The Third German Antarctic Expedition of 1914 was intended to make up for the utter failure of the Second German Antarctic Expedition, which had failed to make landfall and been riven by interpersonal strife. The result was a scientific expedition organized along naval lines, using the obsolete protected cruiser SMS Eldgrat. Putting to sea as it did in the fall of 1913, the expedition’d departure was not publicized due to the prevailing climate of international tension.

Reaching Antarctica, specifically the part later known as Marie Byrd Land, in January 1914, the expedition had the contingent completely to themselves–the next explorers, the doomed Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition and their support party, would not arrive for nearly a year. Surviving records are somewhat unclear, but it seems that at the outbreak of World War I, the Eldgrat was ordered north to support the East Asia Squadron, with a skeleton crew left behind to erect a wireless transmitting station and make scientific observations as conditions and supplies permitted.

Other than a short message declaring the station to be operational in November, no further messages were received in 1914 and after Eldgrat was sunk with all hands at the Battle of the Falkland Islands in December, the Imperial German admiralty seems to have lost interest in the expedition, preoccupied with the war effort.

The wireless station began transmitting again in mid-1916, with the signal being picked up in both Berlin and Sydney, surprising both the British and the Germans with its strength. By that point in the war there was no way for the Germans to ascertain the fate of the roughly two dozen men that had been left behind, although there was talk of sending the zeppelin L60 on a combined rescue-resupply mission to drop supplies for the East Africa campaign and rescue any survivors from Antarctica.

In contrast, the British organized an expedition aboard HMAS Perth to destroy the transmitter and neutralize the German party. The signal was strong enough to easily triangulate, and the Perth reached the German camp in January 1917. They found it abandoned, with no sign of the 24 men that had been left behind. There were ample supplies of food, but the final log entries were from December 1914, with nothing amiss noted. Three of the seventeen dogs had survived, with the British seamen estimating that they had survived by hunting penguins.

The wireless transmitter, though, had developed a severe list of 16º off true, repeating the same signal that had drawn the attention of both Sydney and Berlin. The signal, at a frequency of 1420.3556 MHz, continued until the transmitter was destroyed, though no meaningful content was ever derived from it by either the Germans or the British. The dogs were taken to Australia and adopted, the only known survivors of the expedition. As a footnote, all three lived peculiarly long lives afterwards–16, 17, and 19 years respectively.

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