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The Second World War

History of Spitsbergen

Nor­we­gi­an artil­le­ry in Grønfjord

Norwegian artillery in Grønfjord

Germany’s occup­a­ti­on of Nor­way in 1940 did not have any con­se­quen­ces for Sval­bard and its sett­le­ment for a litt­le while. This chan­ged in June 1941, when Hit­ler atta­cked the Sov­jet Uni­on, as the Bar­ents Sea now got a new stra­te­gi­cal signi­fi­can­ce as gate­way for important goods from the wes­tern allies for the Red Army. In August 1941, 1955 Rus­si­ans and 765 Nor­we­gi­ans were evacua­ted to the UK and the sett­le­ments on Spits­ber­gen lar­ge­ly des­troy­ed to make sure the Ger­mans would not bene­fit from them. This was quick­ly rea­li­sed in Ger­ma­ny, and the oppor­tu­ni­ty was used to estab­lish war wea­ther sta­ti­ons. Wea­ther data from the arc­tic were vital both for cen­tral Euro­pe and for attacking the con­voys to Mur­mansk. The impor­t­ance of tho­se con­voys for the war in eas­tern Euro­pe made both the Ger­mans and the Allies put gre­at effort into attacking and, respec­tively, pro­tec­ting them. For Ger­ma­ny, this meant to estab­lish a num­ber of wea­ther sta­ti­ons in the arc­tic, which the Allies of cour­se tried to pre­vent. Com­pe­ti­ti­on bet­ween the dif­fe­rent bran­ches wit­hin the Ger­man mili­ta­ry led to the some­what stran­ge fact that the­re were often more than one sta­ti­on win­te­ring in Sval­bard, whe­re­as one might have done from a meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal point of view. In 1941-42, the sta­ti­on ‘Ban­sö’ win­te­red in Advent­da­len near Lon­gye­ar­by­en and ‘Knos­pe’ in Signe­ham­na in the Krossfjord.

Reste der Kriegswetterstationen »Knospe« und »Nussbaum« in Signehamna (Krossfjord)

Res­te der Kriegs­wet­ter­sta­tio­nen »Knos­pe« und »Nuss­baum« in Signe­ham­na (Krossfjord).

In 1942, the Nor­we­gi­ans tried to get con­trol over Sval­bard again. An attempt was made tog­e­ther with the Bri­tish with two small ships, the Isbjørn and the Selis. Four Ger­man airf­crafts atta­cked the two ships in the night to 14th May in the Grønfjord; Isbjørn was sunk and Selis caught fire and 14 peop­le were kil­led. The sur­vi­ving for­ce estab­lis­hed a gar­ri­son with about 80 sol­di­ers in Bar­ents­burg, which had been lar­ge­ly des­troy­ed in the pre­vious sum­mer. The Ger­man wea­ther sta­ti­on Knos­pe in the Krossfjord was dis­co­ve­r­ed, and a Ger­man sol­dier was shot the­re. A Ger­man sub­ma­ri­ne, which came to pick the crew of the wea­ther sta­ti­on up, atta­cked the Nor­we­gi­an camp in the Krossfjord. This attack also cost the life of one Nor­we­gi­an. Later that year, the Ger­mans again estab­lis­hed a wea­ther sta­ti­on in the Krossfjord on the same site (sta­ti­on ‘Nuss­baum’).

Ger­man war wea­ther sta­ti­ons in Spits­ber­gen: ‘Kreuz­rit­ter’ in the Lief­defjord 1943/44

German war weather stations in Spitsbergen: Kreuzritter in the Liefdefjord

Land­vik in der Storm­buk­ta 1944/45 (2001)

Landvik in der Stormbukta 1944/45 (2001)

In Sep­tem­ber 1943, the Ger­mans sur­pri­sed the Nor­we­gi­ans with a lar­ge attack with their fleet from nort­hern Nor­way, which did not have a lot to do other­wi­se. The two lar­ge batt­le­ships Scharn­horst and Tirpitz, tog­e­ther with a lar­ger num­ber of smal­ler ships, bom­bed Bar­ents­burg and Lon­gye­ar­by­en, kil­ling 9 Nor­we­gi­an sol­di­ers and cap­tu­ring 41. The Nor­we­gi­an gar­ri­son was soon estab­lis­hed again, now in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Bar­ents­burg being evacua­ted by Bri­tish for­ces in late sum­mer 1941

Barentsburg being evacuated by British forces in late summer 1941

In the mean­ti­me, the war for the wea­ther con­ti­nued. The Ger­mans kept estab­li­shing secret wea­ther sta­ti­ons in Sval­bard as well as nor­the­ast Green­land and Franz Josef Land.  Only in 1944-45, with an incre­a­singly dif­fi­cult situa­ti­on in Euro­pe, the Ger­mans ran no less than four staf­fed wea­ther sta­ti­ons in Sval­bard, in addi­ti­on to other, simi­lar ones else­whe­re in the north Atlan­tic! The last Ger­man mili­ta­ry unit ope­ra­ting any­whe­re in the world was the sta­ti­on ‘Hau­de­gen’ on Nord­aus­t­land, which was evacua­ted by the Nor­we­gi­ans in Sep­tem­ber 1945, very much so to the reli­ef of the Ger­mans. The sta­ti­on was man­ned with a com­bi­ned crew of mili­ta­ry per­so­nell and sol­di­ers. Figh­t­ing near the sta­ti­ons was not an ever­y­day event, but it did hap­pen and cost the lives of a num­ber of men from both sides.

Remains of the Ger­man war wea­ther sta­ti­on Hau­de­gen, Nord­aus­t­land (2001)

Remains of the German war weather station Haudegen, Nordaustland (2001)

The­re is most­ly not to much to be seen any­mo­re after the wea­ther sta­ti­ons from the war. Time and the har­sh wea­ther, but most­ly sou­ve­nir collec­tors have taken most of it away, but a few remains can still be seen, with Hau­de­gen on Nord­aus­t­land being the best-pre­ser­ved one in Sval­bard. The sett­le­ments were also des­troy­ed with the excep­ti­on of Pyra­mi­den; but both Nor­we­gi­ans and Rus­si­ans rebuilt their mining towns quick­ly after the war and star­ted to mine coal again.

Wreck of Ger­man meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal air­craft from the war in Advent­da­len near Lon­gye­ar­by­en (1997)

Wreck of German meteorological aircraft from the war in Adventdalen near Longyearbyen (1997)

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last modification: 2018-05-04 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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