Greenland during World War II

German-weather-station-in-greenlandGerman weather station members
surrender to US forces

Despite the island’s remoteness and harsh climate, Greenland during World War II was of considerable significance. Greenland was a Danish colony, and after Denmark itself had been invaded in April 1940, the island was virtually abandoned by that country. The United States, despite its neutrality in 1940, objected to plans put forward by Canada and the United Kingdom to occupy Greenland. Eventually, U.S. forces were themselves based there.

The wartime government of Greenland

After the Nazi occupation of Denmark, the Germans allowed the Danish government to remain in power, albeit under heavy supervision from the invading power. Aksel Svane and Eske Brun, who acted as Greenland’s Governors, decided to implement a law of 1925 which set down how the island was to be administered. Given that Denmark itself was under German occupation, the Governors considered the Monroe Doctrine – under which the United States would not interfere in the affairs of European colonies. They therefore proclaimed that Greenland was to be considered a self-governing territory.

The government thereby installed made a number of attempts to obtain support from Britain, but its efforts proved to be in vain and they turned their attention to the United States instead. On April 9, 1941, Henrik Kauffmann, the Danish ambassador to the U.S., agreed with the American government that its troops would be permitted to be stationed on the island. This move was strenuously opposed by the Fanish government, but went ahead and had the effect of putting Greenland under the protection of the United States.

Life in Greenland during the War

Greenland was able to cope reasonably well with most aspects of wartime life, with proceeds from Ivittut’s cryolite mine making a significant contribution. Supplies were provided by the U.S., which also sent survey boats to the island’s east coast for patrolling purposes. These patrols were hampered by severe weather conditions, but rather than request a higher level of assistance, Brun decided that Greenland should have its own defensive force. The 15-man North-East Greenland Sledge Patrol was tasked with reporting any actual or potential landing of German troops.

The patrol also had a morale-boosting purpose, in that it demonstrated to the occupying Americans that Danish citizens were willing to fight against Nazi Germany. Nevertheless, the Germans did succeed in setting up some covert weather stations along Greenland’s east coast, and these were able to provide Nazi U-boats with information about weather conditions in parts of Europe. There was little actual contact between these Germans and the sledge patrol, but the limited skirmishing that did take place eventually caused the Axis troops to pull out of Greenland.

The End of German Presence in Greenland

During 1943 and 1944, there were reports that German forces were constructing a base on the island. These came to nothing, thanks to action by U.S. forces; similarly, a weather station on the northeast coast was bombed by U.S. Air Force planes based in Iceland. Data from several captured German weather stations was used by the Allies in the run-up to D-Day in June, 1944. The final Germans to be stationed in Greenland were technicians manning the weather station Edelweiss II. This base was captured on October 4, 1944, with all the staff being taken prisoner. Denmark itself was liberated in May 1945.

9 responses to “Greenland during World War II”

  1. Keld Iversen says:

    My father Iver Iversen was part of a 12 man team who spent 18 months in North East Greenland directly after WW 2
    His Diary is amazing

  2. Norman Brunt says:

    Did the Royal Air Force use Greenland as a staging post to fly to Canada and the UAS?

  3. Susan fritz says:

    It wouldbe amazing to read it. My father spent a short time there in 1945. I have some pictures but that’s about it he didn’t like to talk about that time in his life. I wish he would have kept a diary.

  4. John Basile says:

    My Uncle, Sgt Peter Basile served in the US Army on Greenland. He was killed in 1944, It is unknown how or actual date. His head stone simply says died 1944. The Westchester County NY service roles has him listed as DNB, died non battle, however the Army has no records for whatever caused his demise, he is buried in Eastchester NY. Myself and my Family are seeking any information that will paint a picture of his experience there and the cause of his death. The US Army and US Government files are claimed to be lost in a fire.
    He was a Sgt. and was believed to be in an Anti Aircraft Unit but I imagine with the limited personal, remoteness of duty and many various tasks, he could have played many different roles in his service. Any information would be greatly appreciated. His Brother is still with us and has always wondered.

  5. Deborah Norling says:

    How wonderful to have your father’s diary.
    What a treasure to behold.
    My Grandpa was also in Greenland in the late 1940’s, but passed away in 1955 after I was born, would have loved to have heard about his adventures in that magical land.

  6. Donald Taub says:

    Two weeks after Germany’s occupation of Denmark on April 9, 1940; Ambassador de Kauffmann established the American Greenland Commission in USA a sort of “Government in Exile” to Greenland. Pres. Roosevelt invoked the Monroe Doctrine. and told all of the belligerents (Britain, Canada & Germany) t stay out of Greenland. USA would defend Greenland’s neutrality. The first of a series of US Coast Guard ship departed on May 10, 1940. to establish a US Consulate, weapons and a “volunteer garrison at the vital cryolite mine (necessary to produce aluminum) at Ivigtut, and begin the search for potential air bases as fueling stops for ferrying US military aircraft to Britain. Next, two conferences of the Western Hemisphere nations established the Neutrality Zones surrounding the Western Hemisphere, and to provide for the defense of Greenland, which resulted in the Agreement on April 9, 1941, for USA to establish US military facilities and air bass there. Weather reporting from NE Greenland was vital to Germany., and initially used Norwegian Weather stations, which were “shutdown” by the Coast Guard. The NE coast was accessible by ships for only 2 – 3 summer months. Thus the USCG, with the agreement of the Governor, established the “Sledge Patrol” on the NE coast in August 1941 as “coast watchers” vs. intruders. Germany responded by establishing its own military weather stations starting in 1942, 43 and 44. The construction of the two main airbases on the west cast began in late 1941, and an auxiliary one on the east cast in 1942.. (The construction of the Cold War era airbase at Thule of the NW coast began in 1951. I was the commander of its supporting remotely located LORAN station, the most northern USCG in the World during 1959-60.

  7. Michele says:

    My dad was stationed in Greenland for 22 months during
    Michael Fortunato

  8. Sandra says:

    My late husband’s uncle was in the US Army in WWII. Supposedly his unit, the HQ Detachment of the 3rd Battalion of the 3rd Infantry Regiment was in Newfoundland and in September 1942 was sent to Greenland then left a year later, September 1943. I have been looking for more information on his unit’s assignment in Greenland. Anything about the conditions there would be interesting to me too.

  9. Trudy Rush says:

    My father was stationed in Greenland during WWII. He was an radio operator and had pictures of local people, whom he said were very friendly. He talked about learning to ski behind a dogsled. Anyone else have family member with this tye of service in Greenland?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *