The impact of the Royal Norwegian Air Force on economy and society in Northern Norway during the Cold War 
– The case of Andøya

A presentation delivered at the 4th Cold War conference at Norwegian Aviation Museum, September 13, 2002.[ 

By Karl L. Kleve, curator Norwegian Aviation Museum.

Northern Norway has experienced a tremendous economic growth and gone trough some pretty major changes in the course of the last 50 years. From a position of relative poverty and underdevelopment compared with Southern Norway, being heavily dependent on fisheries and with low industrialisation, the region is today on par with the rest of the country. There is these days insignificant differences between Northern Norway and the rest of the country. 

This growth and these changes occurred entirely during the period of the Cold War. From being a region of low military significance, Northern Norway became one of the most central parts of the Western Alliance. It was situated directly in the path of both American and Soviet aeroplanes and missiles wanting to take a shot at each other. The region bordered on the Soviet Union and its largest naval and air bases and it was overlooking the North Atlantic, the vital link between the Western Allies and the only way out to the high seas for the Soviet Northern Fleet. 

Becoming of such vital importance for the NATO-alliance, Northern Norway was the focus of a military activity unparalleled in Norwegian history. A large part of this activity centred on the building of air bases. The establishment of these air bases led to major changes both for the region as a whole and for the local communities in which these bases was established. 

The purpose of my latest research, which this paper is presenting, is therefore to look into the relationship between the Air Force and the local communities resulting from this tremendous growth in activity. I am focusing on one such community, the island of Andøya, the scene of one of the largest and most important of the air bases being build in Norway. 

I am putting forth two questions which I aim to address in this study. The reasons behind addressing these two questions will follow suit: 

         Why build a major air base at Andøya?           


2          What impact did the construction of this air base have on the local community of Andøya? 

The reasons for putting forth these two questions: 

There are in my opinion two reasons why these two questions are of interest: 

The first is related to the time of the decisions to construct, and the constructions itself, of the military installations in Northern Norway. The decision to start construction of the massive military installations in these parts of the country is firstly related to the decision within NATO in the wake of the Korean War, to expand the Atlantic Alliance from being an organ of purely political cooperation into a full fledged military alliance. This decision was formally taken in September 1951, when the NATO Summit in Ottawa decided to intensify the military buildup in the member states, and integrate both the expansion measures and the different Armed Forces of the member states in a closer command and control structure. This decision to greatly expand military buildup was implemented firstly by the next NATO Summit in Lisboa in february 1952, when the Summit decided to implement Infrastructural Program No. 3, which were allocating very large sums from NATO (mostly originating from the US Congress) to the building of large defensive works in all member states. In Norway this amounted to 330 Million Kroner for the building of 7 Air Bases, among these bases in Bodø, Bardufoss, Rygge, etc. Later on, during the next Summit in Paris in December 1952, Andøya followed suit in Infrastructural Program No. 4. 83 Million Kroner was then allocated to the building of an air base at Andøya, and 42 Million Kroner to fuel storage sites and communication. A couple of Opera Houses worth of money. And most of it in foreign currency! 

At the same time as NATO was contemplating turning the alliance into a tool for the integration and expansion of the military apparatus of the member states, and raising the Alliance’s budgets considerably, the Norwegian Government was thinking about creating a large Plan for the restructuring of Northern Norwegian economic life, pulling the region into the modern, industrialised world and put and end to the large economic differences between northern and southern Norway. This was considered all the more important as the northern part of our country had also been hit hard by the last war. The northernmost county of Finnmark had indeed even been burned to the ground by the retreating Germans. In 1952 the Norwegian Parliament then decided to implement the “Northern Norway Plan”, creating a special Development Fund for Northern Norway, which together with massive tax cuts and other measures should create strong incentives to investments in the region and build up a better infrastructure. But this would cost quite a large amount of money. Around 300 Million Kroner, all told. 100 Million of which in a direct parlamentary appropriation. 

The timely coincidence between the decision in the Atlantic Alliance to spend a lot of money on military construction and the strong wish in the Norwegian political establishment to put and end to the economic and social disrepancies between the north and the south of Norway, made me wonder whether there had been any connection between the two? Did civilian needs and wishes in any way dictate the type and placement of military constructions? Or was there purely military motives behind the decision to create a large air base on Andøy? In other words: did civilian or military interests decide were to construct large military facilities? 

The question of what consequences this air base had on the local community is interesting regardless of the motives behind. But to put it like this: if civilian interests were predominant in the decision to build on Andøya, then it would be perhaps even more interesting to see if the decision gave the wanted results. 

Another reason why I find these questions interesting, is because the relationship between the Armed Forces and the society at large have not been a dominant field of study. All too often the military is regarded as a separate society, alongside but not properly part of the civilian society. In addition studies into matters military or security policy have been focused on the “High Politics” arena. A lot of important and extremely interesting studies have been made in those areas, but I feel there is time to add other aspects, too. Which is partly what this conference is all about. 


A bit about some of the sources I have utilised: 

Regarding population, employment and economic figures for Andøya, etc., I have used among other things analyses from the Central Bureau of Statistics and consequence analyses from a couple of social science research institutions working on commissions from the Ministry of Defence and local counties wanting to analyse the consequences of changes in the status of local military installations. The last 10 to 15 years many communities have feared losing “their” military installation, and have engaged in projects trying to analyse their dependance of these installations.  

For the military discussions on whether to build an air base on Andøya or not, of particular interest are the records of the meetings of the Norwegian Joint Chiefs of Staff. The leadership of the Norwegian Armed Forces was in the period from 1948 to 1969 organised with a Joint Chiefs system comprising the Inspector Generals of the Army, Air Force and Navy plus the Head of the Central Defence Staff, in contrast with today’s system of having one overall Commander. The proceedings from these meetings have for some years been declassified and are a very important source of information both regarding principal questions and also often on details. The proceedings are complete, too.  

Complete are unfortunately not a proper word for the rest of the archives of the Armed Forces. Due to a large amount of unautorized discardment of documents in the entire Armed Forces of materiel from the end of WWII up to around 1960, archives from these era are very often lost. This means that there have been many holes in my sources. I do not think it has had any effect on my ability to answer the first question in my study, though. The evidence have been quite clear. I have also usually been able to complement the sources with other documents both from the military archives, the Defence Ministry archives, private archives from leading Labour politicians, local county archives, etc. 

But the discardments have hampered my ability to get a complete understanding of the amount of military investments on Andøya and other such figures. Although there are a lot of documents throwing light upon this, they are incomplete and it is often difficult to separate plans and wish lists from what was actually undertaken. I am therefore unable to provide much more than examples of concrete cases and making educated guesses about total figures. I feel they are usually quite good guesses, though.   

The study itself: question 1: Why? 

Let’s first have a look at the military interests behind a possible construction of an air base on Andøya: 

Before World War II Andøya played absolutely no significant military role. The British took a couple of snapshots of the island in May 1940, when a naval supply plane on its way to the British forces stationed in the town of Harstad passed Lofoten and Vesterålen, with the intention of looking into possible sites for emergency airfields in the area, when trying to fight the advancing Germans. But the plane was destroyed by German bombers outside Bodø, and nothing came of it. During the war the Germans placed a Coastal Artillery battery on the northern tip of the island. 

The first Commander of the Air Force in Northern Norway after the war, Ole Reistad, visited Andøya in 1947, after an invitation by the County Council of Andenes to evaluate the possibility of building an airfield. But Reistad sent his people all over Northern Norway to look for possible airfield sites, so this doesn’t necessarily signify much. And in the first years after the war there were a lot of German airfields around, and not much money to tend to these, let alone to build any new ones. 

But the signal from NATO in 1951 about a massive increase in military spending, financed largely by American money, triggered interest in the Norwegian Armed Forces for the building of new and improved air bases. The Supreme Commander Northern Norway sent a letter to the Joint Chiefs in September 1951, about possible new air bases in Northern Norway, among these the possibility of building a base at Andøya. Some six months before this letter, the Engineer corps at Harstad had send an engineer to Andøya to evaluate and make a recommendation on possible placement of an airfield on the island. The sources to this are cursory, and doesn’t say anything about who ordered this evaluation. The few documents relating to this also make it clear that the ambitions regarding size of the airfield were low. 

But the letter to the Joint Chiefs triggered a request from the Chiefs to the Supreme Commander Northern Norway to make a strategic assesment about the need for air bases in the region. And this assesment and the following discussions in the meetings of the Joint Chief clearly stated that there was, with the major growth in Soviet military activity at the Kola penninsula and the growing importance of Northern Norway a definite need for an air base in the Northern Nordland/Southern Troms area, as  complement to the two major air bases in Bardufoss and Bodø. The need was for an air base for tactical planes in wartime defending the planned Lyngen-line and securing Allied air supremacy or at least a contended air space in the region in the case of a Soviet invasion. Bardufoss would be too close to the probable frontline and Bodø too far away to secure effective air cover. 

During 1952 a commitee in the Defence Staff evaluated possible sites and recommended the northern tip of Andøya as the most favourable site for a third tactical air base in Northern Norway. The idea was presented for the NATO Northern Command at Kolsås outside Oslo, and then for SHAPE in Paris and SACLANT in Norfolk, Virginia.  

The Northern Command and SHAPE was initially a bit sceptical to the construction of new air bases in Northern Norway at large. They did feel that it wouldn’t in practice be possible to defend Northern Norway at all. The “Defence Plan for the Northern European Command 1954”, written by the Northern Command in 1952, stated that it was not realistic to expect that to it would be possible to defend Norway north of Trondheim. SHAPE’s “Capabilities Studies 1957” was likewise sceptical. But such pessimistic views was sharply criticised by the Norwegian military authorities and did not hinder SHAPE in giving support of the plans for a new air base at Andøya. In fact, the pessimistic tone of the Northern Command’s Defence plan strengthened the argument for a new air base, since it stated a need for 97 tactical planes pluss support planes in order to defend Northern Norway. Such amounts was impossible to accomodate without an additional air base beside Bodø and Bardufoss. 

SACLANT became the most ardent supporter of Andøya. In addition to accomodating tactical air planes for the support of the Lyngen-line, a support which would have to come from SACLANT’s maritime expeditionary forces, Andøya would fit right into SACLANT’s string of air bases accomodating maritime patrol planes. This task, originally not being a priority in the Norwegian planning, was later to become the main task of the air base. 

So, in December 1952, the NATO Summit in Paris decided to appropriate 83 Million Kroner for the establishment of an air base on Andøya, pluss 42 Million for fuel storage and communications. Some 2 Billion Kroner in today’s coin. 

Civilian interest:  

During 1952 the plans for an air base on Andøya became known to the public. The local papers in the Andøya area wrote several pieces about it, and it was received very favorably on the island. 

Andøy was in deep economic troubles. The three counties on the island (they were merged into one in 1965) were nearly bankrupt. There were high unemployment and the island, which was totally dependent on fisheries was going to a painful transition phase regarding the fisheries. The island desperately needed a new and larger harbour at Andenes, the commercial centre, and a new and more modern fleet of fishing vessels. But there was no money, neither in the county budgets nor among the private fishermen. The existing fisheries was based on a pre-modern system of small vessels and fishermen who combined fishing and small farming. There was very little actual capital involved. As such an air base, with the potential of employment, modernisation and capital flow was manna from heaven. 

But this does not seem to have played any role in the planning of the placement of the air base. The planning and discussions was made solely within the military, and the arguments putting forth Andøya instead of for example Tromsø as the best site for a new air base, was based solely on military strategic and technical considerations. The local authorities was not even informed before the actual constructions started. The central civilian government organs never exercised any influence on the debate. Only on the larger principal questions of military works versus civilian needs did the government take an interest. And even here only a cursory interest. The Ministries of Trade and Finance were worried that military spending might draw money and people away from necessary civilian works. The Minister of Trade, Erik Brofoss asked Prime Minister Einar Gerhardsen to imply of the Americans whether USA might want to finance parts of the Northern Norway Plan, using the argument that a strengthening of the economy and standard of living in Northern Norway would have a beneficient effect on morale, lessen communist influence and thereby create a better, more stable environment for the defence of Northern Norway against the Soviet Union. But USA turned the request down.  

Later comments by different ministers about the military buildup satisfied themselves with expressing the wish that some of the constructions might also prove to be of benefit for the civilian sector. But this does never seem to have been followed by any kind of practical measures.  

So I feel safe to say that, although there was a great and recognised need for large civilian investments in Northern Norway, and the government did launch a major Plan for such measures, there does not seem to have been any kind of linking between this need for civilian investments and the sudden influx of investments in military installations.  

Question 2: consequences: 

Regardless of the reasons for choosing just Andøya as site for the new air base, this did create enormous changes for the little community. 

Population: Even if we don’t include the about 1.000 soldiers and officers who made Andøya their permanent or temporary home each year from the end of the 50ies, the air base precipitated a large rise in the population on the island. In the period 1950 – 1970 Andøya had a yearly rise of 1 – 1 ½ percent, compared to an insignificant rise, and from 1960 a decline in population figures in the surrounding counties. From a population of about 6.500 in 1950, it rose to 8.200 in 1970. Of these numbers the air base accounted for 50 – 75 percent of the new employers.

This trend is even more obvious when looking at the shift in population within the island, where the northernmost tip of Andenes, the site of the new air base, in 1970 accounted for 60 percent of the island’s population. And this came about even though the establishment of the base lead to the total depopulation of the village of Haugnes, which had to give way for hangars, sones of security, and such.  

Another interesting aspect is the fact that also the fisheries experienced a boost after a while. The first years after the construction started in 1953, people were leaving the fisheries en masse. But when the new harbour was finished, paid for by NATO money in order to create easy access for supplies and construction equipment, and people started to accumulate more money, a lot of people invested in modern fishing vessels and went back to the fisheries. New fishing refineries were also build.  

Andøya started to appear on the top of income statistics in the area, and the local county improved its tax basis tremendously. All trough the 1960ies, 70ies and 80ies the air base and its personell accounted for between 25 and 50 percent of the county’s income tax. In addition came taxes from the new construction firms working with the nearly permanent expansion of the airfield all through the 50ies and 60ies. 

Andøya figured with high amounts regularly on the NATO infrastructural budgets all through the 50ies and 60ies, and the investments, although somewhat lower during the 70ies and 80ies, were also quite large.

But such wealth doesn’t come without a price. From being an area of military insignificance both from an allied point of view and from the view of the Soviet Union, Andøya became a major target for possible soviet expansion in Northern Norway. The Soviet Union was monitoring the work on Andøya closely, and complaining both in its Norwegian language radio broadcasts and in its newspapers about the encircling of the Soviet Union resulting of this major air facility. And the Norwegian Armed Forces was pretty convinced that Soviet forces in the event of a Soviet attack on the West, would try to occupy Andøya in a very early phase. In fact the importance of Andøya was steadily growing in the eyes of both Norwegian and NATO military personell as the discussions about possible Soviet threats against Andøya proceded. During the 60ies Andøya was considered to be the key to the defence of Northern Norway. A Soviet occupation would effectively isolate NATO forces in the Lyngen line. Likevise Allied control of Andøy would make it impossible for Soviet forces to proceed further south in Norway. In addition, when it in the 60ies was decided that Norway should have a capacity for long range maritime surveillance of Soviet activity in the Northern waters, Andøya became the centre for the maritime patrol aircrafts. 

So as the establishment of a large air base on Andøya radically changed the economic and welfare outlook of the island, this also gave the inhabitants of the island something more to worry about.

Generalisations possible? 

As the title on this paper implies - it being a case study; I would now in the end like to assert whether it is possible to draw some general conclusions regarding the Air Force’s role in Northern Norway, based on this study.

To make general assumptions on the basis of singular studies is wrought with danger. Many historians feel it to be unacceptable, and only belonging in the realms of the social sciences with their quantitative methods. History is but a string of singular events, say many.  The purpose of the historian is to present these events, and also analyse them if possible. But not try to make assumptions beyond his narrow field of study, except possibly by way of comparison. To do more is to fall into the trap of the social sciences, to quote british historian Peter Baldwin from a seminar a couple of years ago.

But I disagree, both on principle and regarding this specific study. As I stated earlier, all remarks from politicians and what we may coin the “civilian sector” about possible linking of the military expansion in Northern Norway with the need for economic strengthening of the region, have been general in character. With one or two exceptions they have addressed the needs and wishes of the entire region, not spesific places. And it does not seem to have amounted to more than words anyway. Meaning that the reasons behind the placement of military installations – relating to my first main question in this study – have all been military strategic in character, and have not been influenced by civilian needs. This was the case with Andøya, and this seems to have been the case also with all military installations planned and builded in the Cold War era. 

Regarding the consequenses, I feel it safe to assume that they follow much the same pattern in Bodø, Bardufoss, Ørlandet, Banak, etc. as they did in Andøya; regarding population developments, regarding the major strengthening of local public economy, expansion of infrastructure regarding roads, harbours, schools, etc. That the local communities which were the recipients of major military works experienced a tremendous growth and long time positive economic development compared with their neighbours lacking such installations. Probably the only communities in Northern Norway with comparable developments without such major military installations are Mo, Sulitjelma and Kirkenes with their large semi-public iron works and mining installations. 

There is one special consequence of the establishment of the air base on Andøya probably not found to the same degree anywhere else. And that relates to the expropriation of the entire village of Haugnes. A lot of farms and houses all over Norway had to go in order to construct the new military facilities. But the depopulation of and entire village was not common. And this has since created a quite peculiar and romantic sense of “nationalism in exile” among the people who had to move, and among their children. 

At the same time as the new military facilities led to more jobs, improved local economy, etc., all recipients of military installations, in particular those with air bases – like Andøya – became major military targets. There is no free lunch. You pay for military investments which creates positive peace-time-effects like employment, by becoming a potential high priority target for the enemy in war. 

Thank you for your attention!   

* This presentation is based on a larger,yet unfinished paper by the same name. The full and final paper will be published in a Norwegian language edition in the Norwegian Aviation Museum Series in November 2002. 



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