Fact File : Britain Garrisons Iceland
10 May 1940 to July 1941
Theatre: North Atlantic
Players: The Allied Force Sturges, built around 2nd Battalion, Royal Marines; rolling reinforcements of British 146th and 147th Brigades and 70th Brigade; Canadian Z Force
Outcome: The strategic importance of Iceland prompted the British to garrison it in order to protect it from German occupation and to use it as a base for the Atlantic convoys.
Iceland had been a separate state under the Danish crown since 1918, but it declared temporary independence after Germany invaded Denmark in April 1940. It remained neutral and, fearful of invasion itself, initially rebuffed British offers of protection.
However, Iceland's location gave it a critical strategic importance in the Battle of the Atlantic and, fearful of German invasion, Britain decided to establish a presence there.
On 10 May, Force Sturges arrived in Reykjavik Bay. The troops quickly secured important locations and took local Germans into custody. Although Iceland issued a formal protest, the British occupation was tacitly accepted and islanders were asked to consider the soldiers as guests and show them all courtesies.
Germany investigated launching its own invasion but rapidly dismissed the idea as impractical. However, the British did not know this and requested urgent reinforcements. These arrived over the course of the summer and included field artillery and anti-aircraft guns.
Britain also asked Canada for reinforcements. On 16 June, Z Force arrived but their unwillingness to share command saw them replaced in October by the British 70th Brigade. Further reinforcements arrived in June 1941; by July, there were over 25,000 troops in Iceland. These included Navy and RAF personnel as facilities were expanded considerably and aircrew undertook patrol work, reconnaissance and anti-submarine duties.
In late May 1941, the United States offered to assume responsibility for Iceland. Churchill accepted immediately and, on 7 July, the 1st Marine Brigade arrived. Britain's garrison on Iceland returned to the UK shortly afterwards.
Throughout the war, British officers referred to the country as Iceland (C) on Churchill's orders - because someone had mistakenly sent a ship to Ireland instead of Iceland early in the war.
The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.