The Concrete Evidence Team have returned from their annual excursion, this time to Norway to hunt the lesser-spotted "Tony Pike" who they were hot on the heels of by a matter of weeks and indeed found his business card pinned to a wall in a bunker somewhere in Kristiansand!
Unfortunately, they didn't find him as an awful lot of concrete and metalwork got in the way. But both the team and Tony will probably agree on one thing.....it's worth the trip!
Next months CIOS Talk picks up where the team of the mid-2000's (Messers Hamon \ Costard \ Letto and Walton) left off, revisiting some familiar haunts which were also recently visited by Tony Pike......and some completely new sites which should be interesting to all!
Having never been to Norway, but for many years wanting to, I finally got myself organized for a really self indulgent ten day tour of German fortifications and museums. For others, with the lure of the Fjords and other touristy things to do, Not everybody’s cup of tea or coffee I am sure, but for me it was deeply interesting and the days just flew by.
Norway was given highest priority in the German fortification program . Convinced that Britain would want to seize the strategic port of Narvik and deny Hitler indispensable Iron Ore exports that was vital for the manufacture of weapons , the Third Reich from the earliest days of occupation, were making plans and set about a construction program that was one of the largest and intense the world had ever seen.
Situated near the town of Kristiansand at Møvik Fort in southern Norway is Batterie Vara. Here you will find one of the most complete gun & turret still in situ, preserved with the rest of the infrastructure to support and store ammunition and 52 personnel.
The 1940 vintage Fredrich Krupp SKC/34 statistics are impressive, with a calibre of 38cm – the gun barrel alone weighs in at 110 tonnes! There were intended to be four of these mighty guns , but by the wars end only guns two, three and four were emplaced. Where the Number one gun actually ended up is a mystery, some reports say it was sunk on a boat in transit , but this has never been confirmed. The only certain information we have is that Number one gun never arrived in Norway.
Kristiansand was chosen as the site for these massive artillery pieces so that they could control access to the skaggerak sea passage between Norway & Denmark.
Also at Hansholm in Denmark, four of these 38cm guns had been emplaced in similar fortifications. With a maximum range of 55,000 metres (34 miles) with the lighter 500kg Seigfried shell, it left only 18 kilometres that could not be protected by these guns. So this gap was extensively mined, In April 1940, 1642 mines were laid out, and these were constantly maintained throughout and further reinforced in the last year of the war.
Last week, I was fortunate to be given a guided tour by the museum’s director Arlid Andersen, who in turn, was very pleased to welcome CIOS Jersey. My first impression was how intact the whole emplacement is: Original fittings abound, in fact it looks like the gun could be made ready for action in just a few hours! The diesel Deutz generators that can power the traverse and elevation of the gun still work: The sinks and toilets are still there, while a full interpretation of the Batterie and a fortification trail map that make up Batterie Vara is available. Even a new 60cm railway line and train following the original path from the ammunition bunkers to the emplacements is available in the summer season to ferry the thousands of tourists that visit every year.
Artillery guns two, three and four were mounted in open emplacements which meant they could engage targets in any direction. However, the downside to this was that they were very vulnerable, despite the turret’s 5cm thick armoured plate, which gave some protection to the crew from bombs and artillery fire. Only the Number one gun emplacement was given the full treatment and received a reinforced concrete roof, ( the only one of it’s type to be found in Norway) -which was eventually finished in early 1945 . The dimensions of this bunker are truly of immense proportions. It is 18 metres wide, 8.5 metres high, while the roof is 4 metres, and the walls are 3.5 metres thick. The ironic fact remains that, for all this work and considerable expense carried out on this monumental bunker, the gun never actually arrived!
On May 12th 1945 the Norwegian flag was finally raised over Batterie Vara, now renamed Møvik Fort. The three emplaced heavy guns and all the bunkers were still intact. Work started to clear the various 10,151 mines that surrounded the area. This was carried out by the German prisoners of war, which were under the control of English and Norwegian military.
In order to prove that the areas were properly cleared, they were made to walk over the area in line, arm in arm - which focused the mind on doing a thoroughly good job somewhat.
Guns and turrets for emplacements three and four were scrapped in 1959. It was wisely decided to preserve the number two gun and bunker complex for future generations, so that we can learn and discover about Batterie Vara’s unique history.
One other fact, which is worthy of note is in the Batterie’s name, Vara.
Very often German gun batteries on the Atlantic wall and in the Channel Islands are named after a general, or a Fieldmarshal of note or high reputation. In my research of this batterie I have discovered a Channel Islands link.
On the 3rd November 1941 General Major Felix Vara was on a visit to the Channel Islands to inspect and advise on the positioning of Naval batteries to be constructed. He was travelling by sea from Guernsey to Alderney in the company of Kapitän Mirus and other high ranking officers , when at 3.15pm their boat was attacked by RAF 234 squadron, with rockets and machine gun fire. Also, this attack was followed up with a solitary Spitfire. This action resulted in the death of General Major Felix Vara, and Kapitän Mirus (which then carried in honour his name in Guernsey for the Krupp reconditioned 30.5cm Russian guns) while the Batterie in Kristiansand Norway was named Batterie Vara.
Mr Shane Boschat, our bunker team leader for Batterie Moltke, writes in with an interesting tale of his day going metal detecting in the Royal Bay of Grouville.
"Myself and my good friend Tony went metal detecting. Tony is an avid detectorist, I am a casual onlooker, but I had to give it a go too. We went to a part of the beach that Tony and many other detectorists know very well. This part of the bay was used as targeting for all the weapons based in the bay of Grouville and beyond. The Germans took practice shots at landmarks to check their range and direction, these were noted in case any invasion took place in the bay. Often some of the rounds, mostly mortars and 3.7cm anti-tank rounds would miss their target and land in soft sand, failing to detonate.
"They would stay there until local detectorists dig them up. Digging these items up isn't too easy either, the sand behaves like wet concrete, the sides of the hole you are digging soon collapse and fill in...hard work! The rounds are not always that easy to recognise as over the years a covering of crud (a techinical term I'm told) forms on the outside of the piece. After a few taps with a hammer to the side the crud breaks off to reveal the live round. NEVER try to defuse any live rounds you may find, they are over 70 years old and very unstable. ALWAYS call the Police on 612612 when you find anythng suspicious, they will contact Stuart Elliot our local EDO (Explosives Disposal Officer) who will remove the rounds. Also be aware of the rising tide, its easy to get cut off out there.
"We had arranged to meet Stuart before hand to hand over any pieces found today, these were added to some found before (see top photo), the live rounds were all put together with charges and safely disposed of...BOOM!!"
A word of warning to those who may wish to visit the Channel Islands’ Occupation sites. Most of the bunkers, gun pits and defences are on private property, and if you want to have a look, first obtain permission from the owner. Do not enter without a strong torch or lamp. There are different designs of defences that, from the outside look the same, but once inside, passages may descend without warning. Also wellington boots may be needed as over fifty years of dirt and dust will have blocked up the drains. We would warn you that bunkers on the coast will have been used as unofficial toilets - so beware! Young persons should not enter without an adult, as many bunkers have awkward steps and hidden ducts that can trip the unwary. Bunkers and tunnels that are sealed have been blocked up for this reason and for no other - those of you who hope to find an “Aladdin’s Cave” of war relics are too late, having been beaten to it by the scrap metal drive of the early 1950s.