GREENLAND EXPERIENCES by John Lomholt, Copenhagen, Denmark
Johannes (John) Lomholt, radio technician, Prince Christian Sound (1951). Prince Christian Airways guarded the universal Atlantic Area air-to-ground radio frequency of 4220 kc. The stations 3,000 watt non-directional radio beacon was essentially an electronic lighthouse for aircraft flying between Narsarssuaq and Keflavic, Iceland. Both services were vital to safe passages.
INTRODUCTION - - Greetings from Copenhagen! I hope you will enjoy sharing with me a brief description of two Greenland tours. The first was undertaken June 1946 and lasted until August 1947, most of that time embodied pioneering on the outskirts of what became Thule AFB. My second tour from September 1950 through January 1953 was in more habitable areas, BW-1, BW-3, Narssaq Point and Prince Christian (BE-1).
NORTHERN GREENLAND 1946-47:
As a radio mechanic I was one of twenty-two civilians who left Copenhagen aboard the Danish Frigate THETIS on June 26th, 1946. Our assignment was to take over coastal weather stations formerly manned by U.S. personnel. The ocean trip, lasting eight days, ended at Narsarssauk (BW-1) where we were to be trained for our new jobs. Unbeknownst to us the plan to send a Danish team to Thule was hastily contrived after the Danish Government granted approval in April-May to form a joint Danish-US Weather Station operation. On-the-Job training fizzled. Near the end of August, dressed in new U.S. Quartermaster polar outfits, we boarded the USCG Cutter EVERGREEN and reached our far north destination on September 3rd.
Several ships and Naval Construction Battalion Sea-Bees had arrived as soon as the ice broke up in July-August. From a half mile offshore I saw number of red barracks (Quonset Huts?), radio masts and building shapes alien to me. South of the barracks a 5,000 ft. gravel-surfaced airstrip was visible. Americans arrived with a tractor-sled to take us to a temporary home. The escort delivered us to one of the red buildings, inside were eleven mattresses on the floor and a large cook stove. 'Welcome to Thule, fellows, make yourself comfortable. Dinner will be ready in a bit, the chef is Tom Sheret." he said, with half a smile.
A new life and a new form of life had begun.
We waited eight days for a Danish schooner to arrive with a year's provisions and a pre-fabricated building kit to enable piecing together a barrack approximately one hundred feet long. With winter's cold breath breezing down our necks the wooden building, sparsely insulated with Cellotex and Excelsior, was erected in short order. On September 13th we hoisted Dannebrog, the Danish flag, above the building and I moved in two weeks later. Despite insulation and a plentiful supply of kerosene provided by the U.S. the building proved no match for winter temperatures that went as low as -40 F' - we seldom felt sufficiently warm.
Work at the Weather Station started about four weeks later. Alas, radio maintenance was not to be my job. Instead, two American weathermen showed us how to make Surface Synopsis Observations, decide about types of clouds, read the barometer and thermometers and convert values by help of tables to get relative humidity and altimeter settings. High altitude data were telemetered down by Radiosonde equipment attached to balloons about six feet in diameter.
October 24th saw the sun shining on our flag pole for the last time before winter. The temperature became colder, a little colder and a lot colder. Arctic clothing served us well most of the time, but 45 minutes spent adjusting the tracking antenna at the Rawin Hut was not much to our liking.
I experienced two memorable incidents at Thule.
At 0600, February 9th 1947 we were moved to ineffective, panicky action when someone yelled, "FIRE!" The dreaded nemesis of Arctic living was out of control and soon consumed the Rawin Hut, including our spare set. Fortunately, another set was at the airstrip awaiting shipment to Ellsmere Island, tracking resumed 24-hours after the fire.
On February 23rd, with the sun again appearing, I was on early duty when SOS signals were received from a "Ptarmigan" B-29 that belly-landed on a lake approximately 300 miles north of Thule. This event "electrified" our little group. Waking hours were devoted to following rescue operations since it was reported all aboard the downed aircraft were alive in conditions we could easily envisage. Rescuers in a C-54 flew via BW-8 from Westover Field, MA. to Thule, recovered the downed airmen and carried them to the States. Today, memories of that time seem a fresh as yesterday's history.
I left Thule in August, never imagining that wanderlust would again lure me to Greenland.
(Thule Historical Photographs and Information)
SOUTHERN GREENLAND CHRONICLE 1950-53