Ruins of War: three northern WWII sites

As part of the Ruin Memories project Bjørnar Olsen carried out preliminary fieldwork at three German WWII sites in northernmost Norway and Finland. The rich archaeological remains at these sites provide exceptionally telling statements about the geography and materiality of the northern war and of the human conditions it inflicted. They also make manifest the ambiguous public attitudes toward the heritage of the northern war.

The large Sturmbuck Stellung in Järäma, Enontekio, Finland, was built as a defense position for the German 20th mountain army during their retreat in the autumn of 1944. Due to the Finnish peace treaty with the Soviets of September 1944, the German troops were forced to withdraw through northern Finland and the 7th mountain brigade was positioned at the Järäma fortification from October 1944 until January 1945. Today the fortification is reconstructed, signposted and made available for visitors. The extensive trench systems, gun positions, posts and barracks/shelters are well marked and easily accessed. The entrance to the site goes through an exhibit building that houses a permanent exhibition about the Lappland war, a ticket office and cáfe.

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In contrast to the Finnish site, the “Lasarettmoen” site in Skoganvarre, northernmost Norway, has not been the object of any restoration. The site contains the remains of one of the largest field hospitals to be built by the Germans in the north. In addition to locally stationed troops (and village people), it also served the personnel fighting at the eastern Litza front. The Ortslazarett Skoganvarre contained both medical and surgical departments and was staffed by doctors and nurses from the German Red Cross. The construction of the hospital was never entirely completed and it was destroyed as part of the German retreat from the area in the autumn of 1944. Today the site provides a unique example of a German WWII site being presented as a site of heritage in northern Norway.

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The coastal fort at Sværholtklubben, 40 km east of North Cape, Norway, was built to safeguard the coastal fairway and to prevent allied naval vessels from penetrating the northern fjords. About two hundred men were stationed here from 1942 to 1944, including a slave work force of fifty Russian war prisoners. Most of the bunkers and batteries were located at the top of the steep cape, where most of the numerous buildings, installations and tunnels were located. The average sized battery included six 145 mm cannons. The site was deserted and weapons and installations removed or destroyed during the German retreat in 1944. As with other German WW2 sites Sværholtklubben is not given any heritage protection or any public attention in national or regional heritage policies or plans.

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3 Responses to “Ruins of War: three northern WWII sites”

  1. Liss Beth Gjertsen says:

    I work at an archive in Lakselv – Finnmark, IKAF. Can we use the pictures of the ruins in Skoganvarre for a small warexhibition?

    Bets regard Liss B Gjertsen

  2. clare lane says:

    I found your site recently and find your work really interesting. I am currently do some research into the representation of WWII ruins across Europe. I wondered if I might be able to use some of your images to illustrate the two sites you have discussed on your website.
    I would be using them to give talk at Bradford College on my initial findings.
    I would not be publishing this material

    Kind Regards

    Clare Lane

  3. Thanks for putting this together. We’re taking a vacation of Northern Norway to see the historic WWII sites, and your description of the last two ruin sites are one of the more helpful things we’ve found.

    Thank you again.