740.0011 European War 1939/19752: Telegram

The Chargé in Iceland (Barnes) to the Secretary of State

125. Events in the Pacific, the passage of the German warships through the Dover Straits and the approach of the season when weather and light conditions most favor an attack on this island, have focused the attentions of Icelanders on the question of what may be in store for them. Concern as to how fully developed are the plans for the protection of the island and how adequate are the forces and material here effectively to resist a determined attack is manifest.

Symptomatic of this alarm are statements in the Conservative Party press to the effect that Singapore “fell because of Japanese local air superiority” and alleging that [“] German planes are now more frequently over the Islands than over England itself”. The organ of the Communist Party has asked, “who can say that Iceland is a fortress after the fall of Singapore”, and its editor, after asking in his newspaper, “what are the measures taken to assure the protection of the island”, has requested in the Althing a statement from the Prime Minister2 as to whether, “in his opinion the agreement concluded for the military defense of the country is being carried out in such a way as to assure the safety of the island in the best possible manner”.

Visir, the mouthpiece of the Conservative Minister of Finance, has observed that “with strong fortresses falling everywhere” it is futile for Icelanders “to pretend that we can stand aside from what is occurring; the facts are entirely to the contrary.” It therefore behooves Icelanders to stand together in this crisis and thus to strengthen the security of their island, concludes this newspaper.

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This question of whether Iceland is adequately defended is not being agitated in the press only. In recent days the question has been put to me by a number of prominent Icelanders, including Jonas Jonsson, who is the power behind the Prime Minister. Jonsson said he frequently asks himself whether the military forces in Iceland are competent to the task he believes inevitably to be before them, and whether, had there been, of Were there to be more cooperation between the forces and Icelanders, by virtue of which each would contribute their knowledge and capacities to, ward against possible disaster, the safety of the country would be better assured.

During the course of a conversation with the Minister for Foreign Affairs3 yesterday, I asked whether, in his opinion, I was misreading the straws in the wind that seem to point to a growing apprehension and a consequent stirring of opinion in favor of more forthright acceptance of quietness [sic] as they exist with respect to Iceland’s situation in this war. He said that most certainly such signs were present, and that they truly reflect local opinion, which had become disturbed by events in the Pacific and the escape of the German warships. He said he believed that the time had come when Icelanders should participate more in the efforts looking to protection, and when their leaders should be in closer contact with the military and the problem of the safety of the country. He added, most confidentially, that he had recently talked over some of these matters with General Curtis,4 as he is the senior General here but; as this would not long continue to be the case, that he would also [apparent omission] to explore the ground with our military and naval commanders.

Much of the foregoing was discussed informally several days ago with the British Minister,4a and subsequently with General Bonesteel.5 Both seemed to think that with the return of General Curtis, about a week hence, from an inspection trip of the island, consideration should be given to establishing some means of more direct contact with Icelandic leaders and opinion, it being recognized at the outset, however, that security factors requite caution in the matter of how far the forces of occupation may go along this line.

Paraphrase to General Bonesteel and Admiral Kauffman.6

  1. Hermann Jonasson.
  2. Olafur Thors.
  3. Maj. Gen. H. O. Curtis, British Commanding General in Supreme Command of Forces in Iceland.
  4. C. Howard Smith.
  5. Maj. Gen. Charles H. Bonesteel, Commanding General, United States forces in Iceland.
  6. Rear Adm. James Laurence Kauffman, Commander, United States Naval Base, Iceland.