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Adolf Gun in Harstad

Visiting the Adolf Gun in Harstad, Norway is an amazing experience that packs a lot of history and engineering know how into your morning or afternoon. Originally designed to be on a battleship, these guns were repurposed to form a part of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall, a 5,000 km network of coastal defences stretching from France to the top of Norway.

But as you will discover, putting a battleship gun of this size on land was complex and required a lot of skill. One of the most impressive things about the Adolf Gun (or Adolfkanone in Norwegian) is its sheer size. At more than 21 metres in length and weighing 1,626 metric tons, it is not only big but also a feat of engineering.

Adolf Gun (Adolfkanone)
Adolf Gun (Adolfkanone) in Harstad

How to visit the Adolf Gun

Visiting the Adolf Gun (Adolfkanone) is a great experience but it can also be a little tricky and requires some planning in advance. You can’t just stroll up and take a look as the gun as it’s on an active military base and, as such, there are security restrictions.

If you would like to visit the Adolf Gun, you will need photo ID and a booking through the Visit Harstad website or North Up Harstad for private and VIP tours. We had to do the latter as all the Visit Harstad tours had been pre-booked by a cruise ship, but this proved to be a blessing in disguise.

Adolf Gun Bunker Entrance
Adolf Gun bunker entrance

How to book an Adolf Gun private tour

We organised and would recommend a private tour through North Up Harstad as we were collected from Harstad by our expert guide, Harald Isachsen, and taken to the Adolf Gun and also the memorial for the Soviet prisoners of war who built the guns which formed part of the Atlantic Wall.

Harald is the author of a book on the history of the Adolf Guns and was stationed at Trondenes Fort for many years as an officer with the Norwegian Defence Force. He was a pleasure to spend the morning with and we cannot recommend him highly enough as a guide, both due to his warmth and charm and his incredible level of knowledge about the gun.

Harald Isachsen Historian and Adolf Gun Guide
Harald Isachsen – Historian and Adolf Gun guide

How to get to the Adolf Gun

The Adolf Gun Tour meeting spot is at the entrance of Trondenes Fort on Festningsveien Road, and you will need your own car to get to the Adolf Gun, as it’s a few hundred meters from the entrance of the military base. You are not allowed to walk to the gun once you get inside the base.

Harald took us to the military base and helped us get processed through security, then he drove us along the dirt path to meet Barbara. Yes, the Adolf Gun you can visit has a name, and many fascinating secrets hidden in the underground chambers she sits on top of.

Barbara The 16 inch Navel Gun
Barbara the Adolf Gun

What to expect on a private Adolf Gun tour

Arriving next to the Adolf Gun, you are presented with the sheer massive scale of the fortifications, a wall of concrete, machinegun posts and a very thick reinforced door. As Harald unlocks the doors and turns on the lights, we are excited to be escorted through this amazing machine on a private tour, as only six people are allowed through this area at any time for safety.

The entry door leads to a small museum that houses what used to be the sleeping quarters for the German garrison. Presented in the museum are uniforms, small arms, observation equipment and several maps that show the extent of the nazi coastal fortifications, observation posts and other gun positions. You can also see the bunks with soldier’s names scrawled over the top of them.

Adolf Gun Bunker Museum
Adolf Gun bunker museum

We then explore the many chambers of the gun base, starting with the powerplant, fuel storage area, and water cooling pond for the generator. Then we’re escorted into the munitions bunker to see the vast collection of munitions, with shells and gunpowder casings with charts depicting the range and type of ordinances needed for ships or land targets.

Harald leads us to the rear of the munitions bunker to demonstrate the ingenious loading mechanism for positioning the shells into the gun. It takes your breath away to see the sheer scale of the gun’s operation and the fact this area had a battery of four guns that now sit dormant. It’s impossible to appreciate the gun’s incredible scale until you see it in person.

Munitions Bunker Loading Mechanism at the Adolf Gun
Munitions bunker loading mechanism

Exiting through a reinforced door, we arrive at Barbara’s base to see how the gun was loaded with a rail track and the turntable. Harald points out the protective metal gratings that move with the gun to provide cover from the weather and keep the loading mechanism clear at the base. Pointing to the gun base, Harald explains how the engineers were so precise that the perfectly balanced 158-metric-ton barrel could be raised and lowered by a small wheel using just one hand.

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Adolf Gun Shell Transport System
Adolf Gun shell transport rail system

We also noticed the crumbling concrete slowly eating away at the structure due to weather, as the rush to construct the gun meant the concrete finish was of a poor quality. Returning to the gun’s underground chambers, we are shown another room filled with the equipment for calculating the range of ships and targets. These large optical range finders were positioned throughout the coastal observation posts along the length of the Atlantic Wall with an extensive communications system.

German Military Gun Rangefinder
German Military Gun Rangefinder

Also in this room is the then top secret analogue computer used to calculate the firing range and location of the ship or target. Harald explains that this computer had to calculate the location of the target several minutes ahead of its position to give the shell the time to reach the target. The room also has a fascinating collection of photographs showing the construction of the gun emplacements and one of the Norwegian military’s last firings of the gun in 1957, which Harald heard on the day.

Historical Photos of the Gun Constriction
Historical photos of the gun construction

It’s now time to head to the Gun and get into the turret to see the incredible amount of effort that went into operating it. Harald points out the surrounding mountains and explains the guns were not designed for or operated as short-range line-of-sight weapons. The mountains shielded the gun battery (Battery Theo) from the sea and the munitions passed over the mountains. The observation posts would calculate the ship’s position, then communicate to the gun’s operations centre and relay the coordinates required to fire a shell up to 56 km away.

Gun Breach with Power Casing and Shell
Gun breach with power casing and shell

Inside the gun, Harald takes us through the process of firing the gun and all the equipment the 18-man crew had to use. We also got to see the immense barrel size, which is large enough for a small man to crawl up (a messy rite of passage for new crew members who often had to clean the gun). Harald takes us through a simulated firing of the gun and all the backup systems engineered into it should there be breakdowns and failures. The power generated by firing the gun meant anyone near the barrel outside would likely die from the shock wave generated by the gunpowder igniting. 

After closing up the Adolf Gun, we made our way from Trondenes Fort to the small Trondenes Church to visit the memorial to the Russian prisoners of war. This small memorial is dedicated to all the POWS who built (and sometimes died) constructing the Adolf Guns in the harshest of weather and conditions with little food or care. The photos inside the gun with plenty of ice and snow made it clear how difficult this must have been for the prisoners.

The Memorial to Russian P.O.W's who built the fortress
The Memorial to Russian POWs who built the fortress

This tour was the highlight of our visit to Harstad in Norway, and our guide Harald was incredible. His knowledge and insights into the gun and its operation were terrific, with our tour lasting more than three hours. Regular tours of the gun last about 2 hours and require an escort to and from the Adolf Gun, so be aware of the timing of your visit as they always leave on time, and late arrivals aren’t admitted after the tour starts.

Disclosure: The writers paid for their tour and highly recommend this experience as it was superb. They would like to thank Harald Isachsen and North Up Harstad for organising such a great tour.

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Trevor Templeman is a photographer and writer who travels the world capturing the essence of locations through their landscape, architecture and people. His words and photographs are published in magazines, newspapers and online around the world.