Svalbard's history

The archipelago of Svalbard is situated high in the northern Hemisphere, in the High Arctic between 74° and 81° north and between 10° and 35° east. Two thirds of the archipelago is permanently covered by snow and ice. Much of the terrain is naked and apparently unproductive and there are great variations in the light regime through the year. This world may seem infertile and barren but if you zoom in, down to ground level, the landscape proves to be rich and full of life. Animals and plants have adapted to the harsh conditions. During a short and hectic summer, a sparse but beautiful flora blooms and the land and sea teem with birds. 

17th century map of Spitsbergen. (Image: Kristin Prestvold / The Governor of Svalbard)

Where plants and animals showed the way, people followed. Through 400 years people have made imprints on the rough, exotic and extreme landscapes of Svalbard. The physical remains of their presence are story-telling fragments of the past, of activities taking place under conditions at the edge of human capabilities.

The Dutch seafarer Willem Barentsz discovered Svalbard while searching for the North-east Passage – a sea route to the spice-producing Asian countries – in 1596. There are no traces of humans on the islands prior to Barentsz’s discovery. The discovery of Svalbard and the human entry in the Arctic ecosystem set the stage for 400 years of exploration and exploitation – at times without any constraints – of available resources at sea and on land. Whaling in the 17th and 18th centuries ended in a total collapse of the stock of bowhead whales around Svalbard.

Throughout history, Svalbard was the arena for raw material extraction. Raw materials gained their value as commodities on the international market in Europe. Four hundred years of international activities have left cultural remains that are unique to Norway and that can be regarded world cultural heritage. The exploitation of natural resources and exploration are still the cornerstones of human presence on the islands.

Whale bone at the beach. According to the French Lèonie d’Aunet, 1838, the bones where “white and horrifying remnants of an extinct giant breed in desolated land”. (Image: Arild Lyssand / The Governor of Svalbard ) View of Smeerenburg, 1980. Smeerenburg was the main Dutch whaling station in the first part of the 17th century, when whaling was concentrated in the fjords of Svalbard. Generally, the whaling stations were located close to the whaling grounds in the fjords, had good anchoring and landing conditions, and easy sailing lanes. The latter was very important as the heavy ships of the time were hard to manoeuvre. The tent camp and workmen’s hut from the archaeological investigation of the station in 1980 can be seen in the picture. (Image: Dag Nævestad) Slaughter site for walrus – with nose-chopped walrus skull. (Image: Kristin Prestvold / The Governor of Svalbard)

Whaling in Svalbard (approximately 1600-1750) – the first "oil rush" in Europe

The whaling adventure of Svalbard is a history of courageous men, a quest for excitement and dreams of wealth. In Europe, whale oil was used in soaps, for lighting and in the preparation of textiles and leather.  Baleen was used as ribs in corsets and parasols.

Following Barentsz’s discovery of Svalbard, there were continuous reports of large stocks of whales, seals and walruses around the islands. This coincided with an increasing demand for whale and seal products in Europe. However, the first whalers and ships from Europe headed north some years after the discovery. No European shipping nation was competent or organized for whaling in polar waters. They knew almost nothing about whaling in general. Shipping nations like England and the Netherlands quickly realized the potential of rich resources in the north, but the art of whaling had to be acquired from scratch. Only the Basques had mastered the craft of whaling. For centuries they had been whaling in the Bay of Biscay and along the coast of Labrador. They were crucial to successful whaling in the Arctic. In the beginning they joined as experts and crew on the whaling expeditions up north. To learn the craft, the rest of the crew kept a close eye on the Basques. The year of 1612 marks the start of the systematic whaling industry in Svalbard. England and the Netherlands were the main parties. France, Spain, Germany and Denmark/Norway soon joined in. Profits were high in the European market for whale oil, baleen and walrus tusks.

Within a relatively short time Svalbard became a magnet, attracting vessels north to take part in whaling. Whaling was not free of friction. There was competition and rivalry among the participating countries regarding whaling rights and access to the best hunting grounds. There was also domestic competition and ship owners and trade companies soon monopolized whaling, and acquired royal privileges to exploit whaling grounds and waters off Svalbard. The actors who were not members of the privileged companies were driven away from the whaling areas independent of nationality.

Conditions calmed gradually. An agreement split the whaling grounds between the English and the Dutch, giving the English the rights to hunting south from Magdalenefjorden, and the Dutch gained control of the north-western corner of Spitsbergen. This is where the Dutch established the famous whaling station of Smeerenburg in the years prior to 1620.

Up until the middle of the 17th century whaling took place in summer in the fjords and in near-shore areas, with land-based stations. After the whale was flensed, the blubber was brought to the whaling station and boiled in large copper pots, with whale oil as the final product. In the early years the stations had a temporary appearance with simple, provisional blubber ovens on the beach. All work was concentrated outdoors and temporary structures served as living quarters, storage and workshops. Near the permanent whaling waters there was gradually a change into more permanent shore stations, with solid houses as living quarters, storage and workshops. The vats were placed on top of cemented tryworks that were re-used year after year.

From the middle of the 17th century whales withdrew from the coastal areas of Svalbard, and whaling then concentrated on the open sea and the ice edge. Long after being abandoned, shore stations were still used as emergency harbours, storage for whaling equipment, graveyards and meeting places for the whaling ships in spring and autumn.

Pelagic whaling entailed changes and modifications in equipment, vessels and personnel. As the whale was now caught in open waters and flensed while alongside the vessel, blubber was either rendered onboard or stored in barrels and boiled in the home country.

Whaling sky-rocketed, and gradually it included large parts of the Arctic Ocean and ships from most of Europe’s maritime nations. More ships participated in the hunting, and at the end of the 17th century probably 200-300 whale and seal vessels were out in the ice east of Greenland in summer. The Dutch fleet alone comprised 150-250 vessels, catching 750-1250 whales on an annual basis.

At the beginning of the 17th century reports of large numbers of whales in Svalbard waters started coming in. Captain Pool describes from his Svalbard Expedition in 1612 that whales were so plentiful around the vessels that they virtually had to plough through them. This was all over by the end of the 18th century, when the stock of bowhead whale east and west of Greenland suffered a complete collapse. Years of intensive hunting had almost led this species to extinction. Now whalers returned home almost empty and the western European whaling adventure came to a definitive end.

Remains of a collapsed and overgrown blubber ovenRemains of a collapsed and overgrown blubber oven (tryworks) at the beach in Trygghamna in Isfjorden. The ovens can be difficult to discern. (Image: Guri Dahl / Svalbard Museum) A lonely grave in a cold and beautiful land – the final resting place. (Image: Arild Lyssand / The Governor of Svalbard) A whaler’s grave being forced upwards by of the frost. Slowly, the coffin and its content are exposed. (Image: Arild Lyssand / The Governor of Svalbard)

Cultural remains of the whaling era

The earliest traces of human activity in Svalbard are cultural remains of whalers dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Remains of the early western European whaling mainly consist of blubber ovens, sites, large tent rings and graves. There are also bones at the slaughtering sites for whales and walruses. In between the large structures you may find smaller objects like harpoons, clay pipes and ceramics. About 50 whaling stations are registered in Svalbard from the early times when whaling was still bound to shore-based stations.

The remains of the blubber ovens at the whaling stations can be difficult to discern. At several places remains of blubber ovens may be found as collapsed and overgrown heaps right above the high tide mark. Sea and ice have eroded the constructions for centuries and outlines of the ovens are now in the process of disappearing. Elsewhere, the blubber ovens are show as rings of “blubber cement” or horseshoe-shaped constructions. At some of the ovens the platforms, built to ease the rendering work, are still intact.

Liquid whale oil and remains of food and rubbish has fertilized the ground and nourished lush vegetation. Areas of lush vegetation marking places of former human activity often stand out from the barren landscape on account of their greenness. 

Graves dating from the whaling era are plentiful and comprise the largest category of cultural heritage in Svalbard. Whaling from small boats was risky and dangerous and many lives were lost. In the north-western corner of Spitsbergen there are large burial grounds with several hundred graves from this period. The graves can also be found singly or in small groups.

Graves were dug as deep as the permafrost permitted. Over time frost forces objects up to the surface, exposing graves to weather and winds. The physical wear and tear can be significant, both from natural and human induced processes.

House corner with cogged joints from a Russian settlement. Red bricks burst by the frost can be seen inside the site – the remains of the fireplace. (Image: Kolbein Dahle / The Governor of Svalbard)

Russian trapping (approximately 1700-1850)

When the whalers left, Russian Pomors took control of the archipelago. The Pomor people were trappers and walrus hunters originating in the White Sea area. Experienced with life in cold, hostile environments, they were the first to voluntarily overwinter in Svalbard. Their previous experience was key to their survival in Svalbard, where winter brings months of darkness, where low temperatures are often combined with strong winds, where sea ice covers the fjords from early spring often until June and where the ground is permanently frozen down to 300 m.

Russian overwintering trapping was commercially based and concentrated on profitable products. Winter furs of Arctic fox and polar bear were much sought after. Additionally, walruses, seals and white whales were hunted and eggs and down were collected. The Russians also hunted to sustain the domestic household. Commercially speaking, this was the first exploitation of resources other than whales and walruses.

Russian overwintering trapping started early in the 18th century and lasted until the mid-1800s. The first years were mainly an establishing phase, forming the basis for the main overwintering period between 1720 and 1839. When the Arctic Ocean Monopoly was abolished in Russia in 1768, overwintering trapping rose in Svalbard between 1770 and 1800. After 1800, war in Europe and price drops decreased activities on the islands. The last overwintering took place from 1851 to 1852. Subsequently, the Russian Pomors left Svalbard.

The Pomors were the first to establish trapping stations in year-round operation. The small stations were simple cabins, not exactly spacious. However, some of the large stations established later on during the Russian overwintering era consisted of buildings with different functions such as living quarters, storage and sauna. The sites are easily recognized by the cogged joint construction technique and the vertical-post log construction technique in which horizontal planks were slotted between two bearing posts. Also characteristic is the location of the open fireplace, built in red brick on a sturdy platform. Remains of handicrafts found at the sites bear witness to long winter months, when weather made it impossible to go outside. Among the items found are game pieces, kitchen utensils, trapping contraptions, boat equipment, iron and wooden artefacts, ceramics, textiles and pieces of leather.

Large burial sites are rarely found in relation to the Russian stations. The Pomors had extensive knowledge of how to avoid scurvy and their mortality was substantially lower than for the whalers, and also compared to the later Norwegian trappers. This fact is confirmed by studies of Russian skeletons – they rarely show signs of scurvy, in contrast to what is common for skeletons in west European graves from the whaling era.

Russian Orthodox cross still standing by Murchinsonfjorden on Nordaustlandet. (Image: Kristin Prestvold / The Governor of Svalbard)

Cultural heritage of Russian overwintering trapping

There are 71 Russian trapping stations in Svalbard known today. Many of these were operated year-round. Houses were built with cogged joints and timber or horizontal planks, depending on whether they were living quarters or storage rooms. Building materials were often pre-cut and transported from Russia, but drift-wood was also used. Some of the large stations consist of sites of several houses placed so close to each other that they could almost be considered one building with different rooms, all with different functions. The living quarters were heated with a stove in one of the corners. The unmistakeable red brick of the open fireplace is a true sign of a Russian station. The earlier small stations were built with cogged joints with interiors similar to the large stations. Around the stations are rubbish heaps with bones from birds, fish and other animals.

In proximity to the Russian trapping stations are often found foundations for Russian Orthodox crosses. These large wooden crosses, once erected at numerous places along the coasts of Svalbard, have now fallen down or have been removed, except for two crosses still standing on Nordaustlandet. The Russian Orthodox crosses were most likely erected for a number of reasons, including the need for protection from higher powers, to bring luck in trapping, as grave markers and as territorial markers. The crosses also functioned as navigational signs.

Norwegian overwintering trapping (1800 -)

The first Norwegian overwintering took place from 1794 to 1795, equipped by the Buch trading company in Hammerfest. The expedition had 15 men, four of them Russians who most likely were hired to teach the Norwegians overwintering trapping. The Norwegian trapping was largely based on the same products as Russian trapping. During the first phase of this era mainly walruses, reindeer, fur animals and seals were trapped, along with collection of eggs and down. Around 1830 the walrus population became over-exploited and the overwinterings declined. Up until 1892, 21 overwinterings had been completed, and of these 14 were voluntarily.

Overwintering trapping rose again in the late 19th century and the glory days lasted until the mid-1900s. Up until the evacuation of all inhabitants of Svalbard in 1941, 400 people had overwintered and trapped. The winter pelts of Arctic fox and polar bear were the most valuable commodities, along with eggs and down. Seal and reindeer were also hunted. In the beginning, trapping expeditions were equipped by Tromsø merchants, but this changed as expeditions got smaller and often only consisted of one or two men, who equipped themselves for the expedition. Until 1910 overwintering trapping was concentrated in the southern, western and eastern parts of Svalbard; after 1920 it expanded to include the northern areas of the archipelago.

A trapper’s cabin, now falling to pieces, from the period of Norwegian overwintering trapping on the island of Prins Karls Forland. (Image: Kristin Prestvold / The Governor of Svalbard)

The economic impact of the Norwegian overwintering trapping was minimal and few people were involved. In the years between 1924 and the start of World War II the total value was estimated to be 1.6 million NOK. At the time, the corresponding value of large-scale commercial sealing, which was undertaken from boats from mainland Norway and which left no remains in Svalbard, was 41 million NOK. Despite the low economic value, Norwegian overwintering trapping has drawn plenty of attention, and the attention can be said to have been inversely proportional to the economic impact (Hauan 2005).

Several of the Norwegian hunters and trappers have gained a legendary status in Norway and in polar history. The “Polar Bear King” Henry Rudi, the first female trapper Wanny Woldstad, the gentleman Arthur Oxaas and the great hunter Hilmar Nøis are all familiar names. They all overwintered several seasons – though most only stayed one year – and stayed in areas diverse in resources. Only a minority of hunters and trappers made hunting their chief occupation.

Overwintering hunting/trapping in Svalbard was described as a hard and exhausting life both physically and mentally. Hunters were faced with life-threatening dangers and weeks and months on end in isolation and loneliness, sometimes through the long polar night. There was also some pressure to return with sizeable profits. Masculine qualities were highly valued in this male-dominated line of work. However, women took part in expeditions as early as in 1898, and up to 1941 women’s share of overwinterings was approximately 6 %.

For hunters and trappers, activities were diverse and varied with the time of the year. They trapped fox and polar bear in the wintertime when the quality of the fur was best. Springtime was sealing time, along with time for preparation of the furs for sale. Bird-catching and collection of down and eggs were summer activities and in the autumn they hunted ptarmigan and reindeer. The trappers covered large distances, using networks of main stations and satellite stations. Much of the catch was set aside for their own consumption, but they had to sell the furs, down and reindeer meat to purchase supplies from the mainland or to finance the next overwintering.

Gradually the effectiveness of the equipment endangered some of the stocks. The Svalbard reindeer was protected in 1925 to prevent its extinction, and when the polar bear was protected in 1973 the basis for profitable hunting and trapping was eliminated. However, some trappers and hunters still overwinter in Svalbard today, mainly for recreational purposes.

Interior of the trapper’s cabin at Prins Karls Forland. (Image: Kristin Pestvold / The Governor of Svalbard)

Cultural heritage of Norwegian overwintering trapping

Svalbard still holds many cultural remains from the time of Norwegian overwintering hunting and trapping in the 19th and 20th centuries. A trapper’s area consisted of a main station encompassed by several smaller satellite stations within a walking distance of one-two days. All along the coasts of Svalbard you may find remains such as sites, cabins, graves, trapping contraptions, boats and small artefacts from this era. A characteristic cultural remain from the time is the self-firing gun trap. This ingenious home-made contraption was made of a raised baited box set with a rifle. By sticking its head inside the box to get at the bait and pulling on the bait, which was attached to the gun, the bear would trigger the rifle.

The Norwegian trapper’s cabin is in many aspects similar to the Russian. The Norwegians used iron stoves in the cabins. Building materials could be brought from the mainland, but often they used materials at hand, well in line with the Arctic tradition of reuse of building materials. You can often find small cabins built of over-dimensioned materials from mining installations nearby, combined with pieces fashioned from crates and drift-wood found on the beach. Re-location, re-erection and change of usage are characteristics of most buildings from this era. Many of the cabins have now collapsed, but some are in good repair.

On the ground around the collapsed cabins and inside the ruins are remains from the people who used to live here. There is everything from pieces of glass, rusty nails, cartridge cases and pieces of iron from tools to rusty kettles and pots, coffee cups and plates.

In some places there are also graves associated with the Norwegian trapping stations. Not all survived the Arctic winter. Some succumbed to scurvy and others were unlucky and had accidents.

Virgohamna and the remains of the Wellman gas plant and hangar in what, according to Nansen described as, “…a desolated, ghastly place, …a confined, grisly bay”. (Image: Kristin Prestvold / The Governor of Svalbard)

Adventure and scientific expeditions (1800 -)

The scientific exploration of Svalbard has concentrated largely on the collection of data to describe topography, geology, biology, botany, oceanography, glaciology and climate. The rationale behind the expeditions has alternated over the years, sometimes being purely scientific and at other times politically motivated, economically based or just personally motivated, and sometimes a mix of all of these.

The early whaling expeditions at the start of the 17th century explored the central coastlines of Svalbard to map hunting resources and potential hunting grounds, and added to the knowledge about coastal waters and safe harbours in the area. The maps drawn after these expeditions show that the broad contour of the Svalbard coastline was already known in the late 17th century. Later scientific expeditions based further work on the findings of the whalers.

In the 19th century there was a breakthrough of scientific work in Svalbard and an increasing number of expeditions visited the islands with pure scientific objectives. A number of nations like Norway, Sweden, Russia, France, Germany, Austria and Great Britain were active. The expeditions were carefully planned and collected systematic data of great importance in European academic circles. The results from these expeditions significantly improved the understanding of ocean currents, geological development, the exact shape of the Earth, Arctic animals and plants and their adaptation abilities, the Aurora borealis, global climate, glaciers and landscapes. Up until the turn of the century there was barely a summer without one or another scientific expeditions to Svalbard. The research going on in Svalbard today is founded on long and solid traditions (Arlov 2005).

To the outside world focus was on science. But expedition leaders, participants and sponsors were often just as much motivated by national and economic interests and personal prestige. The Arctic offered a good opportunity to get attention and press coverage, and it was an arena for heroic courage and great deeds. Most people survived the expedition they took part in, some were unlucky and lost their lives in the ice-scape.

The airship mast in Ny-Ålesund, where the Amundsen, Ellsworth and Nobile airship was once moored. (Image: Herdis Lien / Svalbard Museum)

Cultural heritage of adventure and scientific expeditions

Along the coasts of Svalbard there are several remains of scientific expeditions and exploration. In all, 35 installations are categorized as expedition remains and these are some of the most famous cultural heritage sites in Svalbard. Particularly well known are the bases from where explorers tried to reach the North Pole. At Virgohamna you will find the remains from the balloon expeditions of the Swedish Salomon August Andrée in 1896 and 1897. At the same place there are remains of the Walter Wellman Airship Expeditions of 1906, 1907 and 1909. In Ny-Ålesund the mooring mast for the Amundsen, Ellsworth and Nobile airship Norge is still standing. In Isfjorden, Mosselbukta, Sorgfjorden and Murchinsonfjorden there are remains of Swedish scientific expeditions to Svalbard, just to mention some of many.

Steam boiler at the beach in Kvalrossbukta on Bjørnøya island. At the start of the 20th century, it was part of a land-based whaling station. (Image: Kristin Prestvold / The Governor of Svalbard)

Mineral exploitation, mining and industry (1900 -)

At the beginning of the 20th century the Industrial Revolution rolled over Europe. The newly industrialized countries demanded large amounts of raw materials and coal was especially in high demand. The prices for coal became very high and Svalbard was again like a magnet to adventurous people looking for the next huge profit. During the first few decades of the 20th century almost all available land areas were annexed for future mineral exploitation and mining. Svalbard was politically a no-man’s land and at times the occupations and land claims became quite chaotic. The coal deposits were the most interesting, but prospecting for phosphorite, gold, iron, zinc, lead, copper, gypsum, asbestos and marble also took place.

In the years leading up to World War I this activity virtually exploded, creating a Klondike-like atmosphere marked by prospecting, occupations, installations and experimental operations. There was a strong optimism and belief in technical advances during these years and venture capital was readily available. As during the whaling era, it was the market in Europe that decided which resources were worth going for in Svalbard. Grandiose, over-optimistic and based on poorly grounded assumptions, most of the schemes ended after a short trial period. In many cases, the mineral “towns” were built and the facilities were constructed but operations never actually started up. The investments were huge in the establishing phase and the transport of labour to the islands was time-consuming and difficult, while the seasons during which operations were possible were short and hectic. When the venture failed, the installations and production equipment, houses and machinery were left on site due to the high costs of disassembly and transport to the mainland. In many places around Svalbard remains from loading facilities, mining galleries, mine-cart tracks, twisted rail-lines, tractors, drilling equipment and other installations, smithies, workshops, living and dining quarters are silent witnesses to the activity that once took place here. The dreams of quick profits were broken and expectations of wealth vanished.

Refuse and rubbish, lumber and mess from the mining area in Ny-ÅlesundRefuse and rubbish, lumber and mess – and also cultural remains. From the mining area in Ny-Ålesund. (Image: Kristin Prestvold / The Governor of Svalbard)

Industrial cultural heritage

The preservation of remains of 20th century industrial activity in Svalbard poses a special challenge. This activity has left installations of impressive dimensions that are often prominent in the landscape. Some of these made sizeable impacts on the natural landscape and left behind were large amounts of debris. In some instances the remains consist of dangerous toxic substances such as heavy metals, tars and PCBs. The remains can also pose a threat to animals and humans in other ways. In the eyes of many, these remains are rubbish and pollution unworthy of an otherwise pristine and majestic environment like Svalbard’s.

The cultural heritage connected to the mineral exploitation of Svalbard conveys a history. The remains are not necessarily beautiful nor connected to worthy historical events. They spoil the environment and detract from its beauty. Nevertheless, these remains give us an opportunity to ponder Svalbard’s dramatic history and the changing attitudes towards our natural environment.

The cultural remains from the mineral exploitation are situated in the largest fjords on the west coast of the main cluster of islands in Svalbard and on Bjørnøya, the small island south of the main group. Today there are 18 installations with more or less conspicuous remains from mining, among them Ny-London and Skansbukta. In addition, there are installations in the towns that are still mining today: Longyearbyen, Svea and Barentsburg.

War in Svalbard (1941-45)

Svalbard has its own war history. The Germans never occupied the islands. The war in Svalbard was a war about access to weather data and from 1941 the Germans operated several automatic and manned weather stations that were spread around the islands. The Germans started building land-based weather stations after the loss of several of their ships and planes during missions to collect meteorological information. During the winter the stations would be safer against attacks because of the pack ice and the long polar night. The main objective for the weather stations was to collect all types of weather data that the German War Administration considered important for the warfare in Europe. The history, the locations and the cultural heritage left from these weather stations show that weather was the focal point for World War II in Svalbard – a fight for information that was very important in Europe.

In the same year that the Germans established the first weather stations on land, the whole population of Svalbard was evacuated, a decision made by the Norwegian Exile Government in London together with the Allied Forces. Further, all coal already extracted was to be set on fire so as not to fall into the hands of the Germans. During August and September 1941, Norwegians were evacuated to England and Russians to Arkhangelsk.

In 1942 a small Allied unit showed up in Svalbard aboard the vessels Isbjørn and Selis. During operation Fritham, they were to establish themselves in the Isfjorden area. Observed by the Germans, the boats were bombed and sunk in Grønfjorden in Isfjorden. Many lost their lives – among them the leader of the operation: Einar Sverdrup. The rest of the unit established themselves in Barentsburg. For this reason the Germans sent their giant battleships Tirpitz and Scharnhorst to Svalbard in 1943. From these ships Barentsburg, Grumant and Longyearbyen were shelled and set ablaze. Later, a German submarine destroyed Svea and most of the houses in Van Mijenfjorden.

The rest of the war continued quite calmly in Svalbard. A small Norwegian garrison was established in Longyearbyen. They used existing houses and cabins, and erected some themselves. One of them is Fritham, innermost in the valley Todalen. The Germans moved their weather stations further away to avoid being disturbed.

Remains of the German weather station in Signehamna in Krossfjorden. (Image: Guri Dahl / Svalbard Museum) Old, and rusty tin cans and wine bottles in perfect harmony. From the weather station Station Heudegen  in Rijpfjorden on Nordaustlandet. The cans and the bottles should not be removed or destroyed. (Image: Kristin Prestvold / The Governor of Svalbard)

Cultural heritage of World War II

There are several traces of German weather stations. When the Germans evacuated Svalbard in 1945 they set most of their stations on fire. Only one is still standing: Haudegen on Nordaustlandet.

Station Haudegen was established in 1944. As for all the other German stations, the location was carefully picked to keep far away from Allied activity. The station was staffed by 11 men equipped to be self-sufficient for 18 months of isolation. They were not evacuated until September 1945, several months after the war was over. Haudegen was left intact and lots of equipment was left in the station.

The main building and an outbuilding are still standing. Inside the buildings and the area around there are numerous items from the time the station was used. These are protected cultural remains and it is prohibited to touch, remove or destroy them. At the top of the rocky ridge behind the station the remains of the secondary emergency radio station is located. There are four depots and two cairns in the area. Haudegen is a vulnerable site.

The cultural heritage connected to World War II consists mainly of sites of burned houses, cannon placements, cannons and remains of German Junker planes. The plane at Kapp Borthen is the best preserved.

Updated June 2015

The Cruise Handbook is also available in book form

Order now

Hard cover with numerous pictures - 249 pages - NOK 249.00

Norwegian Polar Institute
Fram Centre
NO-9296 Tromsø