German attempts to conquer the highest mountain in the British Empire, enthralled the nation during the 1930s.
“Just as Everest was considered the “hunting ground” of the British, so was Nanga Parbat the special preserve of the Germans,” the Aberdeen Evening Express observed.
As fourth highest peak in the world at 26,620-feet, it is one of the most imposing of all the mountains in Asia and referred to as the Himalayan “mountain of death” because of the number of climbers who had lost their lives trying to scale it.
In fact, every epic German expedition there before the war, ended in failure.
To the south, Nanga Parbat boasts what is often referred to as the highest mountain face in the world: the Rupal Face rises 4,600 metres above its base.
An expedition in 1932 managed to reach nearly 23,000 feet, but blizzards and illness persuaded the majority of the party to abandon the climb and return to base.
Then, another attempt in 1934, ended in disaster, when nine members of the team were killed after reaching 25,600 feet.
“According to a survivor, Dr. Luft, he advanced up to Camp 4 sometime after his companions,” reported The Sphere.
“He was horror-stricken to find that it had been buried in an avalanche, and to recover three knapsacks as further grim evidence of the nature of the tragedy that had all but wiped out the expedition’s personnel.” (1)
Paul Bauer, who was part of the organising team, heard the news of the disaster in Munich and attempted to get out to Nanga Parbat to assess the situation.
His call to the British Royal Air Force for help was met with a positive response.
“One effect of the geographical situation of the Himalaya is that it brings us into contact with English mountaineers and other people of England and the British Empire; and we thus come, again and again, to enjoy their help and hospitality,” Bauer later wrote. (2)
All the while, the expedition was widely exploited by the Nazi propaganda apparatus on film, radio and newspapers.
Faced with the horrors of the failed climb, it was surprising that there was still enthusiasm for another try.
After some fretting, a new team set off from Munich in 1937, but, as before, the climbers were overwhelmed by an ice avalanche and forced to abandon the attempt.
Nanaga Parbat remained off-limits during World War Two, but was finally conquered on July 3, 1953 by Austrian climber Hermann Buhl, a member of a German-Austrian team.