This, the first episode in a series of six required a fair bit of concentration for a Friday night, being partly in English, partly in Norwegian and partly in German (it’s OK, there were subtitles!), but it was worth the “effort”! It tells the story of the sabotage by a heroic group of Norwegians, trained in Britain, of Nazi German attempts to use the “heavy water” produced by a chemical plant at Vemork, outside Rjukan in the Telemark region of Norway, to help them to produce an atomic bomb.
The chemical plant, the largest in the world when it was built, produced the fertiliser which was of crucial importance in an area with harsh terrain and a harsh climate. The “heavy water” was a by-product. The plant itself is now a museum, and I was fortunate enough to be able to visit it last year. What a beautiful part of the world – but the challenges of waging that sort of mission there, especially in winter, are almost unimaginable. The series hasn’t got that far yet, but it will be doing. The existing stock of heavy water was taken away to Britain and France before the Nazis invaded Norway, but, once the Nazis were in control of the country, production started up again. It’s now known that their atomic bomb programme wasn’t all that advanced, but at the time there were genuine fears that they were well on the way to producing a bomb of the sort which was eventually dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki … and would probably drop it on Britain.
The actions of the Norwegian Resistance during the Nazi occupation, of which the operations against the heavy water programme are the best known, are incredibly important in the culture of Norway, a country which had been independent for barely 35 years when German warships came sailing up the Oslofjord, and I gather that the series attracted very high ratings in Norway. It won’t have the same impact here, but I hope that it attracts some attention, given the potential importance of the events and Britain’s role in them.
There were several different attacks on the heavy water operations. Some ended in tragedy and some achieved little, but some succeeded. The bravery of those involved, in horrendous conditions, will hopefully come across in the later episodes. And presumably, although things have been glammed up a bit for the sake of TV, it’ll be rather more accurate than the Kirk Douglas/Michael Redgrave film on the subject was! The first episode was certainly promising, apart from it being slightly annoying that all the British characters spoke in cut-glass accents. It’s a shame that it’s been shoved on More 4 and not one of the main channels, but there’s some good stuff on More 4 these days, and this is a prime example of it.