A Brief History
On May 10, 1940, the United Kingdom invaded Iceland without the permission of the government of Iceland. With World War II in a dire phase for the British, German occupation of Iceland would have been catastrophic to cross Atlantic shipping, the lifeblood of Britain so despite Iceland’s neutrality, the British occupied the small country as a preventative measure. Today we will discuss some of the places England or the UK invaded that may not have been known to the casual person.
Iceland is strategically positioned to intercept shipping from North America to Northern Europe, especially to Scandinavia and Russia. Both the Allies and the Germans lusted after the potential to base airplanes and ships at this strategic island, but Iceland remained neutral in spite of strong lobbying efforts by both sides. Britain had imposed trade restrictions on Iceland to prevent free trade with Germany, and on May 10, 1940, Operation Fork went into effect, the British invasion and occupation of Iceland, preempting the Germans from doing so first. To illustrate how easy the conquest was, nobody was killed on either side, except for one British suicide enroute. Only 746 Royal Marines were needed to complete the invasion. In response, the Germans drafted Operation Ikarus, their own plan for invading Iceland, but in 1941 the United States sent the Marines to Iceland to occupy the island and deny it to Germany. The US later added Army and Army Air Forces to the occupation as well as naval facilities and garrison amounting to about 30,000 Americans at one time.
World War II also saw the British send troops to Norway in 1940 under the pretense of sending aid to the Finns against Soviet aggression. The British secretly hoped their presence would guard against Soviet or German forces seizing the valuable iron ore fields in Norway or using the Norwegian ports and airfields against British shipping. When the Germans invaded neutral Norway in April of 1940, the British and French were ready to immediately mount their own counter-invasion, which they did. By the end of April 1940, the British and French decided to abandon Norway to the Germans and began their withdrawal.
Another place the UK preemptively invaded and occupied during World War II was the Faroe Islands, an island chain that is its own autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark. This invasion was another one in response to the German invasion of Norway and Denmark, both neutral countries when Germany invaded.
When the Mexicans beat a French force at La Puebla on May 5, 1862, the Mexican victory became known as Cinco de Mayo, a date celebrated in Mexico and curiously also in the United States. What you may not be aware of, is that Britain and Spain had also sent invasion forces to Mexico in 1862 in an effort to force Mexican repayment of debt to those European countries. The British and Spanish withdrew after a short period, leaving the French to end up conquering Mexico and installing the Austrian Maximillian as Emperor.
In fact, Britain has invaded so many countries that author Stuart Laycock wrote a book about all those invasions in 2012 called All the Countries We’ve Ever Invaded: And the Few We Never Got Round To. His research indicates that of the 200 or so countries in the world, only 22 have never been invaded by Britain! Others claim there are around 60 countries Britain has not invaded. Either way, that is a lot of invading! Some of the countries that may not come to your mind right away that Britain did invade include Andorra, Albania, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Moldova, Montenegro, Russia, Belize, Costa Rica, and virtually all of South America except Bolivia and Paraguay. Other places you may not know British invasion occurred include Japan, Israel, Kirgizstan, Kazakhstan, Maldives, Nepal, North Korea, Philippines, Qatar, Oman, Turkmenistan, UAE, Uzbekistan, and nearly 3 out of 4 African countries and over a third of the Oceania island countries.
It is actually much easier to list the few places the UK/England/Britain never invaded, such as Mongolia. For people living on an island that ranks only 9th largest in the world, that is one heck of a lot of invading! No wonder English has replaced French as the universal language of the world, as evidenced by air traffic control, par exemple.
Question for students (and subscribers): What are some other places that the British have invaded that you suspect most people would be unfamiliar with? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Laycock, Stuart. All the Countries We’ve Ever Invaded: And the Few We Never Got Round To. The History Press, 2012.
Morgan, Kenneth. The Oxford History of Britain. Oxford University Press, 2010.
You can also watch a video version of this article on YouTube: