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Greenland During and Since the Second World War: Encyclopedia Arctica 14: Greenland, Svalbard, Etc. Geography and General
Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, 1879-1962

Greenland During and Since the Second World War

EA-Greenland-Spitsbergen, General
(Max J. Dunbar)


Greenland is a Danish colony and the largest island in the world. It is
Denmark's last remaining overseas possession and one of which Denmark is justly
proud. Danish policy in Greenland is aimed at developing the population and
the country to a condition of final independence (which is, however, still a
very long way in the future); and the significance of the occurrences during
the second world war is that a vitally important and impressive step in this
direction was made during those years. Isolation from the mother country caused
the seeds sown long before, prepared through generations of almost imperceptible
germination, to spring suddenly to view. In terms of biological time, Greenland
traversed a longer period in five years than she had done in the preceding fifty.
The most recent official announcement on the history, constitution, and
economy of Greenland is the 1949 "Report on Greenland" to the United Nations
(Greenland Administration 1949). Covering the wartime years are several publi–
cations in Danish, including Gad's Grønland under Krigen (1945) and Vibe's Ene
ligger Grønland
(1946). Vinding's Grønland 1945 (1946) is a general statement
for the popular market of present-day Greenland conditions. A new history of
Greenland has recently been published by Gad (1946), and a short ecological
study of the Greenland resources, people, and livelihood, including the wartime
period, has been produced by Dunbar (1947). A statement of future possibilities
and aspirations in Greenland is contained in Prime Minister Hedtoft's address
to the Greenland Assembly ("Parliament" or "Landsraad") made in 1948 (Hedtoft

EA-Greenland-Spitsbergen, General. Dunbar: Greenland During & Since World War II

1949). Finally a rich source of contemporary material on the wartime life in
Greenland is the semimonthly journal Grønlandsposten , written, edited, and
printed in Greenland. Grønlandsposten first appeared in 1942, and has been
continued since the war. It is from these sources, together with the writer's
own wartime experience in Greenland, that the present article has been derived.
Greenland lies between latitudes 59° 46′N. and 83° 39′N., and stretches
over arctic and subarctic zones. The total area is calculated at 2,182,000
square kilometers, of which 1,869,000 are covered by permanent inland ice, the
last great icecap remaining in the north. The ice-free terrain in mountainous
and deeply indented with the largest fjord system in the world; some of the
fjords are over 1,000 meters in vertical depth. The coast line is liberally
dotted with skerries and small islands. The land offers almost no possibility
of cultivation of grain crops, but hay can be grown in the southwest and a small
sheep-farming industry has been established there.
Lime most Eskimo areas, the native economy is based very largely upon the
resources of the sea. The traditional livelihood of the country is seal hunting,
but the population has increased so rapidly, and the seal numbers have decreased
so drastically owing to the damage done to the populations of migrant seals in
Newfoundland, and also to certain recent hydrographic changes (see below), that
the emphasis has perforce swung from seal hunting to fishing, which is now by
far the most important industry in Greenland, to the native Greenlander.
The development of the maritime fishery has been rapid, and has been made
possible by spectacular changes in the hydrography of the Greenland waters in
the past thirty to thirty-five years. These changes are part of a general warm–
ing of the marine and atmospheric climates of the northern areas, involving a
strengthening of the Gulf Stream and Atlantic Drift circulation and a retreat

EA-Greenland-Spitsbergen, General. Dunbar: Greenland During and Since Second World

of the polar water and ice distribution (Jensen 1939, Dunbar 1946). In Green–
land, the Irminger Current, a branch of the Atlantic Drift which turns westward
at the level of Iceland and mixes with the East Greenland Polar Current around
Cape Farewell, has increased in volume and apparently also in temperature, re–
sulting in a very marked warming of the West Greenland Current. This effect be–
gan to make itself felt about 1917, and was accompanied by associated changes in
the marine fauna of West Greenland. In particular, Atlantic cod ( Gadus callarias )
and Atlantic halibut ( Hippoglossus vulgaris ), especially the former, began to ap–
pear in increasing numbers over the West Greenland banks and in the inshore fjord
waters. The total production of salted fish from West Greenland has grown from
28 metric tons in 1915-16, to 5,661 metric tons in 1947-48 (Greenland Administra–
tion 1949). East Greenland produces no salt cod. The East Greenland waters are
dominated by the cold polar current, and have a totally different fauna from most
of the west coast. Southwest Greenland produces considerably more fish than does
the northwest coast (the division, administratively, between the two being placed
between the Holsteinsborg and Egedesminds districts).
Greenland's most valuable single resource is the cryolite mine at Ivigtut,
in the southwest. It is the only cryolite mine in the world, and its production
commands a high price. The Danish Government holds 50% of the shares of the com–
pany which now operates the mine, the "Cryolite Company øresund," formed in 1940.
The cryolite minehas been producing commercially since 1856, and its output grew
steadily up to the second world war. Exports rose sharply in the late 1930's, to
56,455 tons in 1939. (Greenland Administration 1943). The demand for cryolite
continued to increase during the first years of the war, and a peak of production
was reached in 1942, when over 90,000 tons were shipped to Canada and the United
States. The o utput has since fallen off considerably, and the market has steadied.

EA-Greenland-Spitsbergen, General. Dunbar: Greenland During and Since Second World

The importance of cryolite to the economy of Greenland is very great, the
profit from the mine having for many years made good, more or less, the deficit
of the rest of the colonial enterprises.
The population of Greenland has grown from 6,046 in 1805 to 21,827 in 1947
(Greenland Administration 1949). The 1947 figures for West Greenland were 20,405,
and for East Greenland 1,422. The population is thus strongly concentrated on
the west coast. West Greenland is divided, for purposes of administration, into
"North Greenland" (from Thule south to, and including, the Egedesminde district),
and "South Greenland" (from the Holsteinsborg district south to Cape Farewell).
In the present article the terms "north" and "south" Greenland are used in this
sense, referring, that is, to the west coast only. The third administrative
division is "East Greenland," comprising the populated part of the east coast
from Cape Farewell north to Scoresby Sound.
The history of modern Greenland begins in 1721, when Hans Egede landed
at the mouth of Godthaab Fjord. In 1728, Godthaab settlement was founded, also
by Hans Egede. Colonization in East Greenland began in 1894 at Angmassalik,
and in 1924 a new settlement was established in East Greenland, at Scoresby
Sound. The Greenland trade was for some years in the 18th century maintained
by private interests, but in 1774 the Danish Government took over the control
and all economic operations have since been carried on by a state monopoly, at
least up to the most recent postwar years (see below). Related to this monopoly
trade, and also in the interests of the gradual development of the population,
culturally and economically, Greenland was removed from free contact with the
world outside. All visitors to the country were either Government officials, in
the Greenland Service, or bona fide scientific investigators traveling with the
permission of the Greenland Administration. The responsible administration of

EA-Greenland-Spitsbergen, General. Dunbar: Greenland During & Since Second World

the colony is in Copenhagen, acting through two Landsfogeder or Administrators
resident in Greenland, one in south Greenland, at Godthaab, the other in north
Greenland, at Godhavn.
It is against this background of history, resources, and administration
that the wartime events in Greenland must be understood.
Denmark was invaded by the Germans in April 1940, and, on April 9, Green–
land found itself suddenly cut off from its administration in Copenhagen and
from its source of supplies. Fortunately, anticipating difficulty in supply–
ing Greenland under wartime conditions, the Administration had seen to it that
a double shipment of all necessary foodstuffs and materials was shipped to cer–
tain districts the previous year, so that the necessity of establishing other
sources of supply was not so immediate as it might have been. Nevertheless,
the situation called for speedy action.
The two Landsfogeder or Administrators, Axel Svane in south Greenland and
Eske Brun in north Greenland, announced at once that all necessary steps to
ensure the continued Greenland economy would be taken. On April 16 they an–
nounced further that they had been in radio contact with the Danish Minister
in Washington, Henrik de Kauffmann, and that negotiations to provide for the
material needs of Greenland had been opened. As for the administration of the
colony in isolation from Denmark, such a state of emergency as that of April 1940
was allowed for in the 1925 Constitution of Greenland, in which paragraph 3 of
Article 10 reads as follows:
"The Administrators, as the representatives of the Danish Government
in Greenland, are to be considered the responsible authority in the
country and can in exceptional instances ( overordentlige tilfaelde )
take such measures as the interests of the population may demand."

EA-Greenland-Spitsbergen, General. Dunbar: Greenland During & Since Second World

Telegraphic communication between Denmark and Greenland had not at that
time been completely stopped, and the Greenland Administration was able itself
to refer the Administrators in Greenland to the above Article 10. On April 23,
Brun and Svane officially took over the administration of Greenland; for the
first time since the medieval Norse republic in Greenland, Greenland was adminis–
tered by a responsible government within the country itself.
Meanwhile de Kauffmann had been busy in the United States. An "American
Danish Greenland Commission" was set up on his initiative, designed to take care
of the purchasing of supplies for Greenland, and the securing of North American
markets for Greenland products. Denmark, the United States, and Canada were
represented on this commission. From the Greenland side, the Landsraad of south
Greenland met its fellow body from north Greenland (for the first time in history)
at a joint meeting at Godthaab, to discuss necessary measures in Greenland. The
joint meetings continued each year for the remainder of the war. The American
Danish Greenland Commission was later dissolved, to be supplanted by the "Green–
land Delegation" in New York. This body was formed when Eske Brun, in the spring
of 1940, left for a visit to North America together with a selected body of
Greenland experts in various fields (radio, cryolite mine, mechanical equipment,
etc.). On June 3, 1940, the cryolite mine was placed under the authority of the
administration at Godthaab. Greenland's whole trade was thus unified under one
authority, with a permanent body in New York (Greenland Delegation) in charge
of details of purchasing and marketing. The exchange rate was fized at five
Danish (Greenland) kroner to the U.S. dollar. The administration was central–
ized at Godthaab, so that the division of the west coast into two administrative
portions was temporarily abolished. In the summer of 1941, Administrator Axel
Svane left Greenland for New York, to take over the leadership of the Greenland

EA-Greenland-Spitsbergen, General. Dunbar: Greenland During and Since Second
World War

Delegation, and Eske Brun remained at Godthaab as head of the Administration
in Greenland, in which position he continued for the whole of the wartime emer–
gency. A new post, that of Trade Inspector, was set up at Godthaab, with Axel
Malmquist as its incumbent. Under Malmquist's leadership the production of
Greenland, especially in the fishery, was considerably increased, and the normal
life of Greenland was resumed with no serious shortages in the importation of
supplies. Rationing of certain staple foods was introduced in 1943.
The occupation of Denmark by the Germans, and their offensive in Norway,
called forth a quick response from the United Kingdom, who immediately filled
the "strategic vacuum" (Gad 1945) in the Faeroe Islands and in Iceland. Simil–
arly, Greenland became an immediate matter of concern to both Canada and the
United Kingdom, the two belligerent powers, and to the United States, still
non-belligerent. From inside Greenland, during those shaky months of 1940, al–
most anything was expected, and the whole picture was very obscure. To quote
Gad: "We had no idea what might happen. We in Greenland awaited without anxiety
the arrival of either the British or the Canadians, who could legally have under–
taken the occupation of strategically important points on the island...... The
worst we could expect from the German side was the destruction of the cryolite
mine, which would have been catastrophic.... The danger from Germany appeared,
as time went by, to become less and less, because Germany would not wish to pro–
voke the U.S.A. to a declaration of war by undertaking action in an area which
falls within the terms of the Monroe Doctrine."
The Monroe Doctrine applied as well, it appeared, to any possible action
by the United Kingdom, and also ( sic ) to any Canadian military action in Green–
land. It fell to the United States, although not at war, to undertake the pro–
tection of the Greenland shores, including the cryolite mine. Two things were

EA-Greenland-Spitsbergen, General. Dunbar: Greenland During and Since Second
World War

recognized by all three powers, first the necessity of guaranteeing the sover–
eignty of Denmark in Greenland, and second the great strategic importance of
Greenland. The prewar flights over the Greenland icecap had not been forgotten.
As a base for short-hop flights from North America to northwest Europe, and for
the protection of the North Atlantic shipping lanes, Greenland was vitally im–
portant. Hardly less important was the contribution which Greenland weather
information could make to forecasting in Europe. The repeated (and successful)
efforts of the Germans to establish meteorological stations in northeast Green–
land were witness enough of this importance. Lastly to both Canada and the
United States the importation of cryolite from Greenland in increasing quantities
was essential for the defense industries, especially the manufacture of aircraft.
From May 1940 the cutters and smaller craft of the U.S. Coast Guard were a
common sight along the coasts of Greenland, and in the settlement harbors. Four–
teen coast guardsmen were discharged at Ivigtut and immediately reorganized in–
to a police guard for the mine — not a serious obstacle for an enemy demolition
party with serious intentions. No such party, however, arrived.
In order to facilitate negotiations in both military and civil affairs, the
United States and Canada opened consulates in Greenland. On May 22, 1940, the
Coast Guard Cutter Comanche arrived at Godthaab with the United States Consul
and Vice Consul on board. On June 4, the Greenland ship Julius Thomsen reached
Ivigtut, after an eventful voyage from Denmark during which she had been taken
over by a British naval prize crew, carrying the Canadian Consul who had recent–
ly relinquished, perforce, his post in Holland. The Canadian Vice Consul had
already arrived on June 1, on board the Hudson's Bay Company vessel Nascopie ,
chartered by the Canadian Government for a special voyage to Greenland to bring
much-needed supplies. Both consulates were eventually built at Godthaab.

EA-Greenland-Spitsbergen, General. Dunbar: Greenland During and Since Se [: ] ond
World War

Quite apart from the usual consular functions concerned with trade, visas,
and so on, both consulates were in some sense diplomatic offices, in that they
were the only representation of the United States and Canada in Greenland, and
since Greenland had to be looked upon for the time being as a self-governing
country. The positions of the two consulates were not quite the same, for two
reasons of different orders. After 1941, when U.S. military bases were estab–
lished in Greenland, the work of the United States Consulate became more and
more taken up with military affairs, and came to be a most important link be–
tween the U.S. Army and Navy authorities in Greenland defense areas, and the
Administration at Godthaab. The Canadian Consulate had no such military de–
velopment to deal with, but on the other hand there was at that time no Danish
Minister in Ottawa, so that the Canadian Consulate in Greenland was the only
channel through which business and negotiations between Canada and Greenland
could be carried on. The Danish Minister in Washington, on the other hand,
was at all times available for discussion with the U.S. Government on Green–
land matters. This difference in function became more apparent when, in Nov–
ember 1941, the Greenland Delegation in New York became a division of the Dan–
ish Consulate-General (thus directly under the Danish Minister) and the Danish
Minister was recognized by the U.S. Department of State as the proper author–
ity and channel for United States-Greenland business.
The United States-Greenland Defense Agreement was signed by Cordell Hull
and Henrik de Kauffmann on April 9, 1941. Such an agreement was a foregone
conclusion from the time of the invasion of Denmark one year before. In July
1940, at the Havana Conference, the United States had undertaken to defend the
Western Hemisphere against all outside invasion, or threat to alter the sover–
eignty of any part of it. The safety of Greenland was a matter of grave con-

EA-Greenland-Spitsbergen, General. Dunbar: Greenland During and Since second
World War

cern to the Western Hemisphere in general, and demanded considerably greater
military action than had hitherto been taken. The ten articles of the treaty
assured the continued sovereignty of a free Denmark over Greenland; gave the
United States the right to build such bases and other installations as might
be necessary for the defense of Greenland, for the use of all American nations,
but stipulated that the defense areas were still Danish territory; and estab–
lished that the treaty should remain in force until it was agreed that the danger
for the peace and safety of the American continent was over.
The news of the signing of this treaty was received with mixed feelings
in Greenland. It was a decisive breakdown of the traditional policy of the
"closed shore," and it was contrary to the spirit of neutrality so strong in
Scandinavia. But it was accepted as inevitable; and, indeed, the impact of the
military forces of a foreign nation upon the lives and economy of the native
Greenlanders was very much less than had been expected. The effect of direct
contact was limited almost entirely to a sharp increase in the price of native
handicrafts and souvenirs, and certain unimportant sociological difficulties in
some of the settlements of the southwest. In 1943 the defense areas and all
military outposts were declared out of bounds to the Greenlanders, by the God–
thaab Administration, and except for official purposes no army or navy personnel
were allowed to visit the settlements.
Three air fields were constructed, two on the west coast and one on the
east, to be followed by a small emergency landing strip a few miles south of
Godthaab. There were various smaller stations, for weather reporting and for
the guarding of approaches to air fields; an army camp an [: ] a naval fuelling
station were built close to the cryolite mine at Ivigtut. During flying opera–
tions over the icecap and along the rugged coasts of Greenland there were many

EA-Greenland-Spitsbergen, General. Dunbar: Greenland During and Since Second
World War

casualties, and new techniques were evolved for search and rescue. At sea,
several ships were lost by enemy action, including the transport Dorechester ,
sunk by torpedo off southwest Greenland in the early part of 1943, carrying
military personnel and men from the Ivigtut mine. One Greenland vessel, the
Hans Egede was lost without trace on a voyage to the United States in February
1942. Another of the Greenland Administration ships, the Gortrud Rask , was
lost aground on the coast of Nova Scotia, but not by enemy action.
A unique organization in wartime Greenland was the Northeast Greenland
Sledge Patrol, made up of Danish and Norwegian residents and expedition members
in that area, and a small number of native Greenlanders from the Scoresby Sound
settlement; altogether, at maximum strength, about 15 white men (most of them
Danes) and 4 Greenlanders. The numbers varied from year to year. The Patrol
was first formed in 1941, by the Greenland Administration, at the request of
the U.S. military command, to operate in the far northeast, north of Scoresby
Sound, and to report any enemy landings, weather stations, or suspicious find–
ings to the Greenland Base Command. This miniature army, sledge-mounted, was
the only group to engage the enemy actively on Greenland territory. In March
and April 1943 a German weather station was discovered on Sabine Island. The
Danish station at Eskimonaes was attacked at night by the German party, and the
small garrison was forced to retire. Another party of 3 Danes ran into the same
German party on the way south to base; one was killed and the other two taken
prisoner. One of them, Marius Jensen, managed to turn the tables on the enemy
and took the German commander, a naval lieut e nant, south to Scoresby Sound. The
remainder of the German party were later taken prisoner by American forces. For
this skillful piece of work Marius Jensen was decorated by both Canada and the
United States.

EA-Greenland-Spitsbergen, General. Dunbar: Greenland During and Since Second
World War

Interesting and specialized though the military operations in Greenland
were, they had little or no effect upon the Greenlanders or upon the Danish
population. The mere fact of isolation, however, and of government from with–
in, had a very marked effect upon the course of the history of the colonial de–
velopment. The imported supplies came first very largely from the United States,
but later came in increasing proportion from Canada; in 1942 most of the needed
commodities came from Canada. The arrival of these goods from foreign parts was
no doubt a stimulus in itself, and started an awareness of the world beyond the
limits of Greenland and Denmark, which hitherto had formed the horizon of vision
of the average Greenlander.
The establishment of a responsible administration in Greenland was something
quite new for the Greenlanders. They looked upon the Godthaab administration,
rightly, as the trustees of the administration in Copenhagen, and as the highest
authority so long as Denmark was cut off from traffic with Greenland. There was
no reason for them to suppose, at first, that this would involve any change in
the mode of operation of the settlements, or any deviation from the slow-moving
development and life of the country. As the war years went by, however, it be–
came clear to the Greenlanders that things were not quite as they had been, and
that the tempo of life in Greenland had been raised considerably. By the end of
the war most of them were in no doubt about the advantages of the tighter wartime
organization and the greater efficiency which the exigencies of war had pressed
upon them.
The far-reaching changes in Greenland during the second world war were thus
the result, not of the presence of foreign troops or the building of military
installations and air fields, but of the fact of the war itself, the isolation
from Denmark, and the performance of the interim administration at Godthaab. They
may be listed as follows:

EA-Greenland-Spitsbergen, General. Dunbar: Greenland During and Since Second
World War

1. The Administration was able to make decisions without referring to
Copenhagen. In the old days, the broad Atlantic functioned as a brake upon
the course of events in Greenland. Communication for purpose of administra–
tion was normally by sea, so that action on business might take several months.
Such a leisurely system was apt to increase the disregard for time which life
in Greenland fosters in the first place. Under wartime conditions, action on
incoming requests, representations, and suggestions, could be taken within one
day or one week, instead of the former one month or one year.
2. In spite of the necessarily tight organization of the wartime admin–
istration, at a time when decisions had to be made quickly, there was generally
a greater democracy in Greenland during the war than was possible under the
normal "government-from-a-distance." Suggestions from the Danish and Greenlandic
sections of the population were usually sure of a hearing, which does not seem
to have been the rule before.
3. This resulted in two important psychological generations: a greater
sense of individual responsibility and pride in performance, qualities which
were apt to be somewhat deadened under the normal system; and a feeling of team–
work, of playing a part in the development of the country, and of helping to
maintain the Danish reputation in, and undisputed right to, the colony of Green–
4. There was a growing awareness among the Greenlanders (the Danes were
of course aware of it already) that Greenland was of great strategic interest
to the world powers, and a realization that what was happening might well happen
again in the future. The war demonstrated to the Greenlanders, whether by hear–
say or at first hand, the extent of the resources of one of those powers (the
United States), and the changes which could be produced in a very short time in

EA-Greenland-Spitsbergen, General. Dunbar: Greenland During and Since Second
World War

their country by mechanized effort. Nothing like the new air fields and camps
in Greenland had been dreamed of by the native population.
5. There followed a realization that the increasing difficulties of main–
taining the closed shore of Greenland, which could be foreseen from present
developments, were going to demand a new attitude on the part of the Greenlanders
toward the world outside; and it became clear to them that their education was
as yet inadequate for the formation of this new attitude. Discussions on educa–
tion between Greenlanders, and between Greenlanders and Danes became more and
more common during the war years, and opinions were expressed on desirable future
policies on education which were seldom if ever heard before the war. Languages,
science, and technology were the subjects most frequently mentioned as in need
of expansion in the schools.
6. Various technical changes were made. The old seal-oil house lamps,
which were prescribed by law before 1939, disappeared, to be replaced by bright
kerosene lamps, and later, in several settlements, by electrification. Techni–
cal advances of this kind, however, were due to come anyway, war or no war. But
their arrival was hastened by the new conditions.
7. A new and more efficient method of importing and distributing supplies
was introduced, made necessary by the scarcity and high cost of shipping. This
involved the establishment of certain of the settlements as "transit" ports, at
which supplies were landed from the ocean-going freighters, to be dis trib uted
to other settlements by Greenland's own fleet of coastal schooners and motorboats.
This was a considerable departure from the old system in which each settlement
( Koloni ) was visited each season by most of the Administration's larger vessels.
It made more of a unit of the Greenland trade; it was clearly less expensive; and
it put a greater onus on the coastal schooners, thus boosting the importance of

EA-Greenland-Spitsbergen, General. Dunbar: Greenland During and Since Second
World War

those excellent and most suitable vessels. The part played by the schooner and
motorboat fleet during the war is one of the most arresting single facets of
Greenland's wartime history.
8. Most important of all, as the advantages of the wartime organization
became clear to the Greenlanders, there crystallized out of it a determination
that the substance of these innovations should not disappear when the administra–
tion of the country returned to Copenhagen. In short, there emerged during the
second world war a wave of national feeling and solidarity which marked a turn–
ing point in Greenland's career. This was not incompatible with the feeling of
an even greater closeness to Denmark, which probably increased somewhat during
these years.
There is little more to be said here about events in Greenland from 1940
to 1945; there is little more that can be said without going into much greater
detail than space allows. Many Danish children went to school in the United
States and Canada, where under normal conditions they would have gone home to
Denmark. There was no lack of supplies and no material hardship. The cost of
importing the supplies increased, so that the Administration, following its
established policy of keeping prices in Greenland down, no doubt suffered larger
deficits in this respect than were normal. On the other hand, the export trade
boomed, and the prices received for cryolite, salted fish, animal oils, etc., went
up to unprecedented levels. The cod fishery was stimulated to continued increase
in volume, and in fact the most valuable cargoto leave the Greenland shores was
not a cryolite cargo from Ivigtut, but a cargo of some 2,300 tons of salt cod
taken by a Portuguese ship in 1944, at well over $200 per ton.

EA-Greenland-Spitsbergen, General. Dunbar: Greenland During and Since Second
World War

Postwar Developments
The Greenland Assembly ( Landsraad ) lost little time, as soon as the
German army withdrew from Denmark, in giving expression to the changes which
had taken place in the outlook and awareness of the Greenlanders during the
war. At the 1945 meeting, the following resolution was passed:
"During the war the people of Greenland have learned the great sig–
nificance of having a central leadership in Greenland itself, and it
is therefore proposed that Greenland be administered from within the
country, that the two administrators' offices be unified to include
the whole of Greenland, and that the office be endowed with greater
authority than that given it by the present constitution.
"It is desired that experts should be attached to the administra–
tor's office for the purpose of looking after the various branches of
administration. Greenland's highest officials should be endowed with
limited authority of allocation (of material, etc.) and right of dis–
position, embracing all Greenland activities.
"It is suggested that the present division of the country be dis–
carded and that one Assembly, with greater authority, should be estab–
lished for the whole country.
"There is an overwhelming opinion in favour of maintaining the
transit ports, with a special view towards making possible thereby the
long-needed coastal traffic for the advantage of the people of the
"An early alteration of the present constitution of the Greenland
Administration is considered to be demanded in the highest degree, and
amongst other things it is considered unreasonable that there should be
different regulations for the Danish and Greenlandic elements in the
same country." ( Grønlandsposten 1945).
This bold if slightly confused statement aroused considerable interest in
the Danish press. One result of the general articulate attitude was the elec–
tion of a group of leading Greenlanders to be sent to Denmark to discuss the
Greenland problems with the Administration in Copenhagen, and with other Govern–
ment representatives. This delegation left Greenland in November 1945. The list
of matters for discussion was very complete and included all the internal matters

EA-Greenland-Spitsbergen, General. Dunbar: Greenland during and Since Second
World War

touched upon in this article. It was not easy, at the time, to judge from
the press and other published reports just how the delegation was received;
but the general impression in Greenland was that the discussions were largely
a gesture on the part of the Administration, and that they were not intended
to be taken too seriously.
However that may be, there is no doubt that the indications of policy pub–
lished in Greenland in the spring of 1946 were not favorable to the permanent
incorporation of the wartime changes. This impression was confirmed when the
final report of the conference was published ( Grønlandsposten 1946). The pro–
posal for a central, responsible administration within Greenland was turned down,
and the real issue at stake was evaded by handling this point as though synonymous
with the question of whether there should be one Administrator (as during th war)
or two (as before) in Greenland. The double administratorship was brought in
again. The question was, however, left open to the extent of a recommendation
that the present regulations governing the Greenland Landsraad and the administra–
torship should be brought up again for revision before the end of 1950. The Gov–
ernment trade monopoly was to be retained, likewise the policy of the closed shore.
(In an article in Grønlandsposten , Brun defended the monopoly as a means of buffer–
ing the colony against cycles of slump and boom which could do great harm if the
Greenland trade were in the hands of private companies (Brun 1946).
Plans for the expansion of the fishery were approved, also the sheep farming
and the coal mining. No great changes were proposed in the educational field, al–
though the use of Danish as the language of instruction (a point which was strongly
advocated by the Greenlanders) was approved in general, and "where circumstances
allowed it." The biggest improvements were proposed for the medical service, in–
cluding the recommendation of the appointment of three more doctors (making about

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World War

fifteen in all) and three more nurses; there were to be two dentists instead of
one. Two new hospitals were recommended on the east coast, and three more hos–
pitals were to be equipped with X-ray, making eight hospitals in all so equipped.
The decisions of the conference were seriously criticized as being largely
ineffective, and because they showed no promise of encouraging initiative and
self-reliance on the part of the Greenlanders; the old paternalism had been re–
newed. These criticisms referred in particular to the educational and economic
fields, and to the fundamental point of the retention of all responsible govern–
ment in Copenhagen.
This conference, however, was by no means the end of the story. Criticism
continued, both in Greenland and in the Danish press, and there seems to have
been a suggestion that the delegation of Greenlanders had been talked out of many
of the points which they had gone to Denmark to insist upon. The matter came to
a head at two meetings of the Greenland Society in Copenhagen in 1947. "It is
interesting to note that the opening speeches of both meetings were made by Green–
landers who most ably expressed the views of their countrymen. It speaks very well
for the 200 years of Danish administration of Greenland that the demands of the
Greenlanders, as voiced by these men, included nothing more revolutionary than a
strong demand to have the seat of the Greenland Administration removed from Copen–
hagen to Greenland where it should be directly responsible to a Danish Government
Department." (Porsild 1948). The Greenlanders also recommended at this meeting
that the monopoly should be ended, and that private Danish and Greenlandic enter–
prise should be allowed to operate in Greenland; and they included in their recom–
mendations all the rest of the points which the Landsraad had recommended in 1945
(see above). Clearly they had changed their minds back again to the original since
the report of the 1945-46 conference.

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World War

From then on matters moved swiftly and with a more distinguishable pattern.
In 1948, private fishing vessels from Denmark were allowed to operate in the in–
shore waters of West Greenland, provided they would agree to take young Green–
landers on board as pupils. The long-standing Government trade monopoly was thus
officially ended, at least experimentally and pending definite legislation; this
was obviously an omen of things to come.
In the summer of 1948 the Danish Prime Minister, Hans Hedtoft, together
with the Director of the Greenland Administration, Knud Oldendow, and the Vice–
Director, Eske Brun (a post he assumed in 1948), visited Greenland and were pres–
ent at the joint sessions of the Landsraad of south and north Greenland, at God–
thaab, with Brun as chairman. The Prime Minister's address at this meeting was
a statement full of significance for the future of Greenland. On the question
of the lifting of the trade monopoly, Mr. Hedtoft pointed out that the 1945-46
conference had left the matter open; that the resources of Greenland should be
developed by all means possible in the interests of the Greenlanders; and that
in all probability the time had now come to expand these means to include the
operations of private Danish interests. He pointed out also that the Greenlandic
women had now been given the right to vote for their representatives in the Lands–
raad (in 1948), and that "the Greenland men now had the new and great task of
enlightening and leading the women in political matters" (Hedtoft 1949). He
asked for the opinion of the Landsraad on certain points, including the question
of monopoly, the matter of Danish and Greenlandic law, and the all-important
question of the location of the responsible government of Greenland and the pre–
cise relationship of Greenland and Denmark within the common community.
The Landsraad replied, through Pastor Gerhard Egede of Frederikshaab, that
it approved of the endinf of Government trade monopoly, and that this should be

EA-Greenland-Spitsbergen, General. Dunbar: Greenland During and Since Second
World War

effected by the permission of private Danish firms to operate in Greenland
under the control of the Danish Government. The Landsraad did not think that
Danish law was appropriate, as yet, for the Greenlanders in the present stage
of development, but steps should be taken to even out the present diff erences
between the civil rights of Danes and Greenlanders in Greenland. It did not
consider that the time was yet ripe for the representation of Greenland by a
Greenland member in the Danish Parliament, but that there should be Greenlandic
representation in the Parliamentary Committee on Greenland. Finally, it recom–
mended that a Commission should be set up in order to work out all the present
Greenland problems.
The Commission, under the chairmanship of H. H. Koch, of the Ministry of
Social Affairs, was formed in the fall of 1948, and after a climax of what ap–
pear to have been ill-informed protests about the personnel and the proposed
work of the Commission ( Grønlandsposten 1949a), the Commission settled down to
its work and peace settled over Greenland once more.
At the end of 1948, Enud Oldendow resi ng gn ed after many years as Director of
the Greenland Administration, to be succeeded by Eske Brun. It was a happy and
a foregone conclusion that Brun should take the post of Director, for it was his
activity and energy above that of any other one man that had brought about the
striking advances in Greenland since 1940. In the summer of 1949 the newly formed
Commission, or part of it, arrived in Greenland on a fact-finding tour on board
the Administration's new ship Umanak , and the Chairman, H. H. Koch, reported on
the progress made. It was proposed to unite the two administratorships, and to
form a central administration in Greenland with considerably greater authority
than the administrators had had before. Many of the advances already discussed
were accepted, and the Commission appeared to be well on the way to an alteration

EA-Greenland-Spitsbergen, General. Dunbar: Greenland During and Since Second
World War

of the Greenland constitution as demanded by the Landsraad (Koch 1949).
During these somewhat turbulent postwar years in Greenland's usually placid
history, the normal life and economy of the country have been developing. Dr.
Poul Hensen, in charge of fisheries research in Greenland, using his new research
vessel Adolf Jensen , found new trawling grounds for shrimps in the southwest,
and a new shrimp cannery was built. Other canneries are planned. A very im–
portant development concerning the fishery is the plan, at present in the study
stage, to concentrate the population into larger settlements (Greenland Adminis–
tration 1949), and to eliminate if possible some or most of the outlying hunting
and trading posts. The present scattered condition of the population is one of the
greatest handicaps under which the administration operates, for it greatly
increases the cost of processing and t ansporting the fish. The plans to con–
centrate the population, if realized, will simplify also the problems of general
transportation, medical care, and education throughout the country.
Final figures of the 1949 catch in the cod fishery is not yet available to
the writer, but it is quite clear that the season has not been normal. The winter
of 1948-49 was exceptionally severe, and in the early spring the West Greenland
Current appears to have been unusually cold; codfish were reported to be found
dead in large numbers. In the course of the summer of 1949 the cod catch in the
southwest (Sukkertoppen and south) was good, but in the Holsteinsborg district
the season, at least in its first half, was a failure. Dr. Hansen is quoted in
Grønlandsposten (1949b) as describing the depressing situation in the Holsteins–
borg district, always one of the most important fishing areas in Greenland. In
1948, a little over 1,000 tons of fresh cod were bought by the fishing stations
in that district, whereas up to the beginning of July, in 1949, only 500 kilograms
were received, as against 500 tons at the same date in 1948. A similar situation

EA-Greenland-Spitsbergen, General. Dunbar: Greenland During and Since Second
World War

is reported from the shrimp fishermen of the same district. Trawling in 1949
produced almost no shrimp at all.
Weather information is one of Greenland's most important exports, of in–
terest to many countries, in peace as well as in war. The meteorological sta–
tions in Greenland, which were greatly multiplied during the war by the United
States Army, were taken over by Denmark for the most part, and have since been
again increased in number (Brun 1949). A list of the meteorological stations
at present operating is given by Elbo (1949), who writes: "Practically all the
weather stations are now manned by Danes and Greenlanders, although in 1948 in
a few cases there were still some Americans left for purposes of training Danes.
The last Americans will leave (the weather stations) when Grønlands Styrelse has
sufficient trained men at its disposal."
Certain other developments should be mentioned here. In the geological field,
a useful deposit of lead was discovered in King Oscar Fjord in northeast Greenland
( Grønlandsposton 1948). The Danish Greenland Naval Command, established in 1945
at Godthaab, has been expanded since its establishment and is occupied in survey
and patrol activities. The military air bases are being maintained approximately
as before, at least for the time being by the United States; the Greenland Defense
Agreement is still in effect. The United States Government has maintained its
Consulate at Godthaab, but the Canadian Consulate was closed in June 1946. One
development resulting from the existence of the air fields built during the war
is the establishment of passenger and mail air traffic between Denmark and Green–
land, something which by all accounts and impressions still seemed a very long
way in the future in 1939.
Only one important point remains to be made. Unless very considerable min–
eral wealth can be found, it is upon the behavior of the Irminger Current (see above)

EA-Greenland-Spitsbergen, General. Dunbar: Greenland During and Since Second
World War

that the future of Greenland really hangs. The cold snap in 1949 may be only
a short temporary regression in the warming process, or in the maintenance of
the present warm period; such a setback was recorded also in 1937-38. But in
any event, all the planning of the last few years, all the development of the
Greenland colony since its beginnings, will progress or regress with the West
Greenland Current. If the warm period continues, there is nothing to stop the
growth of Greenland and the development of the Greenlanders as planned; but if
the Irminger Current fails, the resources of Greenland will be most seriously
reduced, and the ingenuity of the scientists and administrators concerned with
Greenland affairs will be sorely taxed to avoid disaster. The record of Den–
mark in Greenland hitherto, however, has been impressive enough to make the
observer believe that even should such an amergency arise, it will be met with
the same courage and the same success as were so effective in the difficult years
of the second world war.

EA-Greenland-Spitsbergen, General. Dunbar: Greenland During and Since Second
World War


Brun, E. "Vort Monopol i Grønland." Grønlandsposten , 5 (5), pp. 106–
109. 1946.

----. "The Greenlander of Today." Arctic , 2 (1), pp. 3-12. 1949.

Dunbar, M. J. "The State of the West Greenland Current Up to 1944." J. Fish .
Res. Bd. Can ., VI (7), pp. 460-471. 1946.

----. "Greenland - An Experiment in Human Ecology." Commerce Journal
(Toronto Univ.), Mar. 1947. pp. 69-109.

Elbo, J. G. "Meteorological Stations in Greenland." Polar Record , 5
(37, 38), pp. 309-310. 1949.

Gad, F. Grønland under Krigen . Copenhagen, G. E. C. Gads Forlag, 56
pp. 1945.

----. "Grønlands Historie." Det Grønlandske Selskabs Skrifter ,
XIV, 270 pp. 1946.

Greenland Administration, 1943. Beretn. vedr. Gronl. Styrelse , Nr. 5, 1943.

----. "Report on Greenland." (to the United Nations). 82 pp.
mimeographed. 1949.

Grønlandsposten "Krav fra det grønlandske Landsraad." Grønlandsposten , 4 (17)
pp. 227. 1945.

----. "Betaenkning afgivet den 12 Juni 1946, etc." Ibid . 5 (6),
pp. 119-144. 1946.

----. "Det østgrønlandske Blyfund 1948." Ibid . 7 (18), pp. 212–
215. 1948.

----. "Grønlandskommission en Kendsgerning." Ibid . 8 (1), pp. 5-7.

----. "Hvor bliver torsken af?" Ibid . 8 (15), pp. 183-184. 1949b.

Hedtoft, H. "Grønlands Fremtid." Det Grønlandake Selskabs Aarskrift , 1949,
pp. 7-40.

Jensen, A. S. "Concerning a Change in Climate..., etc." Kgl. Danske Vidensk .
Selsk.. Biol. Meddel ., 14 (8), pp. 1-75. 1939.

Koch, H. H. "Det Gronlandske Folk skal have del i Kulturens goder." Grøn–
, 8 (13), pp. 154-159. 1949.

EA-Greenland-Spitsbergen, General. Dunbar: Greenland During and Since Second
World War

Porsild, A. E. "Greenland at the Crossroads." Arctic , 1 (1), pp. 53-57.

Vibe, C. Ene ligger Grønland . H. Hagerup, 235 pp. Copenhagen, 1946.

Vinding, O. Grønland 1945 . Gyldendal, 148 pp. Copenhagen, 1946.

M. J. Dunbar
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