Lost Photos of World War III
So, I was rummaging in the basement of my apartment building the other day, looking for some stuff I dumped down there when I first moved in, when I came across this old, dusty shoebox. I didn't know what was in it, but I could see that on the outside someone wrote the words "Norway '85" on it's top with a pencil. Out of respect for the privacy of whomever owned this box I should have really put it back where I found it...but I just couldn't resist taking a peak. I've read a lot about the '80s over the years: that iconic decade of music, movies and, sadly, the 20th Century's last great war, what was logically called World War III. Heck, it was the decade I chose to do my freshman history thesis on! So I had to take a peak.
Inside I found a bunch of old analog pictures of some battle in Norway involving the Danes and some Warsaw Pact troops. From what I could gather the pictures were taken by a pool reporter sent to the front. Sadly, I couldn't find his name anywhere, but I know he was a reporter because of the comments he wrote on the back of each photo. Take, for example, the photo at the top of this blog. On the back, this unknown Walt Whitman wrote: "Damn Dane tanks! No match against the T-72 at range! The darn things brew up far too easily. This won't play well in Copenhagen!"
I found a lot more like that too. All in all, they made for a fascinating glimpse at a long forgotten battle in a big war.
On the back of the above photo, a shaky hand scrawled: "Stan (my photographer) and I were following a pair of TOW Defenders in the pool chopper when suddenly a distant patch of woods explodes into tracer fire. A stream of angry red spears lanced out into the lead chopper, causing an explosion that shrouded the helo in smoke and flame...it would later crash. It's partner, however, got off two TOW missiles that killed whatever had been hiding in those woods. Good thing too, because I think we would have been next!"
This unknown reporter really seemed to get around. He even managed to get access to Warsaw Pact-controlled locations. I read in Dan Rather's 'The Third War and Me' - this was before he and his producer disgraced themselves trying to fix the 2004 election - that only the most trusted pool reporters were given such access. This guy must have rated to get this shot:
He wrote: "The Danes had been on the losing end of the armor battle since this fight began, but there was one place where the NATO tanks drew blood: on Highway 51. The Pact was using it as a main transport route. Somehow, a platoon of Danish tanks had managed to get in close undetected and unleash hell on a motorized column. I tried to interview the two fellas in this photo, but they were too shaken to be coherent...assuming my Russian was up to it. I think they were Russian, anyway...."
"After driving around a bit in our big blue press vehicle, we managed to find a platoon of Centurion 105's off to the east of where those Pact troops were massacred on Highway 51. Were they the culprits? Couldn't tell - I sure as heck wasn't going to run up to a prime target, pound on the TC's hatch, and ask for a bloody interview! Nonetheless, I think it was telling that you could clearly see the burning Pact vehicles off in the distance."
This seemed pretty dramatic to me:
"Stan and I were poking around an area NATO termed 'Foxtrot 3' when we suddenly found ourselves in a fight! Stan managed to grab a quick photo a Danish M/92 PNMK firing off its 25mm KBA 25 cannon from a concealed position, along with some Livgarden troopers heading into the fight. Well, 'skirmish' really, as it ended pretty quickly. We got out of there as fast as we could just to be safe."
"Later that day, we stopped for a breather at what appeared to be a quiet spot: a lumber mill that was abandoned due to the hostilities. As Stan and I sat under a tree to get some relief from the hot August sun, we hear a rumble coming our way. We turn to the south and see three LARO jeeps heading our way, their 106mm recoilless rifles glinting in the sun. They didn't stop far from us so Stan and I hurried over to talk to them. The platoon leader, a Lt. Feliks if I recall correctly, was only too eager to talk to us. He said they were there to 'ambush some ruskies'. I naturally asked if we could tag along and he agreed. It wasn't long after before the good lieutenant got himself a juicy target. A lone T-72 - dangerous bloke! - was coming up a nearby road. It was unusual to see such a war beast alone like that - Feliks thought it must have been a command tank scouting the lay of the land - but nobody was complaining. As the T-72 moved up the road, gloriously showing its vulnerable backside, Feliks' platoon open up with their 106s. In this shot, you can see the first round hit the tank, exploding one of those diesel drums the T-72s mount on their rear fender. The tank slowly ground to a halt but before it could react further, another 106 round finished it off. Feliks and his men relocated to a new position quickly...and so did we as retribution would surely follow! Shame, I wanted to get a closer view of the wreck."
If this correspondent (why won't he reveal himself?!?) wanted wrecks to examine, he later found them in abundance:
"We started calling this spot the 'Crossroads of Perdition". This intersection was very valuable to both sides and, as a result, the fighting for its control was near constant (further into those trees was where Stan and I saw the Livgarden troopers get in a skirmish), hence all the wrecks. Here, some ammo cooks off in a burning BMP. Scared the heck out of me."
I might try to get this enlarged into a poster! Probably could sell it to my history group buds!
"We knew we had cover photo material with this one! Just lucky, really. As we were driving cross country the scream of a jet sounded overhead. Before I could even react, this...Starfighter, I believe...drops a load of bombs onto a small copse of trees. Must have been a staging area for the Reds. Just as quickly, a SAM lanced upwards and blotted the fighter from the sky. Didn't see a parachute."
"Shortly after the airstrike, a mixed task force of Danish tanks, along with M113 Improved TOW Vehicles, arrived on the scene. As usual, the Danish tanks were quickly dispatched by ranged fire (you can see one burning in the distance), but the M113s appeared to take a deadly toll by volleying their TOW missiles. How ironic that thin-skinned M113s would be more effective at killing tanks than the Danish armored corps. I hoped that increasingly stormy skies wasn't a harbinger of things to come."
"Late that afternoon we were back on Highway 51, but this time close to the Pact lines. Lots of Soviet equipment on display. We were told by some Pact MPs to stay back from one portion of the road that was still rather hot. Stan managed to creep up the road a bit and get this shot of a T-72B1 firing and destroying something in the distance. Probably one of those awful Danish tanks."
This guy never rested once is his travels that day!
"By around 6pm local, we were interviewing the manager of a local plant when air raid sirens went off around the complex. From the south we could hear the unmistakable 'whoosh!' of missiles being fired. But at what? Before long, a Warsaw Pact Su-24M broke out of the low cloud cover only to be engaged by the two surface to air missiles - Rolands, I believe - we heard launching from the south. Despite his best efforts, the Su-24 couldn't avoid them and was struck twice, with the aircraft slowly nosing down into a terminal dive. The air raid sirens stopped."
Oops. Looks like I might have messed up the order of the pictures. This should have been mentioned earlier in the post:
"At around 4:30pm we happened across two squads of Danish infantry moving in on the abandoned lumber mill where those recoilless rifle jeeps ambushed that tank. Maybe these grunts were tipped off about the location by them - I don't know and never got a chance to ask. However it came to be I could tell these guys were all business. I think they might have been spec op."
This picture comes next:
"At around 6:45pm, we completed our circuit and came back to the spot where those spec op boys were setting up shop. Looked like they were busy. The road running in front of that lumber mill was littered with wrecks. I also saw damage on the mill's buildings, so the feeling was mutual."
"Stan and I moved closer to the lumber mill, hoping to get an interview with anyone who might still be in there, but when we finally worked our way in close to the place, artillery shells started impacting at the rear entrance. We were lucky: they were smoke and not HE. Nonetheless, it was time to leave as through the smoke came Pact forces, including this tank that started hosing down the place with MG fire (you can see the muzzle flash in the distance). I guess NATO troops were still inside after all...."
At last, safety:
"With the weather turning south on us, a bedraggled Stan and I made our way back to the NATO FOB that was serving as our base of operations. While pulling into the lot, we found this attack chopper just parked there. We could see the pilot was still inside, so we got out and went up to him for one last interview. But, on closer inspection, we realized that he was fast asleep. Good for him."
Sadly, that is where the box of pictures ended. Maybe I can find some more....