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Invasion of Iceland

10 May 1940 - 19 May 1940


ww2dbaseIceland, an independent sovereign nation ruled by the King of Denmark, joined Denmark in the pursuit of neutrality when the European War began. Upon the German invasion of Denmark in Apr 1940, Icelandic parliament declared King Christian X unable to perform his constitutional duties, and began to act in a more independent manner, though it remained neutral. On 9 May 1940, the United Kingdom issued a message to Iceland stating her willingness to defend Iceland (Iceland had no military force of her own) if Iceland would allow British forces to establish presence there. The United Kingdom intended to use Iceland to establish a base in the North Atlantic as well as to prevent a German invasion and occupation. The Icelandic government rejected the offer, noting her wish to remain neutral in the conflict. What the Icelandic parliament did not know, however, was that the United Kingdom had been planning an invasion under the code name of Operation Fork since late Apr or early May.

ww2dbaseAt 0400 on 8 May, under the command of 49-year-old Colonel Robert Sturges, a highly regarded WW1 veteran, 746 men of the inexperienced 2nd Royal Marine Battalion departed Greenock, Scotland, United Kingdom. Also with the invasion force was a small intelligence team headed by Major Humphrey Quill and a diplomatic mission headed by Charles Howard Smith. In the morning of 10 May, a Walrus aircraft was dispatched to scout the waters leading up to Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, for German submarine activity, but miscommunications led to the aircraft circling the actual city several times, thus alerting Icelandic officials the presence of the British force. The acting police chief Einar Arnalds recognized it as a British aircraft, but advised Prime Minister Hermann Jónasson it was probably only a British warship en route on a diplomatic mission. The German consul to Iceland Werner Gerlach was more cautious, who began burning his documents after seeing British warships arrive at the Reykjavík harbor.

ww2dbaseAs Icelandic officials prepared warning statements for the British fleet announcing their violation of Icelandic neutrality, heavy cruiser HMS Berwick transferred 400 marines to the destroyer Fearless, which took them to Reykjavík. The invasion was not met with resistance from the 70-strong Reykjavík police force, though a large crowd gathered at the harbor to protest. The British marines moved to occupy telecommunications facilities, radio stations, and meteorological offices, while the local German population (including Consul Gerlach and crew of German freighter Bahia Blanca) were placed under arrest, all in the attempt to delay the news of the invasion from reaching Germany.

ww2dbaseIn the evening of 10 May, the Icelandic government formally issued a statement noting that their neutrality had been "flagrantly violated" and "its independence infringed". The British government appeased the protest by promising compensation, trade agreement, non-interference in domestic Icelandic affairs, and the promise that troops would be withdrawn at war's end.

ww2dbaseWhile the British marines secured Reykjavík, a small detachment was sent to nearby Hvalfjörđur (a fjord), Sandskeiđ, and Kaldađarnes. On 15 May, the harbor town of Hafnarfjörđur was occupied. On 17 and 19 May, men were sent by ship to land at Akureyri and Melgerđi, respectively, in the Eyjafjörđur (a fjord) on the northern coast to guard against potential German landings. In the following few weeks, anti-aircraft weapons were deployed in Reykjavík to deter potential German air raids.

ww2dbaseWhen the news of the invasion finally reached Germany, a discussion dubbed Operation Ikarus began to examine the possibility of counter-action, but none came to fruition. In Jul 1941, the responsibility of the occupation was passed to the United States, which sent 40,000 soldiers to guard the island with a population of merely 120,000. Although Iceland still officially maintained neutrality, she actually cooperated with Allied authorities throughout the war.

ww2dbaseSource: Wikipedia.

Invasion of Iceland Timeline

16 Apr 1940 Iceland declared independence from Denmark and asked United States for recognition.
9 May 1940 British troops occupied Iceland.
7 Jul 1940 US President Franklin Roosevelt informed the US Congress that he intended to deploy a US Marine Corps brigade to Iceland.
10 Apr 1941 American destroyer USS USS Niblack attacked a German submarine off Iceland; the submarine escaped without being damaged. It was the first shot fired between the US and Germany.
18 Apr 1941 The United States declared that the Pan-American Security Zone, last defined with the 3 Oct 1939 Declaration of Panama, to be extended to 26 degrees west longitude, 2,300 nautical miles east of New York on the east coast of the United States. It was just 50 nautical miles short of Iceland, which was a major Allied convoy staging area.
9 Jul 1941 Franklin Roosevelt announced that American troops were to relieve British troops in the occupation of Iceland. Adolf Hitler responded by publicly noting that it was a clear act of aggression against Germany; however, when Erich Raeder asked Hitler whether it was time for the German Navy to deliberately attack American vessels, Hitler still rejected the request.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. PARGY says:
4 Jan 2012 07:13:32 PM

Why is the British invasion of Iceland not in any hostory books? Even at university during a course on Total War from 1914 - 1945 it was not mentioned?

andy why, when USA was not even involved in the war at that time, did they occupy a neutral country?

Perhaps one day we will find out the full story of all the 'little' occupations and land grabs that happened durin the conflict. Or should I say, "I doubt it?"
2. Anonymous says:
6 Jan 2012 04:35:30 PM

Very interesting. I recently read that the british originally had a plan called plan r 4 to invade another neutral country of norway before germany did. Why was this not in history books?
3. John L Dixon says:
19 Jul 2012 02:02:20 AM

Have a look at www.newmp.org.uk/70brigade This is a Memorial Website commemorating the 70th Infantry Brigade and includes material on the background to the occupation of Iceland.
4. Jackpine says:
6 Dec 2012 07:35:33 PM

The U.S. involvement in Iceland was necessary but obviously not "legal" BUT, such is war.
Remember that the Germans had invaded several neutral countries by the end of 1940 including Norway and Denmark. Any similar German invasion of Iceland would greatly threaten the sea lanes between America, Canada, and England. Thus, England had no choice but to protect its Atlantic flanks and "invade" Iceland.

Meanwhile, the British setbacks in North Africa and Greece put a high need to release such troops from Iceland allowing them to be engaged in the North African theaters. Leaving Iceland unguarded was not an option so that is when the U.S. was "persuaded" to relieve British troops for their much needed combat elsewhere.

In the end, Iceland didn't protest much as it was much safer for them to have U.S. troops there. Interestingly enough, The Germans actually bypassed Iceland to set up weather stations in Eastern Greenland. Those stations were not cleared out until the spring of 1944 by the U.S. Those "liberated" weather stations played a big part in the weather predictions leading to the Normandy invasion in June of 1944.
5. Anonymous says:
15 Dec 2013 03:56:53 PM

This historical perspective is highly suspect. There were not 40,000 U.S. troops sent to Iceland in July , 1941. There were however 4095 U.S. Marines welcomed to Iceland at that time. There was real concern Germany would invade and occupy Iceland. Fortunately the U. S . presence thwarted this potential invasion.
6. Anonymous says:
16 Apr 2014 09:00:56 AM

I'm really impressed that Iceland had television stations in 1940! :-D
7. Meeuw Korbijn says:
16 Apr 2014 12:09:45 PM

The British marines moved to occupy telecommunications facilities, television and radio stations, and meteorological offices.

Television station in 1941?
8. Alasdair Skeil says:
17 Apr 2014 02:09:08 AM

A detachment from 19 Topographic Squadron Royal Engineers was on the island for a time and was investigated by an inquisitive polar bear so that is now the squadron mascot.
9. John Stones says:
12 May 2014 12:47:34 PM

My father was in the Royal Navy and was based in Iceland. This was a land base and from here they laid and maintained large minefields - however I can find little information about either the base or what ships were used.
10. Amanda says:
14 Jun 2014 03:20:10 AM

My grandad served with the West Yorkshire regiment and spent time in Iceland in WW2, could you fill us in on what he was doing as we are interested in this, it would be lovely to find out anything about him as he is no longer with us.

Thank you
11. missinmydad says:
12 Jul 2014 11:55:17 AM

Can anyone direct me to a list of "Camps"/Bases or Posts used by the US Army during WWII? My father served in the US Army w/Ordnance in Iceland and I am trying to get my head around 'where' he might have been stationed in the country. Thank you for any direction...
12. Carol says:
30 Oct 2014 08:24:28 PM

My grandad Wilfred Davies also served with tha West Yorkshire regiment and was in Iceland during WW2. He was there to construct a landing strip for planes. Amanda I am sure our Grandads must have known each other.
13. paige says:
10 Dec 2014 04:13:52 AM

My dad was in Iceland in ww2. I know very little about it as he never spoke of it.
14. michel says:
6 May 2015 10:55:18 AM

yep...indeed very interesting!...what about GREENLAND then?
15. Dorothy says:
16 Jun 2015 11:46:53 PM

Anyone have photos or remember a Henry Parsons GOURLEY who was in Air Force and stationed in Iceland during Second World War. He did the semaphore . Can give more information
16. James S says:
24 Jun 2015 03:01:51 PM

My father was a Sgt Radio Operator with the U.S. Army Signal Corps stationed in Iceland during WWII. Also there were British Army Radio Operators. He said that at some point the Brits moved out and at some point he was "attached" to the U.S. Coast Guard(??). Eventually he went to England and France. He spoke little else of his experiences.
17. Gary says:
2 Aug 2015 09:14:23 PM

I have my fathers discharge papers saying he was part of the 1923d Engr. Avi. Utility Bn. Does anyone know where I can get info on what they did and where in Iceland they were stationed?
18. Paul James says:
18 Aug 2015 08:22:49 AM

My late father didnt speak specifically about the war but he did say he was in the Princess Louise Regiment which I think was a machine gun unit and was stationed in Iceland. We have photos of him and mates at Akureyri church. It is difficult to find further info - anybody know anything about the Princess Louise in Iceland?
19. Anonymous says:
25 Aug 2015 07:43:32 AM

As far as we know my Grand Father also served in Iceland during the Second World War but he was with the Artist Rifles. The only thing he ever said about it was that he was training troops to shoot. I can find no mention of the Artist Rifles deploying out of UK in WWII so can only assume he must have been attached to another regiment. He served the entire war from 1939 to 1945 but I would be surprised if he spent the entire time after the invasion in Iceland give it was occupied by Canadian and US troops as well?
20. Mike Godbout says:
31 Aug 2015 10:49:41 PM

My father served in Iceland with the 50th Signal Battalion from 25 January 1942 to 30 October 1943. The Battalion left Iceland for England to prepare for the invasion on 6 June 1944.
21. trish says:
14 Sep 2015 01:27:04 PM

I am trying to get in touch with anyone who knew my dad, he served in iceland, he was in koyli regiment, possibly 49th regiment, 1/4 battalion, his name was Samuel Haynes Beswick, please email me if you have any information about him.
22. Joe Skeff says:
8 Mar 2016 04:48:36 PM

My dad served in Iceland as well. He said he worked on a radar but other than that, he HATED it. Every time Iceland was mentioned he would have something nasty to say about his time there. He was from Massachusetts I don't know what Battalion. Any help?
23. Colin William Easterby says:
31 Oct 2016 02:07:34 PM

My late father William Easterby RAF was stationed im Iceland during WW2.He mentioned Kalderdarnos and being near Hekla the volcano that was smoking during his obligatory 12 months on the Island to minimise the risk of contracting TB!
24. Kevin Turnet says:
15 Jan 2017 09:57:01 AM

My grandfather Percy Turner served with The Hallamshire regiment ' The Polar Bears' and was stationed near Akureyri in Iceland during ww2. Always speaks with great affection about his time spent there. His is currently 97 years old at the time of writing and still as bright as a button.
25. Judy Moore says:
24 Apr 2017 01:59:56 PM

My father Ernie Watson served in Iceland in WW2. He had a badge on his uniform of a Polar Bear. He had photographs of the troops being inspected by Winston Churchill. He always spoke fondly of his time in Iceland and wanted to revisit. unfortunately a visit he never got to make.

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