Iceland. Some historical remarks

A cornerstone for NATO activities in the North Atlantic

Iceland played an important role in both the Second World War and the Cold War period because of the strategic location in the North Atlantic. Winston Churchill referred to Iceland as an “unsinkable aircraft carrier available to protect North Atlantic shipping”. In the Second World War the main task of the forces in Iceland was to protect the convoys from United States to Europe, among these the ice free route North of Norway to Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula in the Soviet Union. In the Cold War period Iceland was a geographical cornerstone in the NATO surveillance of the Soviet Northern Fleet in the North Atlantic.

Military co-operation with United States. Membership of NATO

Iceland was occupied by British troops in 1940 to stave off the German activities in the Atlantic. The Icelandic government protested because of the countries neutrality, but already in 1941 the Iceland’s defense passed to the United States under a defense agreement.

Iceland was declared a republic in 1944 after having been in a crown union with Denmark since independence in 1918.

In 1946 it was decided to terminate the United State’s responsibility for the defense of Iceland, but with the right for the United States to maintain Keflavik International Airport as an air transit base in support of occupational forces in Europe.

In 1949 Iceland became a charter member of NATO. (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). The organization constitutes a system of collective defence whereby its member states agree to mutual defence in response to an attack by any external party).

After the Korean War in 1950 and the following unstable international political situation the US and Iceland agreed that the defense of Iceland came under the auspices of NATO. The returning US military forces were named the Iceland Defense Force. Iceland was now seen as an important strategic location for the defense of Western Europe. Over the next five decades, until 2006, the Defense Force played an important and significant role in the security of the North Atlantic.

This 1986 map shows the Iceland Military Air Defence Identification Zone with the ground radar coverage in Greenland, Iceland, the Faeroe Islands, Scotland and Norway. The black spot north of Iceland shows additional coverage based on an Iceland based AWACS aircraft. The red spot shows the location of Kola Peninsula, the centre of the Soviet Northern Fleet. It was the starting point of most Soviet navy and air force activities in the North Atlantic which can be described as a Soviet military main route to the south. (Fridthor Eydal).

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