"'Heavy Water' Factory May Help Nazis Make A-Bombs,"

by Paul Crastina, OLD NEWS,

From Booklet of Sample Articles from Past Issues

Note: It may have been a 60-Minutes Documentary I watched, but it covered this amazing team of Norwegian patriots and saboteurs as they moved to stop Nazi Germany's energetic attempt to produce an A-Bomb. Their mission was to destroy the Heavy Water plant at Vemork, Norway which produced for the nuclear reactor hidden somewhere in Germany. The article explains what the importance of heavy water was. But when it came to the part of the story where a heavy-water and passenger-carrying civilian ferryboat was blown up by the heroes, the documentary departed from actual reportage and drifted into speculation and outright bias, I believe. The interviewer of a former Norwegian saboteur tried to make the point with the Norwegian man's compliance that the whole operation was flawed and useless and the heavy water (for which a number of ferryboat passengers' lives were sacrificed) unneeded. The bias was even evident to me in the tally of survivors from the ferryboat sinking, which included Nazi soldiers--as if the Nazis aboard were just as valuable as the Norwegians aboard (overlooking just who attacked who?).

Read the article and see if you agree with that interviewer's glib assessment of this noble, daring act of Norwegian heroes so many years after the events.

A more solemn reminder than this is that our radically over-reaching Federal Government directed by Washington and the whole apparatus of Federal and State Governments may produce eventually here in America a police state and dictatorship of the sort that Haukelid and his team fought years ago in the frigid terrain and snows of Norway. What then? Will we respond with Knut Haukelid's courage and stamina and endurance to fight for our stolen country and our Constitutionally-validated but God-given liberties?--Ed.

Knut Haukelid, a twenty-nine-year-old Norwegian surveyor, was returning home from a construction site in northern Finland when the German army invaded Norway on April 9, 1940. Haukelid immediately volunteered to join the Norwegian army and was issued a gun.

Within a few weeks, the Germans rolled over the Norwegian regular and volunteer forces, capturing the capital city of Oslo and forcing the Norwegian government to take refuge in England. By early June the well-supplied Germans controlled Norway's major cities. [this operation by Nazi Germany was kind of like a gorilla swatting a fly, when it came to the difference in population and war machines; that the Norwegians resisted at all, was a tribute to their bravery in the face of utter impossibility; on the Norwegian side, it was like David, the shepherd boy, confronting Goliath, the giant, armored war champion of the Philistine Army. Yet Norway was no David, it was humanistic, trusting in human reason and ability rather than Almighty God. A lot of good that despicable belief did them, when attacked by the likes of Adolf Hitler and his mechanized hordes! In any case, it should not have been that easy for the Germans. God was not on the side of the Germans, after all. Was he on the side of the Norwegians? Were they any more God-fearing than the Germans? Chances are, they were not. And their government was not necessarily God-fearing either. What did they trust in anyway? A wiser Scandinavian country at the time (but not necessary God-fearing or righteous), Sweden knew it was finished before it even began to fight the German colossus, so it prepared well, making Sweden too costly to the attacking foe, and so it proved; putting its main defenses underground, with vast stores of supplies making it possible to fight and resist for years, training its army well, Sweden was let alone by Hitler, who preferred to take Norway and Finland, easy marks, and deal with Sweden later at his leisure--Ed.

The Norwegian army surrendered and a pro-German civilian government was installed in Oslo, but in the countryside a covert network of civilian resistance fighters continue to battle the Nazi occupation. Haukelid joined the resistance network. He wrote: "We swore that we would never give in--not even if the Germans won the war."

Haukelid, an avid skier and outdoorsman, set up shortwave radio transmitters in remote wilderness areas. Resistance fighters used these radios to communicate with the Norwegian government-in-exile and with Britain's wartime secret service, the Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.). With S.O.E. assistance, Haukelid began to make plans to sabotage a German naval base near Oslo and to kidnap Vidkun Quisling, the leader of the collaborationist government [this traitorous government of Quisling's put Norwegians to death for resistance, torturing them first via the expert officers of the Gestapo, so they gave good cause for this operation of the resistance fighters; for this very reason, Quisling's savagery toward fellow Norwegians, he was executed just after the close of the war. Today of course, the views about treason have changed drastically, and he might only be put on "administrative leave." and later fined, or given an amnesty for humanitarian work in advance.--Ed.].

Haukelid's plans were disrupted when the Gestapo, the Nazi secret state police, discovered his activities in the winter of 1941.

Haukelid narrowly escaped to Sweden. From there he made his way to England, where he joined the Linge Company, a Norwegian Special Forces unit being trained by the British army to wage guerilla warfare against the Germans in Norway.

At a training camp in the Scotish Highlands, British commandos taught Haukelid to parachute into mountainous terrain. He also received special training in lock picking, bomb making, and hand-to-hand combat.

Haukelid was a natural leader, older and better educated than most Norwegian resistance fighters, with a calm and amiable personality. After one year of training, he was made an officer with the rank of lieutenant.

In early February of 1943, Haukelid accepted an assignment as second-in-command of a secret mission to sabotage a Norwegian power and chemical plant fifty miles west of Oslo. This plant was the world's only commercial supplier of deuterium oxide, or "heavy water," used to moderate the process of atomic fission in nuclear reactors. The Germans, who were trying to invent an atomic bomb, had seized the plant from the Norsk-Hydro Company and dramatically increased its production of heavy water, which could be used to generate explosive plutonium fuel for a bomb. The Allies, who were trying to develop their own atomic bomb, feared that Norwegian heavy water would allow the Germans to win the race to build the world's first nuclear weapon.

The heavy-water plant was perched on the side of the steep mountain gorge of the Mane River at a place called Vemork, near the town of Rjukan. The plant used hydroelectric power derived from a five-hundred-foot waterfall to power the manufacture of heavy water and other chemicals.

S.O.E. officers told Haukelid that a Norwegian spy named Einer Skinnerland had infiltrated the Vemork plant and had set up radio transmitters nearby on the Hardanger Plateau, a sparsely populated upland north of Vemork [This is an extreme understatement; Norway is indeed sparsely populated, with 1.2 people per square mile, and this area of Hardanger was maybe in the .2 category, which means nobody, or virtually nobody ever resided there or only occasionally passed through.--Ed.]. In a mission code-named Operation Grouse, an advance team of four Norwegian commandos had parachuted into Norway in October of 1942 [I was now a little over 1 month old, having been born August 10, 1942--Ed.]. They had set up several camps and a series of supply caches on the plateau.

The Grouse team was supposed to have been joined by a squad of thirty-four British commandos to stage a raid on the lightly guarded plant; but this phase of the mission, code-named Operation Freshman, had met with catastrophe in November when a Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) bomber and two gliders carrying the troops crash-landed in Norway. The survivors had been captured by German soldiers and then executed by the Gestapo [ever play soft ball with someone who is set on playing hard ball? The Nazis played hard ball, all the time, so it did no good to play touch football with them, they shot the losers--the winners that beat them the so-called "Master Race," that is!--Ed.].

Moreover, the Germans had either learned or guessed the mission's objective and had increased security at Vemork. Installations of high-caliber machine guns, floodlights, and land mines now surrounded the plant. Despite the disastrous setback of Operation Freshmen [never send Freshmen to do a Senior's work, England?--Ed.], the Grouse team remained encamped on the Hardanger Plateau. They had run out of rations and were subsisting on reindeer meat and a vitamin-rich tea brewed from moss and melted snow [a few reindeer droppings probably added some zest to that awful "vitamin-rich" tea as well!--Ed.].

Haukelid was told that he and five other men of Linge Company had been assigned to make a new attempt to cripple the suspected German nuclear weapons program [this reminds us of today's political language, as in the "suspected Iranian nuclear weapons program"--Ed.]. Joachim Ronneberg would lead their mission, code-named Operation Gunnerside. Haukelid would be second-in-command [he made great moss tea!--Ed.], but all team members were fully trained and each could complete the undertaking alone, if necessary. The other members of the team were Lieutenant Kaspar Idland and Sergeants Frederik Keyser, Hans Storhaug, and Birgir Stromsheim.

At one o’clock on the morning of February 16, 1943, the Operation Gunnerside team boarded an R.A.F. Halifax bomber in Scotland. They crossed the North Sea by the light of a full moon and successfully parachuted onto the Hardanger Plateau.

At dawn they set out on skis to look for the Grouse team, but later in the day they were turned back by a blizzard and were forced to take shelter in an abandoned hunting cabin.

For the next three days heavy snowfall and high winds made further travel imposible, but on the morning of February 20, the wind died and the skies rapidly cleared.

As the men prepared to leave the cabin, they each picked up a rucksack packed with food, weapons, and high explosives [what if you bit into something you thought was a sausage or banana, and it wasn’t? You certainly couldn’t eat lunch in the dark!—Ed.]. Around the cabin in all directions the flat surface of the plateau lay buried under snowdrifts. The team members were about to set out when they noticed a man on skis in the distance, heading directly towards them.

The Gunnerside commandos hid behind a corner of the cabin and waited as the man came closer and then stopped to examine the fresh ski tracks they had left around the building. When he cautiously approached the cabin door, they immediately surrounded him with drawn weapons [this is almost a humorous scene, but we must remember, these weapons were not drawn on paper, as they are with United Nations troops sent into peace-keeping mission areas, they were real, they could shoot you into history in the blink of a reindeer’s eye!—Ed.].

A brief interrogation revealed that the startled skier was not a German soldier or Nazi sympathizer but a local reindeer hunter named Kristian Kristiansen. [are their any Iranian sympathizers, or Hamas sympathizers, or Hezbollah sympathizers, or even Al Qaida sympathizers today? Yes, millions upon millions of such Benedict Arnolds exist, in all levels of government too. Nothing much has changed in the West. Even back then, there were such many such conscience-challenged traitors, “sympathizing” or collaborating with the invaders. So how did they proceed interrogating the skiing suspect? Did they command him to sing “O Tannenbaum!” and when he showed he would rather die than sing it, they knew him to be a true blue Norskie?-—Ed.].

Once this was established, the commandos had to prove to the wary Kristiansen that they, too, were Norwegians, and not German troops [perhaps they ate some lutefisk together, which Germans never could stomach?-—Ed.]. When he was finally convinced, he exclaimed: “God, its great to see you fellows here, on the plateau of all places!”

Kristiansen, who was familiar with the surrounding countryside [Oh, I begin to see divine Providence operating now in this venture!—Ed.], agreed to guide the team in its search for the Grouse camp. Later that day the team encountered Grouse members Claus Helberg and Arne Kjelstrup. They said that their leader, Jens Poulsson, was at a nearby cabin, while their fourth teammate was manning a shortwave radio station at another, more secluded hut further away.

With the six Gunnerside men and three of the four Grouse team members united, it became necessary to decide what to do with Kristiansen. Ronneberg and Haukelid finally decided to tell the hunter to remain on the Hardanger Plateau for three days before going home, and to reveal nothing about what he had seen [this was easy for a Norwegian, for Norwegians are known for expressing few words, or used to be. “Taciturn," that term describes the condition aptly.—-Ed.]. The team then moved to a hut near the edge of the plateau, about seven miles from their objective in Vemork.

The heavy-water plant was located in the basement of a complex of buildings that housed hydroelectric turbines, laboratories, and chemical factories. The facility contained eighteen four-foot tall stainless steel tanks in which heavy water gradually accumulated as the product of a long, slow process of electrolysis.

The most obvious way to reach the building was by way of a seventy-five-foot suspension bridge that crossed the gorge of the Mane River. The bridge was used by the plant’s regular employees and visitors, and was guarded by German sentries equipped with floodlights and machine guns.

Ronneberg and Haukelid studied aeriel photographs of the five-hundred-foot-deep Vemork gorge, looking for a way to penetrate its natural defenses. They noticed areas of trees and shrubs growing on ledges of broken rock about a quarter mile downstream from the bridge. Reasoning that “where plants could grow, a man can go,” they decided to climb down to the river at this point and then scale the other side of the gorge to a railway line running up the side of the mountain to the plant [these Norwegian almost think like goats, who can go anywhere on the cliffs!--Ed.].

Because of the steep cliffs on either side of the grade, the railway was protected only by a single unmanned gate in the fence surrounding the plant.

On the morning of February 27, Claus Helberg made a trial run to Vemork dressed in civilian clothing. He returned a few hours later and said that he had found a route down into the gorge. The Mane River was frozen solid, Helberg said, and there was a cliff face across the gorge that looked as if it could be climbed without the use of ropes.

The nine commandos finalized their plans. Machine guns, explosives, detonators, and fuses were carefully loaded into rucksacks along with first-aid kits, extra flashlights, and emergency food rations. After sunset the men dressed in white ski-parkas and pants, then left the huts and skied down a steep, wooded escarpment towards Vemork. Each man carried a pistol, a knife, several hand grenades, and a “suicide pill” filled with potassium cyanide powder to be used in the event of capture. “Once bitten through it would ensure death within three seconds, Haukelid wrote.

At the base of the escarpment they removed their skis and hiked to the lip of the gorge. Following Helberg, they climbed down a series of slanting, snow-covered ledges, grabbing tree trunks for balance and support until they reached the icy riverbed. As Helberg had warned, the opposing wall of the gorge was more sheer and rocky than the way by which they had come down, but after about an hour of quiet, cautious climbing, the team reached a narrow shelf of the railroad grade.

For the final approach towards the plant, the men split into two groups: Haukelid, Poulsson, Helberg, Kjelstrup, and Storhaug went ahead as a covering team, followed by a demolition group consisting of Ronneberg, Keyser, Stromsheim, and Idland. Haukelid led the way, with each man exactly following his footsteps in the snow, to conceal their number if the tracks were found.

At 11:30 p.m. they reached a utility shed five hundred yards outside the gate to the plant. From the shed they could see the suspension bridge and a German army barracks nearby. At midnight the German sentries changed their posts, and a half-hour later the two teams slipped out of the shed, cut through the lock on the gate, and ran to a cluster of small buildings about one hundred yards from the heavy-water factory.

Haukelid and his men spread out to find hiding places from which they could keep watch, while Ronneberg and his men proceeded towards the heavy water plant in two groups of two, each carrying enough explosives to complete the mission if the other failed.

A few minutes later, Haukelid heard the faint sound of breaking glass. One of the teams had kicked in a window to gain access to the basement of the chemical plant. Haukelid watched the sentry post; the sentries did not seem to notice the noise. For the next twenty minutes the covering team waited expectantly, until the sound of a small explosion rumbled through the facility. Haukelid later wrote that he was surprised the blast was not “particularly impressive.”

The German sentries appeared not to notice it. A few minutes passed until a single unarmed German soldier emerged from the barracks with a flashlight. He swept the beam near Haukelid’s and Poulsson’s hiding place, and Poulsson whispered: “Shall I fire?”

“No,” Haukelid replied. “He doesn’t know what has happened; leave him as long as possible.”

The soldier seemed to notice nothing unusual and returned inside. Seconds later, Ronneberg, Keyser, Stromsheim, and Idland emerged from the shadows of the building and ran towards the railroad gate, followed by Haukelid and the rest.

The mission had been accomplished. The demolition team had found the heavy-water collection tanks being monitored by only two unarmed Norwegian employees. The men had offered no resistance as the explosives were planted. They were allowed to escape with the saboteurs before the blast, which tore the water tanks apart and spilled over one hundred gallons of heavy water into floor drains leading to the Mane River.

The saboteurs quietly retreated by way of the railway line and then climbed and slid back down the steep rock face into the gorge below. As they were crossing the riverbed, siren began to wail and brilliant white floodlighting suddenly lit up the mountain walls above them.

“Now we had to take to the hills,” Haukelid later wrote. Three grueling hours later, the team reached the rim of the Hardanger Plateau. Looking back down into the valley during the ascent, they could see German search parties swarming over the grounds of the brightly lit plant.

While skiing back to their hut, the commandos were buffeted by a powerful rising wind (was this also Providence acting on their behalf, for the same wind would buffet the searching Germans, throwing snow in their faces and blinding them?-—Ed.] . Helberg separated from the group to retrieve some civilian clothing from a nearby cache on the plateau. The rest got to the hut just before dawn, expecting Helberg to rejoin them with the new clothes.

Later that day a blizzard enveloped the area. When the weather cleared on March 1, the Norwegians sent a radio message to England confirming that the Vemork plant had been “completely destroyed.” Helberg, meanwhile, had been spotted by German soldiers and was unable to rejoin the group. He escaped to Sweden.

The remaining saboteurs split up. Seven of the remaining men also escaped to Sweden in uniform, but Haukelid and three others remained in Norway to work with the Norwegian resistance [now you see why Hitler, had he won the war, would have had to deal with a free Sweden, unless Sweden, to keep its souvereignty more or less, extradited its fellow Scandinavians who sought refuge there--Ed.]. For the next six months they kept on the move, alone and in small groups, evading German search parties by camping high in the mountains and traveling on skis to meet with regional resistance organizers [in days to come, prophetically, these same mountains may afford refuge again to resistance fighters, who are resisting a One World Government headed by a demonic man the Bible (and Revelation in particular) describes as the Man of Sin, the anti-Christ. Psalm 72 describes these hills, and other hills of refuge: "The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness." But their resistance will be different from the Norwegians, It will not be patriotic in the limited national sense, they will be true believers in Jesus Christ, and will be taking the Gospel to all who will turn from the evil, doomed world system to Christ.-—Ed.].

The situation at Vemork was monitored by S.O.E. spies who continued to work at the facility. During the summer of 1943, they reported that the Germans were tenaciously rebuilding the heavy-water plant [which seriously undermines the argument that the heavy-water plant production was not essential to the German Nuclear bomb-—Ed.]. In late July, Haukelid learned that production of heavy water had been fully resumed. A new, stronger garrison of German soldiers [the previous crew had probably either been shot for failing to stop the attack or sent to the savage killing grounds of the Russian front-—Ed.] had been stationed at Vemork, and security around the plant had been improved. It was decided that another sabotage raid against the plant was not likely to succeed.

On November 16 one hundred and forty American bombers flew from British bases to Vemork and dropped seven hundred bombs on the facility and the surrounding area. Because of bad weather and poor visibility, only fourteen of the bombs actually hit the power plant. Of those, two damaged the upper floors of the heavy-water building but did not harm the basement level where the concentrated heavy water was collected and stored [this reminds of the Iranian nuclear bomb facilities, sunk deep into the ground at isolated mountain and desert locations; they are making sure that even Israeli smart bombs and cruise missiles will not reach their working levels—-Ed.]. Twenty-four civilians were killed in the bombing, and the Norwegian government in England condemned the raid, about which it had not been consulted in advance.

The Germans decided to dismantle the Vemork facility and move the operation to a new, more secure site in Germany. In late January of 1944, workers began loading stockpiles of heavy water onto rail cars at the plant. On February 16 Haukelid received orders to intercept and destroy the shipment. In three days, he learned, the train would leave Vemork and travel east to lake Tinn, a long, narrow body of water over one thousand feet deep. The rail cars were to be loaded onto a ferryboat and transported to the south shore of the lake; from there they would again travel by rail to Oslo and then by ship to Germany [all this shows how critical and important the heavy water was to the German nuclear bomb effort.-—Ed.].

The most vulnerable link in the route was the ferry crossing. A carefully placed bomb could send the shipment irretrievably to the bottom of Lake Tinn, but Haukelid and other resistance leaders were hesitant to attack the ferry because civilians regularly used it to cross the lake. It is always hard to take a decision about actions which involve the loss of human lives,” Haukelid later wrote. “In this case an act of war was to be carried out which would endanger the lives of a number of our own people-—who were not soldiers.” The perceived risk of allowing the Nazi regime to develop an atomic bomb, however, grimly outwighted these considerations: “Our orders from London left no doubt that it was of vital importance to the outcome of the war that the Germans should not get the heavy water….The ferry at Lake Tinn had to be sunk to finish the job.”

On February 19 the heavy water shipment arrived at the lake and was loaded ontot he ferry HYDRO. That night Haukelid and two Norwegian Resistance fighters disguised as workmen infiltrated the docks by the lake. German soldiers were aboard the ferry, but the boat’s deck was not under guard. Judging from the sounds coming from below, the soldiers were busy playing cards.

Haukelid and one of the men casually boarded the HYDRO, while the third man kept watch on the gangway. Haukelid then planted a nineteen-pound time bomb in the ferry's bilge, near the bow. The group escaped from the area unnoticed by the Germans.

The next day, when the HYDRO was over the deepest part of Lake Tinn, the time bomb exploded. The ferry sank within minutes, taking the heavy water canisters with it. Of the fifty-three people on board, twelve German soldiers and fourteen civilian passengers drowned in the cold water before rescuers arrived to save twenty-three Norwegians and four Germans.

After the demolition of the ferry, Haukelid remained in Norway and continued to work with the resistance until the war ended fourteen months later. A few weeks prior to the defeat of Nazi Germany in the spring of 1945, the impact of the Norwegian sabotage missions on the German atomic program was validated when U.S. soldiers found an unfinished nuclear reactor in a bombproof bunker in southeast Germany. Engineers estimated that the reactor would have needed an additional 185 gallons of heavy water before it could have started producing the plutonium needed to build a Nazi atomic bomb. Later investigations revealed that the German nuclear program had encountered many other setbacks and was two years behind the Allied Manhattan Project [again, yet another proof of the acts of Providence.-—Ed.], but historians agree that the heavy water sabotage made it physically impossible for the German program to go forward during the final desperate year of the conflict [Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! With the bomb, the Nazis surely would have used it on London and New York, and won the war, forcing the Allies' capitulation to Nazi demands, lest other cities be atomized.—Ed.].

Haukelid received medals of honor from Norway, Sweden, France, and the United States. He remained active in the Norwegian army after the war, rising to the rank of lieutenant general. In 1965 a fictionalized version of the attack on the Vemork heavy-water plant was the basis of the film, “The Heroes of Telemark.” Actor Richard Harris starred in the role of Haukelid, although screenwriters renamed his character “Knut Straud.” Haukelid died on March 8, 1994, at the age of eighty-three.

Some Article Sources:

Haukelid, Knut. “Skis Against the Atom,” Minot, ND; North American Heritage Press, 1989.

Kurzman, Dan. “Blood and Water: Sabotaging Hitler’s Bomb.” New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1997.

Rhodes, Richard. “The Making of the Atomic Bomb,” New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986.

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