Invasion of Iceland
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
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.
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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Winston Churchill, 1935