"METEOROLOGICAL OPERATIONS IN THE ARCTIC 1940-1945"
A lecture to be held at the Conference "War in the Arctic 1939-1945" arranged by
The POMOR STATE UNIVERSITY
29 August to 2 September 2000
Summary : In the course of Second World War the German meteorological services needed synoptic meteorological datas from enemy-controlled regions in the Arctic to support weather analysis and forecast for the theatres of war, when the international exchange of weather reports ceased.
At first weather ships were employed, but soon must be replaced by manned and unmanned automatic weather stations on remote places in the Arctic, covering an area from Labrador over Greenland, Svalbard to the Franz-Josephs-Land archipelago and Nowaja Zemlya.
Contemporarily with these operations, executed mostly by the Naval Meteorological Service (Marine-Wetterdienst), the Weather Service of the Air Force (Wetterdienst der Luftwaffe) relied on long-range weather reconnaissance flights to the Arctic from bases in Norway, but also establishing automatic weather stations and small weather observation posts at remote places.
In the Barents Sea and on Soviet territory both manned and automatic weather stations were established between 1942 and 1944, their history is to be explained by the lecture.
The evolution of the state of the atmosphere in the Arctic is responsible for the weather in Europe and the Atlantic, therefore continued weather observations in the Arctic are a „conditio sine qua non“ for the weather analysis and weather forecast for the continent and the oceans in that part of the world.
In peace the net of meteorological stations in the Arctic, situated at representative positions from Greenland to the Sibirian Sea via Svalbard and Franz-Josephs-Land provided daily the synoptic meteorological observations, transmitted as messages coded on the well-known Copenhague weather code.
With the outbreak of the Second World War the international exchange of weather datas dwindled more and more with the extension of the operations of the belligerent nations.
While the Allied nations ruled still most of the meteorological stations in the Arctic, the German meteorological services had to establish their own observation network to provide the weather datas for a continued weather analysis needed for the opera-tions of their armed forces.
In the first year of the war weather observation ships were positioned in the Arctic seas between Denmark Straits and around Iceland to provide the urgently needed weather reports for the passage of home-bound merchant ships from the Atlantic and the outward-bound warships into the oceans through the British and French controlled seas.
These ships, rather small former fishing vessels of about 300 groß tons, civil-manned and unarmed, with a professional meteorologist on board, transmitted several times daily the results of their observations, including radio-sonde ascents, and served well for the weather forecasts needed fot the extending operations.
But soon the Allies recognized the operations of these ships and started to pursue them, and after some losses the German Naval Meetorological Service cancelled further missions, now preparing to establish permanent weather stations on Arctic islands.
In summer 1941 the Allies evacuated the Norwegian and Russian mine settlements on the Svalbard archipelago, including the Norwegian weather stations on Spits-bergen and Bear Island (Björnöya), that still had reported the weather to the now German-occupied mainland, and destroyed the mines and coal dumps there to prevent the use of them by Germany both for coal supply and as a base.
After that loss of the last source for weather reports in the Arctic, the German weather services had to set up their own manned weather stations there, one for the Luftwaffe in Adventdalen, supplied by an air-lift, and another farther north by the Naval Weather Service, ferried by ships, in Lilliehöök-fjord, both served well until the planned evacuation in summer 1942.
Still the Barents Sea east of Spitsbergen and the Kara Sea were not covered by German meteorological operations, as most military operations were concentrated farther south and the sea north of the Soviet Union was then of less strategical importance.
But when the Allies started the support operations for the Soviet Union by the convoy system at a larger scale in 1942, the German countermeasures needed the know-ledge of weather conditions in the Barents Sea and the entrances to the main Soviet ports there.
Parallel to the operations of the Naval Weather Service the Luftwaffe had started the long-range weather reconnaissance by aircraft in 1940 and extended them to the Arctic after the occupation of Norway.
The system of these special missions was based on daily flights on definite routes and at certain times providing representative synoptic datas from remote regions in the Arctic, both for sea level and the 500 mb level on a scheme shown.
While reporting underway to their base, these flights offered a meteorological profile along the route flown.
In July 1941 the first mission over the Soviet-ruled Barents Sea to Nowaja Zemly was flown by a Heinkel 111 weather aircraft by the then most experienced weather pilot Rudolf Schütze of the weather reconnaissance squadron 5 from Banak in Northern Norway to exploit the best route for future weather flights.
That pilot scored more than 5000 weather flights since 1931 and played a major rôle in the weather reconnaissance in the Arctic until his death at a crash in 1943, he made in 1942 the first landing in the Soviet Arctic.
The year 1942 showed the first use of unmanned automatic weather stations of two different designs for the Air Force and Naval Weather Services.
The first unit employed was set up in July 1942 replacing the evacuated manned station in Adventdalen on Spitsbergen by the aircraft picking up the crew of the weather station, who had wintered there from November 1941 to July 1942.
That station, code-name „Kröte (toad)“ consisted of a weather hut with air temperature and pressure, and humidity sensors, a short-wave transmitter case and several battery cases, the antenna was spread between two masts. It could be transported by aircraft. The endurance of the station depending on the state and the capacity of the nickel-cadmium batteries was about three months.
In the same summer the Naval Weather Service sent a U-boat to the position of the evacuated manned station in Lilliehöökfjord and assembled there the first automatic weather station of thr W.F.L.type (Wetterfunkgerät-Land = weather radio-transmitting device for use on land), that should cover the period between the evacuation of the preceding weather party and the arrival of the release party for the next wintering.
Contrary to the „Kröte“ station the W.F.L. was designed to report additionally wind speed and wind direction, but lacked the humidity sensor. It should be transported by U-boats, the dimensions of the cylindrical containers for the transmitter, batteries and instruments allowed to load and unload them through the hatches of a U-boat.
The rod antenna, based on a tripod, carried the sensors for air temperature and pressure, while on one of the containers a mast with the wind speed anemometer and a wind van was mounted. The capacity of the batteries, nickel-cadmium cells for tube heating, but dry-cellc for high voltage, offered an endurance of about four to six months.
The meteorological datas were transmitted as Morse letters via built-in code units, decoded at the receiving station aided by decoding tables.
A short time after the first „Kröte“ station was set up on Spitsbergen in July 1942, the weather pilot Rudolf Schütze took off from Banak to ecploit a suitable position for another „Kröte“ station on or near Nowaja Zemlya and attempted to land on 20 July on Meshdusharsskij Island At the end of the landing run, the wheels of the Heinkel 111 sank in the soft ground and the aircraft became blocked. The crew informed by radio the base at Banak of the mishap, and another aircraft took off, with tools, planks and beams aboard, to drop at the landing place for constructing a wooden path by the crew. After about 15 hours of hard work the crew succeeded to taxy out from the soft place and take off for Banak, where they landed in the early hours of the next day.
However that flight proved the feasibility of landing on the island and to set up there an automatic weather station in the coming months, when weather and the darkness of the polar night restricted the routine weather flights.
Meanwhile weather reconnaissance on the route to Nowaja Zemlya was flown about twice a week, the farthest position of turning back changing from the region of Belusha Buba to the coast of the northern island near Inostrantseva Bay.
On 29 September 1942 Rudolf Schütze took off from Banak, with an automatic weather station „Kröte“ on board, to land on Meshdusharsskij and set up there the station, but due to bad weather and soft ground a landing was not possible and the aircraft returned to Banak.
Two weeks later the attempt was repeated, the aircraft landed at the island on the now frozen ground, with an escorting aircraft Heinkel 111 watching the scene.
While assembling the weather station, a Soviet MBR-2 flying boat from Belusha Buba arrived and tried to attack, but after several attempts it was driven off by the escorting aircraft.
As the action was now revealed, it was decided to abandon the mission, the main components of the weather station were loaded in the plane, and after a successful take-off both aircraft headed for their home base.
A Soviet search party landed few hours later, but could discover no more than battery cases and antenna masts, the taxying tracks of the aircraft confirmed its successful departure.
No more attempts were made in 1942 to set up automatic weather stations „Kröte“ by aircraft in that area, even few days after that failure, another station was set up on Bear Island by the same crew, not before a labour party to clean a landing strip was landing by parachute.
The routine weather reconnaissance flights were then ceased for the polar night and resumed after its end in spring 1943.
On Svalbard and Greenland the Naval Weather Service established in 1942 two manned weather stations, but in the Barents Sea the activities were restricted to several U-boat missions with meteorologists embarked for tactical weather recon-naissance only.
The course of war in winter 1942/43 revealed to the German High Command the enormous importance of the Allied support operations for the Soviet Union, forcing to improve the operations of the U-boats against the convoys in view of the transfer of Luftwaffe bomber and torpedo squadrons to the Mediterranean to cope with the Allied landings in North Africa.
Therefore the weather reconnaissance must become improved, so the Naval Weather Service decided to establish automatic and manned weather stations able to report synoptic weather observations from the North-east, even the aerial weather reconnaissance over the Barents Sea continued after the polar night from May to September1943.
The Naval Weather Service planned a manned weather station on Alexandra-Land in the Franz-Josephs-Land archipelago in fall 1943, and to establish an automatic station on the north-west coast of Nowaja Zemlya in summer 1943.
In August 1943 the operation „Wunderland II (wonderland no.2)“ was started as a combined operation by U-boats and reconnaissance flying boats in the Barents Sea and Kara Sea, that included the landing of an automatic station of the W.F.L.type near Mys Pinegina on the southern shore of Zaliv Inostrantszeva.
On 22 August the U-boat „U 703“ landed an automatic W.F.L. type station near Mys Pinegina on the southern shore of the bay and erected it on a stony coast terrace about 40 meters above sea level.
It may be of interest, that the same U-boat had rescued the captain of the Soviet steamer „DEKABRIST“ from Hopen Island four weeks ago, and once more re-turned to Hopen in October to pick up the last three survivors of that ship.
The „DEKABRIST“was sunk by aerial attack in November 1942, the crew manned the life-boats, but few only reached Hopen, where most of them perished in winter 1942/43. The suvivors were observed for the first time in May 1943 by a weather aircraft, led by Schütze, but not earlier than July 1943 an U-boat could be sent to inspect Hopen and rescue the captain only due to ist operational order not permitting to embark more than one man..
The manned weather station destined for Alexandra-Land was prepared under the code-name „SCHATZGRÄBER (treasure hunter)“ in summer 1943. Using a former fishing vessel as transport ship and a U-boat as escort, the weather party of ten men, consisting of a meteorologist as party leader, meteorological assistants, radio operators and general duty assistants, the expedition started from Tromsö in Northern Norway on 19 September 1943 and reached Cambridge Bay of Alexandra-Land on 22 September after an uneventful passage.
Disembarking of the weather party and the labour crew of the ship with all the equipment and provisions, as well as the construction material for the station house grew worse due to faults of the ship and the boats, not at least by the ice on the beach and later in the bay. Loss of important papers, and damage of some equipment, at last the loss of a motor boat impeded the construction of the station and the disposition of depots to some extent.
The U-boat attempted to circumnavigate the island from east to west to reconnoitre the coast meanwhile. Leaving the bay on 25 September, the passage between Alexandra-Land and Prince-George-Land was blocked by ice, and to the west fog and mist prevented to reach the northern coast from the west, so the U-boat had to return to the bay, in time to assist the work on the station, as the ice border approached the escape route.
On 30 September both vessels left the bay, the weather party still had to finish the construction of the house and to store the provisions suitably both on the house and at some distance as a safety measure.
The station was situated about 500 meters from shore at a height of 3o meters above sea level, not visible from the sea.
Emergency depots were situated at a distance of about 5 kilometers from the station, where provisions, tents, and a small radio station were stored resembling a small hut. Meteorological observations were started on 15 October, and from 1 November the synoptic weather observations, including radio-sonde ascents were transmitted to the weather office at Tromsö.
The polar night lasted from 9 November 1943 to 2 February 1944, and as soon as daylight and weather permitted to leave the station area, preparations were stated to establish an emergency station at Mys Nimrod, that at last contained a complete radio station, provisions for two weeks, clothing, sleeping-bags, fuel for heating, all that carried on the back by two or three men on every excursion.
In spring the observations were improved, in particular the radio-sonde ascents, and „ in summa“from November 1943 to July 1944 the station transmitted 739 synoptic weather reports, 125 radio-sonde ascents and, in spring, 39 pilot balloon ascents.
As some equipment was lost at the landing in September 1943, supply flights should replace the losses still in 1943, but the weather conditions were than unsuitable, so these flights were postponed to spring 1944.
In May a four-engined Focke-Wulf „Condor“, flown by an experienced pilot, Oblt. Stahnke, dropped in two flights the needed euipment and provisions to the station, and reconnoitred the surroundings in view of landing there for further supplies or the planned evacuation in summer.
At the same time the last transport trip to the depot at Mys Nimrod was under way, when the station crew shot a polar bear to get some fresh meat, after a long winter fed from canned provisions.
Soon after eating the raw meat, some men became sick, but none suspected a serious illness until most of the crew suffered from serious pain with high fever. When the transport group from Mys Nimrod returned to the station in June, they alarmed the command and the weather office at Tromsö, where the reported symptoms of the sickness were investigated and trichinosis was diagnosed.
The Navy Command arranged immediately a succour flight to Alexandra-Land in cooperation with the Luftwaffe Command with a four-engined Focke-Wulf „Condor“ long-range aircraft with a physician with all necessary sanitary equipment on board, who had to jump with parachute to the station and to aid the sick men.
The aircraft took off from Banak on 7 July and reached the station after 6 hours., but instead of ordering the physician to jump by parachute to the station, the pilot, once again Oblt.Stahnke, attempted to land at a field he had exploited on his previous supply flights. All went well, but at last one main wheel collapsed, the plane could no more take-off again in that state.
An emergency call to Banak initiated an order of the Command to a giant six-engined Blohm & Voss flying boat, ready as stand-by at Bille-Fjord, to fly to Alexandra-Land and drop there the needed spare wheel and tools to the stranded aircraft, its crew declared to be able to replace the damaged wheel for the return flight.
Meanwhile the physician treated the sick and prepared them for the evacuation flight.
The leader of the weather party was the most serious sick man, some time unconscious or mad, but three members of the party were able to walk and to assist in the treatment, while the aircrew repaired their plane with the spare wheel dropped by the flying boat on 9 July.
On 10 July the repair work was finished, and the aircrew had now to carry the sick over the distance of several kilometers from the station to the aircraft. The leader of the weather party had to be fastened to his place in the aircraft to avoid any uncontrollable action of him caused by his madness, that might endanger the plane and all aboard.
On 10 July 1944, at 21.00 hours, Oblt.Stahnke managed to lift the aircraft from the ground in the last moment after an hazardous taxy run over the stony, but also soft ground, and the aircraft reached uneventfully Banak after a 5-hour flight.
Now it was planned to re-occupy that station in fall 1944 with a release party, but failures of other weather parties destined for Greenland forced to abandon the re-occupation of the station on Alexandra-Land.
In fall 1944 the U-boat „U 387“, that had escorted the „SCHATZGRÄBER“ party outward-bound, and now familiar with the conditions in the area, was ordered to go to Alexandra-Land to remove the most important equipnment and the provisions, and to set up an automatic station of the W.F.L.type there.
„U 387“ left Narvik on 9 October and steered via Tromsö to Alexandra-Land.
About eighty nautical miles from Cambridge Sund the ice situation became worse and it was decided to abandon the mission to Alexandra-Land and to set up the automatic station on Nowaja Zemlya as second choice for that task. Than the course was changed and on 15 October a position north of Proliv Inostrantseva was reached, where at Mys Medvejej on an ice-free spit the station should be erected.
Even a melting ice belt off the beach impeded the disembarking by rubber boats, the U-boat could approach the shore very closely, so the containers of the station could be landed without serious difficulties.
Within eight hours the station was assembled completely and ready for operation.
„U 387“ returned to its base, the mission was accomplished.
With that mission ended the German meteorological operations in the Barents Sea and on Soviet territories and Soviet-ruled sea in the Arctic.
Most of the bases in Northern Norway, that served well more than four years for the past operations, were abandoned in late fall 1944, the lack of fuel restricted the hitherto routine meteorological flights, now carried out on urgent request only, and the meteorological services were reduced drastically.
On the islands of Svalbard only still operated German weather stations, the most famous station „HAUDEGEN“ on North-East-Land, and three small manned stations „LANDVIK“ and „TAAGET“ on Sörkapp-Land of Spitsbergen and on Bear Island respectively., and „HELHUS“ on Hopen Island.
While the only survivor of the „TAAGET“ station was rescued still in April 1945 by a U-boat, the weather parties of the other stations ceased their duty with the end of the war and were picked up by Norwegian vessels late in summer 1945.
The remains of the German meteorological activities in the Soviet Arctic were dis-covered several years after 1945, devastated or destroyed by weather, snow and/or polar bears, and at last, the mine fields around the station „SCHATZGRÄBER“ on Alexandra-Land were cleared in summer 1990, when the Norwegian Polar historian Susan Barr handed over a map of the minefields to the Russian authorities in the North, that was drawn by Rudolf Garbaty, a member of „SCHATZGRÄBER“, in 1944, and sent to Mrs.Barr by the author of that lecture.
On other places in the Arctic, in particular on Svalbard, still existing relics of German weather stations were salvaged in 1984 and 1985 by the Norwegian authorities with the author as consultant., and, restored perfectly, found their way, to the Svalbard Museum at Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, and to Forsvarsmuseet at Oslo.
The chapter of German moteorological operations in the Arctic is now closed, their history and the history of Allied meteorological operations in the Arctic are the object of a book by the author due for publication in fall this year.
Ulm, Germany, the 15th of July 2000. Franz Selinger
Selinger, Hermann-Stehr-Weg 87, D-89075 Ulm, Germany
Tel/Fax.: +49 +731 53087, E-Mail: email@example.com