A team of Russian researchers has announced they have discovered a long-abandoned weather station constructed during the Second World War by Nazi Germany.
Known as the “Schatzgraber Base”, which translates to “Treasure Hunter” in English, the station was constructed on Alexandra Land in the Barents Sea. The island is a part of Franz Josef Land, an archipelago 85 percent covered in glaciers more than 680 miles from Arkhangelsk, the closest Russian city.
The site of the German base was last visited in the 1980s, according to the researchers, as the majority of the islands are frozen and snowbound for the majority of the year. However, an expedition of Russian archaeologists reached the site this past August, owing in no small part to the unseasonably warm Arctic summer this year.
According to an article in Live Science, senior researcher Evgeny Ermolov said that Schatzgraber was completely free of any snow and ice this year, making it possible to conduct a full exploration of the area. Researchers discovered several Second World War-era artifacts, including pieces of uniforms from the German army and navy, as well as arms and armaments such as hand grenades, land mines, and ammunition for rifles and machine guns.
The weather station was active for approximately a year, with around 10 German laborers and meteorologists constructing the site in 1943 as part of an initiative to create an early-warning weather detection network across the Arctic. The artifacts discovered by the team were left behind when the base was evacuated in 1944 via German submarine.
More than 600 individual objects have been recovered from the base station building remains, an emergency landing strip for aircraft and a nearby emergency supply depot, Ermolov said. Researchers sent these artifacts to Arkhangelsk’s Arctic National Park Museum for further study.
Many of the artifacts were remarkably well-preserved, remarked the researcher, something he attributed to Alexandra Land’s lack of humidity and low microbe population. This allowed many organic components such as cloth, leather and wood, as well as paper documents like astronomical tables and meteorology textbooks, to survive. Additional finds include a copy of Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer”, as well as several magazines.
Life at the research station was hellish even from the start, according to historical records. The German weather researchers were sustained by canned food, but several supply boats sank after becoming icebound in the bay alongside the weather station, prompting the researchers to hunt polar bears to supplement their diet. However, improper cooking methods left nearly the entire base sick with trichinosis from tainted polar bear meat.
The Germans dispatched a plane to the base in July of 1944 bearing medical personnel, only for it to damage a wheel when landing on the emergency airstrip. This prompted a second plane to airdrop replacement parts, which allowed the plane to evacuate those in critical condition.
Shortly after the incident, the rest of the base was evacuated by U-boat. In the intervening years, Schatzgraber Base was used briefly after the war by the Russian military, though it sat largely abandoned until the 1980s, when German military experts visited the site to disarm several land mines left behind by Nazi forces to protect the base from an attack that never came.