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Canadians Capture Iceland

Heroes Remember

Canadians Capture Iceland

People don’t know it but when we went into the war in 1939 we were still colonials. We were still under the British Forces the same as the First World War, nothing had changed. So we were part of the BEF. We were not Canadians, we were a contingent. So we went to Iceland, we had to take our 2nd Div patches down because we were the lead regiment of the 2nd Division, that’s what we are. And we had to take our divisional patches down and put up polar bears which was the 49th British expedition force, the 49th Division. So we went to Iceland, we were told that Iceland, we didn’t know whether it was occupied or not. There was a German base there, submarine refuelling base and an airbase and the Germans used to train there, however, at the time we were sent there we were sent in a hurry to get there. The Germans were fighting in Norway, Dunkirk had not happened. And we were racing there, so we raced there. When we come into Iceland, I was on the bridge of the Empress, brought her up to Solon to Reykjavik which is the capital and on the docks were all this uniform, great big monster cops and we didn’t know the Germans had evidently more or less evacuated the Island thinking the mistake they made. The British were tied up in France, they didn’t have any troops left, they were retreating. They were being beaten in Norway so it was no big hurry to occupy Iceland because they could just go in there when they were finished so they’d finish off Norway. They didn’t expect us. We went in there, we destroyed their airport, we took over the Island. We actually captured Iceland. We took it and we disarmed the police. We took over the radio station. In fact, we camped under it the first night. We landed in full combat ready to fight. We didn’t go in there with no peaceful deal and they hated us, they were ready to, the police tried to block us and Major West who was General West later of this regiment, it was the Royals who went in there. He was in there and the police were going to block us and as he politely told him and we disarmed them. “We got a lot of machine guns here and you’re going to be dead ducks in two minutes if you don't get the hell out of our way.” So there was no combat there in a hurry, we went in but we still didn’t know whether the Germans were interior or not. So we had to camp under there and then we made the dash inland with trucks and we had to spread out and occupy the whole area and make sure there was no Germans there.

Mr. Ryan recalls the capture and occupation of Iceland.

Joseph Anthony Ryan

Joseph Anthony Ryan was born in Montreal in 1920. The circumstances during the depression era saw him and his family moving to Thunder Bay, Ontario in search of a better life. Like many during this time, applying to Canada’s military was a way to find work, adventure and purpose, so in the late 30’s he joined the Lake Superior Regiment and began his training alongside the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians). From participating in operations from Iceland to Dieppe to his time as a prisoner of war in Germany, Joseph Ryan’s stories bring us a unique perspective on the price paid for our freedom.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
May 5, 2009
Person Interviewed:
Joseph Anthony Ryan
War, Conflict or Mission:
Second World War
Royal Regiment of Canada

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