A new study destroys the myth once and for all.
During World War Two, rumors swirled about any number of strange projects the Nazis might have been up to. One story that refused to die was that the Nazis had a secret Antarctic base. The persistence of this myth prompted Colin Summerhayes, a marine geologist and oceanographer at Cambridge, to take the unusual step of publishing a peer-reviewed paper disproving the idea of the frozen Nazi base.
Stories varied across decades, but two things in particular tend to be cited as evidence: the fact of a Nazi expedition into the Antarctic during 1938-39, and a supposed quote from Karl Dönitz, the naval Admiral who became President of Germany after Hitler’s suicide. During the Nuremberg trials, Dönitz supposedly bragged about an “invulnerable fortress, a paradise-like oasis in the middle of eternal ice.”
Myths of Nazi occultism had a basis in the Nazi’s short-lived ventures in archaeology and experimental missile and plane projects. And rumors that took these details beyond the true and reasonable persisted after the war, as Summerhayers notes in the paper:
“As early as the 1950s rumors began to circulate among certain German nationalist circles that the postwar flying saucers were in fact German super-weapons that had been under development and tested during the Third Reich. At the time of Germany’s surrender in May 1945, this technology was supposedly shipped to safety in the Arctic, South America and Antarctica. The abundance of UFO sightings was thus attributed to a hidden Nazi presence in remote and inaccessible regions of the world.”
But following a meticulous look through Nazi records, Summerhayes found “no mention in any of the German documents of any intention to establish a base during the expedition of 1938–1939, nor that any attempt was made to do so at that time or afterwards.” The expedition was only off the Antarctic coast for a month, most of which was dedicated to mapping out the small area in the first place.
“As there is no evidence that the ship carried either motorised equipment or dogs,” Summerhayes writes, “the building of a base in the mountains would mean that the crew had to do as Scott and Shackleton did, and, once they knew from the aerial photos where the mountains were, walk towards them across unmapped, dangerous, crevasse-ridden terrain tugging their stores and equipment behind them.” From a strictly practical sense, a Nazi base doesn’t bear out with the supplies at hand.
As for Dönitz’s claim, there has not been a single shred of proof to back it up, it remains questionable if he even said it. For all we know, Summerhayes writes, he might have been actually talking about the Arctic.
There was, in fact, a recent discovery of a Nazi Arctic base, known as Schatzgräber, or “Treasure Hunter.” But Schatzgräber was a weather station meant to relay information to U-boats. And far from the frozen Shangri-La Dönitz bragged about, the scientists had to eventually be picked up by U-boats because they had been poisoned by the raw polar bear meat they had been forced to eat due to lack of supplies.
For decades, Nazi stories have persisted on ideas of impossible strength and fortitude. But Summerhayes work shows they faced the same technical limitations as everyone else. And beneath all the larger-than-life rumors are the grounded and horrific facts.
You can read the full paper here.