On the morning of the 9th of April 1940, Norway awoke to the news that Nazi Germany had invaded. The country remained occupied until the war ended on 8 May 1945. Bergen became one of the most important places for German forces on the west coast. They built forts, bunkers, and took over public buildings. I’ve put together a list of the most important World War II sites in Bergen.
The occupation was strategic for the Germans. Norway’s proximity to the United Kingdom was important. Furthermore, the iron ore exports from Narvik meant Germany could produce war materials. The entire coast of Norway became of use for the Germans. It’s easy to see how Norway has a rich war history.
- World War II in Bergen: the Occupation
- The Bergen Fortress
- World War II in Bergen: Bryggen
- In the Mountains
- World War II in Bergen: Surrounding Area
- Sources & Further Information
World War II in Bergen: the Occupation
Along with other major cities in Norway, Bergen was occupied on the first day of the German invasion. German warships passed Denmark on the night of the 8th. When the Norwegian fortifications were notified, they began preparations. Forts line the coast around Bergen, but they stood no chance against German ships. The ships came with planes and approximately 1,900 men. The Bergen forts managed to damage one ship, the Koningsberg, but the rest entered the city undamaged.
The locals awoke on the 9th to a German flag flying at the Bergen Fortress. Heavily armed German guards stood outside public buildings. The occupation had been a success.
The Bergen Fortress
The Bergen Fortress was the main headquarters of the German soldiers during the war. Most of the buildings within the fortress served a purpose. The only building they didn’t use was Håkon’s Hall. Additionally, they 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
The German bunker stands next to Håkon’s Hall. It is one of the few remains of German buildings at the fortress. In 1944, there was a large explosion of a freight ship on the harbour. The telephone exchange was destroyed by the explosion. Using 200 Soviet prisoners of war, a new bunker was built to serve as a communications bunker. The concrete can withstand attacks. After the war, Germany gave Norway some funds to tear it down. However, the bunker remains, though covered in green ivy, as a reminder of the war. Today it’s used by the Norwegian Army.
The explosion of Voorbode
On the 14th of April 1944, a German freight ship docked outside the fortress exploded. The ship, Voorbode, was travelling from Oslo to Kirkenes but stopped in Bergen for repairs. Normally, a ship like this would not be allowed to stop in a major port. It was carrying 124 tonnes of explosives. Due to a lack of proper controls, the ship docked in Bergen.
The explosion occurred early in the morning. A water column several-hundred metres high rose. Following it was sand, mud, stones, iron plates, timber and steel from the ship. The pressure wave swept the harbour, crushing everything in its path. Houses fell apart, brick buildings suffered damage, and windows 2km away smashed. Bergen was declared a disaster area. 4,536 buildings were either damaged or destroyed. 160 people died, 5,000 were injured, and 5,000 became homeless. 4,260 children were forced to evacuate to prevent illness from spreading.
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. It is 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. It demonstrates how the civilians organised against the Nazi Party Nasjonal Samling’s attempts to Nazify Norway.
It also focuses on the military resistance developed from scattered, isolated groups to a large organisation with ties to London. The torture and execution of resistance members was common. Or they were sent to concentration camps in Europe. Despite this, the resistance movement grew 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 behind the Bergen fortress, Sverresborg is a historic fortress. 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 became 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.
World War II in Bergen: Bryggen
Bergen’s UNESCO site Bryggen is the epicentre of local history. The wharf is a trading centre from the 11th century onwards. For a few hundred years it was the home of the German merchants, the Hanseatic League. The locals considered Bryggen German until the end of the 19th century.
After World War II in Bergen, the locals wanted to remove any trace of the city’s German heritage. They planned to get rid of Bryggen. Luckily, a fire led to archaeological excavations which led to the discovery of Bryggen’s rich heritage. Now the wharf is under conservation. We know that Bryggen suffered damage from the explosion, but it was also home to an important resistance group.
Read more with my Self-Guided Walk of Bryggen
The Theta Museum is an important World War II site in Bergen. It 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 passed it to London. Therefore, they assisted the British Army with the Germans in Norway. They told the British about the movements of the battleship Tirpitz. This led to the British sinking the ship near Tromsø.
They also obtained inside information about the U-boat pens in Laksevåg (see below). The group ended when the Germans discovered their location. Some group members were sent to concentration camps and died. Meanwhile, some fled to Sweden, and some 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. 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 considered to be the smallest museum in Norway! It’s located in the alley Enhjørningsgården.
Shetland Group Memorial
The Shetland Group (or Shetland Bus) is a group that made a permanent link between Shetland and Norway throughout the Second World War. Operated by small fishing boats and later submarine chasers, it grew to be part of the resistance. The purpose of the group was to transfer agents in and out of Norway. They also provided 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 young people who were members of sports clubs who fell for Norway between 1940 and 1945. You can read about the history of why they 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.
World War II in Bergen: Surrounding Area
U-boat pen Bruno
When the Germans occupied Norway, they were able to move their u-boats closer to the front and 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 defence 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. 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 airbase, as well as the areas unique 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 from the late 1800s. Designed to protect Norway from a potential attack against Sweden, it was never used. During WWII, 33 officers and 279 corporals and privates with an average age of 40 were at the fort. 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 Konigsberg three times, and the ship barely survived. A few hours later, the Kvarven surrendered. German naval personnel 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.