The Secret German Weather Station in Labrador

Weather station WFL-26, erected ashore in Martin Bay, Labrador, October 23, 1943. Archives (photos and documents) CWM 20030149-001_5 George Metcalf Archival Collection Canadian War Museum
U-537 in Martin Bay, October 22, 1943. German U-boat Museum, Cuxhaven-Altenbruch
For the week of October 19, 2020.

On October 22, 1943, the German submarine U-537 arrived in Martin Bay, near the northern tip of Labrador, to deploy the WFL-26 “Kurt” weather station. Germany set up many weather stations during the Second World War to help their military operations, but Kurt was the only one in North America.

The German navy needed accurate weather reports to guide its submarines during the Battle of the Atlantic. These submarines, known as U-boats, tried to disrupt Allied supply lines by destroying convoys of merchant ships as they sailed from North America to Great Britain. The Germans were able to monitor conditions in the eastern Atlantic, but weather systems generally moved from west to east, which meant that the Germans needed a weather station in North America to better forecast conditions over the ocean.

U-537, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Peter Schrewe, sailed from Norway on September 30, 1943, with the mission of establishing a weather station in North America. The U-boat carried WFL-26 “Kurt,” an automated weather station consisting of an antenna and a series of metal cylinders. Each cylinder was about one metre high, weighed 100 kilograms, and contained instruments for recording temperature, humidity, and wind speed, along with a battery-powered transmitter.

In late October, U-537 anchored in Martin Bay. This was an ideal location for the secret operation, as it was isolated enough to avoid discovery, but south of dangerous sea ice. Schrewe assigned armed guards to keep watch as his crew worked through the night of October 22-23 to install the weather station on the nearby Hutton peninsula. To convince anyone who might stumble upon the site that it was built by the Allies, one of the cylinders had been labelled “Canadian Meteor Service,” a non-existent organization. The crew also littered the ground with American cigarette packages once they finished installing the station. After testing was completed, U-537 left Labrador on October 23.

The weather station transmitted for about two weeks before ¬U-537 reported its frequency had been jammed by an unknown source. After the war, the station’s presence remained mostly unknown until researchers rediscovered it in the late 1970s. Recovered during a Coast Guard expedition in 1981, the restored WFL-26 “Kurt” weather station is now part of the collection of the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario.

The Battle of the Atlantic is a designated national historic event. The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) advises the Government of Canada on the commemoration of National Historic Events, which evoke significant moments, episodes, movements, or experiences in the history of Canada.

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