Greatest Mysteries of WWII: Hitler's Sunken Secret

Hitler’s last chance of winning the war rested in the cutting edge technology of a nuclear bomb. Whomever develops it captures the world. Norwegian heavy water sabotage

The Vemork Action

Claus Helberg

The following is an edited version of an article which was originally published in 1947 Yearbook of the Norwegian Tourist Association. The author, who was a member of a Norwegian sabotage team, has authorized its inclusion in Studies in Intelligence. The sabotage operation against the German heavy water production plant was celebrated in a movie, “The Heroes of Telemark. ” Mr. Helberg, who participated in the operation, is still hearty. In 1990, he took a member of’the Editorial Board of Studies in Intelligence on a trip to Vemork, retracing part of the journey described in the article.

All mountain hikers still recollect that the Hardanger Plateau in Norway was blocked off by the Germans during World War II. From the spring of 1943 to the German capitulation, the plateau was a forbidden area, and the Wehrmacht confiscated the cabins in the mountains. Not even the cabins of the Norwegian Tourist Association were exempt. The Germans burned, plundered, and destroyed, and there were rumors circulating about clashes between British troops and Germans.

The reason for the German actions gradually became public knowledge. It was because of the sabotage action in February 1943 against the heavy water production plant at Vemork. As long as the war lasted, however, people were not given a factual explanation about these events, but they understood that something important was happening.

The importance of the sabotage action was not disclosed until after the war against Japan was over. At that time, the War Department in London published the story on the Vemork action, and Churchill stated that the attacks against Vemork constituted a major event in the struggle for atomic power. The Germans had actually depended on heavy water from Vemork for their experiments with the atom bomb. As a member of one of the sabotage groups and as an employee of the Norwegian Tourist Association, I consider it appropriate to tell part of the story of what happened at Vemork and on the Hardanger Plateau during the war years.

How it Began

In the summer of 1942, 1 was a member of the Linge Company’s training camp in the mountains of Scotland. We were being trained for industrial and maritime sabotage and for training the Norwegian resistance forces. Professor (and Major) Leif Tronstad planned and organized the industrial sabotage. An excellent scientist, Tronstad was a member of the allied technical council. He made solid contributions to the Allies during the war, including the intelligence work behind the successful bomb attack against the German missile-testing site at Peenemunde.

Tronstad was keenly interested in the heavy water production at Vemork. In 1934, as a chemical consultant, he had participated in planning the plant. One day in August 1942, the training camp in Scotland was informed that four men, including myself, were to report to Professor Tronstad in London.

In London, our team leader received instructions for the assignment. To keep the information on the planned attack from leaking, only he was briefed on the real assignment. The rest of us believed that the action concerned training the resistance.

By the end of August, we had rounded up the skis, boots, and other winter equipment we needed. Then we had to wait for a moonlit night and fair weather. For the next six months, the weather was our worst enemy, not the Germans.

On our first infiltration flight, one of the plane’s engines burned up, and we limped back to England. The next time we had to turn back because of heavy fog.

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