Friday, 23 November 2012

Mineral Defences #1

















Over summer, I spent some time photographing a demilitarised area on the island of Tjøme near Tønsberg, Norway. Until it was decommissioned in 1999, Torås Fort was a discrete complex of naval artillery emplacements, lookouts, barrack huts, parade grounds and associated infrastructure built (but not completed) during 1939 in anticipation of an invasion by the Nazis. Between 1940-42 the Nazi's then modified and refortified the site for their own purposes. The complex was maintained during the Cold War principally as a training site but the four 15cm Bofors naval cannons remained in place guarding the mouth of the Oslofjord. 
















The rolling granite promontories and deep wooded undulations are perfect for hiding defensive positions, but having been to Tjøme a number of times in previous years, and being unnaturally drawn to evidence of conflict, I quickly clocked the manmade blisters and hideouts hidden in the dramatic topography of the landscape. Despite being decommissioned, Torås remained closed to the public and effectively remained militarised – that is, until a couple of years ago when the complex was deemed superfluous to defence needs and the military abruptly pulled out throwing the gates open to a curious island community.

















Torås has a number of distinctive features including the cannon emplacements themselves (only one gun remains), ammunitions storage bunkers dug deep into the granite rock, and numerous rock and poured concrete shelters – but none more distinctive than the hilltop command centre. Arguably the highest point on the island, the command centre is effective a man-made hill built using what must have been hundred of tons of rubble and poured concrete to elevate the position above all others in the region. At the summit is a square flat-roofed observation point with narrow viewing apertures which allows 360 degree visibility.
















This construction typifies the almost mystical paradox at the heart of much military engineering of this kind: the desire for omniscience (or in modern military parlance, 'total situational awareness') is totally undermined in the battlefield by being the most visible thing for miles around – effectively, a sitting duck. This brings me to the conclusion that the principle function of the command centre is aesthetic, designed specifically for its visual appearance in order to exercise a form of tacit control over the region – a twentieth century Motte and Bailey castle.


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