John Crook's service in Iceland.
On 1 December 1918 Iceland, by agreement with Denmark, became a "separate
state" under the Danish crown with control over the entirety
of its own affairs excepting international relations. The agreement
bound both states for twenty-five years. At that time it was to become
subject to renegotiation with either party having the right to terminate
Iceland had always been a remote and little-known realm. Largely
barren and volcanic with minimal development beyond a string of coastal
villages and towns, the island by 1940 had a population of just over
120,000, most of whom supported themselves through fishing and sheep
ranching, exporting their products mostly to Europe. On the eve of
World War II there was little industry and -- other than a small police
establishment -- no armed forces whatsoever.
By that time, however, others had come to recognize how Iceland's
strategic position along the North Atlantic sea lanes, perfect for
air and naval bases, could bring new importance to the island. In
the words of one German naval officer, "Whoever has Iceland controls
the entrances into and exits from the Atlantic."
German interest in Iceland in the 1930's grew from nothing at all
to proportions found by the British government to be alarming. The
Reich's favours began with friendly competition between German and
Icelandic soccer teams and free instruction in gliding by German experts
who arrived in the summer of 1938 with gliders and an airplane --
perfect, in the British view, for compiling maps and discovering suitable
landing grounds. A "suspicious" number of German anthropology
teams arrived to survey the island and Lufthansa airlines attempted,
unsuccessfully, to establish an air service. U-boats visited Reykjavik
and the cruiser Emden called. Commercial trade between the countries
also increased dramatically.
The United Kingdom, despite occasional unsettling reports, was unable
or unwilling to take its own steps to increase influence and friendships
When war began, Denmark and Iceland declared neutrality and ended
visits to the island by military vessels and aircraft of the belligerents.
London imposed strict export controls on Icelandic goods, preventing
profitable shipments to Germany, as part of its naval blockade.
In April 1940 Denmark was invaded and quickly overrun by Germany.
From that time, despite the shared monarchy and nominal control over
foreign affairs from Copenhagen, Iceland was for all practical purposes
completely independent. At the same time, with Germany gaining control
of the lengthy Norwegian coast, the original Allied naval blockade
line was no longer tenable and Iceland suddenly assumed new importance
in British planning.
London offered assistance to Iceland, seeking cooperation "as
a belligerent and an ally", but Reykjavik declined and reaffirmed
The British Strike
Britain was now concerned about a coup by Germans already in Iceland
(a small diplomatic staff, a few resident nationals, and a few individuals
stranded by the war, plus 62 shipwrecked German sailors not yet repatriated)
as well as an invasion by sea or air.
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. The Foreign Office deemed
there was no chance of Reykjavik granting any request for such an
intrusion but nevertheless opposed occupying Iceland without prior
negotiation. The Admiralty preferred to land first and negotiate later.
The War Cabinet sided with the Admiralty.
"Force Sturges" sailed from Greenock on 8 May. The force,
commanded by Colonel Robert Sturges, was built around the 2nd Royal
Marine Battalion of the 101st Royal Marine Brigade (including three
batteries of artillery) amounting to 815 officers and men plus a small
intelligence detachment. Aboard two cruisers (Berwick and Glasgow)
and two destroyers, the expedition entered Reykjavik Bay on the morning
of 10 May. Upon landing they were guided by local Britons and quickly
secured important localities without incident. German citizens were
taken into custody and the consulate seized. On the same day, the
German offensive against France, Belgium, and the Netherlands was
Although the Icelandic government issued a formal protest and stood
by its neutral status, the British occupation was tacitly accepted.
The Prime Minister of Iceland spoke of the UK as "a friendly
nation" and asked his people "to consider the British soldiers
as guests and consequently to show them as all other guests all courtesy."
Likewise, the United States accepted the British move. All parties
considered it a necessary and prudent step to forestall a German invasion.
Hitler had previously expressed vague interest in Iceland due to
its strategic position in the North Atlantic, but there were in fact
no plans to seize the island and no invasion for the British to forestall.
Hitler's anger at the British occupation soon energized plans for
regaining the initiative. While the Kriegsmarine grudgingly confirmed
it might be possible to capture Iceland from its new defenders, the
planners could see no solution to holding and supplying German forces
on the island in the middle of British-controlled waters.
Nevertheless, staff studies duly went forward. Shipping needs were
calculated; sailing speeds for three separate, converging convoys
determined to arrange a rendezvous; lack of escorting warships (due
largely to destroyer losses at Narvik) noted; total lack of air cover
lamented; inability to resupply the island underlined.
The planning was done under the name "Fall Ikarus". Despite
invoking the name of the winged son of Daedalus, airborne landings
were deemed impractical.
HQ. By the end of the Hallamshires' 2 year tour of duty in Iceland
as part of 'Force Alabaster' John H. Crook had risen from a 2nd Lieutenant
platoon commander to 1st Lieutenant Liaison officer attached to the
Headquarters of 146th Infantry Brigade. The picture above dated August
1942 was annotated on the back in his own distinctive neat handwriting.
Back Row From L - R. Lieut. John Ward, 2/Lt. C. S.Nuttall, 2/Lt John
Labourn, Lieut Arthur Stewart, Front Row From L - R, Capt David Wright,
Capt Neil Melrose, Major Cave, Brigadier N. P Procter M.C., Major
P W. P Green, Capt C Pickard, Lieut. J. H. Crook.
By the end of September 1940, with the arrival of uncertain weather
and the delay of Hitler's other amphibious project, Operation Sea
Lion, even the remote possibility of a German expedition against Iceland
On 17 May 1940, the British 147th Brigade (1/6th Duke of Wellington's
Regiment, 1/7th Duke of Wellington's Regiment, 1/5th West Yorkshire
Regiment) of 49th Division arrived to relieve the Royal Marines in
Iceland. On 19 May, having done its job, the 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. Unaware of Hitler's actual
limitations in mounting a combined amphibious and airborne operation
against such a distant objective, 147th Brigade feared the worst.
In June, at the urgent request of Brigadier George Lammie, British
commander in Iceland, the War Office agreed to send a second infantry
brigade to garrison its new outpost.
John Crook's Arrival
The 146th Brigade H/Q and a reduced headquarters staff from the 49th
Infantry Division under Major General Harry O. Curtis were earmarked
for the northern duty. They arrived early on 26th May.
Lieutenant John H Crook and his platoon of Hallamshires embarked
on a transport ship HMT Andes from Greenock. The journey from the
Clyde estuary was stormy and unpleasant. The ship had to zig zag to
They were landed in Iceland's most northern port Akureyri on June
28th at 3 p.m. in the afternoon in 1940. Akureyri was Iceland's second
biggest human settlement with a population of about eight thousand.
The 4th Lincolnshire Regiment were dropped off with the Hallamshire
battalion, York & Lancaster Regiment.
The sight was awe-inspiring and the conditions arduous:
They were faced with barren mountains, the highest covered in perpetual
snow, flat pebbly plains, moors covered in heather, glaciers and vast
fields of lava, almost impossible to cross even by a man on foot,
geysers spouting boiling water at regular intervals, and streams of
running water, bright yellow in colour with sulphur and too hot to
Temperatures dropped to minus 40 degrees at Christmas. The real enemy
was frostbite and exposure. It was not uncommon for groups and patrols
of soldiers to die in blizzards. Rats were common near the army nissan
The camp was built with do it yourself hut kits. There were only
four hours of daylight during their first winter. Skiing patrols and
the development of Arctic warfare training made the experience slightly
Lieutenant Crook sometimes patrolled as far north as Greenland, climbed
mountains and would describe how urinating in the extreme cold conditions
often meant that his urine had turned to ice by the time it reached
John Crook was based at the mountain and snow warfare school at Akureyri
which was used to train 49th Brigade into a Mountain/Arctic division.
The idea came from Prime Minister Winston Churchill who visited the
troops on his way home from visiting President Roosevelt in 1940.
Rex Flower who was with the 1/4th KOYLI remembered:
'Each company had a ski platoon training under Norwegian instructors.
We had proper equipment, trousers, 'parkas' in white and drab, rucksacks,
string vests, special boots, and snowshoes with a small ski attached.
Everyone had to take part in the training. We had survival training
in two man tents. We had to stay in them for 2 days with weapons,
rations and a small stove.'
The Icelanders were sharply divided. Some were delighted to see British
troops. Others were pro-German and could not stand the sight of them.
No lasting friendships were made with Icelanders in this cold and
barren terrain. However in the 1970s John Crook did go to Reykjavik
for a short holiday. He had kept a 1939 Foreign Office pictorial and
cultural guide to Iceland in his collection of books which has been
inherited by his sons.
Additional reinforcements over the course of the summer included
field artillery, AA guns, Bren carriers, engineer and construction
units, and support forces. The controlling headquarters was known
successively as Alabaster Force, Iceland Force, and HQ, British Troops
As early as 18 May 1940 the British government had suggested to Ottawa
that Iceland should be garrisoned by Canadian troops. In particular,
one battalion was urgently required to reinforce the 147th Brigade
at that time. By June the British were requesting a full brigade of
reinforcements and by July it was suggested that the entire Canadian
2nd Division should be dispatched to Iceland.
While London clamoured for more troops, Canada dispatched "Z
Force" under Brigadier L.F. Page with a brigade-sized HQ staff
and one infantry battalion, The Royal Regiment of Canada; those forces
arrived on 16 June 1940. Two additional Canadian battalions for "Z
Force", Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal and The Cameron Highlanders
of Ottawa, arrived on 9 July. This brought the garrison of Iceland
to the size of a composite division.
Canada, however, preferred to concentrate its overseas army in one
locale under its own command, and consequently "Z Force"
was relieved within a short period of time by British forces. The
70th Brigade sailed from the UK on 21 October 1940, arriving in Iceland
on 25 October with 10th Durham Light Infantry, 11th Durham Light Infantry,
and 1st Tyneside Scottish. In exchange, The Royal Regiment of Canada,
Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal, and "Z Force" headquarters departed
Iceland on 31 October, bound for the UK.
The third Canadian battalion, The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa,
wintered on Iceland and eventually moved to the UK in April of 1941.
The final British ground reinforcement for Iceland arrived in June
1941: a further infantry battalion and a battery of artillery.
By July 1941 there were over 25,000 British troops on the island.
Construction of naval facilities at Hvalfordhur began soon after
the occupation and these gradually grew into a large and important
complex: "mine depot, major pier and several jetties, major accommodations,
a fresh water supply system, ammunition storage, a fleet bakery, bulk
naval storage warehouse, recreation facilities, a direction-finding
station, and a naval camp." Later, the installation included
a major fuel farm, minefield, anti-sub nets, gate and boom across
the fjord, coastal guns, AA batteries, and anti-sub trawlers. As such,
it served as base for Allied escort and antisubmarine forces.
in Northern Iceland
The RAF presence likewise grew. Fleet Air Arm's 701 Squadron was
originally stationed in Iceland following the British landing; it
was replaced by 98 Squadron of the RAF with 18 aircraft. These were
only Fairey Battle bombers, and the occasional German reconnaissance
plane overflew the island with impunity, strafing military camps at
least once. Number 1423 Flight of Hurricane fighters was consequently
dispatched in June 1941 but withdrawn in December following arrival
of the American 33rd Pursuit Squadron. As basing facilities were built
up, most of the air units stationed on the island were Coastal Command
aircraft for patrol work, reconnaissance, and antisubmarine duties.
and 146th Infantry Brigade
Scribbled on the
back of the photo sent to his family in Bolton John H Crook revealed:
'Somewhere in Iceland February 1941.' The Hallamshires and 146th Brigade
were part of the Alabaster Force sent to defend Iceland from German
invasion and protect the Atlantic sea run. The Hallamshires embarked
for Iceland on 22nd/23rd June 1940 in HMT (Her Majesty's Transport)
Andes escorted by 2 destroyers and the Aircraft Carrier Argos.
On the 24th June
1940 Andes and her passengers enjoyed the bracing experience of the
wind rising to 7 on the Beaufort Scale. The ship arrived in Iceland's
Capital Reykjavik on 26th June 1940 at 1900 hours.
John H. Crook
was in 'D' Company under the command of Captain K W West and L M Lonsdale-Cooper
2nd in Command. A battalion in the British Army was about 800 to 900
men strong. A company would have anything between 100 and 120 men
divided into platoons normally 30 to 35 strong. It was in Iceland
that through additional training his administrative and liaison skills
came to the notice of Brigadier Procter.
(C) Force. Tactical School, Winter Warfare Course No. 14 March 1942
John Crook is the officer with the small moustache standing in the
middle of the middle row.
Brigadier N. P
Procter M.C. was the officer in command of 146th Infantry Brigade
in Iceland and a veteran of the First World War.
On 27th June 1940
at 1700 hrs HMT Andes sailed from Reykjavik escorted by the destroyers
HMS Punjabi and Firedrake. Both these destroyers would not survive
the war. On 28th June 1940 at 1500 hrs she arrived in the Iceland
northern port of Akureyri. 'D' Company disembarked during the evening.
On the 1st of July 1940 at 9 a.m. in the morning 'D' Company were
deployed at Krossanes and at 1 p.m. moved to the hills covering the
North and West exits to Akureyri.
1940 the Hallamshire War Diary reports that 'D' Company less one platoon
was based a Djuparbakki and the remaining platoon was encamped at
The Iceland experience
was a struggle to remain alert and battle ready in the face of an
unforgiving climate and boredom. In addition to that the War Cabinet
wanted the Alabaster force to train in Arctic and Winter warfare so
that the British Army had this resource as an option for invasion
of Norway or campaigns against the Germans in cold climates.
Entries in the
Battalion War diary provide a flavour of the atmosphere during this
period: 'Towards the middle of the month there begins to be darkness
at night. Pickets are established during the hours of darkness on
all quays and a proportion of each forward detachment stands to at
dawn each day. The weather is mainly fine with slight frosts at night
and snow falling on the hill tops when it rains in the valleys. A
beginning is made of erecting huts for winter accommodation. ' (August
is engaged in completing defensive works, wiring and riveting and
covering trenches as material becomes available and in erecting huts
for winter accommodation. 7th September 1940- First snow falls at
the the camp area.' (September 1940)
'General The Viscount
Gort V.C. Inspector General of Training visits area. ' (October 1940)
'Courses set up
in French and shorthand.' (November 1940)
'Major C.C Strong
assumed command. Lt. Colonel C. G. Robins assumes command of 146 Infantry
Brigade. Each man is provided with a Christmas dinner of pork, Christmas
pudding and mince pieces with beer, also a gift of cigarettes and
sweets. (December 1940)
'Boots F. P (Arctic
Pattern) were made available to the Other Ranks. 'D' Company camp
at Djuparbakki. Snow ploughs allocated to Battalion. Fire in the 'A'
Company camp at Bragholt. Started in cookhouse and spread to Diner.
Both gutted. Court of inquiry convened to inquire into circumstances
in which fire broke out. Detention barracks were constructed at Akureyri.
' (January 1941)
Serious drifting of snow. Snow ploughs ditched. Severe blizzards in
gale force winds.' (February 1941)
During this period
service in Iceland 2 Hallamshire soldiers died in accidents and were
buried in Akureyri. Their graves were photographed for the Battalion
War Diary and identified as Privates Frederick Heald and Thomas D
Hateley. 32 year old Heald died from burns in a fire and 22 year old
Hateley from head injuries as the result of a road traffic accident
in treacherous and unmetalled roads. Hateley's 15 CWT truck overturned
near Horga at a suspension bridge.
Both died on 26th
January 1942 while receiving treatment in No. 81 General Hospital.
Another fatal casualty for the Hallamshires during the Iceland tour
was 23 year old Sergeant Eric Seymour who was accidentally shot while
working in a firing range near Bragholt on 7th July 1942.
''D' Company recce
patrols west of the Horga River and the high ground South East of
Hladir. (April 1941)
'The remains of
an RAF Fairey Battle plane tracked down by mountain patrol. Lieutenant
Sim found the missing plane at the head of Vaskardulur approx 1,300
yards. The plane appeared to have run into the mountain and blown
up. All occupants were dead. A letter started by a Sergeant Talbot
was found. No tracks in the snow leading to or from the remains of
the plane.' The background to this tragic accident reemerged with
media coverage in the year 2000 of an expedition to recover the remains
of the plane and investigate the site.
HMS Devonshire and King George V visited Akureyri.' (May 1941) This
was the month when the German warships Bismark and Prinze Eugen met
Devonshire and King George V and H.M.S. Hood in naval battle in the
Straights of Denmark between Greenland and Iceland. Hood was destroyed
by the Bismark's first salvoes with only 3 survivors. The Hospital
ship Leinster normally moored in Akureyri harbour pulled out on 24th
May to care for any wounded survivors. There weren't any.
of the year.' (10th October 1941) 'BBC War correspondent Robin Duff
had lunch at Battalion H/Q. Grey, overcast, snow in the hills- cold'
(14th October 1941)
Corporal T. A Campbell and 4748988 Private G. Coates tried by FGCM
for desertion having failed to report back from privilege leave to
U.K.' (17th October 1941)
'During the month
the Commanding Officer received from the wife of one of the men of
the Hallamshires who lost his life in HMS Afridi a letter which included
details of difficulties which were being experienced at the present
time by those in similar circumstances a fund "Afridi Christmas Fund"
to bring a little happiness at Christmas to the widows and children
of the men killed. The appeal raised £44 & 10 shillings. Christmas
gifts equivalent to £3 to each widow and £1 for each child sent to
relatives.' (November 1941) HMS Afridi was a destroyer sunk by German
dive bombers during the Hallamshires' evacuation from Namsos in the
unsuccessful Norwegian campaign. 13 Hallamshire Other Ranks were killed
as the Destroyer sink in around twenty minutes.
D Truman RTR in charge of film unit preparing training film on mountain
warfare.' (26th January 1942)
'52 Other Ranks
were struck off the strength of the battalion after being classified
A1 but unfit for future role in this unit.' (14th February 1942) The
Hallamshires were becoming among the fittest battalions in the British
Army. The mountain warfare training was unprecedented. Continual runs
and mountain climbing along with ski patrols and survival in Arctic
conditions required a higher dimension of military performance.
'10 ranks returned
to the battalion from leave for contravening regulations governing
the taking of NAAFI property to the UK.' (22nd February 1942)
ever taken at Krossastadir at -5.8 degrees Fahrenheit. (28th February
Crook attending No. 14 Platoon Commanders course at Force Tactical
School Reykjavik on HMT 'Leinster'. (12th March 1942)
'A party of 2
Kensingtons (M.G.) consisting of 1 officer and 25 Other Ranks were
caught in a blizzard on the Vindheimajokull. Their tents were blown
away. 3 died. Medical orderlies from Hallams at Krossastadir Camp
gave them attention when they arrived . Party of men went off to look
for 4 men still missing. (1st and 2nd April 1942)
'A young Icelander
who made fun of a guard at North Quay (Reykjavik) and drew a Swastika
on the wall was arrested and handed over to the civil police. Owing
to his youth he was not punished by the civil police, but they were
warned that future occurrences of this nature would be met by severe
measures from us' (War Diary for 146th Infantry Brigade 4th April
observation by Brigadier Procter illustrates the tension between many
Icelanders and the British troops who were perceived as 'invaders'.
Prior to the Second World War Germany had been preparing 'a special
relationship' with Iceland because of its strategic importance.
They had a substantial
'diplomatic mission' which included large numbers of military experts
and 'a hearts and mind' policy of investing in Iceland's infrastructure.
From the point of view of ideology the Icelanders represented a pure
strand of Nazi 'Aryan Race'. John H. Crook returned to Iceland in
1972 for a two week holiday and in his library he had kept a detailed
and illustrated book of the country that had been originally published
vessels reported 200 miles east of Iceland.' (6th May 1942)
Order of the day
from Major-General H. O Curtis: 'Your arduous tasks connected with
the defence of Iceland and the vital Battle of the Atlantic are not
quite finished. Continue to show some of the same patience and determination,
so that you can return home both to enjoy hard-earned leave and to
get ready for the next task in the cause of victory. With a feeling
of rightful pride on completion of a fine piece of war work. Keep
the "Polar Bear" spirit burning brightly. In spite of climate and
isolation, it has turned you into seasoned and hard trained troops.'
(1st May 1942)
This tone of optimism
might have been influenced by that fact that on 9th May it was reported
that the 'weather was perfect with 17 hours of sunshine.'
Iceland opened a legation in New York City following the invasion
of Denmark. Uncertain about the odds of British survival and victory
during the days following the German triumph in western Europe, the
legation in July 1940 first approached the US State Department about
the possibility of protection under the Monroe Doctrine but no action
Even so, Iceland began to figure in American planning. According
to the "ABC-1" Anglo-American staff agreements, in the event
of American entry into the war US troops would take responsibility
for Iceland. In April 1941 discussions with Icelandic representatives
were reopened by Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles and presidential
advisor Harry Hopkins. As 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. Churchill, anxious
to draw the Americans into the war against the Axis by any means,
accepted the offer without hesitation.
Due to the predominant mood of isolationism in the US and the delicate
nature of occupying a foreign neutral, the Roosevelt Administration
required a specific invitation from the Icelandic government. Although
the US was itself still neutral, Iceland's own neutrality and sovereignty
meant such an invitation must be couched in fastidious and circumspect
terms with an attachment of fifteen conditions including full recognition
of Iceland's independence and a promise to withdraw "immediately
on conclusion of the present war."
On 24 May 1941, the 6th Marine Regiment in California became the
nucleus of a force "for overseas duty." It sailed from San
Diego on 31 May and arrived in Charleston, South Carolina on 15 June.
The following day the 1st Marine Brigade (Provisional) was officially
formed under command of Brigadier General John Marston USMC with the
Brigade Headquarters Platoon
5th Marine Defense Battalion (less 5-inch Artillery Group)
2nd Battalion, 10th Marines
Company A, 2nd Tank Battalion (less 3rd Platoon) assorted support
and service elements
On 22 June, while the German invasion of the Soviet Union commenced,
the brigade sailed for Argentia, Newfoundland in four transports and
two cargo vessels. The convoy arrived at Argentia on 27 June and there
awaited conclusion of negotiations. The American, British, and Icelandic
governments resolved the diplomatic niceties and a suitable invitation
was issued from Reykjavik on 1 July. The Marines departed Argentia
the next morning with a heavy escort (including battleships New York
and Arkansas, cruisers Brooklyn and Nashville, and more than a dozen
destroyers) and arrived at Reykjavik on 7 July 1941.
Although the agreement called for the prompt relief of British forces
and US Marines by US Army units, the dispatch of American infantry
was delayed by shortages of equipment and trained personnel and by
Federal legislative restrictions on conscripted personnel serving
outside the United States.
Eventually the US 5th Infantry Division, commanded by Major General
Charles H. Bonesteel, was selected for duty in Iceland and on 27 July
1941 the first echelon of Army troops sailed in two elements from
New York and Norfolk with the 1st Battalion (less two companies) of
5th Division, an aviation engineer unit, and miscellaneous support
troops. The 33rd Pursuit Squadron with some 30 aircraft was embarked
aboard the carrier USS Wasp and, although not carrier-trained, flew
off the deck when the convoy arrived at Reykjavik on 6 August.
The second echelon of the 5th Division sailed from New York on 5
September 1941 with the 10th Infantry Regiment, 5th Engineers, 46th
Field Artillery, and service units aboard troopships Heywood, William
P. Brook, Harry L. Lee, and Republic. This convoy arrived on the night
of 15-16 September.
Additional Army units deployed to Iceland in 1942. The 2nd Infantry
Regiment of 5th Division sailed from New York on 26 February and arrived
on 3 March. The 11th Infantry Regiment of 5th Division sailed 7 April
and arrived 21 April. The 188th Infantry Regiment was detached from
the 30th Infantry Division, left New York on 5 August, and landed
in Iceland on 24 August. A week later the 759th Light Tank Battalion
arrived. Engineers, artillery, antiaircraft, and other supporting
units were provided on the usual lavish American scale.
As US Army forces arrived, British and US Marine units departed.
British 70th Brigade with its three battalions returned to the UK
in December 1941.
The 3rd Battalion of the 6th Marines embarked on 28 January 1942,
steamed away on the last day of the month, and arrived in New York
on 11 February. The remainder of the US Marines began embarking on
4 March 1942, left on 8 March, and arrived in New York on the 25th.
Upon arrival, 1st Marine Brigade (Provisional) was immediately disbanded.
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.
It remains to be asked what John Crook's presence on Iceland achieved?
It can be argued that the presence of the British Army was a key factor
in establishing Iceland's post war independence from Denmark. It was
the beginning of establishing professional Arctic warfare training
in the British Army which became crucial after the formation of NATO
and the need to maintain a Nato defence capability in Norway and Alpine
regions of Europe.
The York and Lancaster Regiment's historian Major O.F Sheffield wrote:
'The winter of 1941-42 was entirely taken up by winter warfare training
in the mountains. A team of experts was attached to the Battalion
to teach all ranks how to ski, build igloos and climb up and down
vertical rock faces on ropes. It became common practice for men to
ski all day, carrying a 70 pound rucksack, to live on 24 ounces of
food, and to sleep in a snow hole or igloo with the thermometer below
zero. This training, though hard, was enjoyed, so it was with regret
that units of the 49th Division handed over this role of mountain
winter warfare to the 52nd Lowland Division in the summer of 1942.'
(page 124, Volume III The York & Lancaster Regiment, 1956)
John H Crook did tell his sons that he would patrol on skis as far
as Greenland and that temperatures would be so low that when spending
a penny, a soldier's urine would freeze by the time it reached the
Although British soldiers saw no action while based in Iceland, given
the hazards and pressures of living and patrolling the Arctic and
the importance of their presence in the Battle of the Atlantic, there
is an argument that they should have been awarded a campaign medal.
By summer 1943, the last British Army troops were gone; Royal Navy
and Royal Air Force strength and activity, however, remained unweakened.
In 1943 the tide of war turned, the perceived threat of German assault
vanished, and a single winter on Iceland proved sufficient for most
of the US Army forces. The 5th Infantry Division, including the 2nd,
10th, and 11th Infantry Regiments as well as numerous supporting units,
and the 759th Light Tank Battalion bid farewell on 5 August 1943 and
reached the UK on 9 August. The separate 118th Infantry Regiment took
its leave on 29 October and arrived in the United Kingdom on 6 November
Despite the departure of all major ground combat units, considerable
numbers of antiaircraft, coastal artillery, engineer, and support
troops remained behind, as well as a significant air and naval presence.
Prevented by the world war from renegotiating with Copenhagen the
twenty-five-year agreement of 1918, Iceland in 1943 terminated that
treaty, broke all legal ties with Denmark, repudiated the monarchy,
and formed an independent republic. The new state was officially founded
on 17 June 1944 with Svein Bjornsson as its first president.
In 1945 the last Royal Navy assets were withdrawn; the last airmen
of the Royal Air Force left in March 1947. Similarly, some American
forces, despite the provisions of their invitation and its fifteen
conditions, remained after the end of the war. In 1946 an agreement
was signed granting American use of military facilities on the island.
In 1949, master of its own affairs, Iceland joined the North Atlantic