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?"

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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.

Big Questions
Why Are There No Snakes in Ireland?

Legend tells of St. Patrick using the power of his faith to drive all of Ireland’s snakes into the sea. It’s an impressive image, but there’s no way it could have happened.

There never were any snakes in Ireland, partly for the same reason that there are no snakes in Hawaii, Iceland, New Zealand, Greenland, or Antarctica: the Emerald Isle is, well, an island.

Eightofnine via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Once upon a time, Ireland was connected to a larger landmass. But that time was an ice age that kept the land far too chilly for cold-blooded reptiles. As the ice age ended around 10,000 years ago, glaciers melted, pouring even more cold water into the now-impassable expanse between Ireland and its neighbors.

Other animals, like wild boars, lynx, and brown bears, managed to make it across—as did a single reptile: the common lizard. Snakes, however, missed their chance.

The country’s serpent-free reputation has, somewhat perversely, turned snake ownership into a status symbol. There have been numerous reports of large pet snakes escaping or being released. As of yet, no species has managed to take hold in the wild—a small miracle in itself.

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

Big Questions
How Do They Dye the Chicago River Green for St. Patrick's Day?

It wouldn’t be a St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the Windy City without 400,000 spectators crowding the banks of the Chicago River to “ooh” and “aah” at its (temporarily) emerald green tinge. But how do officials turn the water green?

First, a bit of history: The dyeing tradition became an annual thing nearly 60 years ago, in 1962, but its real origins go back even further. In the early days of his administration as Mayor of Chicago, Richard J. Daley was a man on a mission to develop the city’s riverfront area. There was just one problem: The river itself was a sewage-filled eyesore. In order to get to the bottom of the city’s pollution problem and pinpoint the exact places where waste was being discarded into the waterway (and by whom), Daley authorized the pouring of a special green dye into the river that would allow them to see exactly where dumping was occurring.

Fast-forward to late 1961 when Stephen Bailey—part of the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Local, the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade chairman, and a childhood friend of Daley’s—witnessed a colleague’s green-soaked coveralls following a day of pouring Daley’s dye into the Chicago River. That gave Bailey an idea: If they could streak the Chicago River green, why not turn it all green?

Three months later, revelers got their first look at an Ecto Cooler-colored river when the city poured 100 pounds of the chemical into the water. They got a really good look, too, as the river remained green for an entire week.

Over the next several years, the same practice was repeated, and again it was carried out by the Plumbers Local. The only difference was that the amount of dye used was cut in half over the next two years until they finally arrived at the magic number: 25 pounds of dye = one day of green water.

Unfortunately, the dye that was intended to help spot pollution was an oil-based fluorescein that many environmentalists warned was actually damaging the river even more. After fierce lobbying, eco-minded heads prevailed, and in 1966 the parade organizers began using a powdered, vegetable-based dye.

While the exact formula for the orange powder (yes, it's orange until it's mixed with water) is kept top-secret—in 2003 one of the parade organizers told a reporter that revealing the formula would be akin to “telling where the leprechaun hides its gold”—there are plenty of details that the committee lets even non-leprechauns in on.

The dyeing process will begin at 9 a.m. on the morning of the parade, Saturday, March 17 (it's always held on a Saturday) when six members of the local Plumbers Union hop aboard two boats, four of them on the larger vessel, the remaining two on a smaller boat.

The larger boat heads out onto the water first, with three members of the crew using flour sifters to spread the dye into the river. The smaller boat follows closely behind in order to help disperse the substance. (The best place to catch a glimpse is from the east side of the bridge at Michigan Avenue, or on Upper and Lower Wacker Drive between Columbus and Lake Shore Drives.)

Approximately 45 minutes later, voila, the Chicago River is green—but don’t expect it to stay that way. These days, the color only sticks around for about five hours. Which is roughly the same amount of time it takes to get a perfectly poured pint of Guinness if you venture out to an Irish pub on St. Patrick’s Day.

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