During the long Cold War, Norway, as a member of NATO and direct neighbor to the Soviet Union, was in a crucial and critical position. Unwilling to leave their country unprotected in case of a conflict, Generals and other officials decided to establish a formidable defense barrier, the Lyngen Line
The Lyngen Alps is the name of a towering mountain range situated in Arctic Norway. These mountains, rising as high as eighteen-hundred meters, constitute a near-impassable obstacle, literally cutting the whole region with a hundred-and-thirty kilometers of ragged peaks. During the Second World War, when the whole of Norway was occupied by the German army, the Wehrmacht recognized the strategic importance of the Lyngen Alps and built several stations at their base. Towards the end of the war, the German army fled before the advancing Russian forces of Murmansk and retreated behind the Lyngen Line, burning everything in their wake in order to deny their enemy the rich resources of the Finnmark county which then lay in ashes. (1)
After the liberation of Norway by the allied troops in 1945, the political dynamic of Northern Europe had changed drastically. With a Europe divided between two zone of influence, Norway was obliged to choose a side. Norway therefore joined NATO in the year of its inception in 1949. Shortly thereafter, the Norwegian government decided to modernize the country’s defenses, especially with regard to its border with the Soviet Union, the leading member of the rival Warsaw Pact. Already in 1951 the Norwegian Defense Forces had a plan ready in case of a potential Soviet invasion. Incidentally enough, this plan was very much based on the German evacuation of Finnmark in 1944, namely evacuating Finnmark and using the Lyngen range as a natural barricade against any potential land-based assault.(2)
South of the Lyngen fjord and north of the Swedish border, a series of almost three-hundred bunkers were built to protect the Lyngen Passage, the short valley giving access to both sides of the Lyngen range. The coastal front was also very much fortified with dozens of forts built all the way down south from Harstad to the eastern facade of the Lyngen alps. The Eastern side of the Lyngen range was protected by the Årøybukt fort, built between 1953 and 1957. The western side of the range, closer to the town of Tromsø, was protected by the Breiviknes fort, which stood ready in 1954 (3). These forts were primarily designed to stop any potential waterborne enemies from reaching the fjords on each side of the Lyngen range (4). Each of these forts came with, among other things, 75-millimeter guns with a range of over six-thousand meters (5)!
The Breiviknes and Årøybukt forts were only two bases among a complex of nine forts located around Tromsø. Breiviknes and Årøybukt were however, the last two operational forts of the region to be decommissioned. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the development of new warfare technologies, the need for old-fashioned coastal forts and bunkers became less and less crucial. Ultimately, Breiviknes and Årøybukt were abandoned and sold in the beginning of the 2000’s. While the risk of an invasion coming from the Russian side nowadays is minimal, the idea of such an aggression still lingers in the collective Norwegian psyche. A good example of this state of mind could be the new upcoming Norwegian thriller ´Okkupert´ (´Occupied´) which tells of a Russian take-over of Norway amid a devastating international crisis (6). The series, written in collaboration with famed Norwegian crime-writer Jo Nesbø, will hit Norwegian screens the second of September and we can only hope, for historicity’s sake, that the Lyngen Line will play in the series, a role as crucial as the Defense Forces thought it would have in real life.
- (1) Article on the Norwegian Newspaper Dagavisen.
- (2) Article on the Norwegian Newspaper Aftenposten.
- (3) Tørjesen, Finn (2003) Historikk for Breiviknes og Årøybukt Fort. Olavsvern: Private Manuscript. (13 – 15)
- (4) Ibid. Figures 100 – 102.
- (5) Ibid. Figure 106.
- (6) Article on the Norwegian Newspaper Dagbladet.
- (I) A view of the Lyngen Alps from the Tromsdalstinden mountain of Tromsø. Ⓒ Lyonel Perabo (2015).
- (II) The town of Vadsø in Finnmark goes down in flames during the War. Ⓒ Erik Julsrud/Norsk Teknisk Museum
- (III) Norwegian Foreign Minister Halvard Lange signs the NATO charter in 1949. Ⓒ NATO.
- (IV) The fort of Breiviknes in Ullsfjord Ⓒ Finn Tørjesen.
- (V) Trailer for the Tv-Series ´Okkupert´ Ⓒ Tv2. (2015).