Wednesday, 7 August 2013

I have been to … the Kristiansand Cannon Museum

The Kristiansand Cannon Museum (which is also known by its German name, Batterie Vara) is situated near the village of Møvig, just outside Kristiansand. It was selected by the Germans to be the location of a heavy coastal defence artillery battery because of its commanding position. Guns sited there could fire well out into, the stretch of water between Norway and Denmark, the Skagerrak.

Work began on building the battery during the spring of 1941, and 1,400 workers (750 Norwegians, 350 Danes, and 300 Germans were involved in its construction. They were supplemented in early 1943 by the arrival of 200 Russian POWs. The battery was intended to be manned by 450 sailors drawn from the Coastal Artillery branch of the German Kriegsmarine although the Wehrmacht was responsible for its defence and allocated 150 soldiers specifically for that task.

By March 1942 two of the four 38cm cannons were emplaced (Nos. 2 and 3), and they were test-fired on 12th March. The third cannon – No. 4 – was in situ by November of that year, but work on the bunker and other works necessary to mount the last cannon – No. 1 – was held up and did not begin in earnest until the summer of 1944. Once work started it was completed in ten weeks, and all that remained was for the barrel to be emplaced. Unfortunately the ship carrying it – the Porto Alegro – was sunk by British aircraft on the night of 22nd February 1945 in the Kattegat.

The battery was taken over by the Norwegians after the end of the Second World War, and it formed part of that country’s coastal defences until 1957. The battery was then dismantled and cannons Nos. 3 and 4 were taken away and scrapped. Cannon No.2 was, however, preserved and remains in place. This forms the major exhibit of the Museum.

The underground elements of Cannon No.2 gun position
On approaching the underground part of the emplacement, you pass some very large armoured doors through which ammunition and cordite charges travelled – on a narrow gauge railway system – from the main storage bunker to the gun position.

The bunker is currently used to exhibit items of equipment used within the battery …

… including a number of rangefinders (the largest of these is a 12m stereoscopic rangefinder that came from the main battery command position at Flekkerøya).

There is also a model that shows what the battery would have looked like when it was completed.

Other exhibits include an electro-mechanical fire table that was used to calculate the range and bearing data for a battery of 10.5cm guns that was situated near to the main 38cm gun battery, …

… a selection of ammunition used by the various guns sited in and around the Kristiansand area (including examples of 40.6cm shells from the coastal defence gun that was situated at Harstad), …

… some 38cm ammunition, …

… and cordite charges along with the handling equipment used to prepare and move both the ammunition and the charges.

One of the rooms contains the main and auxiliary diesel generators …

… whilst others contain various cooling tanks …

… or have been refurbished to show what a typical underground barrack room looked like.

The exterior of Cannon No.2’s gunhouse
The armoured gunhouse runs on a circular track and pivots in the middle around a single support shaft.

It is worth noting that the ammunition and charges are loaded into the gunhouse via a trunk that contains a lift and an armoured door that is set into the wall of the gun pit.

The interior of Cannon No.2’s gunhouse
All ammunition and charges come up the lift in the trunk and into a loading tray behind the gun’s breech.

The breech has markings that indicate that the gun was built by Krupps in 1940, and the mounting is typical of German naval gun design.

The gun is a 38cm SKC/34e L/50 cannon, and was designed to be the main armament of the projected H-class battleships. It is 28m long, weighs 337 tons, and can be elevated to an angle of 52°. It required a crew of ten to load and a further nine to operate it when it fired. The gun fired three main types of shell:
  • 800kg High explosive shells
  • 800kg armoured-piercing shells
  • 500kg Siegfried (i.e. long-range) shells
The 800kg shells had a range of 42km and the 500kg shells could reach a range of 55km.

The Cannon No.1 casemate
This gun position was provided with a concrete casemate in addition to its armoured gunhouse. The casemate has a roof that is approximately 4.5m thick and walls of approximately 3.8m thickness.


  1. Awesome stuff... I've seen these pictured elsewhere on the internet (can't remember where now) but your pictures are better! I'm intrigued though, would such massive guns really have been a viable weapon? Surely something like this might as well just have a large target painted on its roof.

  2. That’s a great series of photos you have shared with us. I have been to a few emplacements in the Maginot Line as well as a number of old fashioned brick star forts on the coast of the United States. A few of them were upgraded with cement emplacements and disappearing batteries in the Spanish American war. Most is not in good repair and you just don’t get a feeling of exactly how it was as in your museum photos.

    The closest I can get to a near-functioning fort is the American battleship USS Alabama, which is quite remarkable. There is also diesel submarine at that location that you can tour through, which gives you a good idea about how miserable submarine warfare was in those days. I have also talked to a few WWII crewmembers of diesel subs over the years.

  3. Lee Hadley,

    Thanks for your very kind comments about my photographs.

    I suspect that a direct bomb hit on the gunhouse would have knocked the gun out ... but a near miss with anything less than a 'Tallboy' bomb would have left the gun untouched and capable of engaging enemy targets. Most of the gun position is below ground and built of reinforced concrete, so even if the gunhouse was put out of action the rest of the position would have been unscathed.

    All the best,


  4. CoastConFan,

    The standard of preservation is very good, and I suspect that this is because it was maintained by the Norwegian Army as part of the country's coastal defences until it was decommissioned in 1959. It was renovated by local army units and a local historical group during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and opened as a museum in 1993.

    I would love to be able to visit a battleship. The largest warship I have ever been aboard is HMS Belfast, which is a cruiser. At Chatham, Kent (which is a 45-minute drive from my home) there are a preserved destroyer and submarine (and a Victorian steam gunboat!).

    All the best,



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