A Visit To Batterie Vara

Society Press Officer Tony Pike sends the following, from his recent trip to Norway

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.

To learn more about this area, please visit the Vest-Agder Museum website.

Tony Pike