6/7/12

Military History of Iceland

The martial history of Iceland is confined to a few brief chapters for most historians, who rather easily define that there is no martial history of Iceland! In some ways this is true because Iceland has never maintained a standing army, and yet its peoples, Norse-Dano Viking ancestors fought to first conquer and then later to defend the island nation that became Iceland.




This bitterly cold  & breath taking land in the middle of the North Atlantic was founded rather peacefully by the blood thirsty Norwegian-Danish Vikings who first inhabited the island, building homes, farms and fishing villages from 874 to the mid 900's. During the same period these warrior-adventurers inhabited Greenland and later parts of North America (Canada, and maybe even America) for a time, while many more pillaged Europe's coastal cities.

For the rest of the medieval age until the conversion of seemingly all of Iceland to Lutheran Christianity by the Danes, Icelandic military history was defined by the blood feuds, clan rivalry, and farm raids of the Viking lords and their Berserker warriors among the feudal structures of Viking culture. Chronicled in the proto-fictional histories know collectively as the Icelandic Sagas.

Icelandic Vikings off the coast of Vinland (North America) near the year 1000 

Regardless of these scattered and disorganized conflicts their was a strong clash between the culture and influence of Norway and Denmark's kings and nobles, and amongst the chieftains of Iceland who curried favor with these nobles.

Ireland, England, and Scotland were prime targets for Viking sea-raids during the height of the Viking Age. A period which chronologically begins at Lindisfarne in Northern England, 793.

Following the medieval ages into the 1700's and well past the Napoleonic Age into the Imperial Age, Iceland is not the least bit relavent in regards to European or World affairs, as it remained a territory under the rule of the Crown of Denmark. 1904 marks the introduction of home rule with Denmark still controlling Iceland's foreign affairs and security. 

In 1918 the Kingdom of Iceland is proclaimed in a Act of Union in which Iceland becomes a sovereign nation under the King of Denmark and the newly proclaimed King of Iceland (from 1918-1944), Christian X (b.1870-1947).

Since the Kingdom of Iceland had no standing military and fielded only a small Coast Guard, later to become Iceland's chief military branch, it looked as if they would remain out of the upcoming World War of 1939 entirely. Though a fear of invasion by any of the belligerent nations prompted Iceland to train and arm several cadres of police officers, led by the well respected aviator and soldier, Reykjavik Police Chief Agnar Kofoed Hansen.

Icelandic Police officers training in 1940, preparing for the eventual  invasion launched by Britain's Royal Navy and Royal Marines, that was carried out virtually uncontested on May 10, 1940.

Agnar Kofoed Hansen, a capable man who had trained in Denmark with the army in the 1920's.

Despite being officially neutral during World War II Iceland was invaded by Great Britain and occupied by the British and American military forces stationed there throughout the war. On June 17, 1944 Iceland took advantage of it's opportunity to succeed from the Kingdom of Denmark, occupied by  Nazi Germany since April 1940, proclaiming independence even though they themselves were being occupied by a foreign power.

British Army on the march after the invasion May 1940

As a NATO member, Iceland occupied a slightly greater diplomatic and strategic place in the Cold War landscape of Europe from 1950-1989 as an ally of America and Britain. Besides an alliance with the NATO powers another notable event in Iceland's military history were the Cod Wars, fought by the pesky Icelandic Coast Guard and Great Britain's fishing fleets aided by the Royal Navy in the 1950's until the late 1970's over fishing rights and territorial water disputes.

Iceland's Coast Guards newest vessel, Thor

An American Naval Air Station base was maintained in Iceland until 2006 when the American forces  finally left, ending the military occupation of Iceland which began in 1940.  Icelandic politicians beefed up their security budgets into the late 1990's and early 2000's adding air defense and more intelligence capabilities to meet today's climate of fear over terrorist (domestic or foreign) attacks, and natural disasters. 

The Icelandic Crisis Response Unit (ICRU) was created as a sort of special forces brigade maintaining a mission statement of peace keeping and security (law enforcement) only in international conflicts and war zones abroad. Controversially however the ICRU personnel are drawn from both national police and Coast Guard service, receive specialized combat and weapons training, and most recently, have been used in operations in support of the American led coalition in Afghanistan under NATO's ISAF.

ICRU members in Kabul, Aghanistan

Throughout the 20th century into the modern age the people of Iceland have taken relative pride in never having a standing army. Though modern responsibilities have created the demand for some sort of military and/or security forces, Icelanders seem steadfast in upholding their tradition of non-militarization.

ICRU and other defense personnel all use and train with Norwegian weapons and equipment. Citizens of Iceland can serve with Norway's professional military with all the benefits therein.


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