How the Norwegians & British ended the Nazi atomic bomb program with Neal Bascomb
My Nuclear LifeOctober 26, 2021
23
00:57:0652.28 MB

How the Norwegians & British ended the Nazi atomic bomb program with Neal Bascomb

Shelly Lesher

Welcome to the My Nuclear Life podcast! In this episode, host Shelly Lesher is joined by Neal Bascomb, author of The Winter Fortress, which tells the story of the plan to sabotage Hitler’s atomic bomb. Listen as Neal tells about the several different missions set out to destroy the Nazi atomic bomb program and how they affected the course of the World War II.

Neal starts at the beginning by talking about the emergence of the Norwegian resistance after the Germans came to occupy Norway. Once in Norway, the Germans built a hydroelectric plant in Vemork, which was used for its atomic science through the gathering and storing of heavy water, a resource used in nuclear reactors. The Norwegian resistance saw the German’s plan to create an atomic weapon and knew that it needed to be stopped. However, dropping a bomb on the plant would result in the destruction of the surrounding cities, which would greatly hurt their economy. Neal explains how this led the Norwegians to realizing that it needed to be destroyed from the inside out. 

This information was shared with the British who created the first sabotage named Operation Freshman. For this sabotage, British paratroopers would arrive to the plant in military gliders to then enter the plant and place bombs. However, this mission failed when a glider crashed, resulting in all the men on mission either dying or getting captured by the Nazis. Neil points out how this also resulted in the Nazis doubling their security on the hard water plant now that they knew there were plans to sabotage it.

The Norwegians decided to take matters into their own hands and created Operation Gunnerside. In this mission, chosen Norwegians from the resistance would parachute to the power plant, scale the frozen and snow-covered cliff, and sneak in through the airducts. This mission proved to be successful, and the Norwegians were able to place the bombs inside the plant to destroy it. After being chased by the Nazis on skis for hundreds of miles, the Norwegians were able to get away and all the men survived.

The Germans were able to rebuild the plant, but there was still another mission to come which would stop them from harvesting the heavy water. A Norwegian in hiding was gathering information on the German’s plans and conveying it to the British. He was able to discover that the Nazis were planning on taking their harvested heavy water to Germany on a ferry trip. On the last mission to sabotage the German atomic plan, the ferry ship with the supplies was bombed and the Germans lost all the resources they had harvested. Neil ends the episode by sharing about the different experiences he encountered during his research of the sabotages on the heavy water power plant and how it affected the course of the war.

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Production costs for this episode provided though National Science Foundation Grant PHY-2011267.