Lost Mines

In the world of treasure hunting, lost mines hold a special place in my heart. Most usually start out the same. A grizzled prospector leading his overly burdened mule into the desert looking for riches. Months later, when the prospector returns sick or injured from his adventures, he makes a deathbed confession to finding a rich deposit of gold or silver. For proof, he offers a tattered map to the mine. In some cases, rich ore specimens are found in his possession.

Pushing aside literary and Hollywood imagery, there are several reasons why these mines, which are basically rich mineral deposits, are lost. The majority of lost mines were really just diggings. These are basically excavation sites worked with hand held equipment such as shovels and picks. These mines were not tunnels dug in the side of a mountain with little railroad tracks and ore cars. In some cases, such as the Lost Gunsight Mine of the Mojave Desert, the “mine” was loose rocks broken off an outcropping. Even with a map, finding a hole in a very large desert is almost impossible.

Also, these mines were deliberately concealed. If you had a secret gold mine, would you want everyone knowing about it? Prospectors working secret claims were careful about being followed when traveling to and from their diggings. Jacob Waltz of the Lost Dutchman fame is said to have changed his route when visiting his mine. Not only did miners not want others working their claims, they had to be alert to not getting waylaid for their valuable ore. These mines were intentionally concealed and, after even a relatively short period of inactivity, would soon completely blend with the landscape.

And finally, several lost mines are located in what was then inhospitable or dangerous areas. Indigenous peoples, bandits, and Indian Wars were constant threats to prospectors and miners. Three brothers evading hostile Indians found a limestone ledge covered with gold nuggets. The brothers took ore samples then headed across the desert. Only one survived, and he was unable to locate the limestone ledge, so the Whitman “Cement” Mine remains lost. Hundreds of lost mine stories played out like that across the American West.

The Miner’s Guide; A Ready Handbook for the Prospector and Miner, by Horace J. West (Los Angeles: Second Edition – 1925





Lake Toplitz’s Nazi Gold

High in the Austrian Alps, Lake Toplitz looks like a perfect setting for The Sound of Music. A high altitude deep water lake (338 ft) located sixty-one miles from Salzburg, Lake Toplitz is surrounded by cliffs and thick forests. At a depth of sixty feet, the lake water contains no oxygen. However, the lake bottom may hold Nazi treasure.

In May of 1945, 21-year-old Ida Weisenbacher helped S.S. soldiers dispose of the boxes. “It was five o’clock in the morning, we were still in bed when we heard the knock on the door,” says Weisenbacher. “Get up immediately. Hitch up the horse wagon, we need you.”

The truck carrying the boxes couldn’t reach the lake’s shore, so the S.S. used a wagon belonging to the Weisenbacher family. “A commander was there. He told us to bring these boxes as fast as possible to Lake Toplitz,” says Weisenbacher.

Three wagon loads of boxes were taken to the lake and dumped. Each was labeled and numbered. “When I brought the last load, I saw how they went on to the lake and dropped the boxes into the water. The S.S. kept shoving me away, but I saw the boxes were sunk into the lake.”





Since the end of World War II, several attempts have been made to locate those mysterious wooden boxes. In 1959, divers discovered boxes filled with counterfeit British currency. These banknotes, a mix of five, ten, and fifty pound notes, had a combined face value of seven hundred million pounds.

The counterfeit notes were part of Operation Bernhard, a German plan to flood world markets with forged British banknotes and destroy the British economy. The forged notes were produced at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp by Jewish prisoners.

Several searches have been conducted at Lake Toplitz, including an extensive mapping survey in 2000. This expedition used a deep water submersible. Several more boxes tied to Operation Bernhard were discovered and mapped on the lake bed. The expedition recovered some boxes, and preserved the contents.

Aside from the counterfeit British notes and normal wartime debris (bombs, artillery shells, guns), Lake Toplitz has yielded no gold. Maybe there is no Nazi gold for the lake to surrender. Maybe die hard Nazis or unknown treasure hunters secretly recovered the treasure. Or maybe the treasure still remains in Lake Toplitz, waiting to be found.

Who really knows?

T-26 Light Tank

The Soviet T-26 tank is the signature light tank of the interwar period. Originally a British design, the T-26 proved versatile, and in some countries, remained in service until 1961. The Red Army developed 53 variants, including flame-throwing tanks and self-propelled guns. From when it entered service in 1932 until when production ceased in 1941, around 11,000 T-26 tanks had been built.

The T-26 was exported to the Spanish Republican government, and saw extensive service during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). There, the T-26 proved superior to the German Panzer I and the Italian CV-33 tankette. Russia also exported T-26s to China and Turkey. Captured T-26s were repaired and used against the Russians. For example, Finland captured and re-purposed seventy T-26 tanks.




When Germany invaded the USSR in 1941, the T-26 made up 39 percent of the Soviet Union’s total tank strength. The T-26 was comparable to early German light tanks, such as the Panzer I and Panzer II, but was seriously outclassed by the Panzer III and Panzer IV. Despite disadvantages in armor, mobility, and gun caliber, T-26 units participated in nearly every major Soviet tank engagement throughout the war. The T-26 last saw action in Manchuria against Japanese forces in August 1945.

Type 94 Nambu Pistol

The Nambu pistol was a sidearm used by Imperial Japanese forces. Variations of the 8mm semi-automatic handgun saw service in every Japanese conflict from the Russo-Japanese War up until the conclusion of World War II. Westerners are most familiar with the Type 94 Nambu, which was used extensively by Japanese forces in the Pacific.

Designed in 1925, the Type 94 Nambu was adopted by the Japanese Army in 1927. A release button on the pistol’s left side allowed for quick magazine extraction. The magazine held eight 8mm rounds. The 8mm cartridge is one of the Nambu’s major drawbacks. When compared to cartridges such as the American .45 ACP or the British .455 Webley, the Nambu lacks stopping power.

Another problem with the Type 94 is an exposed sear. The sear which is basically a bar that rests in a notch of the hammer. This bar holds back the hammer, which keeps the weapon from firing. When the trigger is pulled, the sear slides out of a notch in the hammer. The released hammer strikes the round, allowing the weapon to fire. This creates a situation where pressing or striking the side of the weapon can cause an unintentional discharge.

Considered inferior during its production run, the Nambu Type 94 remains an interesting piece of Japanese military history.