Monday, May 06, 2013

Nazi Weather Radio

It had been non-functional for decades but it was actually still there four decades later waiting to be found. It turns out that in WWII the Nazis had installed an unmanned weather station in Canada and we only discovered it in 1981. More here.

In an era before GPS, weather satellites and NOAA the weather stations were crucial to ships at sea. In wartime, doubly so with the additional hazards. In WWII the Nazis began installing manned and unmanned weather stations along the North Atlantic. But none were known to be in North America until this one was discovered. The station was only known to a few German sailors and scientists. We can thank Franz Selinger for digging up this scrap of radio history. More here.

In the late 1970s a retired engineer named Franz Selinger decided to write a history of the German weather service.  While doing research for that book, he began to look into the work of Siemens who manufactured the Wetter-Funkgerät. He acquired the personal papers of Dr. Kurt Sommermeyer who had installed unmanned weather stations. Among Dr. Sommermeyer's papers he found photographs of one weather station which looked unlike the others.  He was able to determine that it was along the Labrador coast.

In 1980 he wrote to W.A.B. Douglas, the official historian of the Canadian armed forces (CF). With that inquiry Douglas and the Canadian Coast Guard sought and found the remains of the weather station. It was rusted, parts were missing, but the canisters, tripod and mast, and batteries was left to confidently identify it. The had found Wetter-Funkgerät Land-26 (WFL) codenamed "Kurt". It is now on display at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

Before the elements damaged it, the Wetter-Funkgerät consisted of various measuring instruments including telemetry meters, and anemometers. It used a 150-watt Lorenz 150 FK-.type transmitter, ten nickel-cadmium and dry-cell high-voltage canister batteries, and a 33-foot antenna on a tripod base. Those batteries weighed 220 lbs each. It was designed by Dr. Ernest Ploetze and Edwin Stoebe at Siemens. The Wetter-Funkgerät broadcast readings on 3940 kHz every three hours starting in September of 1943. In ideal conditions it could have kept operating for 6 months, but one source indicates that it's signals were jammed within just a few days.