* World War II -- island territories Arctic Ocean

World War II Island Territories: The Arctic Ocean

Figure 1.-- Svalbard was the most northerly island involved in the War. The Germans invaded Norway (April 1940) and then deployed units on Svalbard to operate a weather station on the island (1941). The coal mines continue to operate. The invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941) made weather information more imporant to the Germans. The Norwegian Government in Exile decided to evacuate the Island's civilian population (September 1941). This press photograph shows some of the Svalbard civilians. The press caption read, "Allied landings on Spitzbergen [Svalbard]. Canadian, British, and Norwegian landings stop enemy fuel source: bring rescued Norwegians to Britain. A.A. gunner makes friends with Noregian children." Rhe photograph is not dates other than 1941. The landings occurred in Sewptember 1941. Source: British War Office.

No important war had ever been fought in the Arctic Ocean before. Waring countries did not even fight wars during the winter, let alone venture into the Arctic. Improvements in ships and aircraft meant that militry operations for the first time were more than a footnote. This began early in the War with the Soviet invasion of Finland (November 1939) and the NAZI invasion of Denmark and Norway (April 1940). Operations in far north were limited. There was a major fight for Trodheim in Norway, but that was far below the Arctic Circle. Iceland was by far the most impoetant northern island, but just touches upon the Arctic Circle. It plaued a key role in the Battle for the Atlantic. The most northerly island of the War was Salvbard. Greenland was important as location for weather stantions and weather systens forming over Greenland had a major impoact on European weather. The Japanese invaded the Aleutians, but this was primarily aiversion as part of Admiral Yamamoto Midway opoeration. They were of very limited strategic importance. The Japanese even evacuated one of the islands they seized--unusual for the Japanese. Japan's most northerly island was southern Sakalin, but even this was well south of the Arctic Circle and did not play any important role in the War. .


The Aleutians are located in the extreme North Pacific close, but well south of the arctic Circle. They are an extenion of Allaska streaching toward Asia, in fact the remnant of the Ice Bridge which brough Native American people to the Americas. They are so far away from the other Pacific islands where World War II was fought out that they might be considered more with the Arctic islands. The Japanese invaded the Aleutians, but this was primarily a diversion as part of Admiral Yamamoto Midway operation. It ws a huge mistake. The carriers committed to Aleutian operation could have made a difference at Midway. The Aleutians were of very limited strategic importance. The Japanese even evacuated one of the islands they seized--unusual for the Japanese.

Alexandra Land

The Kriegsmarine set up a secret base on Alexandra Land east of Svalbard and north of Archangel and Murmansk (September 1943). Discounting detached and distant Victoria Island, it is the westernmost island of the Franz Josef Archipelago. The base was code named Schatzgräber (Treasure Hunter) and staffed by meterologists. They transmitted more than 700 weather reports to the German forces attempting to inderdict American and British convoys heading for Murmank and Archangel delivering supplies to the Red Army. The weather data was also useful to the Wehrmacht operating in the north. Despite the transmissions, the Soviets never detected the base. The Germans erected shelters, warehouses, and defenive bunkers. Finally the Germans had to abandon the base. They set up an improvised air strip so a long-range airplane from occupied Norway could evacuate the station (July 1944). The entire garrison had contracted severe cases of trichinosis after consuming poorly cooked polar bear meat. The Soviets did not become aware of the the base until after the War. An airborne survey of the area detected the base (1947). Soviet polar explorers were living there, waiting for the opening of a new weather station (1952). The Soviets destroyed the German station (1956).


Grenland at the beginning of World War II was a Danish possession. And thus like Denmark was neutral. The NAZIs invaded Denmark (April 1940). Danish authorities on Greenland asked for American protection. The Danish ambassador to the United States who refused to recognize the German occuption of his country, Henrik Kauffmann, officially made the request. This was a little complicated because the Germans allowed the Danish Government to coninue to function albeit under German oversight. Kauffmann was thus functionung on his own without instructions from his Government. Kauffmann signed a treaty with the United States (April 9, 1941). This granted the United States Armed Forces authority to establish stations in Greenland. This was based on the difficulties for the Danish government to govern the island during the War. Besides its strategic location, the island's cryolite mines were also important. America was rapidly expanding aircradt production and for this aluminum was needed. Cryolite was an aluminum-rich mineral. Greenland during the War for the first time began to enjoy a kind of independent status. Needed supplies were guaranteed by the United States and Canada American involvement in Greenland was an early step in the North Atlantic undeclared naval war before America entered the War. Greenland unlike Iceland was not on the major sea lanes connecting America and Britain. Thus the huge island did not play a major role in the War. The major importance of Greenland was airbases helping to connect America and Britain and to conduct reconisance missions. Even more important were weather stations on Greenland. They were important because weather fronts move from west to east. Weather partterns that developed over Greenland affected both the North Atlantic and Northern Europe. Thus the possession of the most westerly and northerly weather stations gave the possessor advanced warnings of future weather patterns. This was so important that the Germans even tried to place aearher station on Greenland. The American Greenland weather stations, for example, is why the Allies knew there would be a break in the weather on D-Day and the Germans did not. It also provided important information to naval forces in the North Atlantic and to air forces in Britain planning air raids on Germany.


The northern coast of Iceland just touches the Arctic Circle. It is thus generally seen as a Notth Atlantic island. It is certainly the most important of all the northerly island and played a very important role in the Battle of the Atlantic and in the Arctic convoys to get American and Lend Lease supplies to the Soviet Union. Keeping Britain and the Soviet Union in the War were twp of the most important aspects of the War And Iceland played a crucial role in both. The Arctic Convoys were the least important of the supply routes to the Soviet Union because of the intense German attacks from Norway. Keeping Britain's Atlantic life lines open were vital and Isceland was an important part pf the Allied effort against Admiral Dönitz's U-boats.

Lofoten Islands

The Norwegian Arctic archipelago of the Lofiten Islands, off northern Norway produced some 50 oercent of the Norway's fish oil. Thus they were if sime imprtance to the Gernans. They nade glycerin from fish oil to make explosives. In a surprise raid, the British burned thousands of gallons of fish oil.


Spitzbergen is the largest island of the Svalbard Archepeligo. It is located in the Arctic Ocean, but in Word War II terms is more associted with the Atlantic campaign. Norway obtained possession of Svalbard, an Arctic Archipelago at far nothern lattitudes after World War I. It is located at lattitudes well above the most northerly location in Alaska. Its remoteness and harsh climate left it beyond the normal European competition for territory. Mineral deposits on Svalbard attracted increasing interest by the turn-of-the 20th century. It was the Versailles Treaty after World War I that created the basis for settling national claims (1919). The Spitsbergen Treaty followed (1920). Svalbard was awarded to the Kingdom of Norway, but citizens of signatory nations were granted residence, property, commercial, and research rights. Norwegian and then German soldiers were stationed on Svalbard during World War II. There was only limited military action. The principal value of Svalbard was as a source of meterological data that would affect military operations in Europe. Weather fronts sweep east and south from the North Atlantic and Arctic affecting European weather. The Allies had a better fix on this as they had weather stations in North America, Greenland and Iceland. Thus weather reports from Svalbard were of great value, especiallt to the Germans who had limited advanced warning on developing weather fronts. The Germans invaded Norway (April 1940) and then deployed units to operate a weather station on the island (1941). Svalbard also continued producing coal. The Norwegian Government in Exile decided to evacuate the Island's civilian population (September 1941). The German invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941) increased the importance of obtaining weather information and thus the military value of Svalbard. The British began running the Arctic convoys to Murmamsk to help supply the Red Army. These Arctic convoys passed between Svalbard and northern Norway and the Germans were determined to stop them. The Allies deployed a small force on the ships Isbjørn and Selis to estanlish a base at Isfjorden. The Luftwaffe sank the ships in Grønfjorden. The survivors regrouped to Barentsburg. The Germans battleships Tirpitz and Scharnhorst which had been deployed to Norway to stop the Arctic convoys shelled Barentsburg, Grumant, and Longyearbyen (1943). A German U-boat destroyed Svea and most houses in Van Mijenfjorden.


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Created: 1:50 AM 4/19/2016
Last updated: 5:38 PM 4/16/2017