Analysis | German Expedition to Antarctica 1938/39 – Part 1

BOOK ANALYSIS / “Die Deutsche Antarktische expedition 1938/39 – Erster Band | Text Teil”, by Alfred Ritscher

I’d like to apologize in advance for such a long post. All I can say is: if you like the subject or simply enjoy a good “mystery in history”, I’m sure your patience will be rewarded.

The German book on which we’ll be conducting a brief analysis is considered to be one of the most important – to some, the most important – piece of evidence of the existence of a III Reich base in Antarctica. Although frequently mentioned in articles, videos and publications, it was never actually shown before, allowing for a lot of speculation on the matter. The reason I’ll be showing original documents is so that you may make your own research and make up your own mind on the subject.

All the documents and figures are gathered in the bottom, along with details of some of the charts

Its original German title is “Die Deutsche Antarktische expedition 1938/39 – Erster Band | Text Teil”, by Alfred Ritscher. In English, it means “The German Expedition to Antarctica 1938/1939, Volume I, Text section.”

Led by Alfred Ritscher, a Kriegsmarine captain (Fig. 7 and 7.a), this expedition visited the western part of what is now known as Dronning Maud Land. The Kriegsmarine was the German naval high command.


Let’s start with the book’s cover (Fig. 1). It looks harmless enough, wouldn’t you say? It has that propaganda-feel from several publications of the time. Here probably meaning that the expedition made it possible to observe and film penguins in their natural habitat, instead of in some zoo.


Fig. 2 and Fig. 3 show the first pages of the book. I’m not going to address them. The reason they’re shown here is because they often provide elements that allow for further study to those who might be interested.

Slide2 Slide3

It’s in Fig. 5 that this publication shows the “wolf” beneath its “sheep’s clothing”: none other than Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring himself. If you never heard of this man, (you probably should go back to watching photoshoped videos from UFOs. Just kidding. Not really.) you should know he was the second-most powerful man in III Reich Germany, second only to Adolf Hitler, and commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe (air force).


The “sceptics” on these matters (and I mean this in the most respectful way) say:

  • The expedition arose out of concerns within the German government about the future of the German whaling industry.
  • At that time, whaling was an important activity supplying oil, lubricants, glycerine, margarine and other essential products.
  • Germany’s investment in the industry was substantial and its whaling fleet comprised fifty whale-catchers and seven factory ships by the time this expedition took place.
  • A secret expedition was therefore planned to claim a piece of Antarctica for Germany, and to find there a place suitable for a base for the German whaling fleet.

And, apparently, according to Fig. 6, the sceptics are right. The book’s introduction confirms the mission’s goals with little room for misinterpretation. And that could be the end of it.


But is this the right approach? To read such a book and simply take it at “face value”? Let’s take a closer look.

One of the little aspects that caught me by surprise was that, apparently, there were no swastikas in this book. I mean, it’s a 1939 expedition. There were swastikas everywhere in Germany those days. Here, I had to use a magnifying glass to find one (Fig. 11.c). One can only speculate as to why.


Another of the not-so-little aspects I found interesting was the way the name “Hermann Göring” is portrayed (Fig. 5):

  • It’s given a full page
  • It’s the largest font/lettering type used in the book – surely not by “artistic” choice from the publisher but to convey his weight and/or involvement in the matter

This is not a very common thing, if you’re wondering. In my opinion, Hermann Göring’s “big stamp” in this publication indicates his endorsement and represents a valid clue to his personal involvement in the initiative.

So, again, is this the sort of publication we should take at “face value”? That would mean ignoring that this book was published by a regime that:

  • To bypass the Versailles Treaty (1919) that prohibited a German air force – and since there were no limitations in it regarding gliding – soon after his appointment as chancellor (1933), Hitler started a program called the Flieger, within the Hitler Youth organization (HJ). In the early 1930s, gliding became a national sport, encouraged by the Nazi party as a patriotic activity. Thus when Hitler formally announced the creation of the Luftwaffe (1935), a program was in place that was producing recruits with aeronautical experience for the Luftwaffe, the new air force. Its leader: Hermann Göring.
  • Again against the Versailles Treaty, formed the Luftwaffe‍ ’​s Condor Legion (July, 1936) that fought during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). It’s a known fact that the conflict became a testing ground for new doctrines and aircraft. As a result, the Luftwaffe grew to become one of the most sophisticated, technologically advanced and battle-experienced air forces in the world, when war began in Europe in September, 1939. Its leader: Hermann Göring.
  • After the WW2 ended, Hermann Göring was judged for several war crimes, including the plundering and removal to Germany of works of art and other property.

So, basically, we’re talking about taking this book at “face value” and simply forgetting its context, namely the man behind it, Hermann Göring, and the Nazi regime – which would shake hands with diplomats “in one day” and invade their countries “on the next.”, not to mention the horror of the Holocaust. A regime that could be defined by its many “hidden agendas” and deceptive tactics.

So instead of trusting every word these gentleman wrote, perhaps it’d be a wiser move to check if what they were actually doing in Antarctica is 100% consistent with “finding a place suitable for a base for the German whaling fleet”.

Summarizing what we’ve learned so far: In 1939, the same year Germany would start the most global, the most devastating war the world had ever seen, Hermann Göring, the second-most powerful man in the III Reich, sends an expedition, led by a Kriegsmarine captain, to one of the most remote locations in the planet, Antarctica – and the explanation provided for it is securing whale hunting quotas? Now that makes a lot of sense.

When it comes to hiding an agenda, I’d say they did a much better job in hiding air force pilot-training by using gliders and making the best of the Spanish civil war to test their aircraft.

Let’s take a closer look at what the III Reich was doing “down” there. According to the book:

  • By way of aerial photography and dropping markers from airplanes (Fig. 8 and 9), the German mapped, marked and claimed an area of more than 250,000 km2 which they named Neu-Schwabenland (Fig. 11, a. through l.) Just so you have an idea of how much land that is, think Greece, Portugal and Ireland combined. It seems a little too much, considering the goal was to establish “a base for the German whaling fleet” …


  • In this area, they discovered a new mountain range more than 800 km long and 3,000 m high (Fig. 4), about 200 km inland from the coast. Considering they were looking for a place to establish “a base for the German whaling fleet”, unless they had “flying whaling ships” or found a way to get there by sea or underwater: going – at least – 200 km inland (over 120 miles) would be rather pointless and surely off-mission.


  • It is said that the German found “warm lakes” in this expedition. I could probably find evidence of that in this book if I understood German but I don’t, so I can’t honestly say anything about it except that this claim is often dismissed by the sceptics over the fact that there’s no recorded geothermal or seismic activity in Antarctica. Based on this, they say that:
    • Without geothermal activity, keeping a long-term manned base in the region would be unsustainable
    • Without these, the claims regarding long underwater tunnels or rifts that would connect the shore to regions further inland made no sense
    • Without these, the claims over the existence of tall caves underground made no sense


But recent studies show exactly the opposite and these are easy to find. But there’s no need to go all the way to the present to dismiss what the sceptics are saying. In 1947, U.S. Operation Highjump (the subject of the next post in this series), in as early as the first volume of its official report, confirms the existence of warm water in Bunger Lakes. These lakes are a long way from Dronning Maud Land, sure, but this discovery proves nearly irrevocably that there is geothermal activity in Antarctica, contrary to the sceptics’ allegations and, with that, all the aforementioned claims, from long underwater tunnels or rifts to tall underground caves or even the possibility of a full-fledged III Reich base in the region can no longer be summarily dismissed. Quite the contrary, actually. The place seems to be getting more appealing by the year. But we will get to that in the next post.



If this book is not enough evidence of the III Reich’s interest in Antarctica, the next item should shed additional light on the matter. An object as harmless as they come: a German school globe. If you look closely at fig. 14.a, you will see that Neu-Schwabenland is formally represented in Antarctica.


Why is this relevant? It goes to show that Neu-Schwabenland was much more than a territory claimed for whale hunting purposes only. Since it appears in a school globe, this could indicate that, at some point, it was in fact considered a German state, like Hesse, Thuringia, Bavaria or any other of Germany’s 16 states, and taught to German students.


Since the book is not very helpful in establishing an actual motive for the III Reich’s interest in Antarctica, some speculation is required. I hate to speculate because that’s what got us into this disinformation-mess in the first place, constantly bordering the ridicule. This is a subject that deserves to be taken very seriously, as by now you might have begun to realize.

Let’s call it “grounded-speculation” and move on, one small-but-sure step at a time


Germany is one of the most industrialized countries in the world. And so is Japan. But there’s one aspect beyond their control that will always hinder their efforts: the lack of natural resources in their territories, more specifically, natural energy resources. That fact has always been a sort of “bottleneck”, both in hard times and even in the best of times. And, to nations with such high “self-esteem” such as Germany and Japan, knowing that no matter how hard they work, they can never overcome it, has been a humbling and probably even vexing experience.

If you’re wondering why most hybrid cars or experimental energy sources in this context came from Germany and Japan, there’s your answer.

The United States had a similar issue, not because it lacked natural energy resources but because it consumed over 10 times what it had. Hence all the wars in the Middle East, aiding and invading countries which, incidentally, would singe-handily solve all U.S. energy needs (like, say, Iraq). But that was until the early 2000s. Coal Liquefaction is changing all that.

  • COAL LIQUEFACTION is a process that converts coal from a solid state into liquid fuels, usually to provide substitutes for petroleum products. Coal liquefaction processes were first developed in the early part of the 20th century but later application was hindered by the relatively low price and wide availability of crude oil and natural gas. But the tightening of worldwide oil reserves caused the price of oil to escalate, making coal liquefaction a very lucrative option.
  • COAL LIQUEFACTION IN WORLD WAR 2 One of the main methods of direct conversion of coal to liquids by hydrogenation process is the “Bergius Process”, developed by German chemist Friedrich Bergius in 1913 (Nobel Prize for Chemistry 1931). After World War 1 several plants based on this technology were built in Germany. These plants were extensively used during World War 2 to supply Germany with fuel and lubricants.



One of the great advantages in studying past events, when comparing with present events is that you always know what happens next. Or, in the very least, it’s a little easier to find leads based on what you know happened next.

As I said before, there aren’t many clues as for the real motive that lead Germany to put together an Expedition to Antarctica in 1938/1939 and claim a huge piece of that Continent. But, in 1947 – only 8 years later – the U.S. organized operation Highjump with Admiral Byrd acting as Officer-in-Charge of the Project. Highjump’s objectives were widely publicised at the time. Byrd gave an interview (surprisingly, you’ll find it on YouTube) where he explained that Antarctica was very rich in terms of natural resources and specifically used coal as an example.

Let’s make a short stop for a quick assessment on the situation: the year is 1939. Germany is about to initiate a war in that same year that we now know will have several battle fronts. In the beginning, they favoured the “Blitzkrieg” (fast attacks by grounds forces, mainly tanks). If you ran a country that had no natural energy resources – a critical issue even in peaceful times – and you were about to start a war of planetary proportions, with fuel-consuming tanks, battleships, submarines and all sorts of aircraft, thousands of these and on multiple fronts, – not to mention the energy consumed by the factories that produced those vehicles: among all the priorities you would have – and there’d be many in 1939 – what could be the most plausible reason that would lead Germany to Antarctica?

The answer must be energy. Natural energy resources, more specifically. Think for a minute: what else could it be?

Challenge of the day: has anyone bothered to do the math on how much energy (liquid fuel, coal, electricity …) Germany spent during WW2 and, afterwards, managed to establish its provenance accurately? I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a “story” there.

So basically, the only speculation being made here is that it is a possibility that what the III Reich was looking for in Antarctica, at this junction, was to:

  • Find natural energy resources, possibly coal, since they needed it for their war-factories, trains, producing electricity, etc and were already able to turn it into liquid fuel;
  • Gather geothermal activity data: this would be very important when considering maintaining a long-term presence in the territory and the related seismic activity could mean the coal reserves would be found closer to the surface, allowing for easier mining;
  • Establish a base, not for the “German whaling fleet” but dedicated to coal mining. And it would necessarily be a large facility.

This is as far as I will go because I believe there’s simply no more ground for further speculation.


Perhaps you’d like to know that there’s a second book of the same series. It seems to be some sort of Appendix, showing charts and pictures of the German Expedition to Antarctica in 1938/1939. I never found any reference to it anywhere – nor to its tale-telling charts – which has led me to believe that there’s a lot of people, including interested parties, that may never have learned of its existence. It sort of felt like an “answer page”, the kind you find at the end of a child’s playbook.

Its title: “Die Deutsche Antarktische expedition 1938/39 – Erster Band | Bilder | Und Kartenteil”, the last part meaning “Map and picture section.”

I’ll be addressing it in the last post of this series, post nº5, which is affectionately called “The X never marks the spot.”


If this whole story wasn’t challenging enough for you, wrap your head around this:

The German school globe presented earlier, featuring the German “state” of Neu-Schwabenland in Antarctica (Fig. 14 and 14.a.): it’s actually post-war, probably from the 1960s.

Yeah. And to think we’re still warming up.



– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Coming next, on August 27th: Operation Highjump, by the U.S. Navy.

    • “Report of Operation Highjump; U.S. Navy Antarctic Development Project 1947”, by the US Navy. 1947. Washington DC. Brief analysis of all 5 volumes, relevant pages and contextualization.
    • Admiral Byrd’s interview by Lee Van Atta (one of the US reporters on Highjump), newspaper article published in “El Mercurio” (Santiago, Chile), March 5, 1947. Brief newspaper-excerpt analysis, namely on the statements made and contextualization.


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