German Weather Party

The expedition Bassgeiger, which operated from August 1943 to June 1944, was not as successful as its predecessor. The supply ship Coburg (WBS-2) was trapped in ice off Île de France (island) and many supplies were lost, including the radiosonde equipment. Twice explosives were airdropped to the ship, as the crewmembers blasted their way through the ice. Drifting slowly south, the expedition was not able to make land quarters until the vessel reached Cape Sussi on Shannon Island, not too far from Sabine. At this location, the ship barely missed a search by the otherwise ubiquitous cutter Northland.

Coburg had left Narvik on 28 August 1943 and arrived close to shore on 16 October. A camp (Eislager) was built on the sea-ice, but it was soon destroyed by the elements. By 4 January, most of the crew occupied the snow caves on shore.

Overall command of the expedition apparently went to Dr. Heinrich Schatze, a meteorologist, and was seconded by Dr. Ernst Triloff. Wetterbeobachtungsschiffskapitän Rodebrugger was in charge of the ship, which now had no chance of returning to Norway. The military leader was Leutnant Helmuth Zacher.

The eight-man expedition crew plus the ship’s crew spent a miserable winter inside tunnels carefully carved out of snowdrifts. As they reported after the war in the journal Polarforschung, the tunnels were barely a meter high, and to save fuel, temperatures were kept just above freezing inside. The men got used to living virtually buried alive, and still went about their meteorological duties in the winter darkness. Some supplies were repeatedly dropped by air from Norway, yet this hardly made up for the disastrous situation at the camp, for the lumber for proper buildings had been lost and could not be airdropped at the extreme range.

Records have it that the Danes of the Sledge Patrol discovered the station in October or November 1943, but no resources could be brought to bear against the site during the dark polar night. The Danes had erected a temporary camp to replace the bombed-out Eskimonæs in a nearby bay ominously called Dødemandsbugten (Deadman's Bay). It was planned to airlift an American platoon here to assist the Danes in attacking the German station in the spring, but this was canceled, and the Patrol decided to attack alone, with only a handful of men. The Sledge Patrol was now commanded by Niels Ove Jensen, who had arrived in the area from Narssarssuaq the previous fall with American weapons and equipment.

This assault happened on 22 April 1944, and ended miserably. The Danish commander, keeping his eight-man detachment behind, crept forward to observe the station, but was discovered and wound up in a firefight with Leutnant Zacher before escaping with his patrol. Zacher died, but in standing his post, drawing fire, alerted the remainder of the more numerous Germans. Apparently there was a further incident between the Danes and the Germans without results. Then the two sides wisely left each other alone.

Much later on 3 June, though before it was possible for American forces to reach the site, one of the huge Ju-290s from 2./FAG 5 landed on an improvised ice runway and evacuated the remaining twenty-six men back to Trondheim/Værnes.

The Air Corps found no occasion to repeat the air raids of the previous year. The lonely station far in the Arctic had no priority compared to European events, and by this time Colonel Balchen was in Britain running supplies to Sweden and occupied Norway.

The Coast Guard finally arrived six weeks later to document and inventory the abandoned supplies and structures. The sailors also found the grave of Lt. Zacher, miraculously the only casualty of the troubled expedition.



Weather Party:

Hilfs-Reg.-Rat Dr. Heinrich Schatz
Lt. (S) Gerhard Zacher
Gefr. (MA) Dr. Ernst Günter Triloff
Naut. Hilfs-Ass. Kurt Pritsch
Funkmaat Robert Reidl
Funk-Ob. Gefr. Johann Zima -
Funk-Gefr. Eugen Müller
Funk-Gefr. Franz Muschalek
Funkgast Heinrich Schmidt

WBS 2 Coburg crew:

Stabsobersteuermann Johann Rodebrügger

Steuermannsmaat Hans-Georg Sturm -
Steuermannsmaat Kurt Koos -
Steuermannsmaat Heinz Carlsen
Strm. Ob. Gefr. Hermann Ackermann
Maschinist Helmuth Marks -
Masch. Maat Hugo Busch -
Masch. Ob. Gefr. Wilhelm Kleffmann -
Masch. Ob. Gefr. Martin Klein -
Funkmaat Frederich Schewe -
Funk. Ob. Gefr. Richard Sternberg
Funk Gefr. Rudolf Stephan -
Matr. Ob. Gefr. Karl Schweitzer -
Matr. Gefr. Erich Helms -
Matr. Gefr. Hermann Helms -
Matr. Gefr. Walter Machulla -
Signal Gefr. Alfons Stickling -
Signal Gefr. Max Richter


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Update: 21.5.2005