World War 2: The Battle of the North Pole!

Even though the second World War began only 25 years after the first one, World War 2 was a much more all-embracing conflict, with the different sides battling for the hegemony oversea, air and land. One of the lesser known aspects of the conflict took place on the North Pole and the near by islands. In the book Sledge Patrol, by the american historian David Honwart, we get a unique inside look at the dramatic Arctic battles between the Nazis andthe Allies. Check out the story here!

Reliable and up to date meteorological information is an important prerequisite for any army. Establishing meteorological stations in the far north therefore became an important goal for Germany, and after they invaded Norway and Denmark in 1940, they were able to go through with their plans.  The german submarines threw automatic probes in the sea, that picked upfresh information from the stations every 6 hours, sending it back to the Oberkommando inBerlin. These were by the way the best catch a British fisherman could hope for, because thegovernment had put a 1000 pound sterling reward on each probe ( 200 000 Euro in today’s money). Not only was this very important for the blitzkrieg the German Luftwaffe was conducting against Britain, but it was also vital for the operations of the Wehrmacht and thesubmarines of the Kriegsmarine. The Nazis began sending teams of 15 soldiers that had gone through special training to the Arctic and the islands of Jan Mayen, Spitsbergen and Franz-Joseph land. It didn’t take long for the Americans and the British to do the same of course, and the Battle of the Arctic had begun.

Allied forces enjoying captured German rations

The conditions were hard for both man and machine, and the cold made any kind of mobilityand flying very difficult. The Americans actually recruited Eskimos that were experts in seal hunting and accustomed to the demanding conditions, to hunt germans and to sendmeteorological reports. A less experienced german patrol for example, tired of eating the same scarce rations, decided to kill and barbecue a polar bear (poor thing). After they all gotsevere headaches and diarrhea, the soldiers had to be sent back to Germany.  While the germans were more successful in locating and blowing up British and Americanmeteorological bases, the Allies relied on airstrikes to defeat their enemy. As the war went on, the Americans had gained an advantage, and a group of 200 Special Forces were used toeliminate the Nazi presence.

By 1944, almost all of the german bases in the Arctic were wiped out. At the end of the year there was only one undetected base left on the Island of Spitsbergen. This was germany’sbiggest and most important station, but they were dependent on air supplies every 3 months. The radio system broke down in January 1945, so they were only able to sendinformation, while receiving nothing. They continued their work though, and sentmeteorological data every day to Berlin. After the air supplies did not show up, there was afood shortage on the island. They decided to kill 80 polar bears, and miraculously, nobody gotsick this time. The situation become more and more uncertain, and the soldiers had no idea that Germany was losing the war.

Since the Oberkommando was bombed to ruins by the Red Army, there was nobody in Germany that knew about 15 of their men stuck on an island close to the North Pole. 4 months after the war, they were picked up by a norwegian fishing boat, but the joy did not last long, after they found out the war was over and their homeland destroyed! That group was actually the last german military unit to surrender in World War 2. An other interestingand funny fact is that the automatic probes kept sending information all the way to 1952!