Welcome to Jester's Trek.
I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
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Monday, June 17, 2013

Happy Icelandic independence day

The following post has very little to do with EVE.  But it's fun, so I thought I'd write it.

It's a holiday in Iceland today, the rough equivalent of Iceland's independence day.  On 17 June 1944, Iceland formally became a republic separated from Denmark with its own President.  This past weekend is also the anniversary of the United States formally choosing sides in World War II and becoming a belligerent on the side of the Allies by occupying a neutral country... the very same Iceland.  That happened 17 June 1941.  That's the day U.S. military forces became involved in World War II.

And you thought the United States entered World War II on 8 December 1941, or perhaps when a German U-Boat sank a U.S. ship on Halloween 1941.  Nope: the U.S. picked sides on 16 June 1941.  Yeah that's right kids, it's time for another "Jester Makes History Fun" post.

I've written a bit about the Phoney War, the period of World War II that started around October 1939 and went on for about six months.  A lot of historians date the end of the Phoney War to 10 May 1940, the day of the German invasion of France.  But it's arguable that it ended a month earlier, with the German invasions of Norway and Denmark on 9 April.  Virtually all of the Scandinavian countries declared neutrality when World War II broke out.  But during the Phoney War, both sides were looking at these neutral countries as potential allies, potential aggressors, sources of war materiel, or potential staging locations for enemy flanking forces.  So both sides were contemplating invading these neutral countries.

Germany's plan to invade Norway was called Operation Weserübung, the U.K.'s plan was called Plan R 4.  Germany wanted free access to Swedish iron ore through the ports of Norway, plus potential submarine bases with which to strike into the North Sea.  The British wanted to prevent that.  Germany struck first, on the 10th, but the British troop ships were scheduled to depart the night of the 9th.  Did they?  Britain has said again and again in various documents they did not, because invading neutral countries is bad, OK?  The Nuremberg trials said so.  The truth is we'll probably never know.  But let's just say ready British troops were remarkably close by when Norway called for aid against the German invasion and leave it at that.  ;-)

Norway fell, and then Denmark.  Germany then turned its eye toward Iceland.  U.S. "neutrality patrols" were already making life difficult for German U-boats in the waters of the North Atlantic.  Capturing Iceland would give them an important base from which to launch scout planes and fighters.  And although Germany felt they had the resources to capture Iceland, they doubted their own ability to hold it or resupply it, so the plan was dropped.  But by that time, this time, the U.K. struck first.

Britain invaded Iceland on 10 May 1940.  The Brits had requested permission to establish bases in Iceland and were denied due to Iceland's neutrality.  Nevertheless, the British went in anyway.  The Icelandic government protested but could do little... so the invaders were treated as guests and the invasion became a fait accompli.

That brings us to wily Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of the U.K.  Churchill was desperate to get the U.S. into the war.  President Franklin Roosevelt was sympathetic, but was facing an American populace that demanded the U.S. remain neutral.  Still, the two found a half-dozen ways for the U.S. to participate passively.  One was the aforementioned neutrality patrols, supposedly intended to keep track of all belligerents in the western hemisphere but really used to broadcast the location of German ships and U-boats in the clear so the Brits could intercept them.  Another was the "destroyers for bases" agreement in which the U.S. turned over 50 U.S. destroyers in exchange for leases on British naval bases in the Atlantic.  That happened in September 1940, and a second transfer of ships was done in May 1941 after Lend-Lease (the major way the U.S. participated) was enacted in March 1941.

So here's Winston Churchill.  He's got several thousand troops garrisoning Iceland, troops that he could desperately use to garrison Britain instead.  Of course, Iceland wasn't neutral at all by this time: it was being used as a base for British scout planes looking for German U-boats in the north Atlantic.  But he asked FDR if the U.S. could take over the Icelandic garrison "in the interests of protecting Iceland's neutrality." 

You gotta love Winston Churchill.

FDR agreed to this and on 16 June 1941, Britain handed control of Iceland to the U.S.  The next day, FDR ordered about 4000 U.S. Marines to Iceland, where they landed on 12 July, completing the U.S. invasion of a neutral country and freeing up the British troops to be shipped home.  By August, the Marines and U.S. Navy Seabees had built a small airbase at Keflavik, Iceland, one that they expanded throughout the war.  And that's the very same airport still in use in Iceland today.  Allied occupation forces remained in Iceland until 1946.  The Naval Air Station at the airport wasn't fully turned over to Iceland until 2006.

Because Iceland was still theoretically neutral, from July to December 1941, a German cargo plane could have flown from Norway to Iceland to New York City and picked up free goods from the U.S. Lend-Lease program.  The program technically would have allowed it: all belligerents on both sides were allowed to pick up U.S. materiel as long as they picked it up themselves and agreed to return the materiel at war's end.  Needless to say, the Germans didn't try.  In short, the U.S. handed Germany a flat provocation and casus belli to declare war and Germany didn't take the U.S. up on that, either.  The second occupation also became a fait accompli and one of Hitler's complaints about U.S. "neutrality" for the next several months.

So there you have it: the U.S. military got involved in World War II a good six months before you thought they did, thanks to the supposedly neutral United States of America stepping in to defend the territory of one of the aggressors in the war, condoning and supporting the invasion of another neutral country.

Hey, you!  In the back.  I said this post has almost nothing to do with EVE Online.

Happy Independence Day, Iceland!

9 comments:

  1. Where do you get this stuff??? LOL !

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  2. Thanks for the history lesson :)

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  3. I have always thought that in the West start of II World War is considered 10 May 1940. It is nice to know that invasion of Poland is included, maybe as "Phoney War", but You should take what You get :). Happy Independence Day Iceland!
    Ps. Anybody knows how is Iceland going at the moment? You know, new Constitution and stuff... I tried to find some news, but I am shitty Googler.

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  4. It's important to note that Norway lasted far longer than Denmark, before it fell ;-)

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  5. See!!! It wasn't a wasted day after all. I learned something new, I can go home now...Thanks Jester..

    Doobe Maulerant

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  6. Heywood DjiblomiJune 18, 2013 at 6:13 PM

    Your proper use of the term "materiel" warms my heart.

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  7. Hi Jester,

    Thanks for many interesting posts here.

    As someone mentioned above, indeed Norway held out way longer than Denmark. We brave Danes surrended to Germany after only a few hours of token resistance, and were then occupied for the next 5 years.

    Irwin Shaw

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  8. I would argue the US was involving itself in the outbreak of WW2 even earlier.

    Then again I'm a hipster who says WW2 started in 1936. But no one cared because it was only asians killing each other.

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  9. Well, other historians date the start of WWII to Nov. 9, 1918 with the "treaty" of Versailles...

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