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How much we learned in school! How little that was! Like most Americans, I know nothing of the history of Norway other than a general sense of it being politically neutral in general (probably confusing it with Sweden). We’ve discovered that our area was central to the German invasion and occupation of Norway, 1940-1944.

This is Ofotfjord:

6.11.16 Georges Plass-003The island we are on, Tjeldoya, or Oystercatcher Island, is at the mouth of Ofotfjord, the fjord that extends to the city of Narvik. Narvik’s port is ice free all year long and was built to facilitate the export of iron ore from Sweden to the rest of Europe. Norway is quite narrow and the distance from the iron-ore producing center of Kiruna, Sweden to Narvik, Norway is shorter than the distance to the nearest Swedish port, Luleå. Further, ports at the northern end of the Baltic like Luleå, are frozen much of the winter, making Narvik doubly attractive. During WWII, the invasion of Norway wasn’t confined to Narvik, but it was carried out to obtain its iron ore.

In the 1930s, both Germany and England had their eyes on Narvik,  to secure the iron ore coming from Sweden, and to prevent ore from reaching the other country. In late 1939, a report passed in front of Hitler suggesting the importance of taking over Narvik and he ordered an invasion plan drawn up. This was carried out in April 1940 just before an invasion planned by the Allies, and in fact the German forces were defeated in battles on the water just off Tjeldoya (our island), and on land. However,  Allied troops were evacuated from Narvik in early June when Germany invaded Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and France. Norway was occupied for four years and it sounds like the Allies ceded Norway to Germany because other battles had begun (!). (For an interesting footnote on how the evacuation of Narvik could be related to Ian Fleming’s James Bond, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Alphabet ).

Frederik, our host here in Kjerstad, left us an excellent topographic map of the island and we set out to explore and fish. One of our first stops was the end of the road on this side of the island (the coast road doesn’t completely encircle the island). We saw a sign that we later translated as “Please do not drive vehicles on the fort.” There were some lumpy, rocky formations clustered around what I assumed was a miniature visitors center. I was wrong on both counts. Tjelddoden, Oystercatcher Point, refers to the entire south end of the island, completely covered by bunkers and other features built during the occupation of Norway. The area is about one square kilometer, very large when you are on foot, and includes the ruins of bunkers, gun emplacements, and lookout posts dug into the rock of the island. There are concrete-lined trenches dug into the rock and faced with rock, and facing away from Ofotfjord are olive green barracks buildings now falling to pieces. There is a series of rooms within a hill that appears to have been the mess hall. There were about 300 soldiers stationed here. (More information at Tjeldodden.com)

After WWII the fort was taken over by the Norwegian armed services. It was decommissioned in 1993 and given to the municipality in 2002. It looks like some structures were dismantled or demolished and windows and entrances to the underground structures were blocked with cement before the handover to the community. Today the fort is open to visitors but otherwise unchanged. We discovered that in addition to being repurposed for visitors (see “History, Arts, and Culture…” post), some of the structures have been reopened by curious visitors with sledgehammers. The area is beautiful, a strange park with remnants of violent history all around.