Metal detecting for militaria is a true passion of a lot of searchers. ROBERT BYTNER goes to Narvik in Norway, to search for traces of the Second World War..
At last I’m on my way. I have planned this trip for months but work commitments did not allow me to have a few days off, until now. My transfer is in Oslo and 1,5h later we are flying into Narvik. It is so beautiful with high peaks and fjords outside the plane window. The airport is one of the smallest that I have visited. I wait for my luggage with other tourists – Germans, French and I also hear languages from the Scandinavian countries. But I guess no one is there for the same reason I am.
Jörgen is waiting outside the terminal. He is Swedish, working in a hospital in Narvik. He is a metal detectorist as I am but he has a speciality that he has developed during his years in the Narvik area. He is a war rubbish dump specialist. He begun just by regular walks with his metal detector but made his best finds in the rubbish dump holes that the Germans left behind them during their occupation of Norway in the II World War. Now he just looks for signs that are telling him “rubbish dump”! He tells me that this is a gold mine for us and there is no point walking around in the forest as one usually does. He has a small museum in his apartment but I must admit I was a bit sceptical at first to hear all his stories. Its 19.00 but the sun is still up and never goes down during the summer. Jörgen looks at me and ask – do you want to go detecting?
Of course – Let’s go!
– I am going to show you some of my “projects” – he says. It should be an area where there was a German field hospital but the place we are at, is wrong. The first finds don’t look like they came from field hospital.
I talk to an elderly person and he tells Jörgen where he thinks that the hospital was. It’s a new area for Jörgen and I save it for tomorrow for us. We drive to a woody area and park on a small dirt road. I change clothes and we start detecting. We pass several rubbish pits that Jörgen have dug.
He explains that in the areas where the Germans were located, they had a system of taking care of their rubbish. They dug a hole 3×3 meters and about 2 meters deep. They burned what could be burned and threw all kinds of things in the pit. He shows me a big tool box, tins and cans, bottles and lots of things that he left. OK, now I understand how rubbish pit can be a a nice source of finds. We find a funny thing that Jörgen have loads of. A sort of flat round cover, I think it’s a cover from an ammunition container. It flies like a Frisbee and we think that they threw them for fun because we find them everywhere on the ground.
Next day, we go to the new area where the field hospital should be according to Jörgen’s new source. We drive on a very steep dirt road that was used by the landowners to cut down the forest. Jörgen have a VW Caddy so he can transport his WW2 finds. The road is bumpy and Jörgen’s car is no really suitable for this.
– Never thought of getting a 4×4 – I ask?
– No – Jörgen replies and I’m not saying another word as he is compensating the lack of terrain ability of his car by driving faster.
We park the car and walk in to the forest. It is wet and rocky landscape with small trees. Very soon I see a foxhole and more of them in a line next to a hill. On the hill there is a flat round area about 10 meters in diameter. It looks like an anti-aircraft position. I detect the foxhole and area next to it, with a big stone. A perfect hiding place for a soldier. My XP Deus makes a high noise with the clear scratchy metal sound. In Sweden I never dig metal, it is always horse shoes, but in WW2 battle area it can be treasures.
I start to dig .. oh shit I see a round thing in the moss, a container to the German gasmask, one of the things on my bucket list. I shout Aaaa Jöööörgggen ! My voice is bouncing to the fjord walls and Jörgen starts to run.
– Are you all right, hurt?
Look ! nice shit I am so happy. We don’t open it because it is so rusty but I feel so good and my journey to Narvik is already fulfilled. What I do not know, is that this is only the beginning. We go to the car for a short rest and for hydrating. Jörgen says we must check out other place too.
This is the moment that changes history. The moment that if you turn left it will make no news in the story. But we go right and things changed. We found the rubbish pit of our dreams!
We sit down for a minute and look at the forest and I say that the small forest in front of us feels good, so we can check it out. We take our detectors and walk. Jörgen, his big Minelab Equinox on his shoulder and I with my Deus. I got a nice signal and I look around. A pit 3×3 metres between trees. My Deus is shouting in this area and I call in the expert. Yes, he says, it’s a pit, lets dig!
After digging down 20cm I find the first jerrycan. When we lift it up there is another. The jerrycan has clear marks that it was used for petrol or water. It’s so rusty so rusty we can’t see what. Underneath we find an ammunition box. Maybe for 8mm mortar? Under that a heavy rusty “box”. OMG, is it filled with gold, treasure or war maps? We are so excited that we are filming this “treasure”. Then we dig it up. It turns out to be a steel stove. We are so disappointed and it weighs about 100 kg. There are several rolls off barbed wire that are hard to dig up. The spikes are still sharp and we get wounds on our hands.
After the layer with big heavy stuff we see a layer of ashes. Melted glass and even paper pieces from a book with gothic letters. When I take it in my hand it falls apart and the wind scatters the pieces. Underneath the ashes there are a lot of unburnt things. Lucky for us the fire didn’t get very deep, it just burned on the surface. We find fish cans with mark “Norvegen”. A lot of different cutleries, some military, some civilian. Lots of broken porcelain with the Nazi eagle and swastika. Many bottles from wine and other alcohol. Surprisingly many of them are not broken and Jörgen saves them for his collection. I find a bottle of French brandy which is half full with some liquid.
We find items that soldiers use for their hygiene. Toothbrush and toothpaste. Different lotions for the skin. The biggest individual item that we find are batteries. Single batteries and big pack batteries wrapped in paper. Batteries in metal container for different use.
Small boxes in brown Bakelite, some are broken and some are like new. There is a stamp with production year and a company mark. It’s LOSANTIN, skin decontamination tablet Jörgen explains, very common in pits.
I find a coin from Finland and Jörgen finds a Finnish belt buckle with the Finnish lion. The German soldiers who were helping the Finns against the Russians were transported to Norway after cease-fire. That is what the history books says and we can confirm it through our finds. We find a lot of sauce pans in different sizes. So when I put my hand in the dirt I feel a medium size sauce pan, but I cannot see it. We are really tired and its 01.00 o clock at night but still we can see the sun. Jörgen asks me -is it time to go home? – OK let’s go but first I must pull out this helmet, I reply jokingly.
And I pull it out and it really is a helmet. My surprise was so huge that I stare at it without making any sound.
– Nice find – says Jörgen and we do high five. The leather inside is missing and I cannot see any marks.
We find several vials with what looks like morphine. Some are still not broken. Our conclusions is that this pit was filled last time when the war ended. There are items that could be used if the war was still continued. The Germans, or maybe the Norwegian civilians, clean the area of military items.
Next morning we can barely get up from the beds. Our backs and bodies hurt a lot after two days of digging. Today we are meeting with Martin, a fan of Norwegian history. He is taking us up on a mountain for a search. His father owns the land and he is going to show us where it is. According to his story the Germans held this area and the French, after hard battle, took it from them during fighting in 1940. It’s a steep climb that took us more than one hour to get to the top. We follow a small path made by Martin’s ancestors. They use it to take the sheep up to new pasture. The view is grand. We see snow on the peaks that never melt. We find a lot of shells and pieces of heavy artillery. The French got fire support from the fjord and we can see the track of that. To find the best spot to do a search, I think strategically. Where is the best fire position? Where can I advance without being seen from the top? And I search there with my Deus. That’s how I find the perfect spot where one soldier can stop the advancement up the path. A big stone and beside it a natural trench. I don’t need to use my imagination to see the traces of fighting. Almost 30 shells from a rifle lays in this trench. And behind this fire position, on a steep slope, I find bullets from a heavy French machine gun. I wonder how many men died on the same path that took us up to the top.
On another mountain top that we can see there was the Polish brigade. I wanted to go there but in this area it is forbidden to search with metal detector or take any kind of items from the ground. Some areas in Norway where there was fighting are protected and are treated like big outdoor museum. You can look but you cannot touch. We walk down the path and I think about the soldiers that died and the sacrifice they made for us. We stop to drink water from a stream and probably soldiers on both sides were doing the same – filling their water bottles back in the day.
On the plane back to Stockholm I am thinking about the search and what we have found. Many things are not possible to find with a metal detector. Glass, leather, rubber and other materials are non ferrous and invisible to metal detector so a rubbish pit provides new knowledge about the war. The area where the German soldiers were staying is usually free from rubbish. The German occupation force seems to have a organised system of taking care of their rubbish. Burn what’s possible and bury the rest. It’s important to keep the nature clean and rubbish free. What you bring out to nature, take back home with you.
I wish you all good hunting and may you find a lots of rubbish pits.
The rules for metal detecting in Norway:
You must have permission from the landowner
You must report finds older than 1537 and coins 1650.
Report finds from the Lapponian culture older than 1900
Who am I:
Robert Bytner born 1968 in Sopot, Poland.
Moved to Sweden 1976
Officer in the Swedish armed forces.
Military historian from the Swedish defence university (Försvarshögskolan).
Today I have my own company in field of consulting for the construction business.
Detecting all over the world.
Made my first metal detecting find as a 10 years old in the hills above Sopot. It was an anti tank mine from the IIWW, found with a toy Chinese metal detector. I was hooked.