The Heroes of Telemark
(1965) In German-occupied Norway heavy water, critical to the production of the nuclear bomb, was being produced in a factory located in the county of Telemark. The Allies were determined that the facility be destroyed, and using well trained and daring Norwegians who had escaped to Britain, the SOE (Britain’s Special Operations) launched the operations to do just that.
“The Heroes of Telemark” movie is based on the true story of the raids that went on for nearly two years. Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris (and both were in their prime) are the two stars. The movie was filmed in Norway, and the snow covered mountains are both magnificient and terrifying when you consider what the commandos had to endure. The director hired former Norwegian underground soldiers as advisors and also an Olympic ski coach to help with the ski sequences.
Even better than the movie, however, is the 2003 BBC production of “The Real Heroes of Telemark” by Ray Mears. I watched the entire series on Youtube in 16 parts. Many of the actual heroes who had participated sixty years before added their perspectives. The documentary also features scenes from a 1948 Norwegian movie based on the same operations and features some of the original participants. Here is another short documentary in English about this and the German invasion of Norway.
It takes some time to get used to the idea that this is probably the last thing you do. But that’s the difference I think to some extent between the people in the free world — I think of Britian and America — you were never occupied. We knew what occupation was, and we fought against it, fought against it willingly. (one of the real Telemark heroes, sixty years later …)
What impressed me the most about the documentary was the explanation of the survival skills these brave men needed. Many of them were barely twenty years old, but they had grown up in the near polar tundra and eagerly trained to liberate their country. They pulled off one of the great sabotage operations of the war, of any war!
UPDATE: on December 9, 2012 on of the demolitions experts who participated in this operation, Birger Stromsheim, died at the age of 101. He and other members of the mission saw this movie and said it was unrealistic … “too glamorous.”
The Heroes of Telemark on amazon.com