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As long at there are stories told through film, the will be stories told of Operation Gunnerside, the February 1943 WWII operation that has been called the most successful act of sabotage in all of World War II. Penetrating a virtually inaccessible location in the frozen mountains of Telemark, Norway, Norwegian commandos successfully destroyed the heavy water production facility may have brought Adolf Hitler the atomic bomb.


As World War II moved into 1943, heavy water production at Vemork was producing 100 kilograms per month - more than enough to fuel German research.


By then, the tide of the war had begun to shift in favor of the Allies, but at the same time a dangerous wartime intrigue was developing. 


Who would be the first to get ‘the bomb’?


Allied hopes of disrupting the Nazi atomic program naturally focused on sabotaging the Vemork Hydrogen Production Factory.


The factory was fortified and heavily guarded in this nearly impossibly inaccessible part of Norway.


Even with the modern technology and military expertise at the Allieds’ disposal, any penetration of Vemork seemed doomed. 


The first attempt to disable the factory ended in utter failure with Operation Freshman in November 1942 when two mlitary planes dispatched from the UK crashed in southern Norway.  


All 41 English commandos on board the two planes were either killed in the crash or executed afterwards.


It was one of the darkest moments of World War II.


After the Operation Freshman failure a small special operations force was created. Trained in the Highlands of Scotland, this Norwegian team that knew the local area around Rjukan and Vemork like the back of their hands.


The Operation Gunnerside sabotage is described as one of the most heroic that took place during World War II - and indeed one of the most spectacular. 


Under the cover of night, 12 saboteurs were dropped by parachute onto the barren and frigid Hardangervidda. Then, just before midnight on 27 February 1943, the Norwegian saboteurs descended the steep canyon wall from the frozen plateau into the deep valley. Unnoticed and unstopped, they made their way along the railroad track, unchallenged through the entrance gates, and into the cellar of the Vemork Hydrogen Production Factory. 


There, in what is now famous as the Heavy Water Cellar,  they detonated the explosive that would sidetrack Adolf Hitler’s quest to create the bomb that would have fulfilled his dream of destroying his nemisis - London with its 8 million inhabitants.


The Heavy Water Cellar’where the sabotage took place had long been a mystery, buried in tons of rubble. Now uncovered and accessible, there are new stories waiting to be told!


The town of Rjukan in the Telemark region of Norway has a remarkable history. The birth of modern Norwegian tourism, the development of hydroelectric power and artificial fertiliser to feed a growing world population, facilitation of modern-day workers’ rights, nuclear development and the bravery and tenacity of wartime saboteurs.

Film still images © Ian J Brodie / Filmkameratene AS, co-producers Headline Pictures Ltd, Sebasto Film & TV Aps and NRK. Film stills from the 2014 mini-series The Heavy Water War have been used to illustrate the historical events related to the actions that took place during WWII.

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