Patrolling Greenland by dog sledge – through the winter
Since the Cold War, Denmark has staked its claim to northern Greenland – and its untapped mineral wealth – with dog sledge patrols. This is the Sirius Patrol in numbers…
Each autumn, six dog sledge teams – each manned by two soldiers from the Royal Danish Navy – spend up to six months patrolling an area of 160,000 sq km. They are the only people in a vast wilderness about three times the size of Denmark, or the equivalent of Britain and France combined.
During winter the sun disappears for two months. The average yearly temperature is -10C and the mercury can dip as low as -55C – the lowest recorded temperature in the area.
There are up to 14 dogs in each team, and a day’s patrol will typically cover 30km. At night the soldiers retire to a hi-tech tent. The dogs sleep outside, even in the depths of winter.
The unit selectively breeds Greenlandic dogs for endurance and strength. Each dog works for five years. By the time it retires, a dog in the Sirius Patrol will have pulled sledges for more than 20,000km.
During a two-year placement with the unit, the soldiers are paid a monthly salary of 22,000 Danish kroner after tax. That’s a little over $3,700. Their arctic training includes dog handling, building emergency snow shelters, and hunting for food…
In 1950, with the Cold War cooling international relations, Denmark decided to establish a permanent military presence. Initially christened Operation Resolut, it was renamed Sirius in 1953 after the brightest star in the dog constellation.
The Cold War has long since ended, but Greenland remains a desirable territory, rich in oil and precious metals. The environment is too extreme for current mining technology, but the patrols secure Denmark’s claim to this valuable wilderness simply by their presence.
Their presence is tolerated by the newly independent government of Greenland. It’s handier than spending your own money on the military. The dogs are always welcome.