Joachim Roenneberg dies aged 99 (leader of a daring World War 2).
The leader of a daring World War 2 raid to thwart Nazi Germany’s nuclear ambitions has died aged 99.
In 1943 Joachim Roenneberg, serving behind enemy lines in his native Norway during the German occupation, blew up a plant
producing heavy water, a hydrogen-rich substance that was key to the later development of atomic bombs.
He was picked by Britain’s war-time Special Operations Executive to lead the raid when he was only 23 years old.
Roenneberg was the youngest member of Operation Gunnerside, which penetrated and destroyed key parts of the heavily guarded Norsk Hydro plant.
The subject of books and documentaries as well as movies and a TV drama series, the attack took place without a single shot
To Roenneberg’s team, however, the stakes could not have been higher.
An earlier raid failed to even reach the site, with dozens of attackers captured and killed, and Gunnerside members later described their own assault as a near-suicide mission.
Parachuting onto a snow-covered mountain plateau, the small group teamed up with a handful of other commando soldiers before
skiing to their destination, penetrating the plant on foot and blowing up the heavy water production line.
Describing a pivotal moment, Roenneberg later said he made a last-minute decision to cut the length of his fuse from several
minutes to seconds, ensuring the explosion would take place but making it more difficult to escape.
While a manhunt ensued, the group fled hundreds of kilometres across the mountains, with Roenneberg skiing to
neighbouring Sweden, a neutral country in the war, two weeks later.
While historians doubt that Adolf Hitler’s Germany would have been able to produce a nuclear weapon in time to stave off
defeat, they also recognise that the risks were much harder to quantify in 1943.
For the Gunnerside crew, this hardly mattered at the time; only much later did they learn the true purpose of the attack
they were asked to carry out.
Born in 1919 in the town of Aalesund, Roenneberg fled to Britain after the German invasion of Norway in 1940, receiving
military training before returning home for several missions during the war.