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WW 2 Iceland

1st Battalion TS Iceland 1940 - 1941
Iceland (C) Force (Alabaster Force)

Iceland has an area of 40,000 square miles, covered with glacier fields and ice plateaux. In 1940 it had a population of 200,000. Iceland was officially neutral, however there were concerns on links with Germany particularly following the invasion of Denmark in April 1940. A German attack by air or sea was regarded as a distinct possibility.

On 28 April 1940, Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty at that time, initiated planning to forestall German occupation and establish a British presence on Iceland. Churchill had identified the strategic importance of Iceland as a base for flying boats, and an oiling station for the Northern Patrol.These activities being vital to support the convoys across the North Atlantic and the campaign against the U boats, and the survival of Britain's war effort.

Early in May 1940, a battalion of Royal Marines had landed and occupied the capital city, Reykjavik. Ten days later they were relieved by a Canadian Army brigade. The Canadians soon left for England and were replaced by British Army and Royal Air Force units. By the summer of 1940, the British contingent had about 25,000 troops in Iceland, the 49th (West Riding) Division, as well as some Royal Artillery field batteries, Royal Army engineers, and other detachments. In addition, 500 RAF personnel and about 2,000 sailors, who manned and serviced the anti-submarine vessels and mine sweepers based at Hvalfjordur. Hvalfjordur, a deep fjord 35 miles north of Reykjavik, became the site of an important naval anchorage.Based at an airfield at Keflavik, about 30 miles south of Reykjavik, was a mixed bag of Royal Air Force aircraft including a few Hurricane fighters. It also held some patrol bombers: Hudsons, Sunderlands, and a small group of obsolescent float planes. Most of the British pilots at the field were veterans of the Battles of Britain and were sent to Keflavik for a spell of more relaxed duty.
Iceland had opened a legation in New York City following the invasion of Denmark. They looked to the USA (then neutral) to offer protection, as they were uncertain about the survival of Britain. In April 1941 discussions with Icelandic representatives were reopened. World events and -- in particular -- the deepening American involvement in the U-boat campaign brought the United States closer to war, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on 28 May in a meeting with British Ambassador Lord Halifax offered to assume responsibility for the garrisoning of Iceland.

The lead elements of the American 1st Marine Brigade arrived in a convoy at Reykjavic 7th July 1941. The US Army 5th Infantry Division began to deploy 7th August 1941, the second echelon arriving on the night of 15-16 September.

The British began to withdraw from Iceland, the 70th Brigade with its three battalions (10 DLI, 11 DLI, 1TS) returned to the UK in December 1941.

In April 1942 the 147th Brigade and HQ elements of 49th Division were withdrawn, leaving only the 146th Brigade and assorted support and administrative forces to represent the UK on the island. In the summer, most of these sailed for home -- 146th Brigade on 20 August 1942 -- and "HQ, British Troops in Iceland" disbanded.

49th (West Riding) Division

On May 14th 1940 49th Division's 147th Infantry Brigade was ordered to relieve the Royal Marines in Iceland. By the 17th May 1940, 147 Brigade (1/6th Duke of Wellington's Regiment, 1/7th Duke of Wellington's Regiment, 1/5th West Yorkshire Regiment) arrived in Iceland. On 19th May, having done its job, the Royal Marine battalion sailed back to the UK.


The defenders were stretched exceedingly thin in an effort to hold the entire island and its jagged coastline. Consequently following their evacuation from Norway, the 146th Infantry Brigade was also sent to Iceland, arriving on May 26th, together with 49 Divisional HQ. The 147th established camps in the southwest, in and around the capital of Reykjavik, while the 146th was sent to the north coast port of Akureyri.
The Divisional tasks included defending ports, air / sea plane bases, and key points.

In October 1940, the the 70th Brigade which consisted of 10th and 11th Battalions DLI and 1st Battalion Tyneside Scottish arrived in Iceland, replacing the 148th Brigade which had been decimated in Norway. With 70 Brigade was 143 (Kent) Field Regiment RA (TA).

The Divison spent it's time in Iceland conducting training from individual to Battalion level, as well as holding large scale exercises, and TEWTS.

The Tyneside Scottish arrived in Reykjavik on the SS Antonia after a four day journey from Liverpool.

The Battalion was based at Baldurshagi Camp, south east of Reykjavik.

The Brigade's tasks were to act as a reserve, to counter attack any enemy penetration in the Reykjavik area, as well as providing key point defence

C company under the command of Major Ambrose Walton guarded the wireless station on the heights of Vatsendi, a few miles from the camp. platoon at the biggest and most important bridge on Iceland at Selfoss and close support of the RAF airfield at Kjadarnes. A section was detached to a lookout post overlooking Hvalfjordur. Another company went on detachment to Brautarholt.
The only engagement with enemy forces was with a German bomber which attacked the platoon at Selfoss, strafing the party killing one private and wounding another man in the arm.

The Battalion would spend part of their time on large scale arctic exercises, as well as undertaking individual and platoon training. The Battalion would be called upon to provide labour for the building of Reykjavic Airport, the 24 hour summer daylight being used to best advantage work parties labouring for 18 hours out of 24.

On the of 7th July 1941, American Marines began arriving in Reykjavik. The 1st Marine Brigade was the first of American units which would eventually take over from the British forces in Iceland.

An officer of the Tyneside Scottish Regiment in service dress is shown with a 1st Marine Brigade officer.
MajGen John Marston later reported to the Major General Commandant "our reception by the British has been splendid."

The GOC, Major General H.O. Curtis was keen to 'fly the flag' and the pipes and drums were to become the talk of Reykjavic. In spring 1941 the TS moved into a camp in Reykjavic. In August, the first elements of U.S. Army units arrived in Iceland. On Saturday, 16 August, the Iceland Base Command was visited by Prime Minister Churchill on his way home from a meeting with President Roosevelt where they had forged the Atlantic Charter. The British and U.S. Marine forces put on a grand review and parade , including the Tyneside Scottish.

Churchill inspecting UK and US Forces

Tyneside Scottish pipeband on parade.

In November 1940, the Battalion moved to Hafnarfjordur, a fishing village 10 miles south west along the coast from Reykjavik. It remained there for a further month until relived by the American US Army in December. The Battalion then left Iceland, arriving back in the UK on Christmas morning 1941.