War actions in Scandinavia constitute a crucial stage in the unfolding of WWII events in Europe. The strategic position of the Scandinavian peninsula was not overlooked by strategists in the Third Reich and the USSR, and by the Western Allies. As a matter of fact, the German invasion of Denmark and Norway took place as early as the Spring of 1940, starting just weeks before the invasion of Holland, Belgium and France.
History & Remains – A Quick Summary
For Germany in WWII, the long and impervious coast of Norway constituted an ideal strong point to carry out raids over the North Sea, Norwegian Sea, the northern Atlantic and the Barents Sea, interfering with resupply convoys from Britain and the US. Especially after the start of the war against the USSR in 1941, the polar routes going to Murmansk – the only non-freezing port on the northern coast of the USSR – were within range of German warships and aircraft operating from the north of Norway. Control over Norway and Denmark meant total control on the access to the Baltic Sea, thus protecting the northern coast of Germany from direct attack by the Western Allies, allowing unimpeded action against the Soviet Union on that sea. Of the greatest importance in the northern European territory was also the abundance of raw materials – mainly metals for industrial production – so desperately needed by the Third Reich.
For the Allies, keeping Scandinavia was an objective of great relevance in the early stages of the war, since this territory could be a convenient springboard to launch attacks against the flat and easy coast of Germany. In the rapidly changing complex alliances and diplomatic relationships of the early stage of WWII (1939-40), Norway and Sweden tried to keep out of the war. Finland fought the Winter War against the USSR (itself one of the results of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, albeit not to the knowledge of the Finns), loosing part of its territory and strengthening its link with Germany for some years to come (see this post). The Third Reich attacked Norway by air and sea in April 1940, and help was sought especially in Britain. King Haakon VII of Norway left for exile in England, and the initial battles of WWII between the Reich and the UK were fought – mainly at sea – in proximity of Norwegian ports.
The Atlantic Wall
Possibly the most impressive military trace of WWII in Europe, the Atlantic Wall – a defense line stretching from France to northern Norway – was designed and built in Denmark and Germany, immediately following the successful push of the Third Reich into these Countries. Actually, those are the Countries where the most relevant remains of this interesting trace of war can be found today. A very ambitious project both in purpose and required resources, the Atlantic Wall never reached completion. Despite that, the geography of Norway, with a coastline featuring only limited access to the inland area, allowed to create an effective barrier against a potential enemy landing. Hundreds of gun batteries, complemented with anti-aircraft artillery and radars, constituted a powerful deterrent against any invasion. As a matter of fact, after the unique episode of the Battle of Narvik in the early stages of WWII, no Allied forces ever landed in Norway from the sea for the rest of the war.
A complete visit to all sites of the Atlantic Wall in Norway is a really immense task, due to the number of installations and their geographical remoteness. However, a few impressive highlights can be found in convenient locations, and can be easily visited by everybody. In this post some of them are presented – the colossal battery ‘Vara’, the southern fortified area of Lista, the forts of Fjell and Tellevik near Bergen, and the massive cannons of Austratt.
But other fragments of the rich legacy of WWII in Norway can be retraced also away from the preserved installations of the Atlantic Wall. An interesting page is that of naval warfare deployed by the Navy of the Third Reich – the Kriegsmarine – to counter Allied shipping activities. Names like Tirpitz, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau are frequently found in history books as well as in movies or scale model shops, and they are just a few of the mighty vessels linked to the Scandinavian war theater. Dedicated exhibitions can be found in little but impressively rich museums on these topics. In this post, the Tirpitz Museum in Alta, the War Museum of Narvik and the exhibition in the visitor center of North Cape are covered.
Special interest sites
Heroic actions involving the Norwegian resistance organization are proudly remembered all over the Nation. A particularly interesting location being the Rjukan hydroelectric power-plant, which produced heavy water, a key-component in the research leading to the preparation of fissile material. This strategic asset was highly needed by the German nuclear program. On the other hand, its possession by the Third Reich was seen as a clear and present danger by the Allies, who tried to have the plant destroyed in several instances. The Norwegian resistance was clearly much involved in sabotage missions, due to the difficulty in targeting the place through air bombing raids. The power-plant is today a nice museum, covered in this post.
Photographs in this chapter were collected on a visit in August 2022.
The map below shows the location of the sites mentioned in this chapter. Their listing in the descriptions roughly follows a clockwise sense, starting from the southernmost point of Kristiansand (Vara battery). Red items are in disrepair, whereas blue ones are official tourist destinations.
Navigate this post – Click on links to scroll
- Vara Battery – Kristiansand
- Nordberg and Marka Batteries – Farsund
- Fjell Fortress – Bergen
- Tellevik Fort – Bergen
- Austrått Fortress – Austrått
- Arctic Circle & North Cape
- Narvik War Museum – Narvik
- Tirpitz Museum – Alta
- Vemork Power Plant – Rjukan
The Vara battery was built as the core of the strongly fortified area around Kristiansand. Thanks to its position close to the southernmost tip of the Norwegian territory, this port town is still today very busy with passenger and freight traffic from nearby Denmark.
The Third Reich military started to lay sea mines as soon as it gained control of both sides of the Skagerrak strait. The coast around Kristiansand was reinforced with several coastal artillery pieces, and production of a set of special 38 cm caliber guns – called Siegfried -was started by the Krupp ironworks in Essen in 1940. The aim was that of controlling access to the Baltic sea by means of two batteries of long-range naval guns, one to the south in Denmark (Hanstholm, see here), and one to the north in Kristiansand.
The cannons should be capable of revolving by 360 degrees, and special concrete rotundas were prepared for the scope in a location called Møvik, on the southwestern end of the gulf of Kristiansand. The complex morphology of the terrain in this site led to a smaller than desirable area for the battery, where all technical buildings – including ammo storages – had to be built relatively close to one another. These massive constructions alone, built by the same ‘Organisation Todt’ responsible for the implementation of the coastal defense positions all over Europe, make for a remarkable work of engineering, carried out with the help of local builders, working relentlessly around the clock to have these emplacements ready as soon as possible.
In the event, only three of the four Siegfried cannons made their way to the battery in Kristiansand, one being apparently lost when the transport ship carrying it was sunk on the Baltic Sea. Transporting these 110 ton, around 60 ft long barrels by rail from Germany into the narrow valleys of Scandinavia was not an easy task. However, two cannons were test-fired in May 1942, and the third in November the same year.
The battery received the name ‘Vara’, after a high-ranking official killed in Guernsey in 1941.
Battery Vara went through the war without seeing an involvement in any major war action, and was mainly test-fired only. The whole installation, comprising target detection points, analog computers for target aiming, ammo storages – including more than 1.400 shells! – and many other service buildings, was inherited intact by the Norwegian Armed Forces in 1945, similar to many other installations along the coast of the Skagerrak and the North Sea. It was incorporated in the Norwegian coastal artillery between 1946 and 1954, being later placed in reserve having by then become obsolete for Cold War warfare standards. Two cannons were scrapped, whereas one – the only entirely surviving battery Nr. 2 – was luckily kept. The site survived subsequent stages of demolition works over the next decades, but in the early 1990s it was finally re-opened as a museum.
Cannon Nr. 2
Today, the centerpiece of the visit is constituted by a walk around the perfectly preserved building of cannon Nr.2. This bunkerized building is composed of a set of technical rooms, for ammo assembly and storage, as well as for services like Diesel power generators, and an adjoining rotunda, where the big cannon revolved around a pinion, and could be pointed to its target, following instructions from the battery control center. The latter elaborated target data from detection, identification, measuring and range-finding positions scattered around the battery perimeter.
Access to the back of the concrete building is via the original hatch, closed by iron doors. You can see the narrow-gauge railway track leading in. This linked the cannon buildings with the ammo storages around, and allowed to supply the cannon with ammo parts (the explosive cartridge and the shell are not assembled in a single unity for larger cannons, unlike for lighter weapons). The hatch drives you into a long corridor, the backbone of the bunkerized quarters behind the cannon rotunda. Here some shells have been put on the original railway trolley for display.
The cannon building hosted a permanent watch of a few men, which manned it permanently in shifts. A living room with some berths is the only one offering some comfort in the building.
A number of rooms in the bunker are dedicated to the power generator plant. A primary and a back-up generator share the same room. Of special interest are the labels on all machines and mechanisms, proudly made in Germany – in some cases, by brands still existing today.
Electric power was required for the motion of the cannon, besides for smaller appliances like lights and radios. The cannons could make use of the regional grid, but since an unstable supply might have damaged the cannon motors, aiming operations were often carried out on the controlled internal power grid, fed by the generators, and producing an optimal output.
Beside the generator room, the air conditioning plant (not for comfort, but to slightly pressurize the bunker in order to repel and pump-out poisonous or exhaust gas), the Diesel tank and the water tank for cooling the generator can be seen in adjoining rooms.
To the far end of the corridor, a radio room was used to maintain a link with the battery command post, located more than 1 mile away from Vara battery. Actually, by design the electric signals to orient the cannon could be given by the control post, and the radio communication system was there for backup.
On the other side of the corridor with respect to the generator rooms – i.e. towards the cannon rotunda – are four adjoining rooms, used to store the components of the explosive cartridges and shells. The shells and cartridges prepared for firing were moved via a crane to a tray, and from there sent side-wards to the rotunda, where they were loaded on a trolley. The cranes, trays and slots linking these rooms to the rotunda can be found around the area of the bunker closer to the rotunda.
The cranes moved along tracks hanging from the ceiling. These tracks had some switch points, allowing to allow the crane to move across different rooms in the bunker.
Inside these rooms, today you can find much original material of special interest. Specimens of high-explosive (yellow) and armor-piercing (blue) shells are displayed. The weight of the shells was around 800 kg, where the cartridge could feature different weights, roughly from 100 to 200 kg.
The top range of these cannons and shells was around 43 km. Smaller 500 kg shells could alternatively be fired by Siegfried cannons, with a longer range of 55 km. Furthermore, the cannon could be test-fired during drills with smaller caliber shots, by reducing the bore of the cannon. This was a very useful feature, since the estimated loss of barrel metal due to attrition was a staggering 0.25 kg per shot, implying a life of the barrel of only around 250-300 shots, firing with sufficient accuracy. Shooting smaller shells allowed to spare barrel wear and extend the time between overhauls of the cannon.
The sealed canisters for the explosive cartridges, with original markings in German, can still be seen piled in a room!
More material on display includes a rare example of fire direction computer. Actually, that on display is smaller than the one originally used for the long-range cannons of Vara battery, but it provides a good idea of the level of sophistication of this mechanism. Data like target distance, velocity, orientation, wind speed and direction, etc. were set as input to this analog computer, producing fire direction variables to point the cannon. An incredible masterpiece of engineering and craftsmanship, this type of computer is difficult to find in museums, and allows to appreciate the level of development of warfare back in the 1940s.
Data including range of the target was found with the help of special instrumentation. A stereoscopic range-finder was installed in the battery command post, with an arm of 12 m, which allowed good accuracy for very distant targets – required for the long range of the cannons of Vara battery. Smaller instruments with the same principle are displayed in one of the rooms.
Among the special features of this bunkerized building are the restored, original writings from German times, as well as a one-of-a-kind painting made by a Soviet prisoner of war.
From the bunkerized room, you can get access to the rotunda. Cartridges put on trolleys moved along a circular railway track all around the rotunda. This way, cartridges could be taken to the cannon whatever the direction it was pointing. Once to the base of the cannon turret, the explosive charge and the shell were lifted separately by means of two special elevators, up to the level of the gun shutter.
An impressive feature of the rotunda is the ring cover for the circular railway. In order to protect the railway passage from above, while allowing the cannon to rotate, a roof made of thick metal scales was implemented. When revolving around the pinion, the cannon turret would automatically lift the scales on its passage. The sound of the scales being lifted and released while the cannon body was revolving must have been really an experience!
Pictures can hardly tell how big the cannon turret is!
Following an exploration from beneath, you can exit the bunker building, climb up to the level of the barrel, and finally enter the turret.
Here the back of the barrel dominates the relatively large firing chamber. The shutter has been left open, so you can see the sunlight through the barrel.
The shell and explosive charge were received from the two elevators on a special tray, and here they were finally aligned one before the other. Somewhat in contrast to the top-notch technology level of the installation, the cartridge had to be pushed from the back into the barrel by hand. A long wooden stick was used for the task. Actually, it was so long that it protruded from the back of the cannon turret, thus requiring a small hatch to be pierced in the metal armor correspondingly. On one side of the barrel, instrumentation for measuring the pointing direction is still in place.
Air-pumping mechanisms can be clearly seen, similarly to communication phones to the back and top of the room.
Cannon Nr. 1
The position of cannon Nr.1 was prepared unusually close to that of Nr.2. As said, this was due to the limited available area on the uneven coast section where the battery was put in place. However, Nr.1 never received a cannon. Conversely, it was modified later in the war, when experimenting with cannon protection from air-dropped high-yield bombs. The rotunda was capped with a very thick concrete roof, sustained by sidewalls which limited the side-wards rotation of the cannon to 120 degrees.
The rotunda can be walked freely. The central pinion is still in place. Inside, the ceiling is covered in original metal panels. The round corridor for the trolleys can still be seen, but there is no access left to the bunkerized part.
The firing position can be climbed, and from the elevated top you get a great view of the battery and of the area ahead of it.
Following the railway around the site is a great way to find what remains today of the original installation. There are two bulky ammo storages. These were reportedly more thickly armored than usual, in view of a higher risk of getting hit, due to the unusual proximity with the cannons – designated targets for the enemy.
Furthermore, other smaller buildings are scattered around, which may have served as storage for lighter weapons.
The positions of cannons Nr. 3 and Nr. 4 have been largely demolished, and access is permanently shut to the bunkerized part. However, you can easily climb to the top level, to get a nice view of the rotunda.
Vara is in the top-five list of the most famous surviving installations of the Atlantic Wall in Europe, and a visit to this destination is in itself a good reason for a detour to Norway for war historians and like-minded people. Due to its proximity to the port of Kristiansand, just minutes apart by car, and the relatively easy-to-reach location in the most populated part of Norway, it is also a top destination for any tourist in the area. As a matter of fact, the place is run as a top-level museum, with great reception capability, and is visited by thousands of visitors per year.
Visiting can be performed on a self-guided basis, with an explanation leaflet which allows to get much from your visit, especially if you are not new to installations of the Atlantic Wall (which are mostly standardized, despite Vara having really oversized guns!). A tour of the main features – cannon Nr.2 and the building of Nr.1 – may take 1 hour at least, for an averagely interested person. For an in-depth visit and a quick tour of the premises including other remains, more than 2 hours are needed. Thanks to the exceptional level of conservation and the explanation of whatever is on display, the visit is not boring and may be very rewarding even for younger people.
Large parking on site, picnic tables and warm reception are available – as usual in Norway! Website with full information here.
Located in the southwestern corner of the Norwegian territory, about 100 miles south of the port of Stavanger, the municipality of Farsund encompasses a number of small coastal villages, around the landmark represented by the lighthouse of Lista.
Two batteries were set up by the German occupation forces as part of the Atlantic wall, both fully operative by 1942. The northern one is called Nordberg fort, where the southern one, very close to the shore line, is known as Marka fort. Between the two, the Germans installed a full-scale airbase, with a runway of roughly 1.5 km, complemented by hangars and shelters largely standing today. Following the end of WWII and the withdrawal of the German military, all these installations were converted for military use by the Norwegian armed forces, which also developed the original airfield into a more modern airbase by stretching the runway.
Today, Nordberg fort is a museum. The German Navy was in charge of the station, which had as centerpieces three 150 mm cannons, with a range of around 23 km. The cannons have been scrapped (with the exception of a lighter piece of Russian make). However, the firing positions are still there, linked by a semi-interred trench.
You can see also the original control point for the battery, developed by the Norwegians more recently, and the concrete base for a radar antenna originally on site.
Several original buildings for services – canteen, hospital,… – are still there, making for a an interesting opportunity to see how this installation looked like back in the 1940s.
The Marka fort was assembled around six 150 mm guns, located very close to the sea, grouped in two batteries of three firing positions each. A huge bunkerized command post was built in the premises of the fort. Today, after the Norwegian military left at the end of the Cold War, the Marka battery is basically a ghost site, despite being still in a relatively good shape.
The control bunker is especially interesting, since you can access the top level and watch the sea from the very same room and windows originally used by the German Navy troops! The general arrangement of the bunker is similar to other command posts you can find on the Atlantic Wall – especially in Denmark (see here).
The positions for the coastal guns can be reached close to the control bunker. They are uncovered round areas, slightly below the level of the ground, framed by a circular reinforced sidewall.
More Atlantic Wall remains, like bunkers, foundations for radar stations, or emplacements for lighter guns, can be be found scattered in the area of Farsund – which kept its military site status well after the Germans had left.
The museum of Nordberg keeps some of the buildings on the respective site open. However, the majority of the site is open 24 hours, and can be walked freely. A visit may take about 1 hour. A convenient parking can be found right ahead of the modern and welcoming visitor center, from where you can effortlessly reach most of the points of interest in this installation. Website with full information here.
The site of Marka – not part of any museum – can be approached at any time with some walking in the rural area along the coast line. A good starting point for an exploration is here, where you can leave your car and move along an easy trail to the command bunker and the gun rotundas about 0.5 miles west.
Bergen was a strategic base of the German Navy, which received a fortified submarine deck among the largest, most active and longest lasting in the history of WWII. The complex morphology of the territory around this port town allowed to effectively protect the access by means of a network of nine firing emplacements. One of them – Fjell – was of exceptional power and range.
It was built between 1942-43 diverting one of the batteries of battleship Gneisenau, which had been damaged beyond repair by an air raid while in port at Kiel (Germany). The battery was composed of three 28 cm guns in a single turret. The latter was very compact in design, a real masterpiece of naval engineering, but nonetheless it featured a rather tall substructure, with all that was needed to operate the guns – protruding from the relatively sleek top of the turret, surfacing on the ground.
Placing this special battery in Fjell required carving the rocky coast, creating a cylindrical underground pit, inside coated with concrete, to host the turret. The turret, an assembly of around 1.000 tonnes with the guns on top, was then transported up to this elevated site, and lowered into the pit. The battery was test fired in the mid of 1943. It acted as an effective deterrent, and reportedly never used in combat.
The battery was incorporated in the Norwegian coastal defense after WWII, and sadly scrapped in 1968, since by then obsolete, but not yet considered an historical landmark.
Clearly, the battery was in the middle of an off-limits military area in wartime, where bunkers for several services and for the the troops, at least two radar antennas and many emplacements for lighter defensive weapons were installed to protect the battery from ground and air attacks.
Today, the bunker-pit where the turret used to rest is the centerpiece of a visit to the site. Starting from the visitor center on top, where the guns used to be, you can descend to the base of the cylindrical pit – roughly 30 ft in diameter and 75 in depth! Here you can see the rooms originally employed for storing the explosive cartridges and the shells for the cannons. These were supplied on trolleys and slides, and sent inside the metal turret, to be lifted up to the level of the cannons for firing.
Most of the original German mechanical and electrical systems is still there to see, including wiring, phones, cranes, trolleys, and examples of shells and cartridges.
Back then, you got access to these storage areas from an entrance on the same level (i.e. not from the top of the turret, but from the base). You can see this entrance, as well as the curved corridor leading from the gate to the ammo storage area. Here, examples of sea mines and other war material can be found. The corridor has narrow-gauge railway track, which was used for resupplying the ammo storage from outside.
The corridor is curved, and firing positions are strategically placed to cover it, in order to counter enemy intrusion.
The bunker gives access to the living quarters for the troops. These are well preserved, and feature brick walls to help insulating the inside from the wet rock of the walls and ceilings.
Services, like toilets, sauna, washing machines and more, are original from the German tenancy. Especially the water basins appear very stylish, a good example of German design from the era.
Besides the main turret bunker, as said the Fjell site offers other constructions on a vast area, which can be checked out from the outside – also since the premises are at least formally military grounds still today.
The road reaching the site from the parking, gently climbing uphill, is reportedly the original main access to the Third Reich site. An interesting tank-stopping device can be seen to the lower end of the road – heavy stones on top of light pillars on the sides of the road. The pillars could be blown, and the stones would fall cutting the road, in case of a potential intrusion.
The fort of Fjell, about 15 miles west of central Bergen, is professionally run as a museum. Parking is only possible to the base of the cliff where the turret used to stand. From there, a 0.8 miles road climbs to the entrance. The scenic location and the nice rural area around make for an enjoyable walk. Visiting inside is only possibly on guided tours, offered also in English (an possibly other languages). A small restaurant can be found on top, where an observation deck has been built in place of the battery.
The coastal fort of Tellevik, on the eastern head of the Norhordland Bridge, 15 miles north of Bergen, was part of the lighter defense artillery put in place by the German military to defend any access by water to Bergen. The battery was built by order of the Third Reich, profiting from the forced labor of Soviet prisoners of war.
Lighter howitzers were enough to cover the narrow water passages in proximity of the town. The elevation of the emplacement is low, slightly above the water surface.
The battery of Tellevik was centered on two such howitzers, placed on open-top positions. The two guns can be seen still today, on round concrete firing positions. The giant bridge today largely obstructing the field of sight was not there at the time of the German occupation.
The site displays also a concrete trench, connecting the firing positions with a command post for the battery.
A monument to Norwegian seamen victims to sea mines laid by the German to protect the access to Bergen is concurrently located on the site of the Tellevik battery.
Tellevik is an open air memorial, which can be walked freely 24/7. It can be reached by inputting these coordinates to a GPS navigation app.
A visit may take about 15 minutes, a nice detour from exceptionally crowded downtown Bergen.
Similar to Bergen, the major port of Trondheim was a strategic base for the German Navy. Protected by a long firth, the port was an ideal base for submarines and warships, to intercept convoys in the North Sea, Norwegian Sea, the Atlantic Ocean and the Barents Sea. Correspondingly, a number of coastal forts was prepared by the German occupation forces to counter any unauthorized access to the waterways leading to Trondheim.
The most powerful and impressive of these batteries is the Austratt Fort. Similar to the fortress of Fjell near Bergen (see above), Austratt received one of the turrets of the ill-fated battleship Gneisenau, damaged while moored in Kiel, in February 1942. A control and aiming position was put in place a few miles apart along the coast, whereas the battery was surrounded by an off-limits area, stuffed with bunkers for the troops, ammo storage bunkers, and lighter guns for protection against an attack by land.
A major difference between the two ‘sister sites’ of Fjell and Austratt is that in the latter the cannons are still there!
Following the installation of the turret, test fired in September 1943, the fort saw little action, acting as a deterrent, and effectively preventing any serious intrusion by the Allies towards Trondheim from the sea. After the demise of the Third Reich, the fort was taken over by the Norwegian coastal defense, stricken off in 1968, and restored as a museum in the early 1990s.
The cannons are on top of a hill. From the outside, the massive three-barreled turret is really impressive in size!
The barrels can be seen besides the original range-finder – with its impressive arm, granting good measuring accuracy even at a large distance from the target. This item, with its bell-shaped cover, was originally part of the control point, located southwest of the battery, in a location currently very close to an active base of the Norwegian Air Force (Orland).
Despite access to the the firing chamber being possible through a hatch to the back of the turret, the tour follows the way a shell would travel from storage to firing. Hence you start your tour from an entrance to the side of the hill, at the same level of the bottom of the cylindrical tower supporting the guns. This metal tower was taken from the Gneisenau together with the cannons, and put in a pit carved in the rock for the purpose in Austratt.
Access through the side of the hill is protected by a smaller gun. Once inside, you find yourself in a curvy corridor, with a narrow-gauge railway track for the trolleys needed to carry the shells and cartridges inside. A firing position behind an embrassure points against the entrance, for further protection of the site against an intrusion.
The bunker in Austratt – but the same happened to many installations of the Atlantic Wall in Norway – was plagued with severe humidity problems. Immediately besides the entrance, a room with a water basin is fed by natural water dripping from the ceiling and from the rocky walls around.
Original machines for tooling, put in place for maintenance purposes back in the Third Reich years, are still there and working. Similarly, a primary and a backup Diesel generators supplying the fort are still in place, with all ancillary plants, like big Diesel and water tanks for cooling. This is original machinery too, as witnessed by the tags of the mechanical components, all made in Germany.
Living quarters were at the bottom level too. Trying to supply some comfort, the rocky walls were covered with bricks and wood, especially against humidity. These rooms have been partly refurbished with a good resemblance to the original ones. They include the kitchen and some of the sleeping quarters for the troops. However, since humidity was really extreme, troops spent limited time here especially for sleeping, and provisional barracks were built outside of the installation instead.
Hygienic services were reportedly extremely advanced compared to Norwegian standards of the time. Fully working toilets, lavatories and showers were taken as a blueprint by the Norwegian Army after the war. The electric water heater put in place in the Austratt battery was apparently among the first installed in the whole Country – it can still be seen.
Explosive cartridges, fuses and shells arriving from the bunker entry you have walked through at the beginning of your tour would be eventually lifted upstairs. Shells, either high-yield explosive or armor-piercing, would be stored in a chamber featuring cranes hanging from the ceiling, used to put the shells on trolleys. These trolleys transported the shells to the lower level of the turret. The chamber where the shells were stored is physically separated by the turret by means of a concrete wall.
Tight compartments are often found in war bunkers of the Atlantic Wall, and this can be explained by the fact that the deadliest effect of an enemy shot (either a cannon shell from a warship, or an air-dropped bomb) would be that of an overpressure wave (shockwave), capable of killing many in just moments. Overpressure effects can be effectively reduced by putting physical obstacles on the way the shockwave would travel – walls, tight doors, etc. – or by forcing it into smaller passages, like hatches or smaller doors and windows. Therefore, bunkers like Austratt are built in rather small rooms, connected only through narrow hatches and doors.
Again in the storage chamber for the shells, extensive writing in German can be found on many of the mechanisms and electric plants. Everything is original and exceptionally well conserved, just like the Germans had just left!
The lowest level of the turret, where the shells would arrive from the storage chamber to be loaded on elevators going to the upper levels, is a masterpiece of engineering. The technical problem here was that of connecting the slides from the storage chamber, which are anchored to the ground, to the receiving slides on the turret, which could pivot around 360 degrees. The designer of the turret solved the issue by placing an intermediate ring, revolving independently, and capable of connecting the fixed slides from the storage chamber to the revolving platform on the turret. The extremely compact size of the overall design, originally prepared for fitting into a warship, and the elegance and precision of the mechanism resemble those of a pocket watch from the 1920s more than a cannon!
On the turret, you can see three elevators for the three barrels, which were therefore fed independently.
Going upstairs, you meet the storage room for the explosive cartridges. These used to be stored in sealed canisters on display, original from the time. This storage room is placed to the side of the corresponding level in the turret, in a similar fashion to the shells storage below.
Climbing up one more level inside the turret, you reach a platform with the motors for moving the battery around its vertical axis, and for lifting or lowering the three monster barrels. The motion involved high-pressure mechanisms, rather complex and requiring many valves and extensive piping.
To the back of each of the barrels, you can see a large empty volume for recoil. The battery rested on a ball bearing – one of the pretty sizable metal balls is on display.
Finally, the firing chamber can be found on the top level in the turret. Here the shells and cartridges were received, aligned and loaded from the back into the barrels by a pushing mechanical arm. Three independent mechanisms were put in place for the scope in the firing chamber.
To the front of the battery, instrumentation for aiming can be found, with writing in German. Also radio positions are there.
Battery fire could be triggered by a single man, sitting to the back of the turret in front of a control panel with three independent triggers.
You can exit the turret from the hatch to the back of the turret, concluding your tour. In the video below you can see a portrait of the battery from the air, made with a drone.
All in all, similar to the Vara battery (see above), Austratt is in an exceptional state of conservation in the Norwegian and European panorama of artillery engineering from WWII, and a visit may be super-interesting for any public.
Despite being relatively close to Trondheim on a map, as usual in Norway, Austratt is a more than two hours drive from the town, and reaching requires taking at least one ferry. However, as noted, this location is a pinnacle in the Atlantic Wall, and surely deserves a visit for technicians and non-technical public as well, and of course for the kids.
Access to the exterior is possible at any time, but visiting inside is only possible on guided tours. The guide is very knowledgeable and makes the visit interesting also for a technically-minded public. The visit inside may take around 1 hour, more if you make questions and show some interest. Convenient parking by the gate of the fort, easy access to the area around the battery. Moving inside can be requiring for non-fit people.
Website with full information here.
As pointed out in the introduction to this chapter, Norway is rich of memorials from WWII. Even close to some of the attractions in this wonderful Country which are must-see stops for other reasons, features recalling memories from war actions are offered to a curious eye.
Two notable examples are the visitor center of the Arctic Circle along the E6, as well as that of North Cape.
Scandinavia has been a bloody and extremely active theater of war all along WWII, and Norway was directly involved in significant war actions since the first year of the conflict. As a matter of fact, most of the impressive line of fortifications constituting the Atlantic Wall was erected by deploying forced laborers, typically prisoners of war from the Eastern Front, primarily including Russians, other people from the USSR, and Balkan prisoners.
Soviet troops attacked the northernmost German-occupied region from the North, together with the Finns, after the latter negotiated a separate peace with the USSR in late 1944. The retreating Germans opposed a fierce resistance, and it was in this latest stage of the war that most physical damage to towns and installations was caused in Norway, since German troops were ordered to burn up all positions they had to leave.
These facts explain the many Soviet monuments and war cemeteries scattered especially in the northern part of Norway still today – commemorating Soviet soldiers fallen either in war actions or as prisoners of war in the harsh conditions of northern Norway.
One such monument, albeit overlooked, is prominently placed besides the visitor center of the Arctic Circle.
The interest of Germany for Norway was primarily for its strategic position, which became an asset of special value after the start of the war against the USSR in mid-1941. The convoys feeding vital material to the USSR from Britain and the US had to go to Murmansk (see here) and the Kola Peninsula, i.e. over the Barents Sea. This was conveniently controlled by the German occupants, operating from the Norwegian coast.
In the visitor center of North Cape some panels are dedicated to this topic, showing an impression of the structure and routes followed by Allied convoys going to the USSR.
Detailed panels with maps and pictures recall the last battle of the German battleship Scharnhorst, which was confronted by the group of the British battleship HMS Duke of York, in an epic battle relatively close to North Cape. The massive German battleship, deployed to Norway with Tirpitz (a sister ship of the famous Bismarck) to block the resupply traffic to the USSR, was hit several times and finally sunk in the freezing last days of 1943. The battle was posthumously named ‘Battle of North Cape’. A detailed scaled model of the German battleship is similarly on display in the visitor center.
The visitor center of the Arctic Circle on the road E6, with a small Soviet monument, can be found here. The monument is open 24/7.
The visitor center of North Cape is… at North Cape! The inside can be accessed during opening times, and the tables with information on WWII convoys and battles are on an underground mezzanine. Website with full information here.
The port town of Narvik was founded in the 19th century as a commercial base for exporting iron ore from Sweden. A small town by the sea, surrounded by steep-climbing mountains, and in a remote location well north of the Arctic Circle, Narvik was turned for about two months into a though theater of war for the Germans, following their occupation of Norway.
It was here that the British started a battle to stop the German push to the north, as soon as the 10th of April 1940, basically at the same time as the Germans had reached the town during their conquering campaign.
What resulted was a complex, multi-stage operation, lasting until early June 1940.
At first, the British fleet mounted a naval attack, carried out with a flotilla of five destroyers. This force clashed with the local German complement of ten destroyers. The British operation met with mixed success, and was finally repelled by the German navy operating in the narrow waters around Narvik, at the price of two destroyers on each side – plus several cargo ships destroyed in the battle. Three days later, on the 13th of April, a new force, composed of the British battleship HMS Warspite and 9 destroyers, launched another assault, resulting in the complete loss of the German destroyers fleet in the region – German warships were either sunk or scuttled.
The Germans however kept control of the town. A mixed force of British, Polish and French troops, together with the Norwegians, started an operation to conquer the town by land. The operation was successful, and the German troops had to retreat along the coast, away from Narvik. However, the start of the Battle of France – the invasion of France by the Third Reich – on the 10th of May, 1940, resulted in a rapid loss of priority of Narvik as a strategic target for the Allies. It was decided in Britain to withdraw from Norway, and to evacuate all previously landed military forces from Narvik. The town fell under German control on June 8th, basically concluding the conquer of Norway by the Third Reich.
The Allied landings around Narvik in 1940 where the first on the European continent in WWII, carried out without the participation of the US, more than three years before operations in southern Italy or Normandy.
The town of Narvik is still today an active commercial port of primary relevance in the region. The heritage of war actions is preserved in a purpose-installed museum, modernly designed and easy to visit.
On a first floor, the naval operations around Narvik are described by means of technological 3D board with virtual projections – very nice and lively. Around the board, memorabilia from the British and German warships taking part to the operations back in the Spring of 1940 have been put on display.