The Spies Who Went Out Into the Cold

Canada is a big country. How big is it? I’m glad you asked. Canada is so big it took forty years before anyone realized the Nazis has successfully invaded it during the Second World War.

In October 1943, the crew of the Nazi U-Boat U-537 made the one and only known armed landing on North American soil at remote Martin Bay in northern Labrador. Their reason for choosing this unlikely destination was because, along with torpedoes and other typical cargo, the German sub was loaded with a mobile weather station called the Wetter-Funkgerät Land-26 (WFL-26) – nicknamed “Kurt” after the mission’s leader, Dr. Kurt Sommermeyer.

U-537

Weather systems in the Northern Hemisphere generally move from west to east, which gave the good guys a distinct advantage at sea since they could predict conditions far more accurately. Of course, U-boats operating in the Atlantic could also broadcast conditions but doing so would put them at risk of being detected using radio triangulation. Hitler hoped that permanent spy stations would help level the proverbial playing field. After setting up stations in Greenland that were quickly detected and destroyed, the Germans turned their attention to Labrador.

Using the region’s infamous fog as cover from air patrols, the spies went out into the cold and set up the transmitter on a high point overlooking the ocean. They then left some empty American cigarette packs, hung a simple sign stating the station belonged to the non-existent “Canadian Meteor Service” and das booted it out of there again.

The battery-powered station, which included complex measuring instruments and weighed around 100 kilos (220lbs), was meant to broadcast two-minute radio transmission back to Europe every three hours. But unfortunately for the Nazis (now there is a sentence you don’t come across too often) the automated station only broadcasted reports for a few short days before there were no further Kurt responses and the station was likely killed by the Arctic cold. A second submarine was sent to conduct repairs but was sunk en route by Allied torpedoes, meaning it was curtains for Kurt.

German soldiers setting up Kurt in northern Labrador.

And so the supposed spy station silently sat until the seventies, when a retired German engineer named Franz Selinger, after going through Sommermeyer’s papers while researching a history book, wrote to the Canadian government inquiring about the weather station’s fate. No one had the slightest idea what he was talking about. He then forwarded a copy of U-537’s logbook, which contained the transmitter’s exact location (60°5′0.2″N, 64°22′50.8″W), and a military expedition was sent out to recover Kurt in 1981.

Kurt's new home at the Canadian War Museum

The largely intact station was brought back to Ottawa and given a new home in the Canadian War Museum, where it continues its tradition of not broadcasting weather reports back to Germany.

(This story was first published in Weird Places in Atlantic Canada. © Copyright (c) Blue Bike Books)

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