German fear of raids

Clandestine weather stations in Greenland and around the Arctic were only one of the many German threats. German naval activity concerned the allies as well. The German cruiser Prince Eugen and the famous Bismarck battle ship sailed through the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland at the start of the war (May 1941). This has been identified outside Greenland and worried the Canadian government, which has communicated to the US that the German military is now within reach, and may be raiding, of valued Canadian assets on Greenland. buy and sell qatar

This included the Ivigtut mine in southern Greenland, used for the production of aluminum from the rare earth mineral cryolite.

The fear was that "a well-directed shot by a German submarine's deck weapon, or a smart sabotage by a workman, could seriously damage the cryolite mine [...]"

12) This would have had a major effect on the supply chain of aluminum in Canada, the production of aluminum military aircraft and, ultimately, a combined war effort.

This concern of the Canadians led to a rise in their military garrison at the mine from 100 to 480. However, the Germans did not finally disrupt the mine or deploy saboteurs. Why this was the case is not completely clear. One theory is that Germany did not want to give any further reasons for the intervention of America at the early stages of the war, though this is unlikely since Germans occasionally engaged in hostilities with US ships in the Atlantic before the US officials. However, there is no indication that German commando raids in German war plans have been calculated. It may very well be that allied fears of raids on strategic objectives in Greenland have been the result of mirror imaging and not real intelligence about German capacity for such special operations. However, if Germany had, as was feared, taken the initiative, then the allies would have been disrupted. 

A black and white historical map of the Greenland Coast Guard patrols World War II

The United States Coast Guard

At War – Greenland Patrol. The Coast Guard.

In the early years of the war, this fear was especially strong until at least 1943, when deposition of the mine declined due to the rise of synthetic cryolite.

15) The fact that the German Navy's submarines could operate in relative freedom across the North Atlantic has also precipitated this fear and have been vital in helping to secretly move Axis personnel under the nose of the allies and set up additional weather stations in Greenland.

Today's lessons

It would be wrong to portray the Arctic context during the Second World War and the current situation as synonymous, but parallels and lessons are certainly to be learnt. Some challenges for maintaining awareness of the situation in the vast areas of northern and northeastern Greenland today can be seen, as can Greenland's strategic importance for the United States and the threat from troublesome players in the region. In fact, the visit of Secretary of State Blinken to Greenland in May 2021 reinforced Greenland's continuing importance to the US under the administration of Biden.

But the struggle in the Arctic during the Second World War and the strategic position of Greenland was a general intelligence struggle. The aim was to detect how the adversary could move and how to counter these moves, as it was to predict the weather reliably. In fact, monitoring and awareness of situations is especially important in areas susceptible to possible intrusions. This was strengthened during the Cold War when acoustic and sonar sensors systems were placed in the GIUK gap to limit the passage of Soviet submarines into the Atlantic. Such lessons were perhaps forgotten after the Cold War, but are being relearned quickly now.

The plans of President Trump may not be implemented during his tenure, but his public appeal was a wake-up appeal for the Danish government. Although "[i]n the vast majority of areas, power has now been transferred to Greenland's home government. Other fields, including foreign defense and national security policies...remain in the Danish Government and Parliament's responsibility." 17) This is a responsibility re-invested by the Folketinget (Danish Parliament) during the past year and indeed months with renewed energy and vigor.

In February 2021, the Danish Defense Minister, Trine Bramsen, announced that DKK 1.5 billion (USD 245 million) would be invested in strengthening defense skill in the Arctic.

18) Faced with the growing interest of the Greater Power in the 'opener Arctic,' it is no wonder that Denmark wants to strengthen its regional defense capacity. Half the allocated budget will be allocated to military drones to improve information and intelligence collection from Greenland. 19) As such, Danish attention has not escaped the need for action to ensure the Danish Government and its army remain larger than the current security situation in the Arctic. 20)

According to the Defense Minister Trine Bramsen, "...when we can't keep eye on large areas, foreign authorities can be tempted to look up where they shouldn't."

21) This charge is not substantial. In and around GIUK Gap there have been reports of "abnormal activities," and the Danish government is committed to ensure that activities are not left uncontrolled and can be addressed if required. 

22) This also helps NATO, which is a key partner of the Kingdom of Denmark, especially in the United States. To date, Denmark has only been monitored by "one aircraft, four helicopters and four vessels" together with a slideshow. 23) As such, new, substantial Danish investors will be working hand in hand with existing NATO capabilities in Iceland, the UK and Norway for large, unarmed, long-distance medium altitude long endurance drones (two of them), smaller ships launching UAVs, restoration of Cold War radar station in Faroe Islands and previously announced spatialization capacities (satellite)

This investment was looked at favorably by the United States. As Secretary Blinken has pointed out, it is 'important and important that Danmark makes significant investments in what we refer to as domain sensitivity, awareness of situations, ensuring that we have the technology, the resources and the staff to know what is going on in the North Atlantic and in the Arctic.' 24) Knowledge is power and information collected between 1940 and 1945 helped keep track of German military activities and provide the allies with metrological information, as the lessons of the Second World War teach us. The new Danish military surveillance and intelligence collection systems based in the Arctic today help to secure all NATO allies in situations of development. Without a proper awareness of the situation in the Arctic, information asymmetry dynamics could increase tensions with a higher chance of miscalculation and misunderstanding. As the Danish defence minister has argued, the increased surveillance capabilities should be seen as a contribution to “de-escalation” but also as legitimate enforcement of territorial integrity. As we have seen, this is not the first (and it will not be the last) time that Greenland has served as an important region for the security of Western allies.

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