Nazi nuclear saboteur dies, 99
The Norwegian insurgent credited with stopping the Nazi Germany from acquiring nuclear weapons has died at 99.
Joachim Roenneberg headed a squad of five commandos in Operation Gunnerside that blew up a site producing heavy water in 1943.
The explosion in Telemark (pictured) in southern Norway removed Berlin of a key ingredient that could have been used to create nuclear fission.
Heavy water contains a larger than normal amount of the hydrogen isotope deuterium, rather than the common hydrogen-1 isotope that makes up most of the hydrogen in normal water.
The presence of deuterium gives it different nuclear properties and the increase of mass gives it altered physical and chemical properties compared to “light water”.
The operation was recreated in 1965’s Heroes of Telemark, starring Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris.
In 2013 Roenneberg said it was not until he saw atomic bombs dropped on Japan’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 that he realised the importance of his mission.
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said Roenneberg was “one of our finest resistance fighters”.
She said Roenneberg’s “courage contributed to what has been referred to as the most successful sabotage campaign” in Norway’s history.
The 23-year-old, working with Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE), parachuted on to snow-covered peaks before he was joined by other commandos.
Skiing to their destination, they entered the heavily guarded factory to blow up its production line.
Roenneberg said at the last minute he chose to cut his fuse down from several minutes to a handful of seconds, ensuring that the explosion would take place but endangering his escape.
He later spoke of how they “very often thought that this was a one-way trip”.
After the explosion, the men escaped by skiing 300km into neighbouring Sweden, despite being chased by around 3,000 German soldiers.
Ronneberg stayed silent about the operation for decades, despite the story becoming the stuff of legend.
He broke his silence in the 1970s when he started raising awareness of the dangers of extremism among young people.
“Those growing up today need to understand that we must always be ready to fight for peace and freedom,” he said.
Roenneberg saying in a 2014 Norwegian documentary that the mission went “like a dream”, without firing a shot.
Eva Vinje Aurdal, mayor of his hometown Aalesund, said: “We must not forget what he stood for and has passed on to us.”
The town ordered flags to fly at half mast and residents left flowers at a sculpture of Roenneberg, showing him in his British-issued uniform.
Telemark today. Picture credit: Flickr