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Nissen Hut

Related Resource: Quonset Hut

Developed by a Canadian engineering officer during World War I, the Nissen hut was fairly simple to assemble. The ends of each hut were made in three wooden sections constructed so that they could be assembled in a few minutes. The deck consisted of wooden panels resting upon a frame of two-by-fours, while the roof and sides were made of corrugated metal. Two layers of metal were used on the lower sides and a single layer above on the roof, and the whole supported by curved I-beam steel ribs. The interior was lined with sheets of insulation board. Each hut was issued with a complete kit of tools and hardware. The only on-site fabrication was production of the concrete or lava block foundation piles. A crew of six or more men could erect a hut in a few hours, and teams specializing in various parts were even faster. The Quonset hut of the Pacific War was the more deluxe and larger American offspring of the Nissen hut.

Living in the Nissen huts was basic and simple for all ranks. The tin-roofed building had a few small windows and doors with wind-baffle vestibules at the end or on one side. Insulation board lined the interiors. The huts had bare wooden decks and the outside foundation was banked with dirt and sod. Interior lighting was furnished by kerosene lanterns until eventually all camps had gasoline generators which provided electricity to light the few bulbs in each hut. Heat was provided by small British coke-and-coal stoves until later when the U.S. Army brought some larger potbellied stoves to Iceland. At no time was it ever warm enough to dispense with the stoves. They provided heat for wash water and to help dry clothing strung on lines. Each camp had its supply pile of large, coal-filled bags. Wooden kindling for firing stoves was at a premium because there was no natural source of wood in Iceland. All boxes and shipping crates were carefully saved and hoarded for fire-making.

There were about 24 men assigned to a hut. They had wood and canvas folding cots, a thin cotton mattress pad, mattress cover, and two woolen blankets. The primary furniture was wooden boxes collected by all ranks for toilet gear and bunkside storage. There was nothing to sit on except the cots and a few folding canvas chairs which accompanied company and battalion field desks.

Source: Donovan, James A. Outpost in the North Atlantic: Marines in the Defense of Iceland. Washington: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, US Marine Corps, 1992.

26 August 1998