Arctic Operation Haudegen Dr. Wilhelm Dege

The weather station where 11 German soldiers were trapped, forgotten by the fallen Nazis.

I thank Klausbernd for bringing this story to Pacific Paratrooper about the last German to surrender.  Not wanting any part of war, Dr. Dege became part of Operation Haudegen….

Weather played an important role during the Second World War. It dictated the outcome of Naval battles and decided the routes of military convoys. Weather and visibility affected photographic reconnaissance and bombing raids. Much of D-day planning revolved around the weather, and the landing itself was delayed by 24 hours because of choppy seas. Weather information was so sensitive that it was transmitted encoded from weather stations.

By August 1941, the Allies had captured many weather stations operated by the Germans on Greenland and on Spitsbergen, in the Svalbard Archipelago in Norway. These stations were critical because the air over Svalbard told a lot about what was coming over the North Atlantic and continental Europe.  Svalbard Archipelago lies in the Arctic Ocean about a thousand kilometres from the North Pole. When Norway came under German occupation in 1940, the Nazis took control of the oil fields and the weather stations there. The Germans made many attempts to set up weather stations on Spitsbergen, but all failed or fell to the Allies.

Geologist Wilhelm Dege, head of Operation Haudegen. Photo: From the archive of Wilhelm Dege

In September 1944, the Germans set up their last weather station, code named Operation Haudegen, on Nordaustlandet, one of the most remote and northerly of the main islands in Svalbard.  A U-boat and a supply vessel deposited eleven men, along with equipment, arms, ammunitions and supplies on the island and hurriedly retreated back to Norway before they could be discovered by Allied warships. The men set up the weather station and erected two inconspicuous flat-roofed huts using wooden panels and camouflaged with white nets.

Operation Haudegen started in December 1944. Five times a day, the station transmitted encrypted weather forecasts to the German naval command at Tromsø. In addition, once a week, they sent a hydrogen-filled weather balloon to 8,000 meters to obtain data from the upper atmosphere. The remaining time was spent exploring the island and learning about science, geography, philosophy and mathematics from the leader of the expedition, Dr. Wilhelm Dege. The young men built a sauna and helped themselves to the ample food supplies, enjoying delicacies like reindeer meat which most Germans at that time could only dream of in their bomb cellars.

The approximate location of the weather station of Operation Haudegen. Political map of Svalbard by Peter Hermes Furian/Shutterstock.com

Siegfried Czapka, the 18-year-old radio operator, told the German magazine Der Spiegel in 2010: “It was an unforgettable experience; we had everything but beer.

But of course, life in the Arctic was harsh. Temperatures went well below freezing, there were snow storms and daylight was scarce. Polar bears were another threat. The men had to carry rifles with them every time they went outside. The men had been given rigorous training to deal with the hardship. They learned to ski, rappel down cliffs, build igloos, cook and bake, pull teeth, attend to gunshot wounds, and even amputate frozen limbs.

On May 8, 1945, the men received a message from their commanders in Tromsø that Germany had surrendered and the war was over. They were ordered to dispose of explosives, destroy secret documents and send weather reports unencoded. Then there was complete radio silence. The men tried contacting base but there was no reply. They started transmitting their coordinates on the wave lengths the Allies used but no ship or aircraft appeared. The men had two years worth of ration, but the idea of getting stuck on ice for any amount of time held little appeal. The men worried about their families back in Germany, whether they were still alive or killed by air raids. In desperation, they started transmitting on Allied distress channels.

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Towards the end of August, a reply was received. Norwegian authorities assured the stranded men that a ship would set sail for Spitsbergen in early September. Their joy was boundless when on the night of September 3rd and 4th, a vessel arrived in the fjord near the weather station. It was a seal-hunting ship that was chartered by the Norwegian navy in order to pick up the Germans.

The Norwegians came ashore and they all had a big celebratory meal together. Then the commanding officer of the Germans formally surrendered—four months after the war ended—by handing over his service pistol to the Norwegian captain.

“The Norwegian stared at it and asked ‘Can I keep this then?’, recalled Dr. Eckhard Dege, the son of Wilhelm Dege, the commanding officer. “My father explained that he could because they were surrendering.”

The men were taken to Tromsø where they became prisoners of war for three months. In December 1945, they returned to their homes, to a divided country. Some found themselves on East Germany, others on the West. The men of the unit tried to meet each other, but it became impossible due to the tensions between East and West Germany. It was only 60 years after the incident, that two of the survivors were reunited for a trip to the island.

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Military Humor –

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Bernis Allardyce – Beaumont, TX; US Army, Lt.Colonel (Ret. 25 y.)

Willard Alverson – Grand Rapids, MI; US Army, Korea, Ranger, Colonel (Ret. 31 y.)

Harold ‘Ron’ Hawkins – Tempe, AZ; US Army, Vietnam, 6th Special Forces, Sgt.

Emil ‘Gene’ Jemail – Newport, RI; US Army, 11th Airborne Division / JAG office Austria

James A. McNeill – Brooklyn, NY; USMC, Afghanistan, SSgt., 3rd Marine Logistics Group, KIA (Okinawa, non-combat)

Mavis Poe – Topeka, KS; Civilian US Navy, WWII, driver

Pleasant Rourke Jr. – Charleston, SC; USMC, WWII, PTO, Purple Heart

Mark Sertich (99) – Duluth, MN; US Army, WWII, ETO  /  world’s oldest ice hockey player

James Weber Jr. – Louisville, KY; US Navy, WWII Corpsman

Catherine Young – Napier, NZ; WRNZ Navy # 234, WWII

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on August 27, 2020, in Post WWII, Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 177 Comments.

  1. Now, that’s one heck of a story!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for your like off my post, “End Times 24, Revelation 14:1-5, The 144,000 On Mount Zion;” you are very kind. Please keep up your own good work.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Weeral zo’n ontroerend verhaal en gelukkig met goede afloop.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting and touching story. These men had not chosen to go to that isolated place. I am glad they were saved

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s great isn’t it to be handed a titbit of information which piques your curiosity, i loved the research and your writing about this. I love Norway and the very North of the UK on the Islands they are a hardy bunch that live there but this is the extreme and if the German men weren’t used to the weather and conditions it must have been very difficult at first.

    Like

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