Older readers will probably remember the so-called Cod Wars with Iceland in the 1970s, but what many won’t be aware of is that some decades before that we actually invaded Iceland.
At the time of the German invasion of Denmark on 9 April 1940, the Danish king was also King of Iceland. In response to the German occupation of Denmark, Britain offered to help Iceland defend itself and encouraged it to join the war alongside Britain. The offer was rejected.
As the Germans advanced through Norway, we began to think how useful bases in Iceland would be and how dangerous it would be if the Germans took over Iceland. Consequently, we decided to prevent any possibility of that by going there ourselves. Thus began Operation Fork. Not our smoothest operation, in the sense that it was thrown together pretty hastily at four days’ notice and relied on newly recruited and not yet fully-trained Royal Marines, with a shortage of weapons and very few heavy weapons. Having said that, it worked.
On 8 May 1940, the force departed from the harbour in Greenock on board the cruisers HMS Berwick and HMS Glasgow, with two destroyers HMS Fearless and Fortune as escort. Very early on the morning of 10 May, a reconnaissance plane from HMS Berwick flew over Reykjavik, waking a number of the inhabitants. Shortly afterwards an Icelandic policeman saw the fleet arriving and raised the alarm, and pretty soon after that about 400 marines from Berwick, having transferred to Fearless for the landing, arrived in the harbour, where they were met by the British consul and some rather upset locals. However, there was no resistance and our troops immediately took control of the radio and post office. The Icelandic government issued a strong protest about the occupation, but was eventually persuaded to cooperate. The Germans considered mounting an invasion of Iceland in response to the British invasion, and prepared a plan for Operation Ikarus, but it never happened.
Finally, in July 1941, the US took over responsibility for Iceland from us, with the consent of the Icelandic government.