Weather Station Kurt
Weather Station Kurt (Wetter-Funkgerät Land-26) was an automatic weather station, erected by a German U-boat crew in northern Labrador, Dominion of Newfoundland in October 1943. Installing the equipment for the station was the only known armed German military operation on land in North America during the Second World War. After the war it was forgotten until its rediscovery in 1977.
Weather systems in temperate climates predominantly move from west to east. This gave the Allies an important advantage. The Allied network of weather stations in North America, Greenland, and Iceland allowed the Allies to make more accurate weather forecasts than the Germans. German meteorologists had weather reports sent by U-boats and weather ships, such as Lauenburg, operating in the North Atlantic. They also had reports from clandestine weather stations in remote parts of the Arctic and readings collected over the Atlantic by specially equipped weather aircraft. However, the ships and clandestine stations were easily captured by the Allies during the early part of the war. Data from aircraft was incomplete as they were limited in range and susceptible to Allied attack. Regular weather reporting by U-boats put them at risk as it broke radio silence, allowing the Allies to locate them and track their movements by radio triangulation.
Development and deployment
To gather more weather information, the Germans developed the Wetter-Funkgerät Land (WFL) automatic weather station. It was designed by Dr. Ernst Ploetze and Edwin Stoebe. Twenty-six were manufactured by Siemens. The WFL had an array of measuring instruments, a telemetry system and a 150 watt, Lorenz 150 FK-type transmitter. It consisted of ten cylindrical canisters, each 1 metre (3.3 ft) by c.47 cm diameter (1.5 metres (4.9 ft) circumference) and weighing around 100 kilograms (220 lb). One canister contained the instruments and was attached to a 10-metre (33 ft) antenna mast. A second, shorter mast carried an anemometer and wind vane. The other canisters contained the nickel-cadmium batteries that powered the system. The WFL would send weather readings every three hours during a two-minute transmission on 3940 kHz. The system could work for up to six months, depending on the number of battery canisters.
Fourteen stations were deployed in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions (Greenland, Bear Island, Spitsbergen, and Franz Josef Land) and five were placed around the Barents Sea. Two were intended for North America. One was deployed in 1943 by the German submarine U-537, but the submarine carrying the other, U-867, was sunk in September 1944 northwest of Bergen, Norway, by a British air attack.
On September 18, 1943, U-537, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Peter Schrewe, departed from Kiel, Germany on her first combat patrol. She carried WFL-26, codenamed "Kurt", a meteorologist, Dr. Kurt Sommermeyer, and his assistant, Walter Hildebrant. En route, the U-boat was caught in a storm and a large breaker produced significant damage, including leaks in the hull and the loss of the submarine's quadruple anti-aircraft cannon, leaving it both unable to dive and defenseless against Allied aircraft.
On October 22, U-537 arrived at Martin Bay in Northern Labrador, at a position Coordinates: . This is close to Cape Chidley at the north-eastern tip of the Labrador Peninsula. Schrewe selected a site this far north as he believed this would minimize the risk of the station being discovered by Inuit people. Within an hour of dropping anchor a scouting party had located a suitable site and soon after Dr. Sommermeyer, his assistant, and ten sailors disembarked to install the station. Armed lookouts were posted on nearby high ground and other crew members set to repair the submarine's storm damage.
For concealment, the station was camouflaged. Empty American cigarette packets were left around the site to deceive any Allied personnel that chanced upon it, and the equipment was marked as the property of the non-existent "Canadian Meteor Service" (although, at the time, the area was part of the Dominion of Newfoundland and not part of Canada until 1949). The crew worked through the night to install Kurt and repair their U-boat. They finished just 28 hours after dropping anchor and, after confirming the station was working, U-537 departed. The U-boat undertook a combat patrol in the area of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, during which she survived three attacks by Canadian aircraft, but sank no ships. The submarine reached port at Lorient, France on December 8, after seventy days at sea. She was sunk with all hands eleven months later on November 11, 1944 by the submarine USS Flounder near the Dutch East Indies.
The station was forgotten until 1977 when Peter Johnson, a geomorphologist working on an unrelated project, stumbled upon the German weather station. He suspected it was a Canadian military installation, and named it "Martin Bay 7".
Around the same time, a retired Siemens engineer named Franz Selinger, who was writing a history of the company, went through Sommermeyer's papers and learned of the station's existence. He contacted Canadian Department of National Defence historian W.A.B. Douglas, who went to the site with a team in 1981 and found the station still there, although canisters had been opened and components strewn about the site. Weather Station Kurt was brought to Ottawa and is now on display at the Canadian War Museum.
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- "Lost Nazi Weather Station Kurt". Heritage Daily. June 6, 2014.