This article originally appeared on Motherboard.
Before we get into this let's make one thing clear: the secret Nazi UFO base in Antarctica doesn't exist. The Nazis did go to Antarctica, but they didn't stash priceless European art in a subterranean Antarctic lair where they also happened to be developing flying saucers. That would be a totally insane thing to believe.
But as recently as 2016, articles mentioning the possible existence of this very thing can be found in tabloids like The Mirror, which reported on a possible Nazi UFO under Antarctic ice, as well as The Daily Star, which suggested that the Nazi UFO base may have ties to the giant alien ice pyramids under Antarctica.
In the age of Fake News and flat earthers, it's not hard to see how an outlandish idea could retain currency. But it's remarkable persistence over the half century prompted Colin Summerhayes, a prominent marine geologist and oceanographer at Cambridge, to write a 21-page, peer-reviewed paper outlining all the reasons why the Nazis totally didn't build a secret Antarctic base. Published a little over a decade ago in the quarterly academic journal Polar Review, Summerhayes' paper is an interesting survey of the paranoid conspiracy theories that began with a secret Nazi mission to Antarctica in January, 1939.
Months before the outbreak of World War II, Nazi Germany sent a small expedition to Antarctica aboard a vessel called the Schwabenland. According to Summerhayes, the expedition was prompted by German fears about being cut out of the whaling industry by Norway and Britain, which made large claims to portions of the Antarctic continent. So the Nazis launched their own expedition to Antarctica with the intention of claiming some of the seventh continent for themselves and establishing a base for the German whaling fleet there.
Although this would end up being the Nazi's only visit to Antarctica, rumors of a secret Nazi base harboring Hitler and his inner circle near the South Pole began to spread immediately after the end of the war. The occasion of these rumors was the arrival of a German U-boat at an Argentine naval base in July, 1945, two months after the Nazis surrendered. Newspapers around the world picked up a fallacious Argentine news report that the U-boat had carried Hitler and other ranking Nazis out of Germany to the secret base on Antarctica.
The initial report of this rumor, spread by a Hungarian exile Ladislas Szabo who was living in Argentina at the time, was propped up by a book published by Szabo two years later titled (based on, it seems that even the bureau had its suspicions about the escape of the Nazi leader). Szabo's rumors only continued to pick up steam, and eventually in which Hitler did in fact die in a Berlin bunker, but his ashes and other Nazis treasures had been transported to Antarctica where they were stashed in a "very special natural ice cave in the Muhlig-Hofmann Mountains."
Despite the fact that many captured Nazis offered irrefutable evidence to the contrary of these claims, the rumor of Hitler's Antarctic base persisted. This was, in part, due to a covert Antarctic mission carried out by the US military in 1947 called Operation Highjump, as well as the well-documented British military presence in Antarctica throughout the war. According to conspiracy theorists, both the United States and Britain unsuccessfully attacked the secret Nazi base multiple times in the late 40s, but only succeeded in destroying it by dropping three atomic bombs above the base in 1958.
Ultimately, however, Summerhayes isn't convinced. Although he does acknowledge that "there is an element of truth in all these tales," the evidence doesn't seem to add up to a secret Nazi base in Antarctica.
In the first place, there is a pretty exhaustive recap in both German scientific literature and recovered wartime documents of the 1939 expedition to Antarctica. While these documents do outline the marine science and mapping efforts of the mission, there is no indication at all that the Nazis had ever decided on a fitting location for an Antarctic base, much less had begun to build one. As Summerhayes points out, when Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen built a small hut in Antarctica in 1911, it took them 14 days and required the use of 80 dogs.
By contrast, the German expedition was only in Antarctica for a month, and spent most of its time going up and down the coast collecting marine samples and launching planes to do surveying work. There is also no evidence that the ship had motorized equipment or dogs on board, which would've made the task of ferrying supplies around the Antarctic nearly impossible, especially to build a massive underground complex where there were "hangars for strange planes" and bunkers for the development of advanced weaponry.
And what about Operation Highjump, the secret mission launched by the US in Antarctica, supposedly to take out the Nazi base? The largest expedition to ever go to Antarctica, Operation Highjump consisted of 4700 men, 33 aircraft, and 13 ships—which certainly sounds like an invasion of sorts. While this was undoubtedly a military exercise, its stated purpose was to train the US Navy to operate in freezing, polar conditions in preparation for a possible war with the Soviet Union in the Arctic.
Okay, Summerhayes, but how do you explain the Nazi UFOs in Antarctica, huh? These claims, first advanced in UFOs: Nazi Secret Weapon, a 1975 book published by a Canadian neo-nazi publishing house, are derived from baseless reports that four American aircraft were shot down by Nazis during Operation Highjump. This tied in with an esoteric, post-war Nazism described in the 2002 history of occult Nazism, Black Sun, in which "flying saucers were in fact German super-weapons that had been developed and tested during the Third Reich."
According to Black Sun, this technology which was "supposedly shipped to safety in the Arctic, South America, and Antarctica" and "by the late 1970s, neo-Nazi writers were claiming that the 'Last Battalion,' a massive Nazi military force of highly advanced UFOs, was in possession of a vast tract of Antarctica." Despite the claims made in the neo-Nazi tract that American planes were shot down over Antarctica by Nazi flying saucers, Summerhayes concludes "that the idea that Germans defended themselves with flying saucers from a secret base" to be "pure fantasy," if for no other reason than the only plane lost during the American expedition to Antarctica crashed on the other side of the continent from the location of the supposed Nazi base.
Sure, fine. But why drop three atomic bombs on Antarctica if there wasn't Nazis there? Although there were three atmospheric nuclear explosions in the Southern hemisphere 1958, they were not over Antarctica—in fact, they were about 1500 miles north of the continent.
Summerhayes was able to thoroughly debunk the existence of an Antarctic Nazi UFO base, but the fact that the rumor persists a decade later should come as no surprise. In the era of pizzagate and fake news, we know all too well that the seduction of conspiracy will always trap at least a few believers who are willing to accept the apparent absurdity of a story, so long as it means that all the dots are connected.