When Russian Scientists Found a Secret WW2 German Base Near North Pole
- Russian scientists rediscovered a secret World War Two German base.
- The weather station lies over 680 miles north of Arkhangelsk, Russia.
- The Germans used the base to keep an eye on the weather conditions of Northern Europe and the Northern Oceans.
- In 2016, Russian researchers conducted a detailed examination of the secret base.
History of Schatzgräber: The Secret German Military Station
As World War Two progressed, the German Army started collecting secret meteorological data via observation vessels. Most of these vessels were fishing ‘trawlers’ converted for the purpose, but more often than not, these boats would break down or get sunk.
As a result, the German Kriegsmarine opted for land-based meteorological stations.
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The first weather station – Knospe – was built on the main island of the Svalbard archipelago in October 1941. At Hitler’s request, the construction of Schatzgräber (Codename: Treasure Hunter) began in 1942. The base became operational a year later in 1943. On November 17, Schatzgräber reported the weather and temperature data for the first time.
The Kriegsmarine initially elected Heinz Schmidt as Head of the Planned Weather Personnel. However, after a skiing accident, Schmidt was replaced by Walter Drees. Drees had gained the required skill set during the Knospe expedition in 1941.
Around ten laborers and meteorologists were stationed on the island in 1943. These people were part of a secret network of Arctic stations that provided advanced weather warnings. For Germans, Schatzgräber was essential to their strategic operations.
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After losing many water-based weather stations, The Kriegsmarine went the extra mile. A minefield was laid to protect Schatzgräber. Although the base was abandoned within a year, the minefield remained. In the 1950s – unaware of the danger below – the Russians established their own weather base on Alexandra Land.
The War now over, Germany tried to submit the position of its WW2 mines, but their attempts were ignored by the Russians altogether.
Rediscovery of Schatzgräber: The Secret German Military Station
A team of Russian researchers thoroughly examined the remains of Treasure Hunter. The islands are covered in ice for most of the year. Luckily, things were different in 2016.
Evgeny Ermolov, a Senior Researcher with the Russian Arctic National Park, led the team. Ermolov stated, “This summer in the Arctic was warm. So the entire area of Schatzgräber was completely free of snow and ice — making it possible to explore the area.”
According to Ermolov, the team recovered and cataloged more than 600 objects. Not only that, but they also found an emergency supply depot and an emergency aircraft landing strip near the base. Among the finds were remains of several German Army and Naval uniforms.
The team also recovered fragments of weapons and ammunition — including rifle and machine-gun rounds, land mines, and hand grenades. These were left behind when a German U-boat evacuated the last of the base’s occupants in 1944.
Ermolov said that the dry, almost microbiome-free, condition preserved the site’s wood, leather, and cloth objects. Astronomical tables, weather records, meteorology textbooks, magazines, a copy of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer – it was all in there!
Researchers sent the artifacts to the Arctic National Park Museum in Arkhangelsk.
What went wrong?
The researchers came across plenty of food supplies — sardines from Portugal in particular.
Ermolov said, “Some of the supplies and equipment sank, and so the diet for the weather station over the winter was rather limited. It is no surprise they wanted fresh meat, so they killed polar bears because that’s all there was.’
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It all went wrong when they failed to cook the bear meat properly. Almost everyone – except vegetarian paramedic Gerhard Hoffmann – suffered from an unpleasant parasitic infection.
When medical help finally reached the camp in July 1944, an evacuation operation was ordered immediately. Unfortunately, the large FW-200 Condor suffered significant damage upon landing, so evacuation was delayed further. A BV 222 was later sent from Biscarosse to Banak to help deliver spare parts for the stranded aircraft.
On July 11, the haphazardly-repaired Candor carried all the members to Trondheim, where they finally received proper medical attention.
According to Ermolov, a team of German military specialists visited the islands in the 1980s. Their goal was to remove the minefield in the vicinity. Regardless, this recent visit was the first time the place was studied and recorded thoroughly. They are due to return to further their research.
Hopefully polar bear and sardines have been left off the menu!