World War Two ended in Europe with the unconditional surrender of the German high command on May 7th, 1945 in Reims. What no one realise is that a tiny, forgotten outpost of the Third Reich was holding out in the eternal daylight of the Arctic summer, over 3200 kilometres (2000 miles) away from the ruins of Berlin.
Some things do not change over the years. Weather forecast is still an important piece of information for every army. Due to the loss of ships and planes on missions that were supposed collected meteorological information, the German started to build land-based weather stations in the Arctic circle.
One of the chosen places to build weather stations was on Svalbard, also known as Spitsbergen. Svalbard was actually never occupied by the German forces in the Second World War. The war about Svalbard was about access to weather forecast.
|Svalbard -Spitsbergen (in the yellow circle)|
Receiving weather information so far north was a priority during the war because the air over Svalbard is critical in determining the weather patterns over the North Atlantic.
If you know what´s going on in Svalbard then you know what’s on the way.
This information was vital to the Wolf Packs, roaming the Atlantic, in search of Allied shipping. It even helped with the last attempt to defeat the Allies on the western front, on the Ardennes Offensive. Military sensitive as the weather information was, it was transmitted encoded. In 1941 German army commanded several automatic and manned stations spread out over the Svalbard islands.In the same year the whole population of Svalbard was evacuated to England and Arkhangelsk in Russia.
1942, a small Allied unit shows up in Svalbard, during operation Fritham, unfortunately the where discovered by a Focke Wulf Condor, bombed and sunk.
Without their leader the survivors established themselves in Barentsburg. For this reason the Germans sent the battleships Tirpitz and Scharnhorst to bomb them out. Weather information isn’t something to be toyed with after all.
Later on, the German Kriegmarine send a U-boat to destroy the still standing houses and to sink the boats. The rest of the war continued calmly in Svalbard. The Germans moved there weather stations to more remote areas, and things calmed down.
|German weather stations in the Arctic|
On August 5, 1944 the submarine U-307 left the Narvik Naval Base along with a freighter.
Operation Haudegen was on its way. It was supposed to avoid the British Naval blockade and transport a unit under the command of lieutenant Wilhelm Dege to Nordostland on Svalbard.
A more recent attempt was met with failure, U-boat U-354, was sunk by the HMS Nabob.
They succedeed in their goal, and built a weather station in the fjord Rijpfjord, and started to broadcast weather reports. The Luftwaffe and the U-boats kept the Allied destroyers at bay, but Polar Bears had to be dealt with by the men themselves.They carried guns when wandering out the cabins, and dressed for winter, a minus 40 degrees celsius winter in the Arctic (-40 fahrenheit as well).
For a year they broadcasted the weather reports, until they received the message that Germany had surrendered on 7 may 1945. Their commanders in Tromso Norway, ordered them to destroy everything, documents and weather reports.Then there was radio silence…
The Spitsbergen team was stranded with only a rowing boat. Although they had food for 2 years the notion of being stuck on the North Pole held little appeal.
|Rowing boat near the Haudegen weather station|
They waited for a sign from anywhere hoping that someone might tune in on the weather stations frequency, but no responce ever came. Finally they started out sending signals on Allied distress channels. The Norwegians eventually realised what happened and a seal hunting ship was send to Svalbard.
The vessel reached the Haudegen team on 4 September 1945 !! Four months after the war ended. They shared a big meal together, at the end Wilhelm Dege handed out his Lüger pistol to the Norwegian captian and gave his official surrender.
The surrender of Germany’s last known armed unit was a fact. Even though it was four months after the original surrender of Germany itself.
|Station Haudegen (1944-1945)|
After months in captivity in Norway the 11 men returned to Germany, shocked to see their land in misery and their cities bombed to rubble. The team was split up by the Cold War as the Iron Curtain divided their country, Operation Haudegen’s 11 were never united again.
You can visit the weather station, it is still intact and serves as an emergency refuge for anyone stranded in Spitsbergen. You can find it in the vicinity of these coordinates: 80.0461, 22.518. If you want to know more on the subject you can read the book written by Lieutenant Wilhelm Dege himself.It is called: War north of 80; The last German Arctic weather station of World War II. Of course written by Wilhelm Dege. World map image is a screenshot from Google maps.
Pictures taken by Eckhart Dege, Wilhelm Dege’s son, on a expedition to the haudegen’s weather station on Nordostland, Svalbard in 1985.