The Stabben Prisoners of War

On a cool and windy spring day in 1942, the Soviet prisoner of war, Andrei, arrives at the Titran fishing village, along with 150 other captives. Cold and scared, he stands outside the Ohrset Wharf at Stabben, staring out at the bleak coastal landscape. He doesn’t know where he is or how long he will be here. He is a slave labourer for the German Wehrmacht, facing a perilous and highly uncertain future. He thinks of his mother, his father, and his little brother back home. Will he ever see them again? He thinks of his fellow soldiers, killed on the battlefield. Wouldn’t it have been better to share their fate? It’s a hopeless situation. 

The German commander loudly reprimands the terrified prisoners. The language remains incomprehensible to most of them, but Andrei tries to listen for recognisable words in an attempt to interpret the commander’s orders. Sometimes he succeeds, but when he doesn’t, it often results in a beating. Right now the message seems pretty clear. The prisoners are hounded into the large Ohrset Wharf and locked inside.

The Ohrset Wharf is an old herring saltery, seized by the Germans. The building is thinly clad with wooden boards, allowing rays of light to force their way through the cracks. It’s draughty and freezing cold, and the prisoners exchange looks of despair. Here they will eat and sleep on wooden floors, staying close together to keep warm. They will be assigned strict rations, consisting mainly of meagre portions of fish with potatoes or cabbage.

Hard physical labour awaits Andrei and the other POWs. Blasting and excavating an extensive network of tunnels requires moving massive amounts of rocks. They dig defensive positions and build roads and ditches – unbelievably hard work for the already famished bodies. 1942 brings the coldest winter anyone can remember, and Andrei faces a fierce battle for survival. Not everyone succeeds. Three Soviet comrades succumb to disease and malnutrition. They are buried at Titran.

In the autumn of 1944, the Wehrmacht decides to dismantle the Stabben coastal artillery. For the longest time, Andrei clings to the hope that he will finally get his freedom back. His body is exhausted and he is in poor health. He is also struggling mentally after years of distress and longing for his loved ones back home.

Whatever hope he had is brutally shattered as the camp commander orders all the POWs back aboard the prison ship. They are to construct a new coastal battery on Skardsøya in Møre and Romsdal. For Andrei and the other prisoners, the nightmare they have been forced to endure on Titran was just a taste of what awaits …