Abandoned American WW2 bases are slowly being removed from Greenland | Polarjournal
: Among locals, the abandoned military equipment at the Bluie East Two near Tasiilaq in East Greenland is known as “American flowers”. Photo: Arcticsailing.is
Among locals, the abandoned military equipment at the Bluie East Two near Tasiilaq in East Greenland is known as “American flowers”. Photo: Arcticsailing.is

After decades of disagreement about responsibility for the decaying bases, the Danish government decided to pay for the clean-up. But five years on, progress is slow.

Rusty oil barrels, decaying airfields and lots of scrap metal. These are among the abandoned and potentially polluting items you will find in the around 20 to 25 abandoned American World War II bases around Greenland. 

For decades, they had been a thorn in the side of Greenland’s relationship to Denmark. Greenland held Denmark responsible for it as it had allowed the Americans to enter the country during the war. Denmark had tried for years to get the Americans to help finance the clean-up but the US, in turn, according to sources close to the Danish Government, were afraid of the legal ramifications across the world if they set such a precedent.  

And that same stalemate had gone on for decades. 

So, celebrations in Nuuk were significant, when in 2018 the Danish government finally relented and decided to invest around 24 million Euro (180 million DKK) in the full clean-up of the abandoned bases. 

But today, six years on, progress on the clean-up has been slow. Only around 5.3 million Euro (40 million DKK) of that money has been spent. 

More clean-up to come

Thankfully for the Arctic environments around the bases, in December of 2023 the Danish parliament decided to extend the period in which money will be available. And it would seem that it will not be long before the bulk of the work will happen. 

At least this time, 9.1 million Euro (73 million DKK) has been allotted for clean-up in 2024 alone. The rest of the original grant, 9 million Euro, will be spent in the following three years and is expected to be completed by the end of 2028. 

Polar Journal would have liked to know more details about the clean-up. In particular, which areas and bases have been cleaned up already and which have not, what has caused the delay, and, more specifically, how such a clean-up in remote Arctic areas is conducted.

Unfortunately, before the deadline of this article, it hasn’t been possible to obtain answers to these questions. The Danish Ministry of Defence, both its Joint Arctic Command and its Estate Agency, defers to the Danish Ministry of the Environment who have not yet replied to the inquiry. 

A representative of NIRAS, an engineering consultancy firm, tells Polar Journal that they have helped the Defence Ministry’s Estate Agency with practical tasks in connection with the clean-up but that Kommuneqarfik Sermersooq, a Greenlandic municipality, have also been involved. 

The US Armed Forces in Greenland: Commander Moore, USN; Lieutenant Commander Towers, USNR; and Ensign Sawyer get first hand information on the working of a three-hundred foot glacier in West Greenland onboard USS Bowdoin. (Image: National Museum of the US Navy, Public Domain via Wikicommons)

Controversial establishment

The United States originally entered Greenland in 1941. At the time, Denmark was under German occupation, leaving its colony, Greenland, unoccupied. 

Before entering the war in 1941, the US had brokered a deal with Henrik Kaufmann, Denmark’s ambassador in Washington, who acted independently of the occupied government in Copenhagen. The deal meant that Greenland, in return for American protection, would agree to the establishment of military bases in the country. 

And when the US officially entered World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbour, Greenland suddenly became strategically important. So, during the next four years of war, the US military established facilities for air and sea traffic, radio beacons, radio stations, weather stations, ports, depots, artillery posts, and search-and-rescue stations around the country. 

It is these stations, and the controversial manner in which they were established, that still causes headaches in government offices of the Danish Realm.

Ole Ellekrog, PolarJournal

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