaw Pact, while Finland is a neutral country.
NATO’s demonstration of power in central Norway, reactions from Russia
If the Cold War is to be used to deter opponents through demonstrations of power, large-scale maneuvers by both military blocs are also included. A large maneuver around Tromsø took place in June 1968, coordinated by the English aircraft carrier “Bullwark” in the port of Harstad. For the first time since the Second World War there are German soldiers on Norwegian territory again, because Germany is involved in this maneuver with the frigate “Cologne”.
The West’s mistrust of the East cannot be greater, but the reverse is hardly different. But the Norwegian-Russian border, which is about 200 kilometers long, is guarded by 600 Norwegian border guards. One of them is the 20 year old lightly armed Harald Kjelstad. He stands alone on top of the watchtower at the Svanvik border station. Meanwhile, his two comrades are sleeping on the floor of the guard house.
He will immediately notice that 210 Russian tanks and 15,000 soldiers have suddenly marched out of nowhere along the common border.
Fear or thirst for adventure – game or war on the Norwegian border with Russia
Harald Kjelstad as well as his comrades know why they are doing their work in this place, they know how dangerous this border is. And they know that if the Russians come, they won’t stand a chance.
The NATO exercises in Norway have been a thorn in the side of Russia for years. They have repeatedly warned not to put up with such maneuvers and have expressed their willingness to intervene if necessary. Internationally, the Cold War is the dominant topic. At that time, the United States was pooling its forces more and more in the merciless Vietnam War. And now Harald Kjelstad and his comrades could become Russia’s first ambassadors for the unmistakable message that these threats would no longer be offered.
Anything but silent
The Norwegian border guards are increasingly aware of gunshot noises and see muzzle flames from the cannon tubes of the Russian tanks. They are literally targeted by the cannons and then shot at. They wait for the impact and thus for their death, but the shots are not followed by grenades. The Russian soldiers make no secret of their presence, they obviously appear in full size. They immediately report to their garrison in Sør Varanger. With the firm belief that an immediate attack is imminent, she is immediately ready for action. Because there has never been such a march on the Norwegian border since the Second World War.
Harald Kjelstad will remain on his watchtower continuously for the next few days, just like his 600 comrades along the border. Exciting and tense with the certainty of not being able to survive an outbreak of war.
Days of uncertainty
The command to the Norwegian border guards is unmistakable: any Russian soldier who crosses the border would be shot immediately. However, the Norwegian soldiers feel abandoned by their leadership in Oslo. Because despite immediate notification to the secret service, which is responsible for forwarding to the ministers, there is no response from there. There is contradicting information that the Oslo Secret Service needs up to 12 hours to pass on to Defense Minister Otto Grieg Tidemand.
Swept under the table, almost …
This evaluates the march as a pure demonstration of power by the Russians and is unimpressed. People in Eastern Finland are more impressed and feel helpless and beset. The local media immediately begin to report on what happened. But reporting from the Norwegian Ministry of Defense is immediately censored. Nobody should know about this deployment. The soldiers themselves are required to maintain confidentiality for the next 30 years.
The Russian soldiers begin their withdrawal on June 11th. It is only 40 years later that it becomes apparent that the Russians held their own exercise on the border with Norway in the period June 6-11, 1968, parallel to the NATO maneuver.
A spark can cause an inferno
From today’s perspective, one can only admire the prudence of everyone involved at the border. A sharp shot as a defense, an accidental crossing of the border, all that could have triggered an inferno up to the third world war. In further articles we report on the tension of the soldiers and the trigger of such a maneuver on the Russian side.