Not just a voice in the ether! Vic Phillipson lives.

Last week I spent several days with my Roz Roams podcast co-host, Vic Phillipson, and his family in Kristiansand, Norway. Regular listeners to the podcast will have heard Vic talking on occasions about the Kanonmuseum where he works as a volunteer, and he took me up to see it as a possible venue for a speaking engagement (details of Norwegian speaking tour forthcoming once things are a bit more definite).

Natural pacifist though I am, I have to say that there was something pretty awe-inspiring about the sheer scale of the cannon. And the museum in the bunker beneath was equally fascinating – although I felt a little guilty about being so interested in a system that was, really, designed to kill people. I was impressed by the analogue computer they used to calculate the firing angle, and some ingeniously designed equipment designed for loading shells.

Vic told me just how swiftly the Germans were able to set up an extensive network of cannons and bunkers all along the Norwegian coast, a huge infrastructure conjured into existence by sheer force of will and the mobilisation of a massive workforce. Ignoring for now the not-so-nice objectives of this operation, it really is amazing what human beings can achieve when they put their minds to it.

One BIG cannon

This theme of massive human mobilisation tied in with a book I am reading at the moment: The Great Disruption: Why The Climate Crisis Will Bring On The End Of Shopping And The Birth Of A New World, by Paul Gilding. You can probably tell from the title that this is right up my street. In the book Paul Gilding draws a parallel between our response to climate change and our response to a war situation. Apparently the warning signs were there for some time before war was declared on Germany. The invasion of Poland was just the last straw. There was a huge shift in attitudes between the slowly-building awareness of a malevolent power in Europe, and an open state of war. Suddenly all the power of human innovation and creativity was unleashed to confront the enemy.

Human ingenuity: the analogue computer, bent out of shape by my fun fisheye lens

Paul Gilding believes that our response to environmental damage will – eventually – be equally dramatic. I haven’t finished the book yet, but it’s great stuff so far. Too optimistic? I don’t know. But it cheers me up immeasurably to believe that humans will eventually respond appropriately to the growing crisis, and that it won’t be too little, too late. It certainly makes it easier to get out of bed in the mornings, and to carry on fighting the good green fight. No cannons required.

Other Stuff:

I am now in the Canary Islands, on my way to see the start of the Atlantic Rowing Race on Sunday. I’m watching, NOT rowing! I was due to be on La Gomera by now, but had a bit of a planes-trains-automobiles day yesterday. All was going well – walk 15 mins to station in Utrecht (Netherlands), get train to Amsterdam, catch plane, change planes in Madrid, land in Tenerife, get bus to Los Cristianos to catch the ferry…. except that the bus arrived 5 minutes after the last ferry of the day had left at 7pm. So here I am, still in sunny Los Cristianos. I’ll head over to La Gomera later on today. Watch this space for the news on the crews!


  • Hi Roz,

    Don’t be ashamed.  Such things always inspire awe and wonder and that’s OK – especially if it’s mixed with a little horror.  Artillery used to be a the forfront of technology for all militaries.  That computer is actually a little small compared to a battleship computer from the same era (at least American ones).  I’m told the firing computer for one of our ships required a good sized room. 

    It’s amazing what humans can do when they put their minds to it.  But for correcting climate change the minds must be brought willingly on board.  The last thing the world needs is a communist style pogram that hurts nearly as many people as it helps.


    • The computer in Roz’s photo was for a 21cm gun.  It needed five men to man it.  The computer for the 38cm gun here at the Kanonmuseum required eleven men to acheive a firing solution.  Sadly, that computer is not to be found, it must have been a monster.  

      • Those computers had to be big.  Firing calculations are very complex.  Each gun had an individual performance variance compared to what the manufacturer planned for and the rifling always threw the projectile slightly to the right.  Every batch of propellant varied too.  Propellant performance also varied according to its temperature which varied according to where it was stored.  And each projectile’s performance varied according to batch and the type of projectile.  All this data was collected and calculations had to take them into account.  Then more calculations had to be made for the weather – temperature, air pressure, humidity, wind direction and speed – at several different elevations the projectile would cross.  For large cannons like these even the rotation of the earth had to be taken into account.  Even silly things like whether the crew washed the gun tube with soap and water but neglected to lube it or whether it was the first or the fourtieth shot.  Firing from land at a ship was difficult enough but from a ship to another ship it was doubly so.  Computers had to incorporate calculations to hit a moving target from a moving platform and include the motion from the sea as well.

  • Nice to see you, Vic. It’s funny how when after you’ve listened to a voice for  along time you get a certain picture of what the person attached to that voice looks like. And when you see them they’re nothing like you pictured. Well, sir, I have to say you’re nothing like I pictured! Much more handsome! 

    • Haha! Somehow Vic missed that off our itinerary!

      Roz Savage
      Ocean Rower and Environmental Campaigner
      First Woman to Row Three Oceans: Atlantic, Pacific, Indian
      National Geographic Adventurer of the Year 2010
      Author of “Rowing The Atlantic: Lessons Learned on the Open Ocean”

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