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The British Invasion of Iceland

Updated on April 4, 2015

Just before World War II began, the Nazis were looking for bases in Europe. If any place in the world could be called "Aryan", it was Iceland.

Iceland was settled by Nordic people, Vikings, and they were more Aryan than the Germans. Further, considering its geographical position, it would have strategic important. It could block the Western side of Great Britain, meaning that outside of the Arctic, the United Kingdom would be isolated.

To get a base on Iceland was a given.

In the 1930s Iceland was a sovereign kingdom in personal union with Denmark. The Danish King, Christian X, was head of state and Denmark handled Iceland’s foreign policy.

Most of the world ignored Iceland.  it was just there.  Germany, was a power in football, and out of 'clear blue sky'  suggested friendly competitions. This was more than was welcomed by the isolated Icelanders.

From football the relationship moved into many other cultural exchanges.

As World War II began, Denmark and Iceland declared neutrality and barred military ships and aircraft from their respective territory.  However, this policy was not enforced. In fact, the budget of the Icelandic Coast Guard was cut so that Iceland could not bar Nazi ships.

The friendly ties created on the pitch extended into politics.

The Nazis occupied Denmark on 9 April 1940. The Icelandic Althing (Parliament) decided to assume the duties previously managed by the Danish King, hence it would form its own foreign policy.

The British, perceiving the dangers, now attempted a relationship with Iceland. It was too late.  

Forced to defend and protect its western sea coast, the British military began lurking just off the coast of Iceland, sinking German ships.

When  it was more than evident that Iceland was not on the side of the Allies, Britain invaded Iceland.

On the 10th of May, 1940 746 Royal Marines landed.  This was followed by others until there were over 25,000 British troops in Iceland.

Unable to defend itself, not wishing to be colonised by the British, on July 7 1941, Iceland invited  the United States, (which was not officially in the war) to take on its Defense.

As  America and Iceland were  officially neutral the stationing of American troops could not be seen as partisan.

At this moment in history, Iceland realised it had strategic importance in the North Atlantic. It was perfect for air and naval bases. This could bring the Island much needed revenue.


The American military arrived in Iceland. Eventually, there were more American men then there was Icelandic as the entire population was about 120,000 and there were over 40,000 American service men.

The deployment of the United States Marines to Iceland prompted them to add another verse to their Hymn:.

Again in 1941, we sailed a north’ard course
and found beneath the midnight sun,
the Viking and the Norse.
The Iceland girls were slim and fair,

and fair the Iceland scenes,
and the Army found in landing there,
the United States Marines.

As World War II got underway, the sea around the Iceland was mined. This created problems for the local population as well as the Allies. The Icelandic Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit was formed in 1942 by the British Royal Navy. The Brits also supplied weapons and ammunition to the Icelandic Coast Guard.

As those in Iceland depend on the sea for their livelihood many locals were killed. The Germans, now defining Iceland as part of the Allied effort, sank many ships, even obvious fishing vessels.

On the 17th of June, 1944 Iceland dissolved it’s union with Denmark and declared itself a Republic .Although occupied by the Allies, it still maintained its official stance of neutrality.

At the end of the war, the Americans left Iceland. However, despite protests, Iceland joined NATO on 30 March 1949.

On May 5, 1951, a defense agreement was signed with the United States.  American troops returned to Iceland and maintained a base until  the 30th of September 2006.

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    • profile image

      Laura 

      3 years ago

      Yeah sure, lots of Americans are problematic trvreleas. But most of the shit I hear from people as an American traveling abroad has to do with American Foreign policy rather than behavior of American tourists. So unless the Canadians start waging wars in various places around the planet and the US suddenly becomes peace-loving, it's going to be a very long time before Canadians start wearing stars and stripes while traveling.

    • qeyler profile imageAUTHOR

      qeyler 

      7 years ago

      Iceland wasn't supposed to be a bad posting

    • profile image

      Stoney 

      7 years ago

      My dad was a U.S. soldier in Iceland during WWII, although he never talked about it. My mother told me that Dad was traumatized by what he saw there and never really recovered.

    • qeyler profile imageAUTHOR

      qeyler 

      7 years ago

      I love to find those bits of history which have been ignored.

    • profile image

      dainahunter 

      7 years ago

      I never remember reading about Iceland in our WWII history lessons. I wonder why.

      I agree with Mr. Badd's assessment: "Great hub"

    • qeyler profile imageAUTHOR

      qeyler 

      8 years ago

      You're welcome

    • John B Badd profile image

      John B Badd 

      8 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      Great hub, I did not know Iceland held a Marine base of this size during WWII. Thanks for the info.

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