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The GIUK gap
GIUK gap is an area in the northern Atlantic Oceanmarker that forms a naval warfare chokepoint. Its name is an acronym for Greenlandmarker, Icelandmarker, and the United Kingdommarker, the gap being the open ocean between these three landmasses. The term is typically used in relation to military topics.

Importance to Royal Navy

The GIUK gap is particularly important to the British Royal Navy, as any attempt by northern European forces to break into the open Atlantic would have to do so either through the heavily defended English Channelmarker which is also the world's busiest shipping lane or through one of the exits on either side of Icelandmarker. When also considering British control over the strategic fortress of Gibraltarmarker at the entrance to the Mediterraneanmarker, Spain (northern coast), France (Atlantic coast) and Portugalmarker are the only mainland European nations that have direct access to the Atlantic ocean in a way that cannot be easily blocked at a choke point by the Royal Navy.


In the modern period, the exploitation of the GIUK gap by northern forces and measures to patrol and secure the gap by opposing forces has played an important role in naval and overall military planning.

World War II

During World War II the gap was used by German ships to break out from their bases in northern Germanymarker and Norwaymarker in an attempt to attack convoys, but these actions were generally unsuccessful due to blocking efforts in the North Seamarker and the GIUK gap. The Germans were aided tremendously with the fall of France, when they were able to base their submarines on the French coast. Between 1940 and 1942 the Denmark Straitmarker between Iceland and Greenland was one of the few areas that RAF patrol bombers could not reach, and thus became the centre for considerable action.

The origin of the term "gap" can be traced to this period, when there was a gap in air coverage known as the Mid-Atlantic gap or "Greenland air gap". This gap was an area that landbased aircraft could not reach and as a result were not able to carry out their anti-submarine duties. The gap was eventually closed in 1943 with longer-ranged versions of aircraft such as the Short Sunderland and B-24 Liberator, making submarine actions in the Atlantic nearly impossible.

Cold War

The gap again became the focus of naval planning in the 1950s, as it would be the only available outlet into the ocean for Sovietmarker submarines operating from their bases on the Kola Peninsulamarker. The primary concern was that if the Cold War "turned hot", naval convoys reinforcing Europe from the U.S. would suffer unacceptable losses if Soviet submarines were allowed to operate in the North Atlantic. The United States and Britain based much of their post-war naval strategy on blocking the gap, eventually installing a chain of underwater listening posts right across it, known as SOSUS.

The Royal Navy's primary mission during the Cold War, excluding the nuclear deterrent role, was that of anti-submarine warfare (ASW). The development of the Invincible-class anti-submarine carriers was part of this doctrine with their primary mission being anti-submarine warfare using the Sea King helicopter. The Type 23 frigate was to be a pure ASW platform, its mission expanded following the Falklands War.

Likewise, the Soviets planned to use the gap to intercept any NATOmarker ships, especially aircraft carriers, heading towards the Soviet Union. Ships and submarines as well as Tupolev Tu-142 maritime surveillance aircraft were to be used to track the threatening ships.

In popular culture

The GIUK line is mentioned in a few books as a significant plot element, such as Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising and The Hunt for Red October. In Red Storm Rising, the Soviet Unionmarker launches a surprise attack on the NATO airbase NAS Keflavikmarker. The station is completely unprepared and is taken quickly. The result of the attack is the fracturing of the GIUK gap, which allows the Soviet Northern Fleetmarker to place all their SSBNs (ballistic submarines) in friendly-controlled waters with a few SSNs (fast-attack submarines) to stand guard (a bastion defense). The loss of Keflavik and the GIUK line also allows numerous SSNs to slip through the gap and into the Atlantic unchecked.

Early editions of the Harpoon naval warfare simulation were based around defending the GIUK Gap. Tom Clancy used the simulation to test the naval battles for Red Storm Rising.


The GIUK gap is also a route for migratory bird such as the northern wheatear to cross the Atlantic to reach Greenland and Eastern Canada.

See also


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