Bergen in Norway was heavily involved in World War II (WWII). We learned a great deal about the German occupation of this Scandinavian country during our optional excursion entitled Bergen at War as we visited six European countries on our Viking Trade Routes of the Middle Ages Cruise in the fall of 2022. The cruise from Bergen, Norway to Barcelona, Spain includes numerous excursions to architectural, historical, shopping, culinary, and cultural sites. Since my interest includes learning more about World War II, We opted for this one day tour and felt we gained some historical and tactical insights.
Fourteen of us traveled through the Norwegian countryside in a small vehicle necessitated by the narrow roads. Our guide Mr. Frode Roalso told us that he can trace his Norwegian lineage back to the 1200’s. As we drove to our destination, he told us that more than 400,000 German soldiers were stationed in Norway before the war ended in 1945. He explained that Germany felt that the occupation of Norway was critical to defending the North Sea against Great Britain. Bergen – due to its location and harbor – was a natural target. It was invaded and overrun by Germany on April 9, 1940 after putting up minor resistance.
As we traveled to our first stop, Roalso told us that Germany built their major submarine base in Bergen. It became the object of numerous allied bombings. But, due to its heavy concrete walls, it was virtually indestructible. The greatest damage was done to the city of Bergen itself. In fact, as we drove by a school, he shared that during one bombing raid 200 school children were killed there when their school was hit with stray bombs.
The Germans decided to build what was known as The Atlantic Wall stretching from Norway to Spain in order to thwart a potential Allied invasion. Accordingly, Roalso said, they constructed 341 forts in Norway.
The Fjell Fortress
The Fjell Fortress which we visited was one of them. It is located near the town of Fjell, about a 30 minute drive from Bergen and is now a tourist attraction. There Kristoffer took over and shared some of its history.
The fort was designed to defend the coast of Norway. Its main construction was started in August of 1942 and was completed about one year later. Between 1500 – 2000 Russian POWs were used as slave labor in the construction. Many perished. Kristoffer said that the primary huge 11 inch gun had an accurate range of 20 miles and was fired for the first and only time in August of 1943. It’s shock wave broke glass and knocked down small structures in the area.
We learned that about 250 Germans were positioned inside the fort and 1000 on the outside. The lives of the soldiers in the fort was not exciting. Except for the officers, there was no hot water and the conditions were cold and damp. The fort was a labyrinth. It was almost like living in a cave. I would imagine that the inhabitants were happy when the war ended.
North Sea Maritime Museum in Telavag
We visited the North Sea Maritime Museum in the new town of Telavag where the story of the tragedy there was told through photos videos and recorded commentaries. In 1942, the town, about 25 miles from Bergen, was the scene of one of the war’s greatest atrocities. It was located on the coast and was the center of the clandestine boat traffic between Britain’s Shetland Islands and Norway.
We learned that the Germans attempted to arrest two Allied spies at a local house. A firefight developed and two Gestapo agents were killed. The Nazi reprisal was brutal. All of the buildings in the town were burned and the livestock removed. The men were either shot or sent to a concentration camp. Women and children were sent to jail. Only 41 of the 72 men sent to the concentration camp returned.
This modern museum featured great graphics as well as verbal recorded interviews. It also contains an exhibit featuring Leif Larsen who was one of the leaders in running the flow of boats from Norway to The Shetland Islands.
This Viking optional excursion gave us a much better appreciation and knowledge of the role that Norway played in World War II.
Story by Burt Davis and Dianne Davis