in search of the frozen menace at the bottom of the world
In the world of conspiracy theories, Nazis and UFOs go together like chips and salsa. Maybe not everyone’s first choice of dip, but definitely popular in many cases. Theories which claim that secret Nazi aircraft were responsible for most UFO sightings during and after World War 2 are old hat by now, a mashup of real knowledge transfer from Nazi engineers and scientists that happened during Operation Paperclip, and runaway imaginations of those who desperately want to believe that our technology is decades ahead of its actual state, whether its governments hiding their true capabilities or aliens giving us an edge in Area 51 or another top secret facility to eventually find its way into the civilian world. When it comes to other nefarious conspiracy fodder, as some of history’s greatest monsters, Nazis provide ample ground for potboilers accusing them of succeeding in taking over the world, though not as an actual nation state but as a clandestine cabal that involves many tycoons and politicians who are friends or beneficiaries of these tycoons, by confusing bigotry that never went away and bigots who ascribe to ideas not too far from Nazi philosophy with an organized effort to bring back Nazism as it was during the apex of the Third Reich in Germany.
But one of the more outlandish conspiracies about Nazis that survives today says that just before the war, Hitler launched an Antarctic expedition which would eventually build a base on the frozen continent and endure the war, even through a failed American invasion, falling only after multiple nuclear blasts. This theory has some compelling elements, many of which are based in fact. Nazi Germany did launch expeditions to Antarctica, as did Britain at roughly the same time, claiming wast swaths of land and building secretive bases. American forces did deploy around the same area as the Nazi base is alleged to have been built in a natural ice cave with some 4,700 soldiers, 33 aircraft, and 11 combat ships with an icebreaker and a submarine, and that deployment wrapped up sooner than anticipated. Plus, three nuclear blasts did happen near the continent in 1958, after which the Nazi base had finally cased to be a priority. It sounds like a good plot for a movie: a secret base in some of the coldest, harshest conditions on Earth, cranking out bizarre and powerful weapons, making a successful last stand against the enemy, only to fall to nuclear bombardment 12 years later, leaving the final secrets of some of history’s great villains entombed in ice. But could it be real?
Problem is that according to exhaustive historical research, the base would have been pretty much impossible to build and maintain during the war. In numerous reports, the base is a vast ice cave with underground lakes perfect for submarine docks, factories, and quarters for hundreds, if not more than a thousand occupants. While there is notable geothermal activity under the continent, it’s on the other side of the landmass, so the base would’ve had to be heated with good, old fashioned diesel, which would require a convoy of submarines bringing in more and more of the stuff to the base. And though there are many claims of U-boat trips to the supposed base ferrying supplies for the soldier, scientists, and engineers stationed there, none of them exist in German archives, the very same from which we have corroboration that a real mission did take place in 1938 and photos of what they did there. And if there was a secret shipping lane, the British would’ve noticed because at the time, they were building bases and staking their claim to land within range of Chile and Argentina, which were rather warm towards the Nazis, and as far as the British were concerned, that called for some force projection. They were also worried about a secret Nazi base and kept a lookout for one.
So there isn’t enough geothermal energy to be tapped where that secret base was supposed to exist and the Brits didn’t and miss its existence completely, or fail to detect supply subs, why did Americans deploy a small force near its rumored location, did military type things, only to suddenly turn around in a few months time and leave, all in secrecy? Well, Americans didn’t actually deploy there it in any sort of secrecy, unless your definition of secret involves some 11 embedded reporters treated to a show of military skill you declared in newspapers to be training for a conflict with the USSR in the frigid Arctic. They had to wrap up the operation early due to a lack of ships and delays in leaving for Antarctica, and as weather conditions deteriorated, decided not to risk men or equipment for a basic exercise they could conduct in Alaska, despite that environment being little less authentic and extreme than what was anticipated in polar warfare with the communist menace. Though why did they deploy in the very same region as Nazis once did, Dronning Maud Land? In part, to prevent the new German governments from claiming this land for their own while what remained of the nation was caught up in the political tug of war between the US and the USSR. Neither one wanted to allow Germany to expand its borders, especially right after the war.
So what about the three nuclear blasts that supposedly shut down that Nazi base once and for all? Why nuke Antarctica in Dronning Maud Land from a high altitude? There would be no reason to do so if there was nothing there to nuke and going that far to set off a ground bomb for testing at the same time such weapons were being tested in Nevada seems bizarre. All of this is absolutely right which is why the nukes in question weren’t detonated over Antarctica, but some 1,500 miles away to study if it was possible to use the high atmospheric effects on a nuclear blast to build an anti-ICBM shield in the lead up to the test known as Starfish Prime. The idea was that unstable, high energy particles in the aftermath of blasts in what would be LEO could interfere with radar tracking, knock planes and missiles off course, or even fry them. Basically, the military was testing whether electromagnetic pulses could be generated by nuclear weapons, and if so, how powerful they were, finding the answers to those questions to be yes, and very. Although if there was really a base in Dronning Maud Land, it was probably deep enough in the Antarctic mountains, and protected enough by ice, which makes a good enough radiation shield to be considered for astronauts’ habitats, to easily ride out the three blasts with pretty much minimal damage.
Where does this leave us? Either the meticulously bureaucratic Nazis whose impeccable records extend to wild ideas for stealth planes and documented the operation of their death camps in horrific detail just managed to keep a massive Antarctic base and a constant flow of supplies to keep it going right under the noses of British soldiers looking for them, that base was somehow able to repel an American force years after their supplies dried up, and over a decade after that, smallish nuclear blasts well over a thousand miles away inexplicably damaged it, or it never actually existed and the original mission was, exactly as was described in their own documents, a fact-finding mission to see if there was any viable wailing to be done there to supply the growing army with lubricants made from whale oil. That base would offer virtually no strategic value and operating any equipment in polar conditions is really tough to put it mildly, so why would the Nazis waste any time or effort with an endeavor that would be a challenge for even today’s technology instead of throwing everything they had towards the battlefields they were planning on creating in a few years’ time? This is why the secondary purpose for their survey mission was to practice fighting the USSR in harsh conditions, much like the US would do some nine years later in the same region.
Over the years, the Nazi Antarctic base has been a popular rumor which is now coming back into vogue thanks to the continent slowly melting under the full brunt of global warming and revealing never before seen or known caves, giving believers something to point to when asked for evidence. But as we just covered, none of what they’re suggesting was workable, viable, or strategically prudent. It would’ve been a base in search of purpose, isolated and vulnerable to an actual invasion force that hell bent on destroying it no matter what it took, its existence precariously relying on steady shipments because there was no way it could grow its own food, manufacture its own diesel, or replenish its finite supplies of spare parts, especially as the Third Reich was in retreat from both Western Europe and the Soviet Union, with an overwhelming need for every last soldier and resource to survive an ever intensifying onslaught by Allied forces. An Antarctic base, just like all other stories involving Nazis in hiding after the war, were born from our fear that this evil has not been stamped out entirely. Unfortunately, there are still far more Nazis than we’d like to admit, but they walking among us while trying to blend in, not huddled in an ice cave at the bottom of the world…