Ritscher and the Schwabenland left their newly claimed territory in the middle of February 1939 and returned to Hamburg two months later, complete with photographs and maps of the new German acquisition.
The true purpose of this expedition has never been satisfactorily explained; we are merely left with a series of puzzles, related reports and snippets of information that are no longer open to verification.
What is not open to doubt however, is that in the decade preceding the Second World War, the Germans did almost nothing that did not put the entire structure of the country on a war footing.
This activity affected all aspects of German life; military, civilian, economic, social and foreign policies, engineering, industry etc. Given that the seizing of NeuSchwabenland occurred on the very eve of the war, it can only be concluded that that the polar expedition was of major importance and significance to the goals and development of the planned 1000-year Third Reich.
And this ‘invasion’ was certainly not the end to German activity in the area; rather the prelude, providing support for the idea that Germany might have established a base on the apparently frozen wasteland. Check out more here.
That German activity continued around Antarctica through the war years is a matter of historical record. In 1939, the ship ‘Schleswig-Holstein’ is reported to have inspected Iles Kerguelen, Ile Saint-Paul, Ile Amsterdam, Iles Crozet, Prince Edward Islands, and Gough Island and later visited Cape Town (10). During the period 1939 – 1941 Captain Bernhard Rogge of the raider ship ‘Atlantis’ (pictured right in the icy waters off Antarctica) made an extended voyage in the South Atlantic, Indian and South Pacific Oceans, and visited the Iles Kerguelen between December 1940 to January 1941 (burying a seaman at Bassin de la Gazelle).
The Atlantis is known to have been visited by an RFC-2 (the ‘UFO’ style craft which had served as a reconnaissance aircraft since late 1940.) The ship then adopted a new disguise as Tamesis before being sunk by HMS Devonshire near Ascension Island, on 22nd November 1941 (the Atlantis was also known as Hilfskreuzer 16 and was, at various times, disguised as Kasii-Maru or Abbekerk. (11).)
Although the activities of the German ship Erlangen, under the captaincy of Alfred Grams, do not appear to be of consequence during 1939-40, the same cannot be said of the Komet which was commanded by Captain Robert Eyssen. Following her passage along the Northern Sea Route in 1940, this commerce raider operated in the Pacific and Indian oceans, including a voyage along the Antarctic coastline from Cape Adare to the Shackleton Ice Shelf in search of whaling vessels during February 1941. There she met the Pinguin and supply vessels Alstertor and Adjutant. (Komet was also known as Hilfskreuzer 45 and was sunk off Cherbourg in 1942 (12).)
The Pinguin itself under the command of Captain Ernst-Felix Kruder was a commerce raider that operated chiefly in the Indian Ocean. In January 1941 she captured a Norwegian whaling fleet (factory ships Ole Wegger and Pelagos, supply ship Solglimt and eleven whale catchers) in about 59° S, 02° 30W. One of these catchers (renamed Adjutant) remained as a tender and the rest were sent to France.
This ship also made anchorages at the Iles Kerguelen and may have landed a party on Marion Island. (Pinguin was sunk off the Persian Gulf by HMS Cornwall0 on 8th May 1941 after she had captured 136,550 tons of British and allied shipping. She was also known as Hilfskreuzer 33, and disguised herself at various times as Tamerlan, Petschura, Kassos and Trafalgar (13).)
This island of Kerguelen (named the ‘Most Useless Island In the World’ in 1995) continued to feature prominently in Nazi plans. For example, in 1942 the German Navy planned to establish a meteorological station there. In May of that year the ship Michel (Hilfskreuzer 28) transferred a meteorologist and two radio operators with full equipment to a supply vessel Charlotte Schlieman that went on to the island, however the orders for the station were later counter-manded (14). (Kerguelen Island was also the centre of a mid 19th Century mystery.
Then entirely uninhabited, except for seals and seabirds, British Captain Sir James Clark Ross landed there in May 1840. He found in the snow unidentifiable "traces … of the singular footprints of a pony, or ass, being 3 inches in length and 2½ inches in breadth, having a small deeper depression in either side, and shaped like a horseshoe." Similar markings appeared overnight in the Devon area of England fifteen years later and have also defied adequate explanation.) Then in 1942 Captain Gerlach in his ship the ‘Stier’ investigated nearby Gough Island as a possible temporary base for raiders and a camp for prisoners. (Stier was also known as Hilfskreuzer 23.)
This ship activity does not appear considerable, however the level of U-boat activity in the South Atlantic was much higher. The exact nature and extent of how high will probably never be known, however some insight might be gleaned from the fact that between October 1942 and September 1944 16 German U-boats were sunk in the South Atlantic area (see Appendix I).
Apart from their normal patrols, some of these submarines did appear to be engaged in covert activities. For example submarine U-859 which, on 4th April 1944 at 04.40hrs, left on a mission carrying 67 men and 33 tons of mercury sealed in glass bottles in watertight tin crates.
The submarine was later sunk on 23rd September by a British submarine (HMS Trenchant) in the Straits of Malacca and although 47 of the crew died, 20 survived.
Some 30 years later one of these survivors spoke openly about the cargo and divers later confirmed the story on rediscovering the mercury. The significance being that mercury is usable as a fuel source for certain types of aerospace propulsion. Why would a German submarine be transporting such a cargo so far from home?
Although this is the known record of Nazi activity around Antarctica before 8th May 1945 when Germany surrendered unconditionally to the Allies, events after that date suggested something was happening that did not form a part of recognised world history. Something fuelled by a statement made by Karl Dönitz (left).
Dönitz (16th September 1891 – 24th December 1980) had become Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine on 31st January 1943 and he led the German U-Boat fleet until the end of World War II. (Dönitz also has the distinction of briefly becoming head of the German state for 20 days after Hitler’s death until his own capture by the Allies on 23rd May 1945.) His contribution to the mystery of post-war Antarctic activity came in a statement he made in 1943 when he declared that the German submarine fleet had rebuilt "in another part of the world a Shangri-La land – an impregnable fortress." Could he have been referring to the alleged base in Antarctica?
Certainly there are records of continued German naval activity in the area after the war had apparently ended. For example, on 10th July 1945, more than two months after the cessation of known hostilities, the German submarine U-530 surrendered to Argentine authorities. The background to this event is puzzling. It is known that the boat had left Lorient in France on 22nd May 1944 under the captaincy of Otto Wermuth for operations in the Trinidad area, and after successfully rendezvousing with the incoming Japanese submarine I-52, it headed for Trinidad before finally returning to base after 133 days at sea.
The boat’s official record states that between October 1944 and May 1945 it formed part of the 33rd Flotilla and on Germany’s surrender Otto Wermuth’s captaincy and the submarine’s career came to an end. Yet two months later it arrived in Rio de la Plata in Argentina and surrendered to the authorities there on 10th July 1945.
History also records that the U-boat, U-977, left Kristiansand in Norway on 2nd May 1945 for combat patrol in the English Channel. After Germany’s surrender, Captain Heinz Schäffer decided to head for the South Atlantic but he first gave the married men on board the chance to go ashore; 16 of them took Schäffer up the offer.
After a 66-day submerged trip, and a further run on the surface, U-977 arrived in Mar del Plata, Argentina on 17th August, and later surrendered to the US in Boston on 13th November 1945 three months later. Its activities during this period are unknown.
This incident occurred shortly after the end of the war, however, there continued to be accounts of German activity for a considerable post-war period. The French ‘Agence France Press’ on 25th September 1946 stated "the continuous rumours about German U-boat activity in the region of Tierra del Fuego [‘Feuerland’ in German] between the southernmost tip of Latin America and the continent of Antarctica are based on true happenings."
Then the French newspaper, ‘France Soir’ gave the following account of an encounter with such a German U-boat. "Almost 1 – ½ years after cessation of hostilities in Europe, the Icelandic Whaler ‘Juliana’ was stopped by a large German U-boat. The Juliana was in the Antarctic region around Malvinas Islands [The Falklands] when a German submarine surfaced and raised the German official Flag of Mourning – red with a black edge.
"The submarine commander sent out a boarding party, which approached the Juliana in a rubber dingy, and having boarded the whaler demanded of Capt. Hekla part of his fresh food stocks. The request was made in the definite tone of an order to which resistance would have been unwise. "The German officer spoke a correct English and paid for his provisions in US dollars, giving the Captain a bonus of $10 for each member of the Juliana crew. Whilst the foodstuffs were being transferred to the submarine, the submarine commander informed Capt. Hekla of the exact location of a large school of whales. Later the Juliana found the school of whales where designated."
Could it be possible that other German U-boats, in addition to U-530 and U-977 were continuing to operate in the area following the war? There are no formal records of such activity, however it is known that 54 German U-boats ‘disappeared’ during the war, of which only 11 are likely to have met their fate at the hands of mines (see appendix II).
The future may well reveal that fate of more of these submarines, however given the French and South American reports, and the number of missing U-boats, it may not be unreasonable to conclude that at least some of them relocated to the South Polar area.
History also gives us further clues as to a Nazi-Antarctica connection, for it records that Hans-Ulrich Rudel of the German Luftwaffe (right) was being groomed by Hitler to be his successor. It is known that Rudel made frequent trips to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America nearest Antarctica. And one of Martin Bormann’s last messages from the bunker in Berlin to Dönitz also mentioned Tierra del Fuego.
Then there are claims about Rudolph Hess (below), Hitler’s best friend who went to England and was arrested as a war criminal on 10th May 1941. Following his arrest, Hess was held in Spandau Prison in isolation until his death. Such unique treatment is suggestive that he had information that the Allies considered dangerous. Indeed, in his book ‘Secret Nazi Polar Expeditions’ Christof Friedrich states Hess "was entrusted with the all-important Antarctic file … Hess, himself, kept the Polar file…" (15)
However, for Operation Highjump to have been an attempt to ferret out a remaining Nazi base on the Antarctic continent, there would have been two prerequisites. Firstly, Operation Highjump would have to provide evidence that the mission included a reconnaissance of Neu-Swabenland and secondly, there would have to be an area of the frozen continent that could allow such a base to exist throughout the year. And indeed both criteria are met.
Both the Eastern and Western Groups of Operation Highjump had been active around Neu-Schwabenland. So was a Russian boat that "proved to be unfriendly" (16).
The Eastern group were frustrated in their efforts to make a reconnaissance of the area, despite incredible efforts to secure photographs for later examination. However by then "it was very late in the season ... The sun had only been briefly glimpsed in the past few weeks, but everyone could tell that the continually grey skies and clouds were darkening daily.
In another month all light would be gone from Antarctica…. The waters girdling the continent would begin to freeze rapidly, binding unwary ships in a crushing embrace … Dufek [the commander] was loath to surrender. He ordered his ships northwards away from the pack. Perhaps one or two more flights might be possible. But on the morning of 3 March … virgin ice was seen to be forming on the water’s surface [and the] Eastern group steamed out of Antarctica. (17)"
The Western Group, however, were to make a remarkable discovery. At the end of January 1947 a PBM piloted by Lieutenant Commander David Bunger of Coronado, California, flew from his ship, the Currituck and headed towards the continent’s Queen Mary Coast. On reaching land, Bunger flew west for a time, then, coming up over the featureless, white horizon, he saw a dark, bare area which Byrd later described as "a land of blue and green lakes and brown hills in an otherwise limitless expanse of ice." (18)
Bunger and his men carefully reconnoitred the area before racing back to the Currituck with news of their find. The ‘oasis’ they had discovered covered an area of some three hundred square miles of the continent and contained three large, open water lakes along with a number of smaller lakes. These lakes were separated by masses of barren, reddish-brown rocks possibly indicating the presence of iron ore.
Several days later, Bunger returned to the area, and found that the water was warm to the touch and the lake itself was filled with red, blue and green algae giving it a distinctive colour. Bunger filled a bottle with the water which later "turned out to be brackish, a clue to the fact that the ‘lake’ was actually an arm of the open sea." (19)
This is important for two reasons; warm, inland lakes connected to the surrounding oceans would be perfect for submarines to hide within, and similar lakes have been noted in Neu-Schwabenland, the site of the alleged Nazi base. There is no conclusive evidence of a Nazi base on Antarctica, however that something untoward was happening on, or around, the frozen continent appears, on balance of probabilities, to be likely. The evidence is there;
i) The Germans invaded and claimed part of Antarctica on the very eve of the war when all of their activity was geared towards the war machine and the establishment of a 1000-year Reich.
ii) There was ongoing ship and submarine activity in the South Atlantic and polar regions throughout and after the war had apparently ended.
iii) The US invaded the continent itself with considerable naval resources leaving mainland America exposed and vulnerable as the world edged into the Cold War. The task force limped home as if defeated only weeks later, and the local South American press wrote of such a defeat.
iv) Admiral Byrd spoke of objects that could fly from pole to pole at incredible speeds being based on Antarctica.
v) Hundreds of thousands of Germans and numerous U-boats were missing at the end of the war.
The connection between Antarctica and the UFO phenomenon was sealed with claims made by one Albert K. Bender who stated that he "went into the fantastic and came up with an answer … I know what the saucers are."