On the face of it Operation Fork (Britain's invasion of Iceland in 1940) wasn't so terribly different from Germany's territorial landgrabs in 1939 and 1940.

Britain and her allies will have portrayed it as an essential and benign act, temporary in nature and aimed at defending a "friend" from a mutual foe. But a less generous interpretation might be to equate it with Germany's occupation of Denmark or the Netherlands.

Operation Fork goes almost entirely unmentioned in English language histories of the second world war, perhaps because it doesn't fit with the popular notion of 1940s Britain - standing alone against German aggression.

Did Nazi Germany's propagandists use Operation Fork in the propaganda war with Britain? How was it perceived in neutral countries?

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    As a simple non-researched answer (I will attempt to research this a little and post it below! Until then, comment response), I would stand to argue/bet that the reason for this oversight is simply that Britain was on the winning side of the war. There is an old saying that history is written by the victors, sadly this is the case more often than not! – Sorcerer Blob Oct 13 '11 at 1:16
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    As an American, I have never heard of this. – Travis Christian Oct 13 '11 at 22:42
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    To equate the invasions, one would have to overlook such trifle details as the fact that one of the goals the Germans wanted to achieve by invading Denmark was to murder its Jewish population. – quant_dev Oct 27 '11 at 16:47
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    "goes almost entirely unmentioned" - assertion without evidence. – Mark C. Wallace Feb 9 '15 at 17:19
  • Questions of the form "Has X not been talked about enough" are inherently opinion-based. – Spencer Jan 12 '18 at 23:36

I have looked through the German Propaganda Archive and haven't found any references to the British occupation of Iceland in 1940.

So I would hesitantly guess that if the occupation was used by German propagandists, it was not used widely.

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    This would likely be different if the Icelanders would actually fight the invaders. Alas, they didn't, so there was little in the way of "Heroic partisans strike again in Iceland; five Brits killed, countless wounded!" to write about. But that's more of an alternative history topic. – Martin Sojka Nov 10 '11 at 9:13

Historians have ignored the invasion of Iceland as it played an insignificant role in the war and was a temporary tactical decision: Not a land-grab. Iceland was content to allow British occupation with the stated condition that Britain would withdraw their troops at the end of the war and not interfere with Icelandic government.

Britain ended up withdrawing its troops before the war ended and American troops assumed control of Iceland under the U.S.-Icelandic defence agreement (July 1941). In 1951 Iceland and the USA signed another agreement at the urging if NATO; the Icelandic Defense Force agreement, which made the US responsible for Iceland's defense. The US maintained a military base in Iceland until 2006 and is still responsible for Iceland's defense.

See the Wikipedia article for more details.

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    I like your answer and you got my +1, but it could probably do without the caps for emphasis. Italics perhaps? – RedBlueThing Oct 13 '11 at 3:52
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    For your consideration ;) theoatmeal.com/pl/minor_differences/capslock – RedBlueThing Oct 13 '11 at 3:53
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    +1 as well. Historiography plays a huge role in this question. But I'd also suggest using the code for italics (* word, no spaces *) as opposed to caps as it comes across.... oddly. Such is the internet! (C'est la Internet?) – Sorcerer Blob Oct 13 '11 at 4:31
  • Your post says Iceland was "content" but the wikipedia link states the Icelandic govt issued a protest. – Tea Drinker Oct 13 '11 at 13:22
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    @hawbsl True, there were diplomatic protests. However, Britain was able to diffuse the protest through publicly stating its intentions of non-interference and withdrawal at the conclusion of the war. – Dale Oct 13 '11 at 21:35

Also, Denmark had sovereignity over Iceland, and Denmark's status was questioned. They didn't resist the German invasion, so for some time the Brits didn't know whether to treat Denmark as an invaded Ally or as an enemy. If Denmark was an enemy, the occupation of Iceland was quite legal.

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    If they were an ally, it would have been perfectly legal too, assuming they had the Government-in-exile's permission. – T.E.D. Apr 25 '12 at 13:39
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    Iceland had declared independence from Denmark a month earlier when Denmark had fallen (they wanted out anyway). The British had asked if Iceland if they would join as Allies with the British guaranteeing their defense, but the Icelanders refused. Last minute attempts at negotiation were avoided for fear of tipping off the Germans and allowing them to act first. – Schwern Feb 9 '15 at 7:55
  • There was no question of Denmark's status. The Germans invaded and conquered the place in April 1940. – Oldcat Feb 12 '15 at 1:13

As a person who has lived in Iceland and Finland, and talked in great detail with people alive at the time, I can tell you that the British set up machine gun emplacements before dawn in Reykjavik. The populace had no choice, but largely welcomed them. Coastal watch soldiers were billeted in remote farmhouses, and many of them formed romantic attachments with local girls. My regular bus driver in Reykjavik was one such. In 1946 he returned and married his sweetheart.

The Icelanders regretted greatly the coming of the Americans, who, they felt, treated them with no respect, and abused their hospitality. The U.S. forces bulldozed important historic sites in order to obtain raw materials for constructing runways.


The Invasion of Iceland was of a character wholly different than the German annexations and invasions of 1938-1940 and it has been justifiably left in the dustbin of history. The "invasion" was by 700 ill-equipped, ill-prepared, and very seasick British marines who walked off the ship, onto a dock and talked to the police officers waiting for them. The only casualty was a British soldier who committed suicide. Iceland was compensated and allowed to go about their business. True to their word (and needing the troops elsewhere), the British left in 1941 after convincing the US (then neutral) to take over.

In contrast the annexation of Czechoslovakia and Poland were expressly for the purpose of creating room for more Germans at the expense of whomever was already living there. Cities were bombed and civilians were attacked, and politically troublesome people were executed. And that was just in 1939 before the Germans got really nasty.

That said, the Scandinavian countries got the shit end of the stick in WWII with both the Axis and Allies acting deplorably. Scandinavia was steadfastly and earnestly neutral and willing to trade with either side. Unfortunately they were in a strategically valuable position and had valuable iron ore. The belligerents did not believe they could protect their neutrality.

Britain, Germany and the Soviets feared the other would invade to get the advantage, so they invaded first. Finland was invaded by the Soviets over fears Germany would invade them through Finland. Britain pretended to want to support Finland, but it was an excuse to invade Norway and block shipments of Swedish ore to Germany. Germany invaded Norway because they were afraid the British would invade Norway first and block the ore shipments, and to use it as a naval base to attack the UK. Iceland was invaded by the British to prevent the Germans from doing it first, but the Germans had no plans for Iceland until after the Germans invaded.

Finland sided with Germany when they invaded the Soviet Union, thus the Soviets caused their own fears to happen, but the Finns honorably refused to advance beyond their pre-war borders even when the Soviets were at their lowest point. When the tide turned in favor the Soviets and the Finns negotiated a cease fire, the Soviets thanked them for their restraint by forcing the Finns to oust the Germans.

What a mess.

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    I have to disagree with your statement that Finland was invaded to forestall a German invasion. It was an act of Soviet territorial agression, pure and simple. At the time (1939-40) Germany and the USSR were de facto allies under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molotov–Ribbentrop_Pact – jamesqf Feb 9 '15 at 18:04
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    @jamesqf Germany and the Soviets were allies of pure convenience and knew they were going to fight each other; Hitler put it in Mein Kampf. The Soviets wanted a buffer zone, but they had a habit of turning that into a military occupation. In their negotiations with Finland they wanted a the border moved away from Leningrad, exchange some islands for land, and a naval base near Helsinki. Finland looked at what had just happened to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and politely declined. Stalin thought his offer was reasonable and took this to mean they were in bed with the Germans. – Schwern Feb 9 '15 at 19:17
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    I still have to disagree. While of course (absent a good medium) it's impossible to know Stalin's intentions for certain, I think previous and subsequent history supports the territorial aggression theory over the defense against Germany one. – jamesqf Feb 9 '15 at 20:15
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    @jamesqf It certainly was aggressive, but it wasn't taking land for Russian exploitation as the Germans did. There is no documentation of a planned Soviet occupation. They believed the West was going to attack, they wanted a buffer, and they were going to ask nicely only so many times. They were right, not just Hitler but Churchill and Patton saw the Soviets as the real enemy. Without this threat I believe they would have left Finland alone. They could have taken the whole of Finland, they could have twice, but instead took a strip of uninhabited border land and the Leningrad buffer. – Schwern Feb 9 '15 at 20:28
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    @jamesqf I must mention "The Finnish Democratic Republic", classic Soviet theater. Right after invasion, a puppet govt was set up in a tiny Finnish town. The Soviets made an old Finnish communist "president" and treated him as the govt of Finland. He conceded to all of the Soviet demands, made Finland part of Soviet Karelia, and gave the Finns an eight hour work day (which they already had). The Soviets did this sort of thing a lot to make their invasions "legal". See, their fellow Communists invited them! Nobody was fooled. – Schwern Feb 9 '15 at 20:35

Germany had preparations to take Iceland itself by air in exactly the same way they took Crete. The proposal required one way flights by an armada of Ju-53/3m aircraft. It is possible that knowledge of German intentions sparked the Allied annexation of Iceland.

  • Germany had no plans to invade Iceland until after the British invasion. There is no Ju-53/3m, but there is a Ju-52/3m which does not have the range to reach Iceland from Germany. – Schwern Feb 9 '15 at 7:22
  • Better yet to just let them land and capture them in a body. – Oldcat Feb 12 '15 at 1:16

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