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„Gunboats fight frigates. Naval forces in the Anglo-Icelandic cod wars, 1958-76”. Fyrirlestur 3. okt. 2003.

„Gunboats fight frigates. Naval forces in the Anglo-Icelandic cod wars, 1958-76”. The 7th North Atlantic Fishing History Association Conference, „Fish, War and Politics, 1300-2003”, Amsterdam og Middelburg, Hollandi, 30.9.-4.10.2003.

Í þessu erindi lagði ég áherslu á það að þorskastríðin voru fyrst og fremst pólitísk og diplómatísk átök, þótt vissulega megi ekki gera lítið úr atganginum á hafi úti sem hafði mikil áhrif á gang mála í landi. Í "abstract" erindisins sagði:

This paper will discuss the naval correlation of forces in the Anglo-Icelandic “cod wars” – the disputes which arose when Iceland extended its fishing limits after the Second World War. The first conflict began in 1958, when the limit was moved from four miles to 12, and ended in 1961. In 1972-73, a similar dispute occurred over Iceland’s extension to 50 miles and, finally, in 1975-76 the two countries clashed over an extension to 200 miles.


On each occasion, Britain sent Royal Navy warships to protect British trawlers from harassment by Icelandic coast guard vessels. But in spite of absolute superiority on the seas, Britain had to back down and accept the Icelandic “encroachment” on the oceans. All things considered, Iceland was stronger than Britain. The law of the sea was developing in favour of coastal states; the strategic importance of Iceland during the Cold War meant that the Icelanders could threaten that if Britain did not give in, they might leave NATO or order the closure of the US military base on the island; they benefited from world sympathy for the small side fighting a “big bully”; and the risk of overfishing aided the Icelandic cause.


In other words, the “cod wars” were primarily political conflicts. Even so, the situation at sea was of course important as well. In the paper, the naval aspect will be discussed in detail, for instance by examining the following questions:

-          size, number and fighting power of the vessels on each side

-          instructions to the naval commanders on each side

-          the course of the conflicts if naval strength had been allowed to take precedence over other considerations

Photographs will be used to show how British and Icelandic vessels clashed with each other in the disputed waters. Recently declassified sources in Britain will also be used, as well as interviews with naval commanders on each side. These sources will support the conclusion that, as one of the Royal Navy captains put it, “we were fighting with our hands tied behind our backs, and if we had been allowed to, we could have sunk the Icelandic “fleet” in a matter of days”.

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