American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

War Below Zero; The Battle for Greenland

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  • Publication Year: 1945

War Below Zero; The Battle for Greenland, by Bernt Balchen, Corey Ford and Oliver Lafarge, with a foreword by General H. H. Arnold, 8vo.; 127 pages, with 15 full pages of illustrations from photographs and an end-paper map. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1944. Price $2.00.

Lying inappropriately named, across the top of the world, half within the Arctic Circle, Greenland offered splendid bases from which the Germans could refuel submarines to prey on North Atlantic shipping, launch planes within bombing distance of North Atlantic shores and gauge the future weather of Europe. For us it offered the shortest possible ferry route to England, equally valuable forecasts of European weather, and a testing ground for Arctic equipment for use on other northern fronts. The three parts of this short book give a poignant and breath-taking account of how the Army Air Force, aided by knowledge and experience gained with Byrd in the Antarctic, dealt with these problems and dangers.

In the first section, “Greenland Adventure,” Colonel Balchen, Norwegian-American Arctic flyer, and Major Ford, writer, both of the Army Air Force, give an over-all description of the Battle for Greenland: the establishment by Balchen, with the permission of the Free Danes, of our first base in Greenland, in the summer of 1941; the hazardous rescues undertaken in 1942 and 1943; and the destruction of German bases discovered there in 1943.

Major Lafarge, Historical Officer of the Air Transport Command, in the “Long Wait,” reconstructs from four verbal accounts the heroic and terrible story of the rescue of the crew, or most of it, from a Fortress which crashed on the icecap on November 9, 1942. It was April before the assignment, under Captain Turner and others, was completed.

The book closes with two first-hand accounts: one by a ferry pilot and the other by a member of the Army Air Force Security Expedition which spent nearly nine isolated months at an army weather and rescue station on the icecap. Failing for the most part in impossible rescue attempts, it nevertheless forwarded invaluable data on weather and Arctic equipment. The ferry flight was led to disaster by false radio information which in turn betrayed the presence of Germans on the island.

The unremitting efforts made to rescue the men of the wrecked Fortress are shot through with the attitude expressed by Major Lafarge in the following words: “Wherever our men have been stranded or cast away, there have been the same determined, combined operations to save them. They belong to the armies of that half of the world which believes that all men are valuable and even a single human being is important … It would be regarded more appropriate, one imagines, for the men [of the Axis nations] to have patriotically frozen themselves to death having first arranged their bodies in the form of a chrysanthemum or other appropriate emblem.”

M. H. M.

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