The Heroes of Telemark

Vemork Hydroelectric Plant"The Heroes of Telemark" a 1965 war film featuring Kirk Douglas, is based on the true story of the sabotage of Nazi heavy water production at the Vemork hydroelectric plant in the region of Telemark, Norway, during WWII.

The hydroelectric plant Vemork was opened in 1911 with the purpose of producing artificial fertilizers, but in late 1934 began to experiment with heavy water, an element that was believed could be used to create nuclear weapons. Vemork became the first commercial plant in the world capable of producing heavy water as a byproduct of fertilizer production.

Vemork Hydroelectric PlantDuring World War II, the Germans invaded Norway and took possession of Vemork. The allies, knowing that heavy water could be used for atomic weapons decided to disable the plant and organized, with a group of Norwegians, a series of acts of sabotage that managed to destroy the facility and sink the ship carrying the entire production of heavy water into the lake Tinnsjo.

After the war, Norwegian participants of the sabotage were named national heroes, hence the title of the film. By 2004 the last barrel containing heavy water was recovered from the bottom of the lake, and it was also discovered that the Germans would not have been able to build an atomic bomb with it because it lacked the necessary concentration.

I discovered this fascinating story about spies and sabotage on my recent visit to Rjukan, the quiet little town where the Vemork plant is located, now converted into the “Norwegian Industrial Workers Museum” [Norsk Industriarbeidermuseum - Vemork].