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.
  • blight_

    Pretty sure nobody is going to try UrbEx’ing…

  • Rohan

    Ohhhh Waoooooo…awesome

  • Pat

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

    • FormerDirtDart

      its not all that hidden/unknown, at least not for the last 15 years.

  • Guest A

    Where did they hide the ion cannon?

    • jamFRIDGE

      Or the shield generator?

    • UAVgeek

      You get to it via the South Entrance.

  • Lance

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

    • bumpkin

      Absolutely TONS and TONS of Litter, I will bet. Darmed litterbugs! They ought to be made to completely clean it up. I totally cannot imagine the Danes having to wipe the backside of the US Army. We ought to be ‘better’ than to leave a mess for others. Something tells me that since the shifting ice crushed the base, that digging every piece out of the ice was too dangerous, and was not fully accomplished by anyone yet. Suppose there is still a nuclear power plant crushed down there?… I would LOVE to hear from the Danes on the mess that is left. I swear, I have NEVER known a man who could clean up his mess completely. –OMIGOSH! I’ll bet THAT is exactly why our military finally allowed women into the fighting ranks! Clean-up on Foxhole Twelve! Mommy!

  • A. Nonymous

    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!

    • Markus

      Im pretty sure that they mightve but they left alot of mteal and wood back there so im not sure.

  • dimeck

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

    • Johnny Ranger

      Hahaha!!! Awesome! I was thinking the same thing!!!!

    • spongceaik

      oh my god the communists have AT-ATs we’re all screwed

    • UAVgeek

      Damn that General Veers.

  • Kilo70

    Where is the Rebel Base?

    • Guest A

      Somewhere on the third planet in the Hoth system…

  • jamesb

    COST?

    • Poopy

      Who cares we’re the government!

    • Commie Must DIE

      Are you some kind of pinko commie! NO COST WAS TOO HIGH! LOL

    • jake

      total original cost was about ……9,000,000………quite reasonable considering the power plant cost was about 5 million of the total. however maintenence of the site over 6 years increased the overall price by a few million.

  • tiger

    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????

    • EW3

      Leadership.

    • Anonymous

      How come we can build nuclear powered ice bases in the 1950’s; Yet, in 2012 we can’t have universal healthcare in a 1st world country?

      • passingby

        It’s because contrary to public illusion, the US government is NOT a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

        • jamFRIDGE

          Because “if you don’t work, you don’t eat.” Capitalism. You want everything given to you, go to a socialist country

          • passingby

            You don’t know what you are talking about. (obviously a victim of the mainstream media)

            The US is a socialist country !!!!!! (e.g. taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich — wrong direction, granted, but still socialist in nature).

            In some respects, the US is a communist country (e.g. distributing gambling losses of the incompetent, reckless banking corporations to the masses).

            If you want real capitalism, go to China.

          • UAVgeek

            Socialisim means that the government or the state actually OWNS the means of production, rarely is that the case anywhere in America no matter what the industry.

      • blight_

        It was around this time we sent the Triton around the world…

      • The Bear

        You mean like in Europe, where health care comes down to the smallest common denominator, and where, if you want the top notch, really good stuff, you have to pay for it yourself anyway?

        Despite of what American liberals may think, healthcare in the EU has massive issues by now. All countries are bankrupt (yeah, they are, every country has a rising national debt thanks to decades of neo-socialist spending without control) and nationalized health insurances have been taking a dive for a while.

    • blight_

      Government spending. The private sector won’t drop a building into Antarctica for fun.

    • Silver Fox

      politicians

    • because the world trade center replacement involves civilian bureaucracy. everything is faster when you can just give an order and make it happen with out regard for cost, life, or limb.

  • stephen russell

    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,
    $$$$$$

  • Richard O’Brien

    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.

    • EW3

      Very good observation.

    • Johnny Ranger

      That PRC “3,000 nuke” thing has been debunked. It originated with a professor and a bunch of college students, based on “potential” capability, which in turn was based on “estimated” storage capcity – NOT production capacity. I read the report – it was well-written and convincing, but unltimately based on the wrong set of assumptions. That being said, 300 nukes is still 300 nukes!!!

    • Or you might find nothing of the sort happening in the several years since the USA and USSR started reducing their stockpiles.

      Also, your counting is seriously off. START 1 limits Russia to less than 4000 warheads, and New START cuts that figure down.

      And… Turkey? Seriously?

    • TIm Uk

      Hilarious

    • AFRet05

      Pave PAWS and BMEWS were 2 different, separate systems. Both still exist (recently modernized) although there are now only 2 Pave PAWS sites instead of 4.

    • Andy Hughes

      What, you mean those very same “Muslim Turks” who are trying to join the EU? American idiot.

    • Oilsmoke Jones

      Richard, you make some good points and your numbers are prob as good as any…I don’t worry about civilized regimes lobbing nukes, they all are too cognisant and fearful of MAD…a suicidal extremist with a hand on the button..now that’s a problem..

  • mike

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

  • john green

    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.

    • Claus Hansen

      Dear John Green.
      Could I perhaps ask you to send me an email?
      Greetings, Claus Hansen, Denmark

  • GioCv

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

    • blight_

      It was dangerous then for other reasons.

    • Art Durante

      Bulls**t. The reactor was removed long ago. All that is left are old wooden buildings and some deformed metal braces. You are seriously deluded if you think the Greenland icecap is melting to a degree that would expose this old base.

      • dan

        and 47;000 gallons of nuke waste water runoff on to the ice cap

        • dan

          During the reactors operational life, a total of 47,078 gallons of radioactive liquid waste was discharged into the icecap. The PM-2A was removed in the summer of 1964

    • bump

      Actually, there is a marked shift, so the ice is not melting, but growing.

  • blight_

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

    Amusingly, Boy Scouts went to Camp Century.

    • FormerDirtDart

      The video at the bottom of the page is great

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

    • Larry Norris

      No, landings via copter or ski equiped planes

    • D’Lene

      Speak English please.

  • chuck

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

    • justin

      I was thinking more of the Thing.

    • D’Lene

      “the “speak English” was for Chuk uh sorry ” chuck”.

    • tom

      Please my brother that and all this zombie stuff is for kids and some or if not allot of people are cashing in on this trend for which this is. even i like the movie “Resident Evil” allot because the woman star is just so hot and tuff as nails.But that’s it just a movie nothing more.

  • Tad

    Awesome pics and article! Kudos.

  • joe

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

  • Al Seibt

    Imagine what the DUMBS look like now.

  • Roland

    Now you said, it’s not secret anymore, is it?

  • Walt

    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.

    • blight_

      The Americans didn’t have the chutzpah to put missile launchers into close range of the Soviet Union…unless they were on SSBNs. The risk of detection and capture are ridiculous. It’s worth it for things like ELINT. But…

    • ArabiaTerra

      That is the plot from a seventies adventure novel you’re remembering, “A Raft of Swords” by Duncan Kyle (also published as “The Suvarov Adventure”). I don’t think it actually really happened.

  • Michael

    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.

    • Chuck A

      I was there in 1961 and 1962 based at Camp Tuto-for a tour of duty 2 years-6 months on-6months back at Ft. Belvoir, VA. Capt. Paige was my company commander. By the way , did you know there is a lake located at the base camp of Camp Tuto called Tuto lake ? The lake w/o a bottom , as Navy divers put it. We used D9 Cats with 500 gal diesel tanks hooked on the front and delivered supplies to Camp Century. Also , had crevasse detectors mounted on the lead cat that looked like half round dishes that would pick up a signal. And, Swiss polecats to carry vips on tour-tall boxy looking cats w/radar and a unit for passengers behind it. The D9 cats had tracks 6′ wide to keep it on top of any loose snow. I am now 73 yrs old and living in Boise, Id. CA

      • Remmert

        That is so interesting.

  • eggbert
  • cold
  • Infidel4LIFE

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

  • Erich

    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.

    • blight_

      My guess is the black oil under the arctic and The Thing defeated the Nazis post WW2…

  • W. F. Weeks

    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

  • W. F. Weeks

    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

  • Xplode

    What the hell happened to the Nuclear reactor?

    • blight_

      Taken back and scrapped. Even Wikipedia has the answer for that one.

      Unless that’s what the New World Order wants you think…

    • SFC Willard Yuna

      It was relocated to Fort Belvoir Va

  • John

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

  • Spike

    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!

  • ron kuntz

    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.

  • Marty

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

  • gary mathena

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

  • Army1973

    Amazing.

  • William R. Detrick

    This is amazing, even today…2012

  • R Lemons

    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.

  • Dave Stern

    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.

  • Poppy Josy

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

  • jayhawk58

    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.

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

  • jhs1402

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

  • SGM Bob Shakour

    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.

  • hoth
  • cyril boudreaux

    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.

  • beth

    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.

  • poldo

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

  • Yellowcar

    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 .

  • Robert h. read

    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

  • francis ahearn

    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.

  • John

    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.

  • joan chapman

    my Dad was at Camp Century in 1953

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  • Chris Hugo

    Restored Video of construction of Camp Century