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Hitler on Ice: Did the Nazis Have a Secret Antarctic Fortress?

As if I needed more evidence that I have a really awesome job, I occasionally get emails from my editor, Jason, that say things like, "A reader just left a comment about Nazis looking to form a super-advanced civilization in Antarctica. Can we add that to the list of things to investigate?"

© Bettmann/CORBIS

While there are more than a few conspiracy theories that deal with the Nazis and advanced ancient and/or alien civilizations, the supposed Nazi/alien/Antarctica connection, as told by a number of paranormal/conspiracy writers, can be summed up like this: the Nazis claimed an area of Antarctica as German territory and sent an expedition there + the Nazis experimented with innovative technology like stealth aircraft and liquid-propellant rockets = the Nazis in Antarctica must have found alien technology or met actual aliens.

Branching out from that hypothesis, there are stories about Hitler being whisked away (like a comic book super villain) to a secret Antarctic lair built under a mountain, British and U.S. forces battling Nazis and UFOs in the snow and, finally, the polar Nazi forces being wiped out by a nuclear bomb.

It would make an excellent summer action movie, but are these stories based on anything? Like many conspiracy theories, there are some elements of truth to it all. But whether the facts can be woven together into one cohesive narrative without having to make great leaps of logic is another matter.

For Colin Summerhayes, a geologist and oceanographer with the Scott Polar Research Institute, and Peter Beeching, a journalist and historian specializing in international affairs, the story doesn’t pass Carl Sagan’s “"baloney detection kit.” In 2006, the pair published "Hitler’s Antarctic Base: The Myth and the Reality.” It’s an expansive, peer-reviewed study of a mountain of documentary evidence concerning Antarctica’s geography and weather (including Summerhayes’ own research and first-hand experience), polar exploration, and the relevant countries’ declassified military histories. The 21-page myth-busting juggernaut, printed in the scholarly journal Polar Record, starts with an excellent battle cry of skepticism:

“However, as is often stated, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Perhaps there were cover-ups. Perhaps they were successful […] The burden of proof should fall on the shoulders of those making the claims. It is not sufficient to propose an idea and then claim that the hypothesis is untestable because the evidence for it has been covered up. In science, as pointed out by [Carl] Sagan we may start with experimental results, data, observations, and measurements regarded as facts. We then invent possible explanations and systematically confront each explanation with those facts, until we ?nd an explanation that meets the facts in all respects as far as we can tell.”

The tale of the frosty Nazis fails Summerhayes and Beeching’s gauntlet, and the paper picks the story apart piece by piece:

The German Antarctic Expeditions and Base

The Story: In 1938, the Nazis sent a large team of explorers - including scientists, military units and building crews on war ships and submarines - to the Queen Maud Land region of Antarctica. While mapping the area, they discovered a vast network of underground warm-water rivers and caves. One of these caves extended down as far as 20-30 miles and contained a large geothermal lake. The cave was explored and construction teams were sent in to build a city-sized base, dubbed Base 211 or New Berlin, that hosted the SS, the Thule Society, “serpent cults,” various Nazi occultists, the Illuminati, and other shadowy groups.

At some point, the Germans either discovered abandoned alien technology or made contact with extraterrestrial explorers (variously described as Greys or Reptilians). They learned or were taught how to replicate the alien technology, and used it to begin developing a number of super weapons including an advanced aircraft called an “antigravity-disk,” or flying saucer.

While many of these weapons were not ready for use in World War II, the base and the ability to manufacture these weapons might still exist and the Germans/aliens/some cult or secret society (depending on which conspiracy theorist you ask) will eventually launch a New World Order from it.

Survey Says: From December 1938 to April 1939, the Germans really did carry out an exploratory expedition to the western part of Queen Maud Land. Instead of a large-scale scientific and military operation, though, it consisted of one ship, the Schwabenland, and its goal was to scout new territory for the expanding German whaling industry. Further expeditions were planned, and while there’s no mention in German documents of any intention to establish a base, the future trips where one could have been built were quickly cancelled with the outbreak of World War II. After this first expedition, there was no of?cial German activity in Antarctica until 1959, when several Germans joined a Russian expedition.

Even if they had wanted to, it’s not likely that the Schwabenland crew could have built even a small base, let alone one the size of a small city. The expedition, according to the ship’s logs, was only near the coast for a month. Summerhayes and Beeching figure it would have taken the Germans ten days to walk from the boat to the supposed site of the base and another ten to get back, leaving them less than ten days to build an entire base. Other polar expeditions of the era are known to have taken twice that long to build even small huts.

Operation Tabarin: SAS vs Nazis

The Story: While Great Britain was claiming the South Shetland, South Orkney and other islands between Antarctica and South America, they decided they needed a permanent presence in the area to monitor Nazi activity in Antarctica, Argentina and Chile. A secret military exercise, Operation Tabarin was launched by the Royal Navy, and established bases throughout the islands and on the Antarctic peninsula. Eventually, the Germans discovered the British base on the peninsula and attacked it in the summer of 1945. The base was under siege for months, until the SAS arrived around Christmas and rescued it.

Survey Says: For one thing, by the summer of ’45, Hitler was dead and the Germans had surrendered to the Allies. For another, the SAS was disbanded in October, and wasn’t reestablished until a few years later. British documents also suggest that Operation Tabarin was neither as large nor battle-ready as the stories say. Deterrence and spying were not stated goals, and most of the activities were scientific. The base crews consisted mainly of wireless radio operators and government scientists, with very few combat-ready infantrymen. The largest crew, at Hope Bay, consisted of only 13 people, hardly a force that could repel the Germans for almost six months.

Hitler’s Great Escape

The Story: Two months after the German surrender, a German U-boat, U-530, entered the Argentine naval base at Mar del Plata after escaping from Germany with Hitler, Eva Braun and high-ranking Nazi and SS officials on board and dropping them off at the German Antarctic base. An alternative theory says that the U-boat U-977 had been ferrying Hitler’s ashes, which were placed with other Nazi treasures packed in bronze, lead-lined boxes in the Antarctic city-base.

Survey Says: By 1945, Argentina had declared war on Japan and Germany after years of neutrality and friendly enough relations with the Germans. When the U-boat arrived, the captain thought his crew would be well-received, but they were taken as prisoners of war and interrogated by the Argentines, the Americans and the British. The interrogators from all three countries concluded that the appearance of the submarine in the area was coincidental—Hitler was not on board.

Summerhayes and Beeching also consider the dates of U-530’s departure from Germany and arrival in Argentina, a U-boat’s travel speed, and the weather conditions during the summer of 1945, all of which suggest that neither U-boat could have gotten Hitler or his remains to Antarctica. U-530 would not have had time to stop there on its journey, and either U-530 or U-977 would’ve had to dive deeper and longer under sea ice than they were capable of to reach Antarctic coastal land.

The Battle of Antarctica: Operation Highjump, UFOs and Secret Nukes

The Story: When the British failed to expel the Germans from Antarctica, the U.S. launched Operation Highjump in 1946 to destroy the German base. The ground and air forces were fought back by Germany’s flying saucers, and the base was finally obliterated by three nuclear bomb strikes. The flying saucers that have been sighted in the U.S. since then are Nazi spy craft, which are making preparations for the launching of the Fourth Reich under the control of what neo-Nazis call the “Last Battalion,” a Nazi government holdout operating in Antarctica or another remote part of the world.

Survey Says: Operation Highjump did happen, and it was the largest expedition ever sent to Antarctica. It had nothing to do with the Germans, though, as they had already surrendered, and everything to do with America’s Soviet allies. America saw the Soviet superpower as a potential threat and, on the eve of the Cold War, decided that the military ought to be prepared for warfare in extremely cold conditions in case combat erupted in Russia. Highjump was launched to train personnel and test equipment in very low temperatures and deep snow, to practice the building of bases, camps and air fields in snow and on ice, and to establish U.S. sovereignty in the region before the Soviets could. It was just one of several exercises to prepare for possible war with the USSR, and other, similar operations took place in Davis Strait, Northern Canada and Greenland. Antarctica was picked as the site not because of possible German holdouts, but because Highjump was the largest of these operations and the U.S. wanted to avoid the diplomatic fallout that might follow a full scale naval exercise closer to Soviet borders.

If a German base in Antarctica was the real target of Operation Highjump, its planners were lacking some very basic map-reading skills. By all accounts, the supposed Nazi cave base was under Queen Maud Land somewhere, but Highjump was based on the Ross Ice Shelf on the opposite side of the continent. Military-made maps and Navy reports show where every plane and ship went for the duration of the exercise, and not one soldier even came close to where the Germans were known to have explored. None of Highjump’s aims or activities were as secret as conspiracy theorists make them out to be, and there were 11 journalists embedded on the military ships who relayed a total of over 478,000 words back home to their editors, readers and viewers. With all these reporters saw and heard, the Germans were never mentioned.

As for the flying saucer attacks, the case for these UFOs is made solely on a quote from a navy admiral that appeared in a Spanish-language newspaper. The admiral had been discussing the danger posed by a Soviet presence in the polar regions, and how they could potentially launch planes and attack the U.S. and western Europe from the poles. Somehow this got mistranslated (either accidentally or willfully) to suggest that the admiral was talking about mysterious “flying objects.” Highjump did not lose any planes to flying saucer attacks, either. U.S. forces suffered the loss of only one craft during the operation, due to a white out in a snowstorm.

After Highjump was complete, there were three then-secret nuclear explosions in the atmosphere in the southern hemisphere. They didn’t occur near Queen Maud Land, though, nor even over Antarctica, and they had no military target. Instead, they were detonated at high altitudes over the ocean to study the effects of nuclear explosions high up and outside the atmosphere. American researchers were particularly curious about how a nuclear explosion might interfere with radar tracking, communications, and the electronics of satellites and other ballistic missiles in the event of a large-scale nuclear strike during the Cold War. After the tests became public knowledge, their purpose and location were confirmed by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation in Vienna and the British Antarctic Survey, which had been measuring radioactivity on the continent at the time of the tests and saw no spike in radiation levels during or after detonation.

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Big Questions
What Happened to the Physical Copy of the 'I Have a Dream' Speech?
AFP, Getty Images
AFP, Getty Images

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave a speech for the ages, delivering the oratorical masterpiece "I Have a Dream" to nearly 250,000 people.

When he was done, King stepped away from the podium, folded his speech, and found himself standing in front of George Raveling, a former Villanova basketball player who, along with his friend Warren Wilson, had been asked to provide extra security around Dr. King while he was speaking. "We were both tall, gangly guys," Raveling told TIME in 2003. "We didn't know what we were doing but we certainly made for a good appearance."

Moved by the speech, Raveling saw the folded papers in King’s hands and asked if he could have them. King gave the young volunteer the speech without hesitation, and that was that.

“At no time do I remember thinking, ‘Wow, we got this historic document,’” Raveling told Sports Illustrated in 2015. Not realizing he was holding what would become an important piece of history in his hands, Raveling went home and stuck the three sheets of paper into a Harry Truman biography for safekeeping. They sat there for nearly two decades while Raveling developed an impressive career coaching NCAA men’s basketball.

In 1984, he had recently taken over as the head coach at the University of Iowa and was chatting with Bob Denney of the Cedar Rapids Gazette when Denney brought up the March on Washington. That's when Raveling dropped the bomb: “You know, I’ve got a copy of that speech," he said, and dug it out of the Truman book. After writing an article about Raveling's connection, the reporter had the speech professionally framed for the coach.

Though he displayed the framed speech in his house for a few years, Raveling began to realize the value of the piece and moved it to a bank vault in Los Angeles. Though he has received offers for King’s speech—one collector wanted to purchase the speech for $3 million in 2014—Raveling has turned them all down. He has been in talks with various museums and universities and hopes to put the speech on display in the future, but for now, he cherishes having it in his possession.

“That to me is something I’ll always be able to look back and say I was there,” Raveling said in the original Cedar Rapids Gazette article. “And not only out there in that arena of people, but to be within touching distance of him. That’s like when you’re 80 or 90 years old you can look back and say ‘I was in touching distance of Abraham Lincoln when he made the Gettysburg Address.’"

“I have no idea why I even asked him for the speech,” Raveling, now CEO of Coaching for Success, has said. “But I’m sure glad that I did.”

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Big Questions
How Are Rooms Cleaned at an Ice Hotel?

Cleaning rooms at Sweden’s famous ICEHOTEL is arguably less involved than your typical hotel. The bed, for example, does not have traditional sheets. Instead, it’s essentially an air mattress topped with reindeer fur, which sits on top of a custom-made wooden palette that has a minimum of 60 centimeters of airspace below. On top of those reindeer hides is a sleeping bag, and inside that sleeping bag is a sleep sack. And while it’s always 20ºF inside the room, once guests wrap themselves up for the night, it can get cozy.

And, if they’re wearing too many layers, it can get quite sweaty, too.

“The sleep sack gets washed every day, I promise you that. I know it for a fact because I love to walk behind the laundry, because it’s so warm back there," James McClean, one of the few Americans—if not the only—who have worked at Sweden's ICEHOTEL, tells Mental Floss. (He worked on the construction and maintenance crew for several years.)

There isn’t much else to clean in most guest rooms. The bathrooms and showers are elsewhere in the hotel, and most guests only spend their sleeping hours in the space. But there is the occasional accident—like other hotels, some bodily fluids end up where they shouldn’t be. People puke or get too lazy to walk to the communal restrooms. Unlike other hotels, these bodily fluids, well, they freeze.

“You can only imagine the types of bodily fluids that get, I guess, excreted … or expelled … or purged onto the walls,” McClean says. “At least once a week there’s a yellow stain or a spilled glass of wine or cranberry juice … and it’s not what you want to see splattered everywhere.” Housekeeping fixes these unsightly splotches with an ice pick and shovel, re-patching it with fresh snow from outside.

Every room has a 4-inch vent drilled into the icy wall, which helps prevent CO2 from escalating to harmful levels. Maintenance checks the holes daily to ensure these vents are not plugged with snow. Their tool of choice for clearing the pathway is, according to McClean, “basically a toilet brush on a stick.”

When maintenance isn’t busy unstuffing snow from that vent hole, they’re busy piping snow through it. Every couple days, the floor of each room receives a new coat of fluffy snow, which is piped through the vent and leveled with a garden rake.

“It’s the equivalent of vacuuming the carpet,” McClean says.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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