Talk:Norwegian heavy water sabotage

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Former good article nomineeNorwegian heavy water sabotage was a good articles nominee, but did not meet the good article criteria at the time. There may be suggestions below for improving the article. Once these issues have been addressed, the article can be renominated. Editors may also seek a reassessment of the decision if they believe there was a mistake.
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Did You Know
A fact from this article appeared on Wikipedia's Main Page in the "Did you know?" column on August 9, 2004.
The text of the entry was: Did you know ...that the Norwegian heavy water sabotage was a key part of Allied efforts to prevent Nazi Germany from developing nuclear weapons?

Wiki Education Foundation-supported course assignment[edit]

Sciences humaines.svg This article is or was the subject of a Wiki Education Foundation-supported course assignment. Further details are available on the course page. Student editor(s): Jespergb2407.

Above undated message substituted from assignment by PrimeBOT (talk) 05:26, 17 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Any one know why ?[edit]

Any one know why they had a heavy water plant at all which was built as I understand it before the war? What was the point if no one was actively building a bomb when the plant was first built? Was it just a by prodcut of producing hydrogen for other purposes? Dave

Book reference (I haven't read it, but I saw the documentary):

  • Ray Mears, The Real Heroes of Telemark, Hodder & Stoughton, London 2003. --Robert Merkel 13:27, 5 Aug 2004 (UTC)

It was a byproduct. The primary product of the plant was something else like a fertilizer.

Cheap available hydroelectric power & water -> water electrolysis -> hydrogen & oxygen.

air -> nitrogen.

hydrogen & nitrogen -> ammonia

Water remaining in hydrolisis tubs is enriched in heavy water because it hydrolises slower than water.

Jclerman 15:12, 29 May 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Great - that explains everything!! DaveEngineman (talk) 16:06, 4 June 2008 (UTC) Ohh - apparenlty not!!!!Engineman (talk) 06:42, 5 June 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]


The Hydro plant was built before the war to utilize the relatively simple process known as electrolysis to split the water molecule into highly acidic hydrogen ions and highly basic hydroxide ions. They used the hydrogen to make fertilizer, and had no idea until the Germans showed interest in the plant that their biproduct could be useful in beginning a chain reaction wherein a stable uranium atom becomes plutonium, necessary for making nuclear weapons. Does that help at all? Lily Grace 07:44, 9 November 2005 (UTC)Reply[reply]

apparenlty scienties were playing with heavy water even in 1934[edit]

"Norsk Hydro supplied the world's scientific community with heavy water only as a sideline."

a correction:

The book , the biography of a formula also mentions that the hydro plant produced fertilizer, and that heavy water was a by-product. I don't think so - chemically, heavy water isn't very different from ordinary water, and I'd say that it can just as well be used to make fertilizer.

  • Deuterated water has, in fact, rather different properties from normal water. That's why it was a byproduct of the electrolysis reaction which preferred the lighter chemical species. And, just in case, please do not drink it. Jclerman 18:57, 16 February 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

However, I can imagine that electrolysis was the first stage in the production. On top of that, you'll have to treat tons of water because the heavy ions are rather rare. A big factory (next to a powerful electricity generator) will be an asset in that case. --J c stuifbergen 17:28, 16 February 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I wonder whether there is any truth to my father's understanding that random hostages were taken from among the populace after the raid on Vermork.

I seem to recall that such tactics were used by the Nazis in many territories in WWII (resistance movements, as a rule, aren't above some rather nasty actions towards "collaborators" themselves), and I think the Hollywood movie implied this (though, as stated, it never let the facts get in the way of a good story). Somebody needs to do some book research to find out. --Robert Merkel 05:42, 6 Aug 2004 (UTC)

I've just discovered that there is another page, Operation Gunnerside, which covers this material. The two pages should be merged. --Robert Merkel 07:37, 6 Aug 2004 (UTC)

Moved these old notes from Talk:Operation Gunnerside to Talk:Norwegian_heavy_water_sabotage (nice merge by the way).

Some notes on the Grouse team to add to an article sometime:

Jens Anton Paulsson wrote in his report that in 1942 the snow was sticking to their skis and there was surface water on the ice so that each day their feet were soaking wet.

The Grouse team's task was to transport batteries, radio and equipment some 100 kilometres from lake Sona (spelling?) in 30 days, and then radio the glider team waiting in the UK to make the attack on the plant.

However, after 10 days the Grouse team had covered less than a third of the way, and were on low rations of around 2500 calories per day, doing work that required 6000 per day.

Because the equipment to move was so heavy, it had to shuttled in 30 kilogram portions, with each team member skiing some 10 km dropping the stuff, and returning back to the previous drop point. This meant they had to travel 3 times the actual distance they moved forward.

During this whole time they could not make any radio contact so noone back in the UK knew of their problems.

After some (10+ ?) days the team left the frozen lake and moved the stuff on sledges.

Claus Helberg said something (I didn't quite catch what he said) about discovering or jury-rigging a sledge which eased moving the equipment.

Jens Anton Paulsson once fell through thin ice over a frozen lake but was recovered by his team members.

(TV programme shows the technique for surviving falling in ice cold water: keep hold of ski poles, use them to swim back to where you fell in, and use the pole-points to drag yourself out, get to a heated tent, and/or remove all wet clothes, and put on clothes from your ditch-kit, packed for this eventuality. Otherwise you freeze to death)

When the team reached a point near to the plant they rigged an aeriel and used Morse code to radio Bletchley park, England.

17 Nov 1942 Knut Haugland sent radio msg about good conditions for gliders: clear sky, -5C, strong N wind has died down. Set up landing lights in snow and wait. Plan was 2 gliders with soldiers air-towed across over the N,Sea, land, debark, fight way into plant, and sabotage it.

But the tow ropes on the towing aircraft iced up, 3 aircraft crashed...

-Wikibob | Talk 23:14, 2004 Apr 7 (UTC)

Knut Haugland/Haukelid[edit]

Are these the same person, spelled differently because of translation? Joyous 02:05, Apr 28, 2005 (UTC)

See, for example, the photo of the memorial at Gene Nygaard 02:22, 28 Apr 2005 (UTC)
To be specific, they are Knut M. Haugland and Knut A. Haukelid, respectively. Haugland (radio operator) was a member of the Grouse/Swallow group, who parachuted over the Hardangervidda on the night of 18/19 October 1942. Haukelid was a member of the Gunnerside group, who dropped down from the sky to join Swallow four months later on 17 February 1943. --Wernher 02:31, 28 Apr 2005 (UTC)
Thank you both. I linked to this article from Kon-Tiki, and then wasn't sure I had his identity straight. Joyous 02:55, Apr 28, 2005 (UTC)

Nazi A-bomb?[edit]

Among historians there is doubt that Germany was really working on a nuclear weapon. Of course, the Nazi's were interested in such a weapon, and were experimenting with nuclear fission. The allies were convinced that the Germans were building a bomb (one of the reasons for the Manhattan-project), but after the war little evidence for a bomb was found. There were experimental nuclear reactors found, but those weren't very effective and could not produce enough plutonium for a bomb. After the war it became apparent that the Nazi's decided the development of a nuclear weapon would take too long, cost too much and use too much resources.

- FB

FB, they certainly didn't attempt anything like what the Allies did with the Manhattan Project, but the experiments they were conducting could ultimately have led to plutonium production and a bomb design. With the benefit of hindsight it's clear that the Nazis would never have finished in time, but hindsight is always 20/20. --Robert Merkel 15:06, 26 October 2005 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Ironically, the fact that Nazi Germany despised/discarded "Jewish" physics led to many extremely talented physicists and engineers to emigrate, some to the United States, and were essential in the Manhattan Project, and this was detrimental to the Nazi pursuit of a nuclear weapon - I am trying to motivate myself to look through the various sources in my private history library of 300-plus volumes to find some good references on this for the article, but it is Sunday, and I am extremely lazy right now.  :-) HammerFilmFan (talk) 10:21, 31 May 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
The tipping point for the Allies (actually, Britain) was the 1940 Frisch–Peierls memorandum that proved an atomic bomb was a feasible proposition, this led to fears that Germany might be working on a bomb and might get one first, and all responses were based on that (albeit mistaken) assumption. After the war it was discovered that Germany had not been anywhere near getting an atomic bomb but the Allies hadn't known that at the time. Getting this wrong would almost certainly have lost the Allies the war. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 10:57, 16 February 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Big missing part[edit]

Great narrative in this article, but it's missing the most important part: in the "Operation Gunnerside" section, what did the team do after entering the building? The narrative goes:

  1. Approach attempt
  2. Approach attempt 2
  3. Get into the building
  4. Sneak away from the building.

Did they perhaps set a bomb or two? Tempshill 20:14, 28 October 2005 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Good question. I don't know exactly how they sabotaged the heavy water production.--Robert Merkel 21:16, 28 October 2005 (UTC)Reply[reply]

prematurely abandoned the idea of a graphite-moderated reactor[edit]

Recent edit states: "Having prematurely abandoned the idea of a graphite-moderated reactor for plutonium production due to initial failure to examine ultrapure graphite, the Germans instead settled on a heavy-water-based design (in the U.S., this mistake was prevented by the insight of Leo Szilard). A nuclear reactor could be used to do bomb research, and, ultimately, to breed plutonium from which a bomb could be constructed."

Come now, the heavy water concept was perfectly viable—one needs only consider the production reactors at Savannah River Site’s R-Reactor, P-Reactor, L-Reactor, K-Reactor, & C-Reactor or Mayak’s production reactors to see compelling proof that heavy water is more effective for plutonium production than graphite-moderated reactors. How is it that the abandonment of a graphite-moderated reactor was premature? Were the Germans to have the prescience that allowed them to see the Norwegians would sabotage their approach?

Williamborg 01:55, 29 April 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Removed from page[edit]

Nothing to do with subject of page.

Beginning in 1943, the U.S. pursued this method and plants[1] were built to produce plutonium at the Hanford Works north of Richland, Washington. The Hanford production was based on a technological insight by Leo Szilard that uranium arranged in a spatial array in ultrapure graphite as a neutron moderator could be used to produce Pu239. Although heavy water is a superior neutron moderator, it was not selected by the U.S. due to difficulty in heavy water production.


  1. ^ A fuel fabrication plant, two production reactors, cooling basins, laboratories and three reprocessing plants (each 250 m in length).

--Light current 12:33, 28 June 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

GA failed[edit]

As of 24 October 2006, I am making a speedy failing for this article to reach Good Article status, per WP:WIAGA, because this article is totally unsourced. The only item in the References and notes section is not a source, but merely a footnote. Please provide your reliable sources according to WP:CITE to support the three pillars of Wikipedia: neutral point of view, no element of original research and verifiable. — Indon (reply) — 11:53, 24 October 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Documentary List[edit]

We should add the following to the list:

Untold Stories of WWII: Three Secrets that Changed the War Produced by Stephen Burns, David Clark, and Amy Wray Written by James Barrat, Michael Dolan, and Frank Nesbitt National Geographic Society, 1998

This Documentary contains testimony of some of the original Grouse teammembers

Tha slughy 23:53, 12 December 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Removal of link[edit]

I strongly suggest the removal of the link to the slideshow about the "real heroes of Telemark". Some of the facts presented were wrong and it puts much too heavy emphasis on the German nuclear programme - Poulsson himself says in his book (Aksjon Vemork - Vinterkrig på Hardangervidda, Gyldendal Norsk Forlag 1982) that it was unlikely the Nazis were even working towards an atomic bomb.

M.B., 23 February 2007 14:26, 23 February 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Why did they have heavy water?[edit]

Going back to an earlier question and the answer that heavy water was merely a by product, doesnt this imply or state that they actaully wanted heavy water in 1934 - if so for what purpose? Thanks...Engineman (talk) 06:14, 5 June 2008 (UTC)[reply]


The 60-MW Vemork power station at the Rjukan waterfall in Telemark, Norway, was the world’s largest power plant when it opened in 1911 after six years of construction. The project was so expensive that the works had to be finance by overseas sources. The plant became the corporate precursor to Norsk Hydro. Ten 6-MW T/G sets were supplied by Voith and AEG (Units 1-5) and Escher Wyss and Oerlikon (Units 6-10). Now closed, the facility has been converted into the Norsk Industriarbeidermuseum which, among other things, portrays the area’s history before and during World War II.

In 1934, Norsk Hydro built the first commercial heavy water plant with a capacity of 12 tons per year at Vemork. During World War II, the Allies decided to destroy the heavy water plant in order to inhibit the Nazi development of nuclear weapons. In late 1942, a raid by British paratroopers failed when the gliders crashed and all the raiders were killed in the crash or shot by the Gestapo . In 1943, a team of British-trained Norwegian commandos succeeded in a second attempt at destroying the production facility, one of the most important acts of sabotage of the war.

sceintits were already playing around wit nuclear stuff and heavy water in 1934[edit]

Vemork Heavy Water Plant - 1942-44 In 1911, the Vemork hydroelectric station in Rjukan started exploiting the tremendous power in the waters that flow from the mighty Hardangervidda down into the narrow Vestfjord valley. Norsk Hydro, Norway´s great industrial adventure, was born here, among the perilous cliffs and deep gorges.

Late in 1938, Lise Meitner, Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman discovered the phenomenon of atomic fission. Physicists everywhere realized that if chain reactions could be tamed, fission could lead to a promising new source of power. What was needed was a substance that could "moderate" the energy of neutrons emitted in radioactive decay, so that they could be captured by other fissionable nuclei. Heavy water was a prime candidate for the job.

Allied forces were determined to stop Nazi Germany from developing the atomic bomb. Of two materials to control a nuclear reaction -— pure graphite and heavy water -- the Germans chose heavy water because of a mathematical error in calculating the use of graphite. The German nuclear research community relied on a supply of deuterium oxide [heavy water] from the Norwegian Norsk Hydro plant, the only commercial production facility. This plant in Vemork, Norway was the world's major source of heavy water in the early 1940s. In the United States, Heavy water was used as a coolant and moderator in nuclear materials production reactors at the Savannah River Site.

Concentrating heavy water requires enormous amounts of electricity. In the 1930s, one of the few places in the world with power to spare was the Vemork plant of Norway's Norsk Hydro-Elektrisk, which had harnessed a 144-meter-high waterfall to produce fertilizers. The heavy water was generated as a by-product of producing fertilizer. Norsk Hydro supplied the world's scientific community with heavy water only as a sideline. In late 1939, the Germans began ordering heavy water in very large quantities, Norsk Hydro management suspected "some kind of deviltry."

With the cooperation of Norsk Hydro, the French managed to spirit the company's entire stock of heavy water, some 185 kilograms, out of the country under the noses of watchful German agents.

Germany captured Norway and the plant in May 1940. The Allies set out to destroy Vemork, a story familiar from the 1965 Hollywood film, Heroes of Telemark, starring Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris. The struggle for control of the heavy water plant took more than two years, involved four assaults and claimed 92 lives.

On October 18, 1942, an advance party of four Norwegian SOE commandos -- Code-named "Grouse" -- were dropped in Norway on the Hardanger Plateau on a reconnaissance mission of the plant. In November 1942 the military campaign began with a disastrous British commando raid into Norway. Operation Freshman, mounted by Special Operations Executive (SOE), failed when thirty four Royal Engineers of the 1st British Airborne Division, together with the crews of two gliders and one bomber, died when their craft crashed into mountains during poor visibility. Survivors were interrogated, tortured, and executed by the Germans. On 28 February 1943 a second all-Norwegian commando raid -- Operation Gunnerside -- destroyed the Rjukan electrolysis plant, with the loss of 500kg of heavy water. The plant was, however, quickly repaired. On 16 November 1943 the American attempt to destroy the plant employed a total of 388 B-17 and B-24 bombers from Eighth Air Force. The raid resulted in considerable loss of civilian life but minimal damage the electrolysis building. While this attack did little damage it convinced the Germans to abandon the plant and move remaining stocks and critical components to Germany in 1944. On 20 February 1944 a final successful attack by saboteurs and members of the Norwegian resistance interdicted the remaining supply of heavy water by sinking the ferry D/F"HYDRO" taking a shipment to Germany. The disassembled factory was later found in southern Germany during the closing stages of the war by members of Operation Alsos.

1942 Attack.

Does anyone know the basis for the assertion in the article that the 1942 team were ALL captured or shot by the Germans?

I had thought that two were not immediately caught and it was their survival during the 1942/1943 winter which was a secret because they knew that their team had been dropped straight onto waiting German troops, so they knew that there was an effective spy in SOE or associated depts who had passed info regarding their operation.

Indeed I thought it was the survival of these two (alone and unaided, unable to tell anyone of their plight because they knew that if the British found out they would be given away) throughout the Norwegian winter was one of the most heroic episodes of the war.

Dave (talk) 12:09, 13 December 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]

According to the Ray Mears survival programme they were supplied during this supposedly secret period by parachute drops...Engineman (talk) 15:18, 13 December 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Thank you for that comment. I read in relation to the "Cockleshell heroes" escapade that no-one in the know trusted Mountbatten (the King's cousin - as he was so fond of telling everyone - who was in charge of combined ops) which was why he was not told of the SOE attack on Brest which was intended to do severe damage to the port. This mission had to be called off after Mountbatten's exploits in canoes brought such little reward for the investment of enormous bravery on the part of the disposable participants. The exploit in Norway is run by the same people at almost the same time, and I have grave reservations that the so called "history" is in any way accurate. I hasten to add I do not slur the memories of the participants but rather the overview.

Forgive me if I'm not putting these comments in the right place. Advice more than welcome.

Dave (talk) 13:02, 15 December 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Operation Frankton was not Mountbatten's idea, it was merely he who approved it. The commando operation was carried out becasue it was not possible for the RAF to bomb the ships without a considerable risk to the French civilian population nearby. The same motivation also applied to Operation Chariot.
Such 'niceties' are important when one is dealing with occupied friendly countries rather than enemy ones.
Frankton targeted German blockade runners that were carrying such cargoes as rubber and tin that were unobtainable by Germany except from Japanese-occupied Malaya. Germany subsequent resorted to carrying these cargoes in U-boats with greatly inferior carrying capacity compared to the cargo ships which further reduced Germany's already limited stocks of these commodities important to Nazi Germany's war machine.— Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 09:15, 16 February 2018 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Let's try for Good Article again[edit]

On 24 October 2006 this article failed to reach Good Article status, per WP:WIAGA, because this article was totally unsourced. There is a great deal of good material here already. With our joint effort, we should be able to push this over the top to Good Article status. Please assist in adding references and cleaning up the language. Thanks - Williamborg (Bill) 02:50, 13 July 2009 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Good Article internal assessment[edit]

The criteria (at least as of today) for a good article are—


(a) the prose is clear and the spelling and grammar are correct; and
Improvement required as follows -
(b) it complies with the manual of style guidelines for lead sections, layout, jargon, words to avoid, fiction, and list incorporation.
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Factually accurate and verifiable:[edit]

(a) it provides references to all sources of information in the section(s) dedicated to the attribution of these sources according to the guide to layout;
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(c) it contains no original research.
Improvement required as follows - All significant material should be referenced.

Broad in its coverage:[edit]

(a) it addresses the main aspects of the topic; and
Improvement required as follows -
  1. Improve the background so one understands why Norske Hydro got into the business of producing heavy water.
  2. Improve the historical context discussion
(b) it stays focused on the topic without going into unnecessary detail (see summary style).
Improvement required as follows -

Neutral: it represents viewpoints fairly and without bias.[edit]

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Stable: it does not change significantly from day-to-day because of an ongoing edit war or content dispute.[edit]

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Illustrated, if possible, by images:[edit]

(a) images are tagged with their copyright status, and valid fair use rationales are provided for non-free content; and
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(b) images are relevant to the topic, and have suitable captions.
Improvement required as follows -
Figure out where to add image [[Image:NorwegianHeavyWaterSabotage.jpg|thumb|250px|right|A reconstruction of the saboteurs in action destroying the cascade of electrolysis chambers.]]
Alternative text for images is now standard for FA status and creeping into GAs - apply it here...

pre war heavy water[edit]

the article mentioned that the heavy water was shipped out by the french before the war. I think it would improve the article if it would tell what happend to the heavy water in france. It is stated that it is shipped to france in 1940, but it does not tell what happend during the occupation of france (talk) 23:51, 28 February 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]

In 1940 it was transported out of France to England by the SS Broompark by a party led by Charles Howard, 20th Earl of Suffolk. Image of ship here: [1] For a time the HW was stored at Windsor Castle. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:39, 12 June 2014 (UTC)Reply[reply]

footnote 20 (Heroes at Telemark) is now available at[edit] — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 13:24, 15 June 2012 (UTC)Reply[reply]

"The award of an OBE to Captain Paulsen...."[edit]

This is the first and only mention of Captain Paulsen. I would add detail, but I think it is already too much detail for a story about sabotage. I'm not sure how much of Joliot-Curie's travels and travails the article needs, but I do not think we need the captain and cargo manifest for the ship he was on. The same for the evacuation the ship had participated in three weeks before. I would slice it myself, but perhaps someone could guide on what to slice and what to leave? Fotoguzzi (talk) 19:59, 25 March 2013 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Video and book coverage - the 1973 BBC document[edit]

The article mentions the 2003 BBC documentary by Ray Mears. However, BBC made a pretty comprehensive document "The Saboteurs of Telemark" already in 1973. It's now even in Youtube [2]. (The references mention it but only giving the name, the year and the publisher.) --Sivullinen (talk) 22:05, 15 November 2014 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Year of barrel recovery[edit]

In the "Sinking the SF Hydro on Lake Tinnsjø" section, it says "In 2005, an expedition retrieved a barrel (numbered "26") from the bottom of the lake.[25] Its contents of heavy water matched the concentration noted in the German records, and confirmed that the shipment was not a decoy." In the "Historical perspective" section, it talks about analysis of a salvaged barrel of the water from 2004. Is one of those years incorrect (which?), or are there two different barrels being discussed? DMacks (talk) 20:19, 4 February 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]

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Urine used in sabotage?[edit]

I read somewhere once that Norwegian workers urinated into the heavy water to sabotage it. It makes sense: it's a good way to sneak in an unauthorized liquid. I love the story but I haven't been able to find any verification. Does anybody have any sources on this creative approach? SnappingTurtle (talk) 04:37, 17 March 2016 (UTC)Reply[reply]

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Commandos escaped by skiing 400km to Sweden. Actual distance is 200km[edit]

"Although 3,000 German soldiers were dispatched to search the area for the commandos, all escaped; five skied 400 kilometres (250 mi) to Sweden"

Distance on the map is 200km EasyBeginning (talk) 08:57, 11 July 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]


The operation gunnerside, is featured on the song "Saboteurs" from the album "Coat of Arms". Should we add this piece on the popular culture paragraph? 2A02:1388:214B:11CE:3D19:13EC:F83D:1ECE (talk) 17:34, 2 October 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I'm positive for this addition (talk) 21:20, 10 December 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]