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Invasion and Occupation of Iceland

10 May 1940 - 31 Dec 1945


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 Reykjav√≠k, a small detachment was sent to nearby Hvalfj√∂r√įur (a fjord), Sandskei√į, and Kalda√įarnes. On 15 May, the harbor town of Hafnarfj√∂r√įur was occupied. On 17 and 19 May, men were sent by ship to land at Akureyri and Melger√įi, respectively, in the Eyjafj√∂r√įur (a fjord) on the northern coast to guard against potential German landings. In the following few weeks, anti-aircraft weapons were deployed in Reykjav√≠k 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.

Last Major Update: Jul 2008

Invasion and Occupation of Iceland Interactive Map


View from the battleship USS New York with USS Arkansas and cruisers USS Brooklyn and Nashville behind as they leave Reykjavik, Iceland after escorting the US Marine landing force there, 12 Jul 1941.

Invasion and Occupation 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.
8 Jul 1941 USS New York, Arkansas, Brooklyn, and Nashville escorted the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade to their landings at Reykjavik, Iceland.
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.
26. Marsha Baney says:
28 May 2017 02:57:00 PM

My father, LEWIS E. BANEY, served in Iceland during WWII. I have many pics of my dad with Army buddies.He didn't speak much about his service during the war, but he attended Radar School in Los Angeles, and that's what he did there, radar. 'm trying to connect with anyone who served, or their children. I'd like to know more of what his life was like, but not much on line. If anyone is interested in communicating with me, my email is lobo1995@msn.com.
Thank You!
Marsha Baney-Lowrey
27. Anonymous says:
5 Jul 2017 08:03:06 AM

My fatherWilliam John Devlin from Co.Durham England was in Iceland duringWW11. I have a few photos little information as my father died 1976 and he spoke little about his time there. Infact he never spoke much about the war like most soldiers
28. Anonymous says:
5 Jul 2017 08:04:14 AM

My fatherWilliam John Devlin from Co.Durham England was in Iceland duringWW11. I have a few photos little information as my father died 1976 and he spoke little about his time there. Infact he never spoke much about the war like most soldiers
29. John Vrla says:
10 Jul 2017 07:04:48 AM

My dad was stationed in Iceland during WW II as part of the US Army Air Corp. serving as a mechanic, welder, and machinist. He died in 2004. He had fond memories of those times and some pictures which I hope to post at a later date.
30. Brad Cundiff says:
18 Jul 2017 10:53:52 AM

John, my grandfather was also in the US Army Air Corps as a mechanic, not sure of his other duties but I have the squadron scarf and some of his things. He was there when the first US Army Air Corp P-38 shot down a German plane.
I would love to see the pictures to see if they possibly served together.
31. Kerry O'Shea says:
14 Sep 2017 01:31:21 AM

Hi there.  My grandad was in the British army in 1940 and served in Iceland. He was in the 711 middlesex county council company royal engineers. Commanding officer, Maj  Teychenne.
Any information would be wonderful and appreciated.
Thank you
Kerry O'Shea 

32. Bob Burgess says:
12 Oct 2017 08:35:18 AM

I have recently found out that my mums brother was the only casualty on the invasion of Iceland, having committed suicide on HMS Berwick the day before the invasion. I understand that the weather on the voyage was very bad, and can only conclude that it drove him to take his own life. So sad for a 22 year old to feel that was his only option.
33. Chris R says:
15 Nov 2017 07:18:46 PM

Hi. I just found this page in my search for what my grandfather did in WWII. He was in the Army Air Corps as others have mentioned here. The only story i have from him was about how he can't stand a goat because while stationed at Iceland their supply ship was sunk and they were forced to eat mountain goat and cod fish for food until they could get more supplies. Anyone ever heard that story from their relative? My grandmother gave me some of the patches from his uniform. One was the patch for the 10th Army Air Force. What's puzzling is that the information I find on the web don't place the 10th in Iceland. His records were part of the records burned in a building fire many years ago. I'd love to hear from anyone who might be able to fill in the blanks. I can be reached at croberts.smepa@gmail.com.
34. louise says:
16 Apr 2018 01:55:43 PM

Hi all, my Granddad was based in Iceland in WW2 I think proberbly with the Royal Middlesex, his name was Jack Samual Davies, he rarely spoke about the war apart from when we watched the battle of the Bissmark on telly together, any imfo about life out there would be great, I only wish I had asked more before he died, louisecarendavies@aol.com thank you.
35. Anonymous says:
13 Jan 2020 12:57:33 AM

My father was sent to Iceland I think in 1942 by the Ministry of War Transport to help on the administrative side with the convoys. I'd like to find out more as he didn't talk about it, but if anyone has information please post it here. Thank you.
36. Janet says:
24 Nov 2020 08:01:34 AM

My father, Thomas Gray was in the Middlesex Regt (Artist Rifles) during WW2......he was sent to Iceland to teach troops how to fire guns......Would love to hear if anyone has any news on what the Regt was actually doing in Iceland? My father never spoke of his time there.
37. michael godbout says:
22 Mar 2021 04:44:11 AM

I have written a unit history, KEY TO COMMAND, part of which describes the 50th Signal Battalion's assignment in Iceland from 9/41 - 10/42 to provide communications for Iceland Base Command.
38. Andri Fannar says:
5 Jul 2021 11:31:14 AM

Hey, im from Iceland and trying to find my Great grandfather who served with the US during ww2. All i know is that his name was Edward M. Lee and worked at the airfield in Keflavík. My grandfather was born in 1944 so he was in Iceland atleast in later part of 1943. If anyone could send me details on how to find US personel in Iceland during ww2 that would be much appreciated.
39. Dr. Gregg says:
7 Jan 2023 02:20:34 AM

My uncle William Fletcher was posted to Iceland on 17th May 1940 as part of the 1/5th West Yorkshire Regiment. He returned in April 1942. I have recently found a hand silk handkerchief with "Island" embroided on it, that he brought back as a souvenir. He was unfortunately killed later in Italy, so never actually met him.

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View from the battleship USS New York with USS Arkansas and cruisers USS Brooklyn and Nashville behind as they leave Reykjavik, Iceland after escorting the US Marine landing force there, 12 Jul 1941.

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