The Guns of Kristiansand

I am married to a history buff. Living an hour from New Orleans, I have, at times, felt like the World War II Museum was my second home. My kids refuse to go to with their dad because he reads every detail on every placard. So I wasn’t surprised when he wanted to go see a World War II gun in Kristiansand, Norway. Humoring him, I agreed to go.

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much. First off, I didn’t remember any significant World War II battles in Norway. Second, why would anyone, let alone the Nazis, be interested in a sleepy city of 24,000 on the west coast of Norway. Ok-this is probably where I should admit that geography is not my strong suit. We were about to find out.

We boarded our tour bus and drove through downtown Kristiansand (blink and you”ll miss it) and along a coastal country road to an unassuming hilltop. It was a warm, sunny day without a cloud in the sky. The Norwegian flag flapped gently in the light breeze. And there stood the most massive gun turret. This gun is the same size as the ones on the USS Missouri that I had seen at Pearl Harbor.

So how did this massive gun turret end up on the hilltop in Kristiansand? Turns out that the gun (part of the 4 cannon battery) was part of the attempt by Nazi Germany to dominate the shipping lanes of the Skagerrak Strait, and thus access to Eastern Norway coast and the Baltic Sea. The battery became an integral part the Nazi Atlantic Wall, a series of fortifications from Normandy in France to Norway  built to protect against Allied invasion of the mainland. Between 1941 and 1944, the German Navy built and maintained a well fortified position on this hilltop, housing the 4 aforementioned cannons.

There was only one problem. The guns could not completely cover the sea lanes, even when combined with the range of similar cannons installed in Hanstholm, Denmark across the strait. Ultimately, those sea lanes outside the range of the two batteries were heavily mined by the German Navy.

After the war, the battery became a Norwegian fortress until 1953. But then what do you do with this metal monstrosity on an idyllic hillside with a spectacular ocean view? Turn it into a museum!  Our tour guide, who had been in the Norwegian reserves, brought history to life. Of the four guns initially in place, only one remains. The gun is the same caliber as was mounted on multiple US battleships circa World War II. Interestingly, USS Missouri had 9 guns of the same caliber housed in 3 different turrets. Each of the Missouri’s turrets did not seem bigger than the one in the museum despite having two more cannons. Chalk it up to rapid evolution of technology or good old Yankee ingenuity. Walking around inside the turret and viewing the era equipment and uniforms on display at the museum transported me back in time. The experience gave me a new perspective on a part of military history that I knew little about.

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