Inside the Army’s Secret Cold War Ice Base

No, this picture doesn’t show a black and white image of the rebel base on the ice planet Hoth. It’s part of a semi-secret, nuclear-powered U.S. Army base that was built under the Greenland ice cap only 800 miles from the North Pole. The base was officially built to conduct scientific research but the real reason was apparently to test out the feasibility of burying nuclear missiles below the ice under an effort known as Project Iceworm. Remember, Greenland is way closer to Russia than the ICBM fields located in the continental U.S. Rumor has it that the Danish government had no idea that the U.S. was considering installing nuclear missiles on Greenland.

The 200-man base was massive , described by some as an underground city, and consisted of 21 steel-arch covered trenches; the longest of which was 1,100-feet long, 26-feet wide and 26-feet high. These tunnels contained numerous prefabricated buildings that were up to 76-feet long. The base was powered by a portable PM-2A nuclear reactor that produced two megawatts of power for the facility.

In all, the base featured:

Living quarters, a kitchen and mess hall, latrines and showers, a recreation hall and theater, a library and hobby shops, a dispensary, operating room and a ten bed infirmary, a laundry facility, a post exchange, scientific labs, a cold storage warehouse, storage tanks, a communications center, equipment and maintenance shops, supply rooms and storage areas, a nuclear power plant, a standby diesel-electric power plant, administrative buildings, utility buildings, a chapel and a barbershop.

The base operated from 1959 to 1966 when shifting icecap made living there impossible. Today, it’s buried and crushed beneath the Arctic snows.

Click through the jump to see more pictures of the base and to watch a great video on its construction. The last photo shows a map of the base’s location in Greenland.

One of the base’s 16 escape hatches onto the surface of Hoth, I mean Greenland.
One of the prefab buildings inside the tunnels of Camp Century.
Under construction.
The base water well, dug 150-feet into the ice where a heating coil then melted ice for fresh drinking water.
The nuclear reactor.
The reactor controls
Camp Century in 1969, three years after it was abandoned.
The base’s layout.
The location of Camp Century.
Click here to learn more about the base.

58 Comments on "Inside the Army’s Secret Cold War Ice Base"

  1. Pretty sure nobody is going to try UrbEx'ing…

  2. Ohhhh Waoooooo…awesome

  3. All of the hidden/unknown things that happened in the Cold War era are so damn interesting!

  4. Where did they hide the ion cannon?

  5. Interesting idea but too bad the ice destroyed so much wonder whats left???

  6. I guess we know where Alistair MacLean got the idea for Ice Station Zebra. And I hope (and I'm sure the Danes do as well) that we packed up the reactor and took it home with us before we abandoned the base!

  7. Everything was fine with this base until AT-ATs launched an attack.

  8. Where is the Rebel Base?

  9. COST?

  10. This like James Bond /SPECTRE type stuff. Like "You only live twice" & the Rocket base in a Japanese Volcano. How come we can build a nuclear powered Ice base in the 1950's; Yet, in 2012 No World Trade Center replacement still????

  11. stephen russell | April 6, 2012 at 8:20 pm | Reply

    Love to renovate & make into a Cold War Hotel alone.
    & acess Canada from base too & have Ice tunnel for nuclear sub to enter city port for under ice tours. Awesome IF renovated using prefab modules.
    Radical,
    $$$$$$

  12. Richard O'Brien | April 6, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Reply

    DEW: Distant Early Warning Line
    BMEW: Ballistic Missile Early Warning Line (PAVPAWS).
    Last time I checked, Russia had 10,000 nuclear weapons designed to strike the U.S. and her Allies (Bulletin of Atomic Scientists). China has not the commonly circulated 300 but 3,000 nukes. With Russia, these numbers are comparable to 1960s levels. The Grand Illusion, the Great Myth, is that there was an "End to the Cold War". With the unilateral disarmament of the West, you may very well discover the Muslim Turks or Russians steam rolling through Western Europe to the English Channel within weeks.

  13. This was on the history channel a few years back. The movie clips were awesome and the story was more in depth.

  14. My uncle worked on the portable reactor, U-Illinois Physics grad, used to tell us stories of his time under the ice as a young physicist.

  15. Today with the melting of ice , this will be so dangerous .

  16. http://gombessa.tripod.com/scienceleadstheway/id9

    Amusingly, Boy Scouts went to Camp Century.

  17. wasnt there underground airwing space also I remember landing there after Marine corp arctic missions

  18. Can you say secret underground Behive…from Resident Evil…the Zombie Apacylips lmao

  19. Awesome pics and article! Kudos.

  20. I wood not like to be the one to have to live in that for 1 or 2 year.

  21. Imagine what the DUMBS look like now.

  22. Now you said, it's not secret anymore, is it?

  23. HUM !, This makes me WONDER about the story of undersea floating missle launchers that the USSR reportedly had off the EAST COAST, near the deep water. Part of this was believed to be to produce a type of tidal wave. TRUE ?, you tell me. Possible, in that day and time, (60's,70's) I doubt it, but truth is OFTEN stanger than fiction.

  24. Thank God I got orders to W. Germany in the fall of '62 just before the Cuban Missile Crisis got going! I spent 30 months there at two helicopter bases, with great off duty fun…Frankfurt and later Stuttgart had some great beerhalls and pubs. This Greenland site is astounding….I wonder what other former "secrets" of the Cold War are out there.

  25. Infidel4LIFE | April 9, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Reply

    No women? No whiskey? Damn wat do you do 4 fun? I would go stir crazy. How bout YOU?

  26. Semi-sweet I remember reading a book entitled Genesis about the flying saucer developement by the Nazis that was transported to South America in subs before the allies found the base and later took that developemnet down into the Antarctic under the ice cap. Great book and a lot more to it than this.

  27. I worked at Century during the Spring of ~1967 studying the properties of polar snow of varying densities as exposed in the inclined drift (CRREL Research Report 276). The under-snow camp had been abandoned in 1966 as the result of creep closure problems so we lived on the surface. However the old camp was still accessable and Austin Kovacs took me on a tour of the old facilities. We were able to access the reactor site and look down into the melt well. Closure there was extreme presumably as the result of the thermal effect of the reactor. In 1969 Kovacs returned to Century and photographically documented the state of the under ice camp (see CRREL Special Report 150). Deformation was extreme. That may have been the last time anyone accessed the old camp. I would guess that access today would be impossible. I do not know exactly when the reactor was removed but it probably was prior to 1965. In 67 nothing remained. As far as this being an environmental threat, forget it !! To the best of my knowledge there has never been an adequate historical account of the US military research activities during the late 50s and 60s in NW Greenland. Although in hindsight some of these activities were totally WHACKY, we definitely learned a lot about the difficulties encountered when operating in such locations.
    W. F. Weeks
    Wiily Weeks

  28. I worked at Century during the Spring of ~1967 studying the properties of polar snow of varying densities as exposed in the inclined drift (CRREL Research Report 276). The under-snow camp had been abandoned in 1966 as the result of creep closure problems so we lived on the surface. However the old camp was still accessable and Austin Kovacs took me on a tour of the old facilities. We were able to access the reactor site and look down into the melt well. Closure there was extreme presumably as the result of the thermal effect of the reactor. In 1969 Kovacs returned to Century and photographically documented the state of the under ice camp (see CRREL Special Report 150). Deformation was extreme. That may have been the last time anyone accessed the old camp. I would guess that access today would be impossible. I do not know exactly when the reactor was removed but it probably was prior to 1965. In 67 nothing remained. As far as this being an environmental threat

  29. What the hell happened to the Nuclear reactor?

  30. Nothing secret about it. I recall reading a magazine article (National Geographic, IIRC) when I was young.

  31. How come we could build and hide a nuclear reactor under the ice in Greenland, but can't build one today anywhere in the US to power our cities and our homes? WTF people, it's the 21st century!! Nuclear power is the answer to many of our problems!

  32. while serving in the us army, 2nd photo platoon, i was assigned to shoot camp century on greenland's ice. was there four months, May to September of 1959. when we arrived at the site a temporary camp was set up and then using peter snow millers, digging the main trench and then the latteral trenches. when we left the ice cap, the atomic reacter trench was completed..only regret was i did not see it in its completion.

  33. Wait, U sure that is under the ice and not on the Moon?

  34. gary mathena | April 17, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Reply

    commander, prepare your forces for a ground assault!!!!!! Yes, lord vader.

  35. Amazing.

  36. William R. Detrick | April 21, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Reply

    This is amazing, even today…2012

  37. Wow! And, I was TDY to Thule Air Base in 1957 for Air Force survival training. Still have not lost the memory of the November cold and total outside darkness.

  38. My uSAF tenure in Thule was 62-63 and heard much about the base buried unde the Greenland ice cap. Isaw the tractor trains orange painted that visited Thule proper and picked up on supplies, parts, and other necessities to sustain life beneath the ice. There is also an article entitled "Our Secret Base Unde the Ice Cap" by author bruce Jacobs but unable to I.D. the magazine; the format and layout is of a U.S. large format magazine from yesteryear, i.e., Look, Colliers, Saturday Evening Post, etc. A fascinating engineering project. Another article entitled "Subways Under the Ice" is by James J. Haggert, Jr. appearing in Collier's May 11, 1956 Editon. It suggests even further expansion of the original plan s for under the ice aircraft and missile bases.

  39. So they just left all their rubbish to be crushed under the pristine environment, typical US

  40. Camps Tuto, Century and Fistclench look like they are located in the same sites that a group to which I was attached set up in 1953. We went out by snow tractors aided by celestial navigation and spent 4 months on the Icecap. Quite an experience for a 20 year old. They pulled us off the day the Korean peace accord was signed. A very happy day all the way around.

  41. Just when you thought it was safe to come in from the cold….the cold….

  42. Classic example of the nonsense spawned by a military with too myuch money and too few ideas.

  43. SGM Bob Shakour | February 2, 2014 at 3:45 pm | Reply

    Served two winter tours (60-61 & 61-62) assigned to the PM-2A Crew. The plant
    was retrograded to Idaho (hot skids)and Pennsylvania.(clean skids). Only the
    digital clock from the Control Console ended up in Ft Belvoir, in the SM-1 Nuclear
    Instrument Panel. I was in the Army Nuclear Power Program for nineteen years.

  44. cyril boudreaux | March 27, 2014 at 7:00 am | Reply

    I was there in 1964, it was a desert like place. no trees, girls. I delivered mail to century, a pilot and myself almost got done in by some strong cross winds and only through his skill am I here today Our small plane was blown all over. my unit was 46th eng bn const.

  45. My dad was there. I have some awesome photos of that place. Like it or not it was an incredible accomplishment. There would be storms there with wind speeds so high it would pick up the heaviest poles and equipment and fly them across the base. Have photos of the hidden missiles that were pointed at cuba, too.

  46. this is what I call CCCOOOOOLLLLDDDDDD WAR !!!
    Freezing to the bone, just to live the arctic penguin's romance

  47. Yellowcar-I remember assemplying panels of insulated units. They were
    tinfoil tared and insulated wood frames . Size about 3 by 8 feet and about 5 inches thick. This was in Hamilton Ontario the summer of 1956. Guess they were made for Arctic use .

  48. Robert h. read | November 26, 2014 at 9:15 pm | Reply

    Interesting. I lived in camp century for 182 days in 1963. I was a medical tech and slept in the medical building. This was hard duty. Nothing to do. We had a library, movies, and a bar. Every once in a while we would go topside to break up the boredom. I did two other tours to greenland both to camp tutto which was at the beginning of the ice cap. The camp was made up of prefabricated buildings and supported camp century. Camp tutto was about twenty five miles fromy Thule air force base. When I was not in greenland I was stationed at Fort belvoir in virginia. I was assigned to research support group. Being in greenland was better than being in Vietnam especially being a medic. Robert read

  49. francis ahearn | December 6, 2014 at 2:01 pm | Reply

    i was at camp tuto with the 1st. arctic task force in 1956 and1957. we had a base on the ice cape and called it SITE 2. that was also under the ice. our company also built the ramp road to get on the ice cap.

  50. First thing I thought was that is not going to last long and I was right.
    I wonder if it was expect to last and I think it was or they would not have used a reactor.

  51. my Dad was at Camp Century in 1953

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  53. Restored Video of construction of Camp Century
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Ujx_pND9wg

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