Neu-Schwabenland: The last German colony (via Strange Maps)

Ever since it achieved unification in 1871, Germany craved colonies as a matter of national pride. But by the late nineteenth century, most of the ‘uncivilised world’ was already carved up by established European powers. In an eleventh-hour effort, the German Empire acquired a few scraps of Africa and Asia – mainly wild or empty lands nobody else wanted. And even this colonial empire, with the bits few and far between, was taken away after Germany’s defeat in the First World War.
The revanchist mood that swept the Nazis into power in the early nineteen thirties also revived Germany’s by now totally outdated colonial ambitions. Those were turned to the last great area of the globe that was not yet colonized: Antarctica – big, cold and empty. At the beginning of 1939, a Nazi expedition explored a hitherto uncharted area of the Antarctic. By foot and plane, the Nazis surveyed an area between latitudes 69°10’ S and 76°30’ S and longitudes 11°30 W and 20°00’ E, totaling 600.000 sq. km. They called it Neuschwabenland, or New Swabia.
At first glance, Neuschwabenland doesn’t warrant much enthusiasm. Most of it is covered in eternal snow and ice, with only a few places ice-free, mainly around a few hot springs. Yet annexation was an express purpose of the expedition, led by captain Alfred Ritscher, ordered by Hermann Göring himself. Before leaving, the expedition members received practical advice from Richard E. Byrd, an American admiral and experienced polar explorer.
The German airline Lufthansa lent one of its ships, the ‘Schwabenland’ for the expedition – hence the name that was given to the territory. The vessel was a so-called ‘catapult ship’, having before proved itself as a transporter and postal carrier in the South Atlantic. The ‘Schwabenland’ had two Dornier aircraft on board, named Boreas and Passat. A steam catapult was used in flinging the planes, each weighing 10 tonnes, off the ship.
The planes were used for reconnaissance flights over the impassable hinterland of the heretofore unexplored part of Antarctica, and were thus instrumental in the German Antarctic Expedition. Each plane could stay in the air for a maximum of nine hours and no inland airfields were constructed, so this provided the outer limit for the area to be explored.
In total, 350.000 sq. km were overflown and more than 11.000 photographs taken during 15 flights. These pictures were used in drawing up a map of the territory. During the flights and expeditions on foot, hundreds of Nazi German flags were dropped to symbolize Germany’s possession of the territory. Additionally, the expedition established a provisory base camp and reported that around the so-called Schirmacher See there existed some vegetation, due to the hot springs near the lake.
Capt. Schirmer was prevented from mounting a second, improved expedition by the outbreak of World War Two. During the war, no official activities were registered in the whole of Antarctica. After the war, Norway assumed a protectorate over the area, annexing it to Queen Maud Land. Following the 1957 Antarctic Treaty (the one ‘freezing’ all territorial claims), Norway named its new acquisition after princesses Martha, Raghnild and Astrid.
In 1952, the government of the new Federal Republic of Germany exercised its right, based on the Nazi exploration, to name geographical features in the area.  The German polar research station ‘Georg von Neumayer’ is located in what was formerly known as Neuschwabenland. Thus endeth the official version.
A plethora of rumours maintains that Neuschwabenland wasn’t abandoned by the Nazis after the first expedition. In fact, a few crew members of the ‘Schwabenland’ stated that they made several trips to the Nazis’ Antarctic colony, transporting military equipment and heavy tools for mining and tunneling. This must be the origin of the legend that several submarines filled with top-level Nazis fled Europe as the war was ending, finding refuge in a secret network of underground bunkers in Neuschwabenland.
Some stories even maintain that this little Nazi hideaway is the real origin of UFOs (or rather Reichsflugscheiben) – as they really are a German invention rather than an extraterrestrial one.

From the excellent Weblog Strange Maps
Original article here

Plotting Vineland: the Skálholt Map (Strange Maps weblog)

Strange Maps is a weblog specializing in strange maps. This post concerns a possibly forged map of Vinland, or North America as it is now commonly called. This informative and inspiring weblog is highly recommended.

The Vikings set foot in America just over a millennium ago, but credit for the discovery generally goes to Columbus, who only stumbled upon the New World almost 500 years later. One reason might be that the Norse involvement in North America was brief and inconsequential, whereas Columbus’ rediscovery led to the European conquest of the Americas. Another is that the Norse discoverers didn’t leave behind any maps of the lands they called Markland, Helluland and Vinland (*).

But if the Vikings didn’t map their discoveries, they did relate them in sagas. These later did form the basis for maps, the most famous of which is the Vinland Map. Reputedly a 15th-century copy of a 13th-century original, that map, now in the possession of Yale University, is likely to be a clever, relatively recent forgery (see #57 for a more thorough discussion).

The Skálholt Map, shown here, is less well known, but has the advantage of being authentic. The first version was made in 1570 by Sigurd Stefánsson, a teacher in Skálholt, then an important religious and educational centre on Iceland. Stefánsson attempted to plot the American locations mentioned in the Vinland Saga on a map of the North Atlantic. Stefánsson’s original is lost; this copy dates from 1669, and was included in description of Iceland by Biørn Jonsen of Skarsaa.

The map mixes real, fictional and rumoured geography. In its southeast corner, the map shows Irland and Britannia, and to the north of both the Orcades (Orkney Islands), Hetland (Shetland Islands), Feroe (Faroe Islands), Island (Iceland) and Frisland, a particularly persistent phantom island discussed earlier on this blog (#62).

The northeast part of the map shows the mainland of Norvegia (Norway) and to its north Biarmaland (the semi-mythical Bjarmia, possibly the area of present-day Archangelsk). On the top part of the map are situated the wholly fictional lands of Iotunheimar (Jotunheim, in Norse mythology the home of the giants) and Riseland (another land of titans), with attached to it Gronlandia (Greenland), its flowing coastline resembling the lobed margins of an oak leaf.

In the Mare Glaciale (Ice Sea) in the north is Narve Oe, possibly translatable as the Island of Narfi (the father of Nott, the night). Two place names, both on Greenland, are illegible.

Greenland is of course an island, but was considered by the Vikings to be a huge peninsula of a contiguous northern mainland, that continued to America, where are noted Helleland, Markland and Skraelingeland (after the Viking name for the natives). Marked vertically on the map’s southwestern edge is the name Promontorium Winlandiae (Promontory of Vinland).

In a development that would have pleased Stefánsson, the Skálholt Map has helped determine the actual location of a Norse site in North America. The map indicates that the northern tip of Vinland is on somewhat the same latitude as the southern coast of Ireland (app. 51°N). This encouraged the excavations at L’Anse-aux-Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland, which in 1960 yielded the first archaeological evidence of Viking presence in America.

This map was taken from this page at the Kongelige Bibliothek, the Danish Royal Library. The vignette, in Latin, refers to the original map by Siurdus Stephanius (Sigurd Stefánsson). The numbers on the map match the legends (A to H) next to the map, also in Latin. Can anyone provide a translation?


(*) Generally translated as Flatstone Land, Wood Land and Grapevine Land, respectively.

Original article here