Deep North Episode 58: Disaster on Dark Seas

ES goðafoss

On the morning of November 20, 1944, a single U-boat cruised silently at periscope depth beneath the rough waves of the North Atlantic, lurking just a few kilometres off the Northwest coast of Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula. The lone periscope was virtually invisible in the turbulent grey ocean waters. The German submarine, type VIIC/41, designated U-300, was commanded by 24-year-old Lieutenant Fritz Hein with a crew of 50 men barely out of their teens. Their mission was simple: To attack and destroy Allied vessels off the southwestern tip of Iceland as they approached the Icelandic mainland from North America. The bigger the ship they could sink, the better.

Read the story here.

Skeletons in the Closet

björn sveinsson

Saturday, May 18, 1946 was a pleasant spring morning in Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen. The war, with all its horror, had ended a year previously and western Europe was gradually moving toward a civil society based on human rights, justice, and democracy while simultaneously rebuilding and ridding itself of the last vestiges of Nazi occupation. At […]

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British Army Off the Hook for Mining of Rauðhólar

Reykjavík City Airport flugvöllur

New information has come to light regarding the destruction of Rauðhólar, or the Red Hills, a natural area of craters by Elliðavatn lake in the capital area.

Originally, some 80 of these craters stood on the edge of Reykjavík, but their numbers have decreased due to gravel mining. Previously, it had been believed that the British military levelled much of this area for construction material during the Second World War, with some calling this one of Iceland’s first natural disasters of the modern era. However, recent evidence reported by Vísir shows that aerial photographs taken of the area taken shortly after the war prove that this is not the case.

Friðþór Eydal, an author interested in the activities of the British army during the war years, said in a statement to Vísir: “Mining had already begun here before the British started their construction of the Reykjavík airport.” The city of Reykjavík, according to Friðþór, had begun using the site for gravel in road construction before the British arrived.

Much material for the construction of the Reykjavík airport came from Öskjuhlíð, the hillside now home to Perlan, and also Fífuhvammur in Kópavogur. There was indeed gravel from Rauðhólar utilised in the construction of the Reykjavík airport, but the British also took careful records of the amounts removed.

According to Friðþór, the 95,000 cubic metres taken by the British army can’t account for the total damage done to the Rauðhólar area. Additionally, the new photographic evidence taken in 1946 still shows the area as largely in tact.

The largest part of Rauðhólar then must have been taken after the war, by the city of Reykjavík itself.

The area was mined for gravel up until 1961, when it was given protected status.

 

 

 

Is there an article about the Icelandic passenger ship that was sunk in 1944 by a U-boat?

godafoss icelandic ship ww2

On November 10, 1944, a German U-boat sank Goðafoss, an Icelandic passenger ship, just outside Reykjavík harbour, leading to the deaths of  24 people. We haven’t written about the event itself, but we have, however, covered the reception history of an interesting book about the event, called “Útkall: Árás á Goðafoss,” or “SOS: Attack on the Goðafoss.” 

Published in 2003 by Óttar Sveinsson, it attracted international attention and has been translated into multiple languages. Notably, when it was translated into German, a special press conference was held at the Frankfurt book fair, in which an Icelandic survivor from the attack and a former U-Boat crew member met and reconciled. After the German translation attracted some attention, a documentary was even made about the event in Germany. 

While the Goðafoss may certainly be the most notorious U-boat attack from an Icelandic perspective, it was certainly not the only one to affect Icelanders. Because of Iceland’s important position between Europe and North America, many wartime convoys passed through Iceland. Icelandic vessels were very careful to fly the Icelandic flag to signal their neutrality, but some eight Icelandic vessels were nevertheless attacked and sunk by U-boats during the war.