This base was called Project Iceworm, a code name for a top-secret US Army program that began near the beginning of the Cold War. The idea was to construct a network of mobile nuclear missile launch sites under the vast Greenland Ice Sheet, the second largest in the world. By placing around 600 medium-range ballistic missiles here, the US could strike the Soviet Union relatively quickly.
In order to see if this project was actually viable, the US Army Corps of Engineers began covertly digging into the thick ice sheet and started to build facilities capable of holding weapons of mass destruction.
The cover story provided to the Danish government (which owns Greenland as an overseas territory) was that they were building a military base at the surface, named Camp Century. This outpost, nearby another American air base at Thule, was purportedly designed to explore the possibility of performing scientific experiments on the ice sheet.
From 1959 to 1963, the cover facility and the secret underground nuclear missile base were both developed, and a small society including shops, hospitals, theaters, and churches popped up in order to provide for those living and working on-site. Unfortunately, ice cores taken by geologists at Camp Century revealed that the glacier was slipping forwards at such a speed that the Iceworm tunnels would collapse by the end of 1965.
The complex was evacuated by then, and Camp Century closed shortly afterwards. The nuclear generator was removed, but much of the nuclear material left behind in the tunnels was buried within the ice under the assumption that it would never see the light of day. Thanks to climate change, the secret – and all its horrific contents – is out.
It’s worth noting that the ice cores drilled by the Iceworm geologists were some of the first ever retrieved. Somewhat ironically, they are still being used today by climatologists to show just how fast the pace of man-made climate change is.
A Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile, the sort of missile they hoped to fire from Greenland, seen here during a test launch from Vandenberg Air Force base in 1982. Everett Historical/Shutterstock