July 9, 1941

[Parliamentary Debates, July 1, 1941.]

THE PRIME MINISTER: The military occupation of Iceland by the forces of the United States is an event of first-rate political and strategic importance; in fact, it is one of the most important things that has happened since the war began. It has been undertaken by the United States in pursuance of the purely American policy of protecting the Western Hemisphere from the Nazi menace. I understand that in the view of the American technical authorities modern conditions of war, especially air war, require forestalling action, in this case especially in order to prevent the acquisition by Hitler of jumping-off grounds from which it would be possible, bound by bound, to come to close quarters with the American Continent. It is not for me to comment on these American views, although I may say they seem fairly obvious to anyone who takes an intelligent interest in what is going on.

The seizure of Iceland by Hitler would be of great advantage to him in bringing pressure to bear both on Great Britain and the United States. We have for some time past, with the assent of the Icelandic people and the Legislature, maintained a strong garrison in the Island, and the arrival of powerful United States forces will greatly reduce the danger to Iceland. This measure of American policy is therefore in complete harmony with British interests, and we have found no reason on any occasion to object to it; indeed, I cannot see that we should have had any grounds for doing so in view of the invitation extended to the United States by the Icelandic Government. We still propose to retain our Army in Iceland, and, as British and United States Forces will both have the same object in view, namely, the defence of Iceland, it seems very likely they will co-operate closely and effectively in resistance of any attempt by Hitler to gain a footing. It would obviously be foolish for the United States to have one plan for defending Iceland and for the British Forces to have another.

If any issue of principle arises, it may be safely left to the British and American naval, military and Air Force authorities concerned, who will, I have no doubt, study each other's convenience to the utmost. Looked at from every point of view, I have been unable to find any reason for regretting the step which the United States have taken, and which in the circumstances they have been forced to take; indeed, I think I may almost go so far as to say, on behalf of the House of Commons as well as of His Majesty's Government, that we really welcome it. Whether similar satisfaction will be aroused in Germany is another question, and is one which hardly concerns us this morning.

The second principle of United States policy, which I understand has led them to the occupation of Iceland, has been the declared will and purpose of the President, Congress and people of the United States, not only to send all possible aid in warlike munitions and necessary supplies to Great Britain, but also to make sure we get them. Here again is a course of action for which the United States must take full responsibility. Apart from this, the position of the United States Forces in Iceland will, of course, require their being sustained or reinforced at sea from time to time. These consignments of American supplies for American Forces on duty overseas for the purposes of the United States will, of course, have to traverse very dangerous waters, and, as we have a very large traffic constantly passing through these waters, I daresay it may be found in practice mutually advantageous for the two navies involved to assist each other, so far as is convenient, in that part of the business. I really do not think I have anything further to say about a transaction which appears at every point to be so very plain and simple.