The North Atlantic Front: Orkney, Shetland, Faroe, and Iceland at War

The North Atlantic Front: Orkney, Shetland, Faroe, and Iceland at War

The North Atlantic Front: Orkney, Shetland, Faroe, and Iceland at War

The North Atlantic Front: Orkney, Shetland, Faroe, and Iceland at War

Synopsis

During the two world wars, the island groups of Orkney, Shetland, the Faroes, and Iceland, linking Europe to North America, acquired great significance. This work tells of operations along this northern front, and recounts incidents such as the arrest of the staff of the Lerwick Post Office.

Excerpt

The term ‘North Atlantic Front’ seems never to have been used officially but the British strategy in both World Wars, in 1914–18 and 1939–45, of trying to confine German naval activity did create a ‘front’ in practice. In the trackless ocean, the front materialised only as the protagonists’ ships and aircraft, and as the land masses where one flag or another could be raised. In the First World War the Grand Fleet based at Scapa Flow and the Northern Patrol operating from Swarbacks Minn gave the front tangible form. In 1918 it became briefly and more precisely defined by the laying of a great minefield from Orkney to Norway. The German occupation of Norway in 1940 blasted aside Britain’s intention to repeat this strategy in the Second World War and, outflanked, the front retreated westwards and was re-established along the Shetland-Faroes-Iceland chain.

The idea for this text grew out of an earlier book Scapa about the Royal Navy’s great base in Orkney. In this volume the focus shifts from Scapa Flow to the other places in the north that made up the North Atlantic front. The two books complement each other and share an approach, combining photographs with material from official reports, eyewitness accounts and contemporary writings. Pressures of time and space have ensured that the story is told largely from a British point of view, and I hope that our neighbours in Norway, the Faroes, Iceland and Germany will forgive this. It is also essentially a story of war at sea, of a conflict between ships, aircraft and their crews, but this is not meant to downplay the role of the many thousands who served in the land garrisons defending the islands.

The spelling of Scandinavian place names varies considerably in British sources, especially in wartime documents when harassed officers and clerks had to wrestle with unfamiliar words for the first time. By and large I have standardised spellings according to how names appear on modern maps but have retained the ending ‘-fjord’ instead of the Faroese and Icelandic -fjörður as the former is easier for readers of English. I have also adopted the conventional renditions of Althing, for the name of Iceland’s Parliament, the Alþing, and Thorshavn for Tórshavn.

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