It’s one of the most famous conspiracies associated with the end of the Second World War: that a group of Nazis escaped to Antarctica, where they had a secret base established to aid in the furtherance of their top secret flying saucer development program.
Such tales have been the stuff of legends for decades now, and the persistence of rumors like these offer an alternative to popular theories about alien visitors that remain a hallmark of modern UFO lore.
This idea has had renewed attention during the last few years, thanks to widespread attention given to a 2006 discovery by Ohio State University scientists, who actually did find some variety of “gravitation anomaly” located below Wilkes Land, Antarctica. Even more recently, tabloids like The Mirror have run with stories that cite speculation that the “anomaly” could actually be the long-sought “secret Nazi UFO base” in question.
It should be noted, firstly, that there is some legitimacy to the idea of a Nazi presence in Antarctica during the years leading up to World War II. In fact, the continent’s strategic importance culminated in an expedition by Germany that occurred between 1938 and 1939. With little doubt, this fact remains a contributing factor in the beliefs that Nazis may have even tried to establish a more permanent stronghold at the south pole.
It is also well known that a variety of advanced aircraft had been designed by the Germans toward the end of the war, with further allegations that some of these were said to resemble flying saucers. If so, there have never been any reports or documents made public that would indicate the veracity of claims about “saucers” the Nazis built.
In large part, the crux of the entire Nazi UFO affair has long remained centered around a fabled device known as Die Glocke, or “the bell”, a supposed Nazi weapons project that was rumored to have been anything from some kind of experimental antigravity device, to a special anti-aircraft weapon. Yet again (and despite this author’s own pursuit of leads on this subject for a number of years), a damning lack of good source material turns up in relation to Die Glocke, at least outside of alternative or “fringe” literature, that can help support the case that such a device ever existed.
So far, none of this points to any conclusive evidence of a Nazi base located in Antarctica. So what, apart from the expeditions carried out by Germany during the 1930s, might serve as the genesis of these legends about a “Nazi UFO Base” in the southernmost polar regions?
Beginnings: Operation Highjump (1946-47)
This notion actually has less to do with anything the Nazis themselves did, and instead appears to stem from a series of cryptic comments made by Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd during an interview with International News Service correspondent Lee van Atta, which took place aboard the USS Mount Olympus in 1947. The interview was said to have appeared in the Wednesday, March 5, 1947 edition of a Chilean newspaper El Mercurio.
Below is the relevant portion of the interview, in which Byrd makes some rather startling allusions to “flying objects”:
Adm. Byrd declared today that it was imperative for the United States to initiate immediate defence measures against hostile regions. The admiral further stated that he didn’t want to frighten anyone unduly but that it was a bitter reality that in case of a new war the continental United States would be attacked by flying objects which could fly from pole to pole at incredible speeds. Admiral Byrd repeated the above points of view, resulting from his personal knowledge gathered both at the north and south poles, before a news conference held for International News Service.
As one can see, such wording easily lends itself to the idea of a connection between the Nazi UFO mythos, and something going on at the South Pole. So based on the presumption that the statements above, and the Mercurio article itself were indeed legitimate, one can only guess what kind of perceived threat prompted Byrd to make such claims during the interview in question. Had some kind of danger actually existed in the southernmost extremities of Antarctica just after World War II? If so, what was the nature of this threat, and could it have dealt with carry-overs from Nazi Germany, as some UFO researchers have already speculated over the years?
Some would maintain that the best evidence for the legitimacy of Byrd’s statements, and their UFOlogical interpretation, actually has to do with Byrd’s reasons for visiting Antarctica in the first place. Byrd had been tasked with leading the ill-fated Operation Highjump, which occurred between late 1946 and early 1947, and involved an extremely heavy military presence. Hence, some in UFO circles have gone so far as to suggest that Byrd’s “Operation Highjump” represented a secret battle between U.S. forces and a group of secret Antarctic residents with advanced Nazi UFO technologies. After all, what else might have sent Byrd and his scores of ships and aircraft packing so quickly after embarking upon this extensive, and extremely well-funded military expedition? This theory, of course, would also seem to explain the “flying objects which could fly from pole to pole at incredible speeds” that Byrd had so cryptically warned us of… right?
To the contrary, it seems that what Byrd was actually discussing was the threat of an enemy nation getting to Antarctica, and establishing military bases before the Americans did so. In fact, although details about it remained undisclosed for many years, the establishment of strategic bases had been precisely what the American presence during Operation Highjump had aimed to do.
Hence, rather than bumping into secret Nazi bases and their armaments while there, Byrd and his company encountered a far more formidable enemy: mother nature.
The brutal conditions during the winter in question had been causing a variety of issues, particularly with aircraft, by late January 1947. In one dramatic instance, a sudden downwind managed to sweep a helicopter in mid-takeoff directly into the ocean water, leaving a narrow window of opportunity for the pilot to escape and be rescued. There were plenty of other situations, however, where the servicemen involved weren’t as lucky; complications resulting from extreme weather conditions led to the loss of several lives during the short period that Operation Highjump was underway.
Needless to say, the unnecessary loss of human life is never a thing to be desired, and Operation Highjump was terminated in February 1947, on account of the worsening weather.
Returning again to Byrd’s cryptic statements given to El Murcurio, there wouldn’t necessarily need to have been enemy aircraft present at the time of Operation Highjump to validate the Byrd’s commentary. By the end of WWII, experimental jet engines were already in development, and within a few short years, planes that incorporated such designs would revolutionize both military and commercial aircraft. With little doubt, Admiral Byrd knew this, and spoke of the expectation that any military with a permanent presence at the South Pole might be able to use this strategic location to launch aircraft that could reach any place on Earth within just a few short hours; a “bitter reality” indeed.
‘Flying Objects’, Nazi UFO Tech, or Exaggerations?
There is another factor worthy of consideration here, which has to do with whether Byrd’s statements about lightning fast “flying objects” might have been somewhat exaggerated, too. Antarctic explorer Paul Siple noted of the famous Mercurio interview that the reporters aboard the USS Mount Olympus had overblown claims from Byrd’s earlier expeditions in the region, pertaining to the so-called “Bungers Oasis,” a lake area found to have uniquely warm temperatures (around 30 degrees) and a variety of algae growing within. Byrd later described the location as a “land of blue and green lakes and brown hills in an otherwise limitless expanse of ice,” and that his crew had “seemed to have dropped out of the twentieth century into a landscape of thousands of years ago when land was just starting to emerge from one of the great ice ages.” There were, of course, no reports of mammoths or flying saucers mentioned in conjunction with this, although Byrd would later call the discovery “by far the most important, so far as the public interest was concerned of the expedition.”
Nonetheless, Siple notes:
“…[T]he eleven press representatives aboard the USS Mount Olympus had fired off dispatches to the outside world describing the oasis as a ‘Shangri-La’ and implying that it was warmed by a mysterious source of heat and might be supporting vegetation.”
This no doubt helped fuel additional fringe claims associated with Byrd’s expeditions: namely, that they had discovered a habitable region at the South Pole, wherein a cavernous entry point into the Earth led them to meet residents who existed below ground. Offering an alternate theory about the origin of flying saucers, this group of “Hollow Earth Dwellers” further told Byrd that the mysterious flying saucers had actually belonged to them, a fanciful story presented in a bogus document long claimed to have been a “secret diary” that Byrd kept during his Antarctic explorations.
Taken into context, the embellishment of such details by the press could easily have served as the root of claims about not only a prehistoric “oasis” at the South Pole, but also the “flying craft” and, eventually, a secret Nazi base that would appear amidst conspiracy theories for years to come.
Again, it seems likely that Byrd had been making a general statement about the potential uses of enemy aircraft during the coming decades, in the sense that a hostile nation, should they ever establish a base at one of the poles, might use the area as a centralized point for launching attacks against the US mainland. Looking further back, Byrd had previously suggested that the US might seek to establish such a base at the North Pole as well; hence, it seems clear that he viewed the polar extremities as advantageous locations.
Finally, Byrd’s acknowledgement that, “in the case of a new war,” seems to further indicate that his statements dealt not with any existing menace, but instead with the potential for a future threat by an enemy nation. With World War II still fresh on people’s minds, many at the time shared concerns such as these.
All fantastic speculation aside, what we are left with is very little ground for believing that Operation Highjump prematurely ended due to the presence of hidden subterranean races, attacks by woolly mammoths, or even “flying objects” the likes of Nazi UFOs. Few would argue, however, that the various grains of truth pertaining to Byrd’s historic operations have seeded themselves in the fertile grounds of myth and speculation, taking on an all new–and utterly fascinating–life of their own throughout the last several decades.