participates in...

September 1972

Page last updated: 26 July, 2018

Underway Northern Europe

The Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic

The Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic, on behalf of all three Major NATO Commanders, gave a presentation on the large-scale exercise "STRONG EXPRESS" which will take place in the autumn of this year. Eleven NATO countries will contribute forces which will include maritime, amphibious and air units, as well as the Allied Command Europe Mobile Force. The aim will be to test and develop NATO capabilities for rapid reaction and reinforcement to strengthen the Alliance's defensive posture in time of emergency.

NATO held its biggest land, sea, and air exercise in history in September 1972 in and off northern Norway. Code-named "Strong Express", the exercise involved 350 ships, 65,000 men from 12 countries, and 700 aircraft. The high point of the exercise was was a series of amphibious landings on the Norwegian coast. Sensitive to Norwegian memories of World War II, only a few German troops landed.

Extracted in part from From World Book Online Reference Center:
FLIGHT International Magazine, in its 28 September 1972 edition reported the following:

"For the past two weeks Nato forces have been engaged in their biggest joint exercise since Silver Tower in 1968. A total of 64,000 men, 300 ships and 700 aircraft are taking part in Exercise Strong Express, which has been taking place in several parts of the Atlantic, adjacent Nato land and sea areas, with units exercising off the eastern coast of North America, in northern Norway, the North Sea, the English Channel approaches, the Iberian peninsula and central and western portions of the North Atlantic.

The main object of the exercise has been to test Nato's ability, with 12 countries taking part, to defend its northern flank from a supposed Russian offensive. In the first of two amphibious landings, marines from the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States made an unopposed assault. Later the 3,000-strong force was landed again, opposed this time by 4,000 Norwegian "enemy" forces. With troop movements on the ground so easily visible in the country round Tromso, the importance of carrier-based air support (provided in Strong Express by HMS Ark Royal and USS John F. Kennedy) has been clearly demonstrated......"

......"The defense of Norway and Iceland were essential to success in the Norwegian Sea and the Atlantic. The key to this defense was maintaining air superiority over the Norwegian Sea, Norway and Iceland. In addition to the considerable firepower of the Soviet northern fleet, an air armada of over 700 bomber and tactical aircraft were in their arsenal.

     With this reality, all aspects of NATO's Norwegian Sea campaign along with the integrated defense of Norway and Iceland were exercised and refined regularly. The standard was to hold 10-14 training exercises a year throughout the cold war. Exercise "Strong express" in September 1972 saw 12 NATO nations contribute 65.000 men, 350 ships and 700 aircraft to the defense and relief of Norway under simulated attack by the USSR. In this exercise U.S., U.K. and the Netherlands marines, supported by USS Kennedy and HMS Ark Royal aircraft landed their elements to join up for integrated land support operations."

Extracted from a paper by Admiral Leon A. Edney USN (ret.)

LORD BROCKWAY: "My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper. The Question was as follows:

'To ask Her Majesty's Government what is the purpose of the unusually expensive current NATO exercise in the North Atlantic and Norwegian Sea.' "

BARONESS TWEEDSMUIR OF BELHELVIE"My Lords, NATO is at present holding exercise "Strong Express" throughout the Northern Atlantic area. It is designed to test and develop NATO capabilities for rapid reaction and reinforcement to strengthen the Alliance's defensive position in this vital area."

LORD BROCKWAY: "My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer. May I ask her this question? Does she not agree that it is ironic that at a moment of developing détente and 868 the hope of an all-European security, both NATO and also the Warsaw Pact countries should at this moment be holding the largest military maneuvers for four years? Cannot there be some co-ordination between the political and military factors in such a situation?"

BARONESS TWEEDSMUIR OF BELHELVIE"My Lords, as the House knows, NATO is a defensive alliance and one of its main aims is to promote détente. This will not be achieved unless we keep the right military balance by a properly tested defensive system. That is what is happening now. So far as the Warsaw Pact countries are concerned. apparently they do not think that their very large exercise, Shield 72, which is now being held, is inconsistent with their advocacy of a C.S.C.E."

From H.L. Debate, 19 September 1972,  2.42 p.m.

As they do every year at this time, the NATO and Warsaw Pact powers last week were playing war games in Europe. Fully 100,000 troops engaged in a giant maneuver called Shield '72, which presupposed a lunge from the West and a Communist counterattack. Mean while, NATO assembled 64,000 men, 300 warships and 700 aircraft off the coast of Europe, from Portugal to Norway, for its own games, dubbed Strong Express. Their purpose was to demonstrate NATO's efficiency in coming to the aid of an ally invaded by Communist troops.

Both sides could also read political meaning into the games. The Warsaw Pact exercise was held in Czechoslovakia, which was invaded by the Soviets in 1968; if anyone had any doubts, Shield '72 made the point that the Soviets were prepared to do the same again if a satellite got out of line. NATO'S exercise could reassure the Norwegians that they can vote in favor of joining the Common Market during their referendum this month, despite the disapproval of the Soviet Union, whose navy is beginning to dominate the sea approaches to Norway. Or, read another way, both sides were flexing their muscles before settling down to discuss the practicalities of détente: a European Security Conference, and mutual and balanced reduction of forces.

From Time Magazine, Monday, Sep. 25, 1972
HMS ALBION (R07) History...

"She (HMS Albion) took part in Exercise 'Strong Express', then the largest NATO exercise ever staged in September 1972, in Norwegian waters around Harstad."

Ed. Note: Harstad is a city and municipality in Norway. It is located approximately 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle.


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