Soon after the war in Europe ended, rumors began to circulate that part of Germany’s military and scientific establishment had fled the fatherland before Soviet troops could conquer Berlin. Stories of missing U-boats and forbidden aviation technologies fueled wild theories of Nazi redoubts and the imminent resurrection of the Third Reich. A huge United States Navy operation in the Antarctic in 1946 seemed only to confirm the worst of fears — that the Nazis’ reign of terror had been able to survive underground near the South Pole.
Operation Highjump was launched a year after war’s end to train Navy personnel in the extreme temperatures of the Antarctic and to project American power over the vast, frozen and uninhabited continent. More than a dozen ships, several aircraft and four thousand men participated in the fact finding expedition which ended six months ahead of schedule in February 1947 when terrible weather conditions made it impossible to continue the effort.
That, anyway, is the official account. The conspiracists among us will wonder whether the several fatalities and plane crashes involved in Highjump weren’t caused by something other than snow storms and the lethal cold.
One Chilean newspaper reported in early March 1947, as the fifteen ship fleet was in retreat, that Admiral Richard E. Byrd, a polar expedition veteran and in charge of the mammoth operation, believed that America had to prepare for another deadly war. According to the daily El Mercurio, Byrd warned that in the event of renewed hostilities, the United States “would be attacked by flying objects which could fly from pole to pole at incredible speeds.”
Whatever the validity of El Mercurio‘s reporting, the phrase “from pole to pole” could imply a permanent German presence in Neuschwabenland, or New Swabia, the slice of the Antarctic which the Kriegsmarine had surveyed in 1938. Although there is no evidence to suggest that Nazi Germany undertook any more Antarctic expeditions during the war, conspiracy theories abound that claim it did exactly that and built an underground facility near the pole while it was at it.
Part of New Swabia isn’t that cold and in fact features a couple of mountain ranges that are ice free the year round. As evidenced by the large Mittelwerk missile assembly site, Nazi Germany had ample experience tunneling and building underground based and factories. Although it would have required quite an effort on the part of the Nazi Government during wartime, it is not altogether impossible that it erected a secret facility in or near the Schirmacher Oasis which the 1938 expedition had discovered. With more than a hundred freshwater lakes and outlets to the sea, it could also have serviced German U-boats.
From that point onward, the myth usually begins to include exotic German aircraft designs, Hollow Earth theories, alien Greys and Reptilians conniving with the Nordic Herrenvolk to subjugate the human race, etc. It seems there’s a whole lot of trouble waiting to be uncovered beneath the ice of Antarctica!
If the Nazi polar base thesis seems little more than a few curious statements and coincidences, that’s because most conspiracy theories are. This one does perfectly set the stage for a dieselpunk story though.