Friday, November 21, 2014

The Time The Nazi's Landed In North America, And More Praise for My Grandpa

My Grandfather served as a meteorologist in WWII. The family lore is that his missions included flying into Hurricanes in the South Pacific. And while I've always appreciated the value of his service, this story managed to make me appreciate it even more:

On October 22, 1943, Germany made its only armed landing on the North American continent of the Second World War. On that day, the U-boat U-537 anchored at the northern end of Labrador and its crew loaded ten cylindrical canisters, each weighing about 220 pounds, onto rubber rafts and then ashore.

So there you have it, the *only* armed Nazi landing in North America. And what was the purpose? To setup a weather station (known as Weather Station Kurt).

The station was one of 26 manufactured by Siemens and deployed around the North Atlantic to give German meteorologists data on weather as it moved across the Atlantic.

Here's a photo of the station taken by the crew that installed it:

Imagine the risk and effort that the Germans went through, and all in the name of predicting the weather.

The Germans did a thorough job of hiding the station:

The station was camouflaged, and components were marked in English with the words “Canadian Meteor Service.” Not only was there no such agency, but Labrador was part of Newfoundland and not Canada. The station was placed far enough North in the hope, apparently realized, that the Innuit of Labrador would not encounter it. To confuse anyone who might stumble upon the remote site, empty American cigarette packages were strewn about.

In fact, it remained hidden until the mystery finally unraveled in 1977.

It's also worth noting that the technology used in the station was quite advanced for the day:

The technological expertise demonstrated by this 1943 station found in Labrador is impressive. Its operation was described in German technical journals in 1953, but officials in Canada's atmospheric environment service concede that we did not set up similar systems ourselves until the early 1960's.

Granted, modern stations are more sophisticated, use solar power, and provide a much wider and more precise range of information. There are 64 automated weather stations in the Canadian north today. It is doubtful, however, if any of them could have been packaged into 10 cylinders weighing no more than 220 lbs. each and capable of being loaded into and unloaded from a conventional World War II submarine.

The complete story can be found here (thanks to this blog for that link).

To me, this shows that weather data in World War II wasn't some nice to have bit of information. It was crucial for planning and executing your strategy, and lives and equipment were worth risking to attain it.


  1. The USAF has Special Operation Weather Technicians, who like Combat Controllers for calling in air strikes and air traffic control, are attached to say an Army Ranger unit who are parachuted in to seize an airport, or attached to a unit of Navy Seals establishing a beach head. Having very detailed info about weather conditions in very specific areas is a big part of operations now.

    Those krauts were like the progenitors of those guys today. They had some balls pulling that off.

  2. Thanks Exploriment - I'll have to do a some more research on the SOWT.