May 20 – Happy Birthday, Bergur Sigurbjörnsson

Posted May 20, 2015

Today's birthday isn't incredibly famous. Born on this date in 1917, Berger Sigurbjörnsson was became an Icelandic magazine editor and, eventually, politician. He cared deeply about Iceland's independence and self-determination. 

And – I read – he opposed America's occupation of his nation.

I sat there, surprised, and re-read the sentence: Sigurbjörnsson opposed America's occupation of Iceland.

I asked myself, “Wait – America occupied Iceland?”

Of course, I turned to Google, and I found mention of American occupation of Iceland at the end of a Wikipedia article about the British invasion of Iceland.
I was twice as surprised. Wait! – Britain INVADED Iceland??

It turns out that, because Iceland has a strategic position between Europe and North America, in the Northern Atlantic, British strategists were worried that Nazi Germany would take over the island – so they ordered British troops to do so before Germany did!

It turned out that there was no German invasion planned. But the idea wasn't crazy. Iceland had been ruled by Denmark for a long period of time and had only become independent in 1918. It had declared itself a neutral country without a defense force – in other words, it had no army or navy!

A couple of decades later, Hitler began to swallow up European nations, one by one. In April of 1940, he invaded both Norway and Denmark, and his Nazi army was able to defeat and occupy Denmark in just one day.

That same day, Britain had sent a message to Iceland, a nation that still had close ties with the now-defeated Denmark, offering to help protect Iceland from the Nazis but requesting facilities in Iceland to do so. Iceland said “no thanks.”

So it makes sense for British leaders to worry that Germany would want to snatch up the defenseless, strategic island nation – and it made sense for British leaders to think that such a takeover would be a huge threat to the U.K.

Early in the morning on May 10, 1940, British troops disembarked in the capital city of Iceland, Reykjavík. They met with no resistance, and they moved quickly to disable communication networks, and to establish a presence in every strategic location on the island. They also arrested German citizens who lived in Iceland.
The government of Iceland issued a protest and demanded that compensation be made for all damage done by the British troops. The U.K. promised to pay for damage, and also promised not to interfere with Icelandic authorities AND to withdraw at the end of the war.

And, as far as I can tell, the U.K. followed through with all of those promises...
Except, Britain needed those troops elsewhere, so in July of 1941, the U.S. took responsibility for keeping Iceland out of German hands. Get this, by 1942, there were about 40,000 U.S. military personnel stationed on Iceland – and that outnumbered the adult Icelandic men at the time!

Apparently, the U.S. didn't take off at the end of the war; I read that the U.S. Navy remained in Iceland until 2006!

In honor of Berger Sigurbjörnsson...

I bring you some gorgeous photos of Iceland:

What could be more amazing than seeing the Northern Lights over Iceland?

Seeing the Northern Lights over a volcano on Iceland!!!

Also on this date:

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