The British Embassy to the Department of State 13


The Icelandic Government are understood to have presented an aide-mémoire to the United States Minister at Reykjavik pointing out that in June 1941 in connexion with the taking over by United States forces of the protection of the Island, His Majesty’s Government undertook to withdraw all forces as soon as the transport of United States forces was so far advanced that their military strength was sufficient for the defence of the country, and that in spite of this undertaking British naval and air forces are still stationed in Iceland. The Icelandic Government have accordingly asked:—

Whether a date could be decided in the near future on which transport of United States forces is so far advanced that their military strength is sufficient for the defence of Iceland;
Whether anything has happened since 1941 to alter the agreement by which only the United States can exercise the protection of Iceland; and
Whether if the war ends before the other nations’ forces have been withdrawn the United States will see to it that such forces withdraw at the same time as the United States forces, the United States having promised to withdraw all their forces at the end of the war. A reply is requested by September 1st when the Althing meets.

A copy of this aide-mémoire has been given to His Majesty’s Minister in Reykjavik.

Although the original aide-mémoire was handed to the United States Minister, His Majesty’s Government are directly concerned and would propose to reply direct, so far as British and Norwegian forces are concerned, through His Majesty’s Minister.

If the United States Government agree, His Majesty’s Government propose to inform the Icelandic Government that, as they are aware, the bulk of the British forces in Iceland have long ago been withdrawn, and command of forces there was taken over by the United States authorities on April 22, 1942. This date can therefore be regarded as the one referred to in point 1 of the Icelandic aide-mémoire. As regards point 2, the circumstances have been changed by the entry of the United States into the war. The Allied nations must be free to dispose their joint forces as they think best for the successful conduct of the war. Thus while the general responsibility for the protection of Iceland remains with the United States, it has been found necessary for operational reasons into which the Icelandic Government will not expect His Majesty’s Government to enter, to maintain certain British personnel and Allied personnel under British operational control in the Island. These personnel should not be regarded as being left over from the original British force sent to defend the territory from invasion, but as performing special tasks of defending Iceland from attack by Germany’s naval forces and keeping open the sea routes for the trade of Iceland and of the Allies. His Majesty’s Government feel sure that the Icelandic Government will be prepared to regard the undertaking given in 1941 as sufficiently fulfilled by the withdrawal of the British force sent for the protection of the island against German attack and to release His Majesty’s Government from literal fulfillment of that undertaking.

As regards point 3 of the Icelandic aide-mémoire it has, as the Icelandic Government is aware, never been the intention of His Majesty’s Government to retain their forces in Iceland after the conclusion of the present war and the Icelandic Government may rest assured that the promise given by the President of the United States in respect of the withdrawal of American forces in Iceland applies no less to British forces and other forces under British operational control.

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His Majesty’s Government would be glad to learn whether the United States Government agree to their replying to the Icelandic Government in the above sense.

  1. Notation on original by Hugh S. Gumming, Jr., Assistant Chief, Division of European Affairs: “15.IX.43 Mr. Hayter, Secretary of British Embassy informed orally that U. S. G. had no objection to H. M. G. making reply to Iceland Govt, in the sense of this aide-mémoire