The cold war brought about some incredible technological advancements on both American and Soviet fronts.  Things that make our way of life today possible were once inventions intended to keep us one step ahead of the reds.  Indeed, we have our decades long staring match with communism to thank for things like Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) – which may not sound familiar to you, but plays an integral role in the function of the computer you’re reading this article on.  If you’re reading this with your phone instead, we can trace the satellite transmitting the information to the local cell tower back to Sputnik; Russia’s glancing victory in a space race the United States would ultimately win.

Not every cold war effort was met with such historic success however.  Many American and Soviet cold war era plans failed to make it past the design stages, but then there’s a third, more interesting category: plans so unusual they seem like the plot from one of the campier James Bond movies, but that somehow came to fruition.  Project Iceworm was just such a plan.

In 1959, the Army engineering corps began excavating what would ultimately be nearly two miles of tunnels beneath the ice sheet of Greenland.  Officially, the U.S. government created these tunnels, called Camp Century, to test the feasibility of various construction techniques under arctic conditions and to support scientific experiments on the ice cap.  Beneath the ice, however, these tunnels were intended to be a secret launch platform for six hundred nuclear missiles with targets located throughout the Soviet Union.

The tunnels were dug using a “cut and cover” trenching technique, wherein Swiss made, giant rotary tilling machines were used to cut through up to 1200 cubic yards of snow per hour.  Once dug, the trenches would be covered by arched steel roofs, then buried again in snow.  Twenty-one trenches would ultimately be dug and subsequently hidden again, the longest of which (referred to as “Main Street”) was over eleven hundred feet long, twenty-six feet wide and nearly thirty feet tall.

Camp Century became known as “the city under the ice” and was equipped with the world’s first mobile nuclear generator.  At one point, over two hundred soldiers were stationed at Camp Century, where they enjoyed a complete gym, chapel, library, and even a movie theater, all below the surface of the arctic ice sheet.

Multiple barracks that were nearly eighty feet long housed the soldiers stationed there.  Each of the barracks contained a large common area and five smaller rooms, with several feet separating the structures from the walls of ice to minimize melting from the electric heaters.  Deep holes were drilled in the ice to introduce more cold air to the gaps between each room and maintain the structural integrity of the frozen tunnels.

In conjunction with the tunneling efforts, a new form of ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) was developed to function in the extreme cold of the sub-surface arctic.  Named “Iceman” Missiles, these global strike, nuclear weapons would be housed and routinely moved within the tunnel system, making it extremely difficult to target the weapons even if the Soviets ever learned of their presence.

Project Iceworm, if fully realized, would have covered more than fifty thousand square miles above the arctic circle, allowing for near limitless repositioning and tactical placement of the specially designed missiles.  New tunnels were to be dug each year, creating thousands of alternate firing positions for the hundreds of missiles in the arctic arsenal.