How real heroes of Telemark crushed Nazis dream of atomic bomb
by Jorn Rossing Jensen
Remember when in the World War II epic, The Heroes of Telemark – US director Anthony Mann’s 1965 feature – Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris lead a group of Norwegian saboteurs, in 1943, into the Norsk Hydro plant at Rjukan to blow up the Nazi production centre for heavy water, and later blasted a local ferry carrying tankers of the stuff to Germany?
Norwegian state broadcaster NRK has joined forces with Norwegian veteran producer John M Jacobsen, Danish production outfit Sebasto Film and the UK’s Headline Pictures to package a six 60-minute episode television series depicting the Allies’ efforts to keep the atomic bomb out of Hitler’s reach - production of the €10 million drama will begin this winter, and is due for delivery in 2013.
“This is the first time ”the whole story” will be dramatised, moving – as the historical events - between Germany, England, Norway and Denmark,” said Jacobsen, who most recently backed local blockbusters, Troll Hunter [+see also:
interview: Andre Øvredal
film profile] and Max Manus [+see also:
film profile]. “The famous military and scientific characters involved in the different countries will be portrayed by well-known actors speaking their own language.”
“The Gunnerside commando raid will be put into historical perspective, with Hitler’s hope of acquiring the atomic bomb and thereby winning World War II,” added Jacobsen, who will produce with Sveinung Golimo for Filmkameratene, Morten Fisker for Sebato, Tone Rønning and Petter Wallace for Norwegian television. The director and cast are yet to be selected.
Norsk Hydro built its Vemork facility at Rjukan already in 1934. The annual production of 12 tonnes of heavy water – which the Germans used for experiments with nuclear fission, in attempting to develop the atomic bomb – was a by-product of fertilizers. Even before World War II, French Intelligence – the Deuxieme Bureau - had removed 185 kilos of heavy water from the plant.
After the German occupation of Norway in 1940, the Allies were anxious to stop production and staged a series of sabotage missions. In 1942 British paratroopers, in two Halifax bombers, failed in Operation Freshman, as their gliders crashed short of their destination – so did one of the bombers – and most of the soldiers were killed on the spot or later executed by the Gestapo.
The 1943 raid was executed by Norwegian British-trained SOE commandos, who destroyed the facility at their second attempt in what is considered one of the most successful acts of sabotage during WW2. The ground action was followed by air attacks, and local resistance sank the SF Hydro ferry on the Tinnsjø lake to cut the transportation line to Germany.
The bombing of Norsk Hydro was first pictured in Jean Dréville-Titus Vibe-Müller’s French-Norwegian film The Fight for the Heavy Water (1948), more spectacularly in The Heroes of Telemark, with Douglas as a Norwegian physics professor and Harris as a local resistance leader. It was also the subject of the BBC television series, The Real Heroes of Telemark (2003).
In his highly successful Copenhagen (1998), UK playwright Michael Frayn recaptured the day in September 1941 when Danish Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr met his German protegé Werner Heisenberg in German-occupied Copenhagen, where they discussed a German atomic bomb and its consequences. A later TV production starred UK actor Daniel Craig.
Scripted by Norwegian writer Petter S Rosenlund, the eventual end of heavy-water production in Norway begin in 1930s’ Germany, where scientists are examining the possibility of creating a weapon of mass destruction for the Nazi state. It concludes with the collapse of the Third Reich and the same scientists denying their previous, ultimate goal.