Arctic Islands Part II

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Kriegsmarine U-boats at and around the Arctic Islands Part II

In part 1 of our article we have outlined the geographic, political and military framework with regard to the islands in the northernmost North Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic. Now, the operations of Kriegsmarine U-boats close to and at the islands will be listed in detail.


Below an overview has been compiled to show the operations by Kriegsmarine U-boats on and around the islands, as taken from literature and war diaries available from the U-boat High Command (B.d.U. = Commander-in-Chief Submarines) as well from those U-boats engaged in such operations.

U 377 within closed ice field in Signe Bay at Svalbord Islands
U 377 within closed ice field in Signe Bay at Svalbord Islands

Note with regard to the unmanned weather stations: Both, the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe installed unmanned weather stations in support of their operation at and above the ocean. The Luftwaffe stations were called “Kröte”, whereas the Kriegsmarine weather stations were given names that resembled to prominent meteorological personnel or the leader of the commandos. The Naval stations were of the type WFL (= “Wetterfunkgerät Land”/= “Shore based Weather Transmitter Station”). A total of 20 of the battery based WFLs with a lifetime between 3 and 6 months were produced, with 14 (WFL 21/ 22/ 23/ 24/ 25/ 26/ 27/ 29/ 31/ 32/ 33/ 34/ 35/ 36) of those eventually being installed, 1 (WFL 30 “Herbert”) went down with an U-boat (U 867 bound for Labrador) transporting it.

p158_1_01 p158_1_02 p158_1_03 p158_1_04 p158_1_05

The above compilation shows a range of events during the operations of Kriegsmarine U-boats on and around the islands in the northern most Atlantic Ocean. While there were just 5 missions against Iceland to covert dropping of agents, U-boats were employed at all other islands to explore coastlines and Allied military infrastructure, even to destroy them, as well as in support of the installation of facilities and the operation of German weather stations, a minimum of at least 50 of such missions can be counted. There were a total of 14 attempts to install manned weather stations on the Arctic islands, although with some of those installation operations failing, and U-boats supported or even facilitated almost all of those operations.

The number of missions within the above total demonstrated a clear focus of the U-boats employment on the Siberian coast and its offshore islands, followed by the Svalboard Islands, then the Bear Island with the consequent series of operations from 1942 to the end of the war to secure permanent weather reports from there by means of unmanned weather stations, and finally those few missions to the Hopen Island and the Franz-Josef-Land. Besides the above listed unmanned weather stations (WFL) a few more of such station were transported and installed by U-boats on other islands than the above mentioned, i.e. “Kurt” (WFL 26) by U 537 on 23 October 1943 on Labrador, “Wilhelm” (WFL 36) by U 1163 on 11 November 1944 on the Island of Magerøya near the North Cape, and “Weidmannsheil”/ also: “Landjäger” (WFL 35) by U 1165 on 22 November 1944 on the Åland-Islands.p307_1_04


The operations of Kriegsmarine U-boats on and around the islands of the northern most Atlantic Ocean to explore the coastlines and Allied military infrastructure, including destroying them if tasked to do so, as well covert dropping of agents and support of the installation and operation of German weather stations on the islands may represent only a small part in terms of numbers in the overall war at sea in the arctic waters. Also, they did not start before 1942. Notwithstanding, the support missions of U-boats to drop manned and unmanned weather stations, as well as their supply and evacuation of weather commandos if necessary, have had quite some importance for the preparation of a valid picture of the meteorological situation for the German Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine as an indispensible basis for their operational planning and execution.

The operations by U-boats in those waters and close to the islands, often with incomplete or inaccurate navigational charts and hampered by embacle and adverse weather, demonstrated supreme navigational and seamanship skills of the crew. Any myths around the employment of German U-boats are without any foundation, particularly since no other mission beyond those listed above can be traced, such as the establishment of secret logistic bases on the islands. If talking of myths, one is well advised to read the stories of the detachment of manned weather stations under those cruel weather conditions of the Arctic, often enduring their services for months, and, in the case of weather command “Haudegen” even months after the end of the World War in Europe.

War Diaries from: B.d.U, U 30, U 186, U 209, U 212, U 252, U 255, U 279, U 302, U 354, U 355, U 365, U 377, U 387, U 435, U 586, U 601, U 629, U 636, U 668, U 703, U 711, U 713, U 737, U 739, U 955, U 957, U 965, U 992, U 1163.

Report by the Naval Section of ULTRA under ULTRA/ ZIP/ ZO/ 352 of 17 July 1945 “History of German Met. Operations in the Arctic 1940-1945”


  • Dege, Wilhelm: War North of 80. The Last German Arctic Weather Station of World War II. Translated from the German and edited by William Barr. Arctic Institute of North America (Northern lights series 4). Calgary, Alberta (University of Calgary Press) und Boulder, CO (University Press of Colorado) 2004. ISBN 1-55238-110-2
  • Dänisches Institut für Außenpolitik (DUPI) (Hg.): Greenland during the Cold War. Danish and American Security Policy 1945-1968. Compilation of the original issue in two volumes. Kopenhagen 1997, ISBN 87-601-6922-2
  • Mallmann-Showell, Jak: Nazi Uboats – Landings on Hostile Shores, Ian Allan Publishing, London 2000, ISBN 978-071102713
  • Nusser, Franz: Die Arktisunternehmen des deutschen Marinewetterdienstes in den Jahren 1940-1945, Deutscher Wetterdienst, Hamburg 1979
  • Rohwer, Jürgen and Hümmelchen, Gerhard: Chronology of the War at Sea 1939-1945, US Naval Institute Press, Annapolis 1992, ISBN 978-0711002777
  • Rudek, Joachim: U-Boote an der Wetterfront des 2. Weltkrieges, Volume 8 in the series of publications by the Schifffahrtsgeschichtliche Gesellschaft Ostsee e.V., Rostock 1999
  • Selinger, Franz: Deutsche automatische Wetterstationen in der Arktis 1942-1945, in: “Polarforschung” Nr. 55, pg. 55-67, published by the Alfred-Wegener-Institut für Polar- und Meeresforschung, Bremerhaven 1985
  • Selinger, Franz: Von Nanok bis Eismitte – Meteorologische Unternehmungen in der Arktis 1940-1945. Convent Verlag, Hamburg 2001, ISBN 3-934613-12-8

Internet links

Text: Peter Monte – Picture: Deutsches U-Boot-Museum