When the Pentagon Dug Secret Cold War Ice Tunnels to Hide Missile Silos

On a cold day in 1959, two U.S. Army officers clad in polar gear gazed through their aviator sunglasses at the endless white horizon before them. Standing heroically in front of Arctic personnel carriers, Col. John Kerkering and Capt. Thomas Evens took measurements for a new military installation to be buried beneath Greenland’s ice cap. They called it “Camp Century.” It was publicly touted as a “nuclear-powered Arctic research center,” but the real reason for the base was to build and maintain a secret network of tunnels and missile silos connected by rail cars. It was known as “Operation Iceworm.” It was the height of the Cold War, when a rivalry between the U.S. and Soviet Union had military leaders looking for new ways to outfox the other side. Pentagon planners thought that by shuttling 600 nuclear-tipped “Iceman” missiles back and forth between 2,100 silos, they could keep the Soviet Union guessing. It was essentially a potentially deadly game of atomic “whack-a-mole” spread out across 52,000 square miles of northern Greenland. The American public didn’t know about Project Iceworm until a Danish Parliament investigation published documents about the secret project in 1997. Danish officials had a policy of no nuclear weapons on Danish soil, even though it allowed the U.S. military to use Greenland as a staging area. A Pentagon dispute erupted between generals at the Army — who wanted their own missile system at Camp Century — and Air Force and Navy officials who wanted control over positioning of the nation’s nuclear missiles. In the end, Camp Century was shuttered.