Storytime with KBC: Operation Highjump
Classes are back in session at Pacific Northwest University, and you know what that means. Students! Students with questions. Questions that I’m supposed to have answers to, despite the fact that the subject I teach won’t actually be invented for another seventy years. I’ve got office hours right now, so I’m currently hiding under my desk, typing veeeeeery quietly and hoping this Freshman will decide I’m not coming back and just leave. I might as well use this time to tell you folks a story.
In August of 1946, the U.S. Navy invaded Antarctica. Led by famous not-quite-polar explorer Rear Admiral Richard Byrd, 4700 men, 13 ships, and 29 aircraft were sent to the frozen southern continent in the largest Antarctic expedition in history. Which leads one to ask, “What the…seriously?!”
Seriously. But why would the U.S. devote so many resources to storming the beachheads of an unoccupied continent of icy nothingness? Did they suspect penguins of being communist sympathizers? Sadly no. As much as I might distrust those filthy, tuxedoed fishguzzlers, the Official Explanation™ for the expedition was to practice warfare in an arctic environment. Makes sense…I guess. What with the Cold War looming on the horizon and all. So I guess that’s the end of the story, right?
Of course not! And not just because I get paid by the word for these things! Let’s jump back about a decade to Nazi Germany. Heinrich Himmler is head of the Schutzstaffel and a high muckity-muck in the Nazi Party. He’s also WAY into mysticism and the occult. It’s these more esoteric interests that bring him to the attention of the Thule Society. They’re an offshoot of the Order of the Infernal Scepter—the Brotherhood’s counterparts on the side of Evil. The Order’s not around anymore these days, but back then they were at the height of their power. It’d still be a few years before the whole organization ate its own tail and imploded. The Thule Society’s made up of powerful mystics and mages with a vested interest in spreading the more vile aspects of Nazi philosophy, and some very specific goals that we’ll get to later. And Himmler’s got the connections they need.
Working with the Thule Society, Himmler establishes the Ahnenerbe, an archaeological institution that sends expeditions around the globe to uncover cultural relics of the Aryan race. So now you’ve got Nazi scientists combing France and Spain for the Holy Grail, while others are hiking through the Himalayas searching for the fabled land of Shambhala. Your typical Indiana Jones-y stuff (Ugh, don’t get me started on Lucas and that fedora flaunting forgery). And then, you’ve got Neuschwabenland.
In January of 1939, the MS Schwabenland arrives off the coast of Queen Maud Land and the Ahnenerbe-led crew wastes no time. They’ve barely managed to plant their swastiky flag before they’re off surveying the area. Over the next four weeks they make fifteen survey flights around the region and take over 16,000 aerial photos. Of Antarctica. Why Antarctica? It’s just a bunch of snow and ice! What’s so goddamn special about Antarctica? Was Hitler a secret tundra fetishist or something? No comment, but the fact is, the Nazis, and by extension the Thule Society, have no interest in the surface of the continent. Their interests lay on the other side.
Let’s jump back a bit further. In 1871, Edward Bulwer-Lytton anonymously publishes a novel titled Vril, the Power of the Coming Race. In it, he describes the Vril-ya, a subterranean master race who have formed a Utopian society within the Hollow Earth. “Hollow Earth again?” I hear you say. “This guy’s out of ideas already!” You’re not wrong. Anyway, according to the book, the Vril-ya have mastered a form of energy called “Vril,” (creative!) which possesses nearly unlimited powers of creation and destruction. The novel finds an enthusiastic audience among the theosophists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some of whom are convinced that Bulwer-Lytton’s work is not entirely fiction; that he has tapped into some innate, secret truth about the world. It’s a belief shared by the founding members of the Thule Society, but actually pursuing these beliefs is out of the question. Sure, wielding the power of Vril would transform the Thule Society into an unstoppable juggernaut, but to actually venture into the Hollow Earth? An undertaking of that magnitude would require incredible resources. Or at least a backer with incredible resources and a willingness to spend huge piles of money on really weird $#&@.
And so we’re back to 1939 where the Nazis use their survey data of the Queen Maud Land coastline to build a secret, underground base accessible only by U-boat. Dubbed Neuschwabenland, this base will be the foundation for the Thule Society’s true mission: to drill into the Hollow Earth, make contact with the Vril-ya master race, and tap into the power of Vril for the glory of…well, pretty much just themselves. They’re not really looking to share the stuff.
In 1945, as the war draws to a close, the surviving members of the Thule Society and a handful of their Ahnenerbe helpers escape Germany via U-boat and make their way to Neuschwabenland. Some even say Hitler faked his death and managed to escape along with them. Bull$#&@! Everyone knows how Hitler died: crushed to death by the ponderous bulk of his mechanized battle armor in the catacombs beneath Castle Wolfenstein. Anyway, the Thulians arrive to find that progress on their little project has been…not so great. Turns out the Earth’s crust is, like, SUPER thick you guys! Six years of drilling and they’ve barely made a dent. But it’s like the turtle says—slow and steady dooms the human race. These guys are in it for the long haul, so what’s another couple decades of drilling compared to the limitless powers of the Vril?
Which brings us back to Operation Highjump. The REAL Operation Highjump: a coordinated assault on a secret Nazi outpost hidden beneath the Antarctic ice housing fugitive Nazi officers and powerful, unconventional weaponry. The Brotherhood, having learned of the Thule Society and their plans from a captured Order agent, informed their contacts in the U.S. military of the Neuschwabenland base. They didn’t want the details; all they needed to hear was “Secret Nazis” and they were already loading the boats.
The Thule Society put up a surprisingly effective defense. Despite the Navy’s overwhelming numbers, the natural fortifications of the Neuschwabenland base—with its narrow, stone corridors and single, underwater entrance—worked against them. Casualties were few, and neither side managed to gain any headway. Ultimately, Byrd ordered his men to place charges and withdraw. The explosion sealed off the entrance to the base, trapping the Thule Society inside. Theoretically, it also destroyed their mining equipment, though there’s no way to be sure of that. Although the fact that it’s 2014 and we’re not bowing at the feet of Vril-wielding Übermenschen is a clue that it probably worked.
You know, it’s funny. If they’d just gone to the South Pole instead of trying to drill through the damn planet, they could have just WALKED into the Hollow Earth. The cave systems down there lead straight to—ooh, hey! I heard a chair squeak and some muttered profanity. I think the Freshman just stormed off. About damn time too! It’s cramped as hell under here and my neck is killing me. Better give it a ten count just to make sure. Oh man, my feet are asleep. This is gonna tingle! Until next time, folks!