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Birger Stromsheim

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Birger Stromsheim

Postby kurt_w » Fri Nov 16, 2012 2:32 pm

Birger Stromsheim died this past week, age 101.

He was the last surviving member of the Norwegian ski-borne resistance team that sabotaged a heavy-water production facility at the Norsk Hydro "Vemork" hydropower plant near Tinn, Norway in February 1943. The Nazi atomic bomb program had intended to use heavy water from the plant as a moderator in their reactors.

After the raid, Stromsheim and four of his colleagues then made an epic 400-kilometer escape across Norway on skis, to the Swedish border.

Given the fact that the tide of war was already turning by 1943, it's not clear to me that the Nazis would have been able to produce a bomb before the end of the war even if the tanks holding 500 kg of heavy water at Vemork hadn't been destroyed by Birger Stromsheim and his colleagues. The Nazi atomic program wasn't prioritized appropriately and they might have run out of time before getting the first bombs ready for deployment. But ... even the possibility of the Nazis acquiring atomic bombs before the Allies did is pretty horrible to contemplate. So for that, we owe Birger Stromsheim and his fellow skiers our thanks.

There's a description of the raid at PBS here, along with an explanation of heavy water.

Here's a photo of the Vemork hydropower plant:

I'm not thrilled about linking to the source, but there's also a good obituary in the Telegraph.
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Re: Birger Stromsheim

Postby Mad Howler » Fri Nov 16, 2012 7:43 pm

That was astounding story I never had heard of. Thanks kurt_w, and a retrospective thank you to Herr Stromheim.

p.s.- ADMIN, can we get an obit topic (or, errh, fixed subject) on this board?
Last edited by Mad Howler on Sun Nov 18, 2012 2:25 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Birger Stromsheim

Postby kurt_w » Fri Nov 16, 2012 10:16 pm

There was a reasonably good Hollywood film about this episode, from back in the 1960s, starring Kirk Douglas ("The Heroes of Telemark"). It didn't go over well in Norway, however, due to its many departures from the literal facts of the story.

More recently, there was a British documentary on the subject ("The Real Heroes of Telemark").

What I didn't know, but just learned via Wikipedia, is that there was a Franco-Norwegian film about these events produced way back in 1948 ... about which Wikipedia says

Quite faithful to the real events, it even had many of the original Norwegian commandos starring as themselves.

That would be something to see!

On a different note, one of the other members of the resistance group that sabotaged Vemork was Knut Haugland, who later floated across the Pacific on the Kon-Tiki expedition. He died a couple of years ago.
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