Imgur user CanadaSpeedoMan and his wife were on a backcountry hiking trip in Greenland. For days, they trekked through the fjords, getting farther and farther from anything resembling civilization. Then they came upon piles of old barrels and the twisted frames of long-collapsed buildings.
East Greenland is a remote and lonely part of the world. Its landscape is one of mountains and lakes, and for much of the year it’s locked in pack ice. But in this great wilderness the hikers discovered the rusting remains of a facility – one that dates from a time when the area played a very important strategic role.
Amid the rocky peaks, on a shelf of land close to an Eskimo encampment known as Ikateq, the United States had built an airstrip. It was designed to be a refueling station for military aircraft flying from America to Europe during the Second World War. And it’s still there, slowly collapsing into the dirt.
Work began on the airstrip, known as Bluie East Two, in 1942. A year earlier America had taken over the defense of Greenland and began looking for sites on which to place a 5,000-foot runway. Eventually, they found the best location, 35 miles northeast of Tasiilaq. So it was that a supply flotilla arrived on July 26, 1942, and building work began.
The airfield remained open from 1942 until 1947. After the war came to an end in 1945, though, the importance of Bluie East Two began to wane. In fact, like other American bases in Greenland, it was vacated two years later. But the site’s inaccessibility is largely responsible for the fact that its legacy remains visible for anyone lucky enough to find it.
You see, everything that the Americans used to build Bluie East Two had to be shipped in. There are few, if any, trees in East Greenland, so the timber needed to be ferried over. But this also meant that when it was time to leave, there was no desire to take anything from the site.
It wasn’t just the buildings that were left, though. Almost everything was abandoned to the elements. And now, hundreds of barrels litter the area. These containers were used to refuel the planes, and some of them still hold fuel in their rusting shells. All told, it’s certainly a strange thing to stumble across in the middle of nowhere.
Nowadays, alongside the barrels are huge pieces of machinery. These would have been used to build the runway that was the heart of Bluie East Two. Completed in 1943, the landing strip was made out of gravel, and you can still see it cut into the cold earth today.
Most of the useful things that were left behind at Bluie East Two have, though, been removed over the past 70 years by the native Inuit people. However, anything that couldn’t be taken away by foot or in small fishing boats remains where it was left.
Interestingly, too, old photos from when the facility was being built show that it wasn’t just machinery that was needed to create the airstrip. Huge crates of explosives were also used. East Greenland isn’t, after all, the sort of place that makes building, or maintaining, large complexes easy.
In its day, every season, when it was possible, the base was resupplied by the American coastguard. And when the area was in the grip of winter and the snow couldn’t be cleared from the runway, provisions were dropped from the air. Then, once the Americans had left, the Danish government had no interest in Bluie East Two.
Yet while the Americans no longer used Bluie East Two, it did still offer the occasional benefit. In 1958 the facility served a vital supply role during the building of an early-warning radar system farther south at Kulusk. However, once the war had finished, the site never regained its former importance.
Now, amid the twisted metal, there are other interesting items left behind from when the Americans departed. Littering the ground are shards of glass marked with the telltale logo of the Coca-Cola company – a clear reminder of the airfield’s short-lived occupation by U.S. airmen.
Meanwhile, alongside the earth-moving machines, other static pieces of machinery remain. Boilers and furnaces that once heated and powered the base are largely still intact. One even bears the mark of the company in New York that built it. The buildings around them, however, have long since collapsed.
Other pieces of equipment can be seen as well. A radio mast lies collapsed, its frame pointing to a body of water where icebergs drift eerily by. And radios themselves are still there, too. They’re mainly just decaying metal boxes now, though, stood in the middle of a frigid plain.
It isn’t just metal that remains, either. Thick black tires sit among the wreckage. Some of them are still wrapped in the snow chains that would have helped them during the coldest parts of the year. The tires are marked “United States Rubber Company.”
The site has, then, stood abandoned for more than half a century, and yet there’s a chance that it may not be around much longer. For some time, cleaning up Bluie East Two has been a point of political contention between the governments of Greenland and Denmark. But it seems that the two have finally settled on what to do.
In 2017 the two governments concluded that it was time to do away with all of the detritus left at the abandoned airstrip. Efforts will therefore soon be made to rid the area of this strange, rusting relic of the Second World War. The clean-up operation is scheduled to begin in 2018.
If that’s the case, then CanadaSpeedoMan and his wife might conceivably be the last people to visually document the remains of the airstrip. Once the huge tidy-up is finished, it’s entirely possible that there’ll be nothing left whatsoever of the American base. The wilderness of East Greenland will be all but empty once again.
That, of course, makes these photos all the more important. Bluie East Two played a role in one of the biggest conflicts in human history. And even though it’s been left to fall into rot and ruin, it’s still an intriguing, bizarre place – and one that’s made even stranger by its incredible surroundings.