In 1943 a German U-boat visited Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada and established the only German military operation on North American soil during the war. The operation was just a small weather station, but, in conjunction with other monitoring systems was massively important for Germany’s military effectiveness in Europe. The station was planted by the U-boat crew in a position they believed would prevent its discovery. It turns out they were right, as the station would not be found until 1977, 32 years later.
The Axis were at a disadvantage when monitoring the weather
The weather can play an enormously decisive role in both civilian and military operations. Cloud cover over a target can render a bombing raid useless, while heavy rains can bog down an advancing army in mud. As a result, accurately predicting the weather is an ability military planners have continuously worked to improve.
Unfortunately for Germany, they were at an inherent disadvantage when monitoring the weather.
Weather systems mostly move from west to east in the Earth’s northern hemisphere, which, with territories much farther west, naturally gave the Allies more time to monitor and plan around the weather.
Germany was forced to send weather ships and aircraft west to the North Atlantic to monitor conditions and report their findings back to meteorologists in Europe. These missions were easily discovered and attacked by the Allies, though, and were often lacking accuracy.
To avoid the problems faced by weather ships, aircraft, and U-boats, Germany began establishing weather stations on land in enemy territories.
Dr. Ernst Ploetze and Edwin Stoebe developed the Wetter-Funkgerät Land automatic weather station, which consisted of ten 1 meter tall canisters and a 10-meter tall antenna. Only one of the canisters actually contained the weather-monitoring instruments; the other nine were filled with batteries that would power the device for six months. The station sent a two-minute transmission of its readings once every three hours.
The equipment was manufactured by Siemens.
A number of these stations were placed around the Arctic and sub-Arctic, all sending back important data to Germany.
Weather Station Kurt
German submarine U-537 left from Kiel, Germany on September 18, 1943. Within her hull, she carried Wetter-Funkgerät Land weather station WFL-26, which was nicknamed “Kurt”. Meteorologist Dr. Kurt Sommermeyer and his assistant joined the U-boat crew.
The vessel was commanded by Kapitänleutnant Peter Schrewe, who was instructed to find a suitable location for the weather station. A month after it had departed, U-537 arrived at the northern tip of Labrador at a location they believed was unlikely to be discovered by locals.
They dropped anchor and an armed party set out to find the exact position for the station. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew began repairing damage the submarine received while in a major storm at sea.
With Dr. Sommermeyer’s assistance, the station was assembled and concealed. For additional security, American cigarette packets were discarded around the site, and the station was labeled as property of the fictional “Canadian Weather Service”.
U-537 left the location just over a day later, once the station was working as intended. However, the station would stop working just a month later for unknown reasons. U-537 would eventually return to Europe but was sunk a year later with the loss of all lives on board.
Weather Station Kurt found three decades later
After the war ended, a few of the German weather stations were found, usually by chance, but most of them were simply forgotten. This was the case for Weather Station Kurt until it was rediscovered in 1977 when geomorphologist Peter Johnson accidentally stumbled across the WWII German hardware.
It was around this time that a retired Siemens engineer Franz Selinger learned about the station while reading Dr. Sommermeyer’s documents. After this, Selinger informed a historian from the Canadian Department of National Defence, who ventured out to the recorded position of the station. When the historian arrived in 1981, the station was found intact.
The station was collected and put on display at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, where it can be seen today.