Tirpitz Bunker Museum

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There are many bunkers along the west coast of Jutland and some of the most interesting of them have been turned into museums. One such museum is the Tirpitz Bunker Museum just outside Blåvand a short drive north of Esbjerg.

A small gun

The museum is centered around one of the two main bunkers of the Tirpitz bunker complex. The museum is a very modern building designed by the Danish architect group BIG founded by Bjarke Ingels who also designed the modern Danish Maritime Museum in Helsingør.

The bunker from the outside

The bunker was part of the Atlantic wall and one of the strongest gun positions constructed in Denmark. The reason for the strong position here was the need to control the access to the import harbor of Esbjerg which was only a short distance away. The only access for major ships to the harbor was through the relative narrow strait from where you could arrive safely to the harbor. The harbor was the biggest and most advanced harbor on the west coast of Jutland which would make it the prime target for a possible allied invasion along the Danish west coast. From Esbjerg it is just 100 kilometers to the north of Germany so an attack from here would immediately hit the German heartland land – and there is no major river giving any protecting after a possible landing in this area. on the other hand it would be impossible to give any support from fighter jet because of the distance back to the UK across the north sea and the supply lines back to the UK would be rather long and the German supply lines very short – hence it was probably never a realistic spot for a landing.

Entrance to the museum

The complex of Tripitz was supposed to consist of two main gun bunkers with two guns each with a barrel at 38 centimeters. The guns would be able to fire a shell with a weight of 800 kilos a stunning 42 kilometers out at sea and a small bullet of 495 kilos could be fired to a distance of 55 kilometers. This way they could fire on major ships from a huge distance making an invasion very difficult. The individual gun could be fired twice a minute so the total fire power of the complex was eight shots a minute.

A rescue boat

The two main bunkers were supported by a complex of other bunkers. There would be two ammunition bunkers, one bunker for the fire command, four bunkers for the anti-aircraft guns and six bunkers for the men. The construction of the bunker complex started in July 1944 and it was supposed to be completed in September 1945. Fortunately the war ended in May so the complex was never finished and the main guns were never put in place – hence the complex never saw any action.

After the war the barrels for the gun towers were left behind and confiscated by the Danish authorities as the spoils of war. Most of the inventory was sold as scrap metal but one of the gun barrels were kept in the court yard of the Danish military museum in Copenhagen until 2005 when it was transferred to the bunker museum in Hanstholm. When the Tirpitz museum was finished in 2017 the gun barrel was not transferred down here from Hanstholm so you can’t see one of the actual gun barrels at this museum where it is placed outside in the open so you can see it without paying the admission to the museum.

The name of the bunker here at Tripitz is a bit of a mystery – there was a German battleship of the same glass as the feared Bismarck called Tripitz. But the guns at this bunker complex had no connection to this battle ship or any other bunker complex called Tripitz – there had been at least one other somewhere else.

Inside the Tripitz Bunker where they tried to blow it

The highlight of the museum is obviously the visit to the main bunker – you can go in and see the giant bunker which actually has several levels. It is also one of the very few bunkers made in Denmark which were made in the highest class of the German bunkers which meant the walls were at least 3,5 meters thick instead of the normal 2 meters of concrete in a bunker. This made the bunker virtually indestructible. Which you can see inside the bunker. After the war it was attempted to blow the bunker away with a giant explosion inside the bunker – the explosion did make a bit of an impression on some of the nearest walls – but the construction as a whole was hardly damaged. So they gave up on the demolition effort.

Mines

In addition to the visit to the bunker itself there are four exhibitions in the museum telling the story not just of the bunker but also the area of the West Coast of Jutland. When you arrive at the museum you get an audio guide included in the ticket price and as you go around you can scan different QR-codes and hear a story in several different languages.

The most interesting of the four exhibitions in my opinion was one telling the story of how the mines were cleared along the West Coast of Jutland after the war. After the war it was decided the Germans had to clear the mines themselves. the German engineering troops in Denmark were given the choice – clear the mines in Denmark where there were generally mine maps or go to another place where there are no maps of the mine and clear the mines there. The German troops generally choose to clear the mines in Denmark.

The clearing of the mines were a very dangerous job to do – and it was made more dangerous because of time pressure. The British high command who was in charge wanted the mines cleared before the fall. When the fall came the likely hood of storms would increase and a major storm could change the coast line and move the mines making the maps of the minefields obsolete. Therefore the speed of the clearing of the mines was increased making it more dangerous for the people working.

1 in 5 die or woonded

When an area was cleared the number of mines was counted to see if it matched the information on the mine map. If it did the German prisoners were forced to walk across the former minefield to ensure nothing was left behind. The clearing of the minefields were incredibly dangerous and one in five of the Germans working the minefields were either killed or injured during their work. I sincerely doubt this kind of treatment of prisoners of war is in accordance with the Geneva Convention – but back after the Second World War nobody cared about this kind of rules.

A diagram of the bunker

Unfortunately I thing this exhibition about the mines are not a permanent exhibition – but a temporary exhibition so it might be taken down at some date in the future.

The three other permanent exhibitions one is about the bunker system of Germany. It is telling how the different bunkers were actually construed using only a limited number of different part – some of which could be used in several different types of bunkers. This systematic way of construction bunkers were the reason the Germans were able to construct so many bunkers in such a short time period.

Bunkers at the Atlantic Wall

You can walk around on the bunker models and learn a bit more about  the different types of bunkers. Including such details as why the surface of a bunker is never smooth – the reason was it was harder to detect the bunker from the air if the surface wasn’t smooth. In the bunker area there is also a picture of the dessert fox Rommel who visited the fortifications along the west coast of Jutland as part of his inspection of the entire Atlantic Wall. Rommel was not impressed with the work done in Denmark and come with many suggestions to improve the fortifications along the Danish west coast.

Rommel visiting Denmark

The second room tells the story of the area of West Jutland for the last 20.000 years. Back in the old days the North Sea was actually a sea because of the ice age the seas of the world were much lower than today and the area between Denmark and England were actually land and local hunter went around the area in search of prey. The story continues with information of the life and the storms which changed the coastline dramatically over the centuries destroyed old land and creating new.

Old pottery found along the west coast of Jutland

The final room is about the gold of Denmark – amber. There are a lot of amber on display and a bit of information about collection amber along the water in Denmark – your best change is just after a storm – which typically happens in the autumn where there are the least tourist along the coast so your changes of striking it rich when searching for amber is slim.

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