Despite the fact that Norway declared itself as a neutral country at the outbreak of the Second World War, on the 9th of April 1940, Norwegians woke to occupying German forces. The country remained occupied until the war ended on the 8th of May 1945. The occupation of Norway was strategic for the Germans; not only was Norway a little too buddy-buddy with the United Kingdom for Germany’s liking (they were almost allowed to do some mining in Norway), but geographically it was close to the U.K and formed an important part of Hitler’s dream of an Atlantic Wall. Norway became an important country for Germany during the Second World War, and they made full use of the long coast. Of course, it would take too long to talk about all the points of interest along the coast; even focusing on Bergen is a long enough article! But it’s easy to see how Norway came to have such a rich war history.
Bergen is no different, and those travelling to Bergen with an interest in war and history will be kept busy with the forts, museums, and memorials that represent Bergen during the war.
I’ve put together a list of some of the more famous – and less famous – sites around Bergen that represent its war history.
- The German occupation of Bergen
- The Bergen Fortress
- The bunker
- Håkon’s Hall and the Voorbode explosion
- Bergenhus Festningsmuseum
- Theta Museum
- Shetland Group memorial
- In the mountains
- Fløyen memorial
- Voorbode Anchor
- Around Bergen
- U-boat pen ‘Bruno’
- Olsvik Bunker
- Fjell Fortress
- Herdla Museum
- Hellen Fort
- Kvarven Fort
The German occupation of Bergen
Along with the other major cities like Oslo and Trondheim, Bergen was occupied on the first day of the German invasion, the 9th of April 1940. The fortifications around Bergen had received information that German warships were steaming north off the coast of Denmark during the night of the 8th/9th, and they quickly prepared for a potential attack. Despite the fact that the city was surrounded by manned forts (some of which are listed below), they stood no chance against the German convoys with their ships, planes, and approximately 1,900 men. The Norwegians managed to heavily damage one ship, the Koningsberg, but the remaining vessels entered the city undamaged. The locals woke up on the 9th of April to a German flag flying at the Bergen Fortress and heavily armed German forces guarding several public buildings. The occupation of Bergen lasted until the 8th of May 1945.
The Bergen Fortress
The Bergen Fortress was the main headquarters of the German soldiers during the war. They used most of the buildings within the fortress (the only one they didn’t use was Håkon’s Hall), and constructed some of their own.
If you are planning to walk around the fortress, I recommend this excellent guide. It’s available printed at Håkon’s Hall & the Rosenkrantz Tower.
The German Bunker
Located just next to Håkons Hall and covered with green ivy, this German bunker is one of the few remains of the Germans at Bergen Fortress. After the explosion of the freight ship Voorbode (see below), the telephone exchange that had been in the stable building and the basement of the Rozenkrantz tower had been destroyed. The German bunker was built in 1944 as a new communications bunker, and working inside were 200 Soviet prisoners of war. The concrete was designed to withstand attacks. When the war ended, Germany gave Norway some money to tear it down, but the Norwegians kept the bunker as a reminder to Bergen’s WWII history. You can’t go inside, but it’s interesting enough just to look at.
Håkon’s Hall & the explosion of Voorbode
The history of Håkons Hall is fascinating; built around 1261 for a royal wedding, abandoned when the capital moved to Oslo, and then used as storage by the Danes. During the 19th century, as Norwegian national romanticism flourished, the true history of Håkons Hall as an early royal hall was revealed, and the hall was heavily restored and decorated with Norwegian motifs.
Sadly, during the Second World War, Håkons Hall was heavily damaged from a large explosion on the harbour. On the 14th of April 1944, the Dutch ship Voorbode was travelling from Oslo to Kirkenes, but stopped in Bergen for repairs. Normally a ship like this wasn’t allowed to stop in a major port, because, well, it was carrying 124 tonnes of explosives. Due to lack of proper controls and communication, the ship had been allowed into Bergen, and it docked on the side of the harbour (not too far from the Bergen fortress and where the Statsraad Lehmkuhl docks).
On the fourth morning, the ships engineer and several Norwegian workers observed smoke coming from the cargo hold. They managed to escape from the ship, but at 8:39am the cargo exploded. A water column several hundred metres high rose up from the bay followed by sand, mud, stones, iron plates, timber, and steel from the ship. The pressure wave swept along the harbour, crushing everything in its path. Houses were reduced to splinters, large brick buildings were damaged, and windows were broken more than 2km away. Bergen was declared a disaster area – 4536 buildings were destroyed or damaged, 160 people died, 5000 were injured, and 5000 were left homeless. 4260 children were forced to evacuate to other areas to prevent illness and epidemics. The locals believed the attack was deliberate as it occurred on Hitler’s birthday (the 20th of April), but an investigation concluded it was a pure accident (people don’t believe the investigation).
The explosion destroyed all the restoration work at Håkons Hall, leaving only the stone walls. It also damaged the roofs of Bryggen.
If you go inside Håkons Hall, before paying the admission fee, there is a small exhibition about how destructive the explosion was, including a model of Bergenhus and some images of the disaster.
To learn more about the resistance movement during World War II, and everything about the Norwegian army, visit the Bergenhus Festningsmuseum, located just on the edge of Bergenhus near St. Mary’s Church. The exhibition about the resistance movement in Bergen 1940-1945 shows both civilian and military resistance, demonstrating how the civilians of Bergen organised against the Nazi Party Nasjonal Samling’s attempts to Nazify the Norwegian society, and also how the military resistance developed from scattered, isolated groups to a large organisation with ties to London. Many resistance members from Bergen were cruelly tortured before being executed or sent to their deaths in concentration camps. Despite such setbacks, the resistance movement grew steadily stronger until the liberation. The museum has photos, weapons, espionage equipment, sabotage material, film footage, and interviews. Additional exhibitions are:
- Women’s contribution to the Norwegian Armed Forces
- Newspapers in Bergen during the war
- The underground press 1940-1945
- Norwegian forces abroad
- Norwegian Independent Brigade Group
- History of the fortress
The best part is – the museum is free!
Located on a hill just behind the Bergen fortress, Sverresborg is another monument that oozes history (take a look at the history of King Sverre Sigurdsson and the Norwegian civil war). However, the fortress is also interesting when it comes to the Second World War. During WWII, the German occupants established two anti aircraft batteries in the fortress. After the war, Sverresborg was used as an execution site in connection with treason. Seven Germans and one Norwegian war criminal were executed there in 1946. Today, there is no evidence of this, but it’s still worth visiting as it provides excellent views of Bergen.
Bergen’s UNESCO site Bryggen is the epicentre of local history; the wharf was used as a trading centre from the 11th century onwards, and for a few hundred years it was the home of the German merchants, the Hanseatic League. It was known as a German wharf until the end of the 19th century and, as you might imagine, after the war ended the people of Bergen wanted to remove any trace of the city’s German heritage, so they actually planned to get rid of Bryggen. Luckily, a fire led to archeological excavations which led to the discovery of Bryggen’s rich heritage, so now the wharf is protected. We know that Bryggen was damaged from the explosion, but it was also home to a very important resistance group.
Perhaps one of the more important WWII sites in Bergen, the Theta Museum was the secret base of a well-known resistance group called the Theta Group. Comprised of a group of young students (aged 19-22) form Bergen, the group had some radio equipment and established contact with London. The Theta group acquired information and then told London, therefore assisting the British Army with the Germans in Norway. They told the British about the movements of the battleship Tirpitz, which led to the British sinking the ship near Tromsø. They also obtained inside information about the U-boat pens in Laksevåg (see below), and also informed on the Televåg burning. The group ended when the Germans discovered their location. Some group members were end to concentration camps and died, some fled to Sweden, and some fled to the United Kingdom. When they returned after the war, they set up their old room to look as it had during the war, and today that room is a museum. When visiting the museum, you’ll be able to see their equipment, photographs, newspapers, maps, a gun, and more. Sadly it’s a little hard to get into the museum: it’s open from May-September on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 2pm-4pm. Note that it’s very small; it’s actually considered to be the smallest museum in Norway! It’s located in the alley Enhjørningsgården.
Shetland Group Memorial
The Shetland Group (or Shetland Bus) was a group that made a permanent link between Shetland and Norway throughout the Second World War. The unit was operated initially by small fishing boats and later by submarine chasers. The purpose of the group was to transfer agents in and out of Norway and provide them with weapons, radios, and other supplies. They would bring out the Norwegians who feared arrest by the Germans.
Just behind the fish market is a statue of Leif Larsen, one of the famous men of the Shetland group. He made 52 trips to Norway and became a highly decorated Allied naval officer in the Second World War.
In the Mountains
Some old German constructions can be found at the top of Rundemanen and nearby Blåmanen. Sadly I can’t find much information on their history.
Fløyen WWII Memorial
If you take a trip to the top of Mt. Fløyen, you’ll notice a World War II memorial just in front of the restaurant. It is in memory of the sporting youths who fell for Norway between 1940 and 1945. You can read about the history of why the sporting youths have been recognised here: http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMPBBT_World_War_II_Memorial_Bergen_Norway
A short walk from the city centre, the Sandviken battery was built between 1895 and 1902 to protect Bergen from possible attacks from the Swedes. The battery formed the ‘inner fortification’ to protect Bergen from attacks from the sea. It was not manned when the Germans arrived in April 1940 and did not take part in the defence of Bergen as the Germans invaded. It was then used by the Germans throughout the war.
If you hike up Sandviksfjellet, you’ll come across the anchor from the Voorbode, the German freight ship that exploded on the harbour.
U-boat pen Bruno
When the Germans occupied Norway, they were able to move their u-boats closer to the front and to the United Kingdom. One of the submarine pens they built is Bruno, which is located in the suburb of Laksevåg. It has 3 dry boat pens, 3 wet ones, and one that is used for storage. After the Allied landings in France in June 1944, there was a massive expansion of the U-boat base in Bergen.
This led to a massive English air raid on October 1944, involving 150 aircraft. The attack ended in disaster when 193 Norwegians, among them 61 children at a nearby school, were killed. There was another attack on Bruno later that month, but the 244 aircraft could not find the target because of heavy clouds. Instead, parts of Bergen’s city centre were bombed. Today the bunker is used by the Norwegian navy for submarine pens. It’s a little hard to see from the city, but if you take any ferry or head out to the tip of Nordnes of Sandviken, you’ll be able to see it.
Little historical information exists on this bunker, but a sign outside it states that it was used by the Germans during WWII. The bunker is located in the suburb of Olsvik. To get there, take bus 40 towards Olsvik and get off at the stop ‘Olsvikåsen’. From there, it takes 15-20 minutes to talk to the top.
Fjell fortress was the largest German fortress in Norway during the Second World War. Construction began in 1942, and it was completed around July 1943. The fort was designed as being a significant link in the coastal defense of Norway, and it was to stop seaward approach to Bergen.
To mount the main gun turret, it was necessary to dig 17 metres vertically into the mountain, and this was considered a time consuming task.so the main entrance and gun emplacement were constructed as an open ditch, and later covered with concrete, instead of blasting a tunnel into and down in the solid rock. As a result, water entering the tunnel system has been a problem ever since the tunnel was constructed. The work was carried out by prisoners from Eastern Europe and Norwegian prisoners. 25 prisoners died during construction, either from frostbite, exhaustion, or execution.
Fjell fortress is on top of the Fjedlafjedlet Mountain, in the small town Fjell, in Fjell municipality. You can walk around the impressive labyrinth of roads 10 metres underground. The exhibitions are located in an authentic military construction inside the fortress.
Fjell fortress is located on the island of Sotra. This Nazi coastal battery was rediscovered in 2003. The Nazis established this fortress complex with underground bunkers, barracks, a hospital and storage.
Located at the tip of Askøy on a moraine island, you can see both a fighter aircraft from World War II and an intact torpedo battery from the Cold War. Exhibitions are about how the island was formed, how it was used as a German air base, and its unique local bird life.
The main attraction is the German fighter Yellow-16, which took off from the airbase at Herdla. After 64 years on the seabed, the aircraft was raised and placed at the museum. There are guided tours of the torpedo battery and the tour goes over the Cold War.
Hellen Fort is located near Sandviken. It was built between 1895 and 1905 and was used by the Germans during World War II. As the Germans were invading Norway on the 9th of April, they bombed the fortress, killing six Norwegians. Here’s a recent article about a recent memorial for the Norwegians who passed away: https://www.ba.no/nyheter/de-ga-alt-for-norge/s/5-8-52480
Today the fort is mostly a hiking trail, and you can find out about the trail by clicking here.
Kvarven fort is another fortress that was built in the late 1800s to protect Norway from a potential attacked against Sweden. During the Second World War, Kvarven was manned by 33 officers and 279 corporals and privates with an average age of 40. The fort failed to open fire at the first German ships, mistaking them for unarmed merchant ships. When the fort finally opened fire, it only managed to get off a few shots through the fog at two torpedo boats. The German ships did not retaliate but sent a morse coded message in English saying ‘stop shooting’. The fort went on to shoot the cruiser Kongisberg three times, and the ship barely survived. A few hours later, the Kvarven surrendered. German naval personell manned the fort for the rest of the war. The fort opened in 1993 as a preserved cultural area, and now it’s a nice place to go hiking.