By Palle Norrit , former manager of the Patrolservice , North and Northeast Greenland
What is the SIRIUS sledge patrol?
It is a defence unit that was created in 1950 under administration of the Danish Defence Command. In 1994 it was placed under control of the Admiral Danish Fleet. SIRIUS is comprised of 14 soldiers. Twelve are stationed in the patrol at Daneborg and 2 are located at the Defence guard in Mestersvig.
a) To maintain Danish sovereignty in North and North East Greenland. b) Police authority the Northeast Greenland National Park, which is the worlds largest. c) Conduct military surveillance over 160,000 square kilometres by dog sledge.
Where is SIRIUS located?
The main SIRIUS station is at Daneborg (74 degrees N) in North East Greenland. Until 1974 there was a Danish civilian weather station at the same location. For four months in the spring and for two months in the fall, 6 sledge teams, consisting of 2 men, 11 dogs and 1 sledge each, patrol North and North East Greenland. In summer, about 65 depots are laid out by the patrol itself for the coming winters’ sled journeys. Depot lying is carried out by cutters, planes and helicopters.
How does the sledging work?
Early in the fall, the sled teams build their own sledges and fabricate all the bags and boxes, which are being used on the sled journey. When there is sufficient snow, or when fjord ice is thick enough, training trips are conducted. Real patrol journeys start in early November. An average day’s march is approximately 30 km, but these very greatly depending upon conditions. Primarily the patrol overnights in tents, but there are 65 huts maintained for SIRIUS use.
Who can be part of SIRIUS?
In June through August of every year, any male officers or non commissioned officers in Danish service between age 20 and 30 may can apply. Applicants are selected following several interviews and psychological tests.
How long is the service at SIRIUS?
After selection for SIRIUS, pre-school students start preparation for their upcoming service in January. Pre-school extends until the first of July, and around July 20 the SIRIUS men go to North East Greenland. There they will serve for two continuous years.
Facts & Numbers
The sled patrol is under command of the Admiral Danish Fleet stationed in Århus. From here the patrol is managed by the Patrol Branch North and North East Greenland (PNG), which is stationed at Naval station Auderød (Also basic training station for sailors). People in active service in PNG are all former members of SIRIUS. The main field headquarters of SIRIUS is at Daneborg (74 degrees N). There is an additional support station at ELLA Ø in Kong Oscars Fjord. (72 degrees N). This station is only active in summer, when 4-6 SIRIUS members live there and are busy laying out depots by boat.
During summer, various levels of SIRIUS members are present. These include personnel that are about to return to Denmark after 2 years service, ones that have a year to remain and then recently arrived men who are starting their 2 years of service. In addition, 3 or more people from PNG are present, helping with many logistical activities during the short summer period.
In addition to the 12 men stationed at Daneborg, PNG has 2 former members of the patrol stationed at the former mining airport at Mestersvig (260 km south of Daneborg). These 2 men are part of the SIRIUS surveillance and radio service and also maintaining the airport runway and 10 large buildings.
During the summer about 30 research and pleasure expeditions visit the National Park. Each must obtain special permits from the Greenland Government and SIRIUS controls them.
SIRIUS patrols the world’s biggest National Park with an operation area of 160.000 km2 (about three times the size of Denmark).
During the 54 years that SIRIUS has been operational, more than 750.000 km have been patrolled on dog sled. In the same period, cutters in association with depot lying have traversed more than 100.000 nautical miles.
SIRIUS is scheduled for one supply ship visit per year. However, two years of supplies are always maintained on hand because of the chance that the ship will not be able to navigate through coastal ice in a season.
About 150 hours of flying are used for depot lying each year.
About 30 tons of supplies are yearly transported out to the 65 sled depots.
SIRIUS maintains about 65 of the 350 cabins, which are located in the National Park.
SIRIUS has build 34 of the cabins being used for depots and workshops at Daneborg where the average yearly temperature is – 10 degrees. VENSLEV HYTTER designed the cabins specifically for use in North East Greenland. The cabins are prefabricated in sections, and SIRIUS men can build one in about 50 work hours.
The yearly precipitation is about 200 mm in south and about 100 mm in north. For comparison the precipitation in Denmark is about 600 mm in April through June. Measured wind speed in the area is up to about 125 knots (64 knots is hurricane) The lowest temperature ever recorded in the area is minus 55 degrees.
About 260 officers have served duty at SIRIUS. Calorie consumption for men is about 7000 per day and about 5000 per day for dogs. The average time of service for a SIRIUS dog is 5 years. Only the ones NOT run-out are allowed to live on after their 5th year, and in that case they are distributed between Station North, Danmarkshavn and Mestersvig. SIRIUS breeds their own dogs. The optimal dog is shorthaired with erect ears, “square”, long legged, with a weight between 40 and 50 kg. By the time a dog is retired it will likely have travelled more than 20,000 km in a sled team.
Only 27 people over winter in North East Greenland; 2 at Mestersvig, 12 at Daneborg, 8 at the civilian weather station Danmarkshavn and 5 at the military base Station North.
The nearest settlement to the National Park is Scoresbysund, situated about 500 km south of Daneborg.
There are about 110 dogs in the National Park, about 80 belong to SIRIUS.
Daneborg consists of 23 buildings. SIRIUS has 4 generators, each of which can deliver between 150 and 250 KWA. About 180,000 litres of oil are consumed each year at the station. The oil along with 300 tons of supplies is transported by ship from Denmark. Christmas presents are dropped by parachute at full moon in December.
All fresh water consumed during winter is produced through reverse osmosis of salt water. SIRIUS can make up to 3 tons pr day.
There are no support workers at the patrol. Everything is maintained SIRIUS members.
The average SIRIUS salary is 22000 DKK pr. month (after Greenlandic tax).
SIRIUS helps support scientific investigations through such activities as animal and bird census and banding. Logistical support also is often provided for scientific expeditions in the area.
The total yearly costs for SIRIUS and Mestersvig including salaries, transport (flights, boat & travels), maintenance, equipment, human food, dog food, fuel, etc is about 15 million DKK. This amount corresponds to 93,75 DKK pr Km2.
In 1721Hans Egede, a Danish-Norwegian priest arrived in Greenland and went ashore at Godthåb (present name is Nuuk the current capital of Greenland). Even after his visit the east coast of Greenland remained remote and basically unexplored. Contact with the native population was limited, even though there are many stories about meetings between the Inuit and both expeditions and whalers. Along the central and northeast coast of Greenland, native inhabitants were first (and last) seen by Captain Clavering on the south cost of the island that now bears his name (at 74 degrees north). The reasons for their disappearance are uncertain, and my ideas have been proposed. These include disease introduced through contact with European whales and explorers, and a decrease in food stocks as a result of the loss of caribou due to major climate changes . In the years 1883-1885, Gustav Holm was in charge of an expedition, which started in South Greenland and headed north along the east coast in a small native, skin-covered boat (a umiak). He found an eskimo tribe near the present site of Ammassalik (Angmagssalik), but none were sighted any farther north. The Danmark ekspeditionen of 1906 -1908, led by Ludvig Mylius-Erichsen, mapped the last unknown parts of North East Greenland. Tragically, both Ludvig Mylius-Erichsen, the cartographer N.P.Høeg Hagen and the Greenlandic catechist Jørgen Brønlund (1907) froze to death. In late years explorations by Lauge Koch, Einar Mikkelsen and Eigil Knuth were carried out and the first systematic scientific investigation of northeast Greenland was undertaken.
In 1814, after signing of a joint agreement of peace in Kiel, Denmark and Norway were granted individual national status. In the latter part of the 1800’s and early 1900’s, Norwegian sealers and whalers began to hunt off the northeast Greenland coast. And beginning in 1901-02, began to over winter there. This resulted in a conflict of sovereignty between Denmark and Norway over the region. The International Court of Arbitration at the Haag finally resolved this conflict on April 5, 1933 when Denmark was granted sovereignty of all of Greenland The last agreement regarding hunting in the area was established in 1924 and expired in 1967. Since that time, Norwegians have been required to apply officially for permission to visit the National Park.
North East Greenland is part of the Danish Kingdom and it is the e obligation of Denmark to maintain sovereignty by a permanent presence and a will and ability to be present in the entire area. During the Second World War, Denmark succeeded, with help from among others the United States, in keeping Greenland within Al laid control. With an extraordinary effort from Henrik Kaufmann (the Danish ambassador in the U.S.), Eske Bruun, Ib Poulsen, Eigil Knuth and Ebbe Munck among others, Germany failed to establish any viable meteorology or observational stations in northeast Greenland. Eske Bruun established dog sled patrols under the command of Ib Poulsen, which in the beginning of the 1940’s patrolled and located German weather stations and later effected their destruction. The patrol was based in the headquarters at Ella Ø, which had been built by Cartographer Lauge Koch, when he was mapping Northern Greenland earlier in the century.
Denmark did not want to create any situations that could appear militarily provocative to other nations, therefore during the period until the 1950’s, only weather and direction stations were established along Greenland northeast coast. Then the Marine Command suggested occupation of the coast the first steps to organize the SIRIUS patrol were undertaken. The project were called“ OPERATION RESOLUT” and members were recruited from officers in the Danish Defence Unit. Later, in 1952, the sled patrol RESOLUT was officially established and the headquarters was moved from ELLA Ø to Daneborg. However, a Canadian weather station w as already located at “Resolute Bay” existed, so to prevent misunderstandings, the patrol was in 1953 renamed to the Sled patrol SIRIUS. The name SIRIUS was taken from the brightest star in the dog constellation (“The great dog”).
Sledging & Patrolling
SIRIUS sledge dogs originally come from “the Greenlandic dog”, but through careful cross breeding, SIRIUS has produced a heavier and stronger dog. It is kind and loves sledging. Puppies are allowed to roam around on their own until they reach “the teen age”, when they are then chained up as the other dogs, ready to start sledging when the autumn journey starts.
The sled is being build by the patrol members; one week is set aside per team. In this fashion any officer will be able to fix his sled if it breaks while patrolling. The sled runners are made of waterproof plywood or ash wood, which are reinforced, with 15 mm of nylon band on the sliding band and the floorboards are made of unknotted ash wood. Everything is tied together with nylon line, so that the sled can move more over rugged terrain and remain “flexible”. Each sled weights about 80 kg and can carry a load of up to 400 kg. Loaded sledges are pulled by 11 dogs, each of which weights from 35- 50 kg.
Besides building sledges, sled drivers also fabricates harnesses, traces, dog chains, necklaces, bags, boxes and other equipment, which is individual for each sled. The conditions in the patrols’ surveillance area are remote, harsh and unforgiving: people patrolling here must always be very alert. There are extremely cold winter temperatures, storms with the strength of a hurricane and great amounts of snow. In addition, polar bear, musk oxen and wolves need to be taken seriously at all times. This is why a sled team is always comprised of a “new” and an “old” SIRIUS member. In that way the “old “ can train the “new” to act correctly under all circumstances.
SIRIUS men must be able to drive dogs in all kinds of weather; from deep snow to smooth ice, over 10-15 m high ice packs, places with no snow or ice, through frozen rivers and passes with rise and fall of 20-30 %. The visibility varies from totally “white out” conditions, where there is only a compass or GPS for navigation, to more than 100 km, where a1: 1.000.000 scale map gives a brilliant view.
Following a day of patrol, each SIRIUS team member must prepare for the night by erecting a tent and carefully stowing all gear such as radio, sleeping bags, food supplies, primus, and clothes. Then the dogs must be fed and everything secured. When sleeping in a tent, one must also construct a snow bank around the tent, for security against stormy weather. During the night, the dogs must be checked several times, so when you’ve been sledging the whole day (6-10 hours) you really need the sleep you can get. However this must follow the cooking, radio connection with DNB, diary writing and patrol view writing / reporting.
A sled team generally drives about 4,000 km in a season. In the 54 years of SIRIUS operation, more than 750,000 km have been sledged, which is more than 16 times around Earth’s equator! More than 260 sled drivers have served two years in this honoured and historic organization.