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A Story about Joachim Rønneberg – He hid not know of the A-bomb plan

We weren’t certain what the heavy water in Vemork was intended used for, says Joachim Rønneberg and Berger Strømsheim. We were not informed that the Germans wanted to use heavywater to develop an atom bomb. But before we left England, we were told that our action had the highest priority. But we were in no way aware of the a large bearing it could have on the outcome of the war.

Joachim Rønneberg (70) and Birger Strømsheim (78) from Ålesund, on this weekend, were back at Vemork together with those other saboteurs from Company Linge. This group carried out the blasting of the heavy water plant at Vemork during the night on 28 February 1943. It is the first time since the war that the group of men is gathered at that place.

For the allies, it was important that the sabotage in 1943 was successful.

We had an assignment (a mission) to accomplish. When at war one does not ask its purpose. Our task was to carry out the blasting. That was for us to accomplish. We knew that 40 British commandos had lost their lives in an attempt a couple of months earlier, and that Vemork stood in danger of being bombed by allied planes if our attempt failed. With that, many civilian lives could be lost. But it was after the war, we first got to know what heavy water was to be used for, says group leader Joachim Rønneberg. Together with Birger Strømsheim he carried the responsibility for placing the explosive charges which destroyed the heavy water plant at Vemork.

Careful planning, good luck, and co-operation, are the reasons they give the most credit for the success of the action, and without loss of life. The sabotage squad, consisting of nine people, made it to the heavy water plant without being detected by German guards. No crisis occurred until the blasting party were to enter the room containing the heavywater tanks, while the others kept guard outside. By mistake members of the blasting party lost each other. Two of them, among them Rønneberg, got into the plant through a cable intake and began to place the explosives.

Suddenly the window in the room, was broken in. We thought it was the Germans. Fredrik Kayser–who was our lookout– almost started to fire. But the controlled fear during such situations has the effect of a safety-valve. It makes a man think twice before the action is carried out.

This saved Birger Strømsheim’s life, as he was the one who broke the window.

Fortunately, it took the German guards some time to show a sign of reaction after the explosion inside the heavy water plant. This gave the Linge guys an unexpected advantage during the pullout which kept them alive.

Birger Strømsteim and Joachim Rønneberg express that the sabotage action was in no way an exceptional war operation. Our action was not more special than others during the war. Besides, we had additional detailed information about the target before we went in. That was rarely the case with similar operations.

After the war, the successful actions of war have been focused. The attention should to a greater extent be focused on those who were unsuccessful, to honor those who gave their lives in the struggle for Norway.

Translated by Terry Rønneberg

War-saboteur reveals: For 50 years the war-saboteur Joachim Rønneberg (82) has avoided film projects about his war-efforts. He now makes an exception, hoping the rest of us will learn.ARFINN MAURENÅlesundTomorrow NRK’s “Facts on Saturday” will portray this man from Ålesund for the first time on Norwegian Television. It will be a 52 minute long movie about what happened to an ordinary youth when the war suddenly arrived.

I agreed to take part in this documentary project, because I want to tell the younger generations about the knowledge which was forced upon us (by the war) Joachim Rønneberg is the man who directed one of the most successful and famous Second World War raids. Destroying the heavy water factory at Vemork in Telemark, set production back by a half a year and it contributed to the delay of the German effort to produce an atom bomb.

This is a personal account about an action that had great impact. Director Frode Berg along with producers Allan Bradley and Brede Røsjø are the men behind this documentary about Rønneberg
This is far from the first time the Vemork-raid has been the subject of a movie. The story about the sabotage action has been told several times as a documentary and feature film.

But the man who has had detailed knowledge about it, has so far always refused to contribute.

Skeptical to film

“I’ve been afraid of not being able to approve of the final result”, he explained.

That’s why he did not portray himself when the movie “The Fight Over Heavy Water” was made in 1948, as many of his friends and colleagues in the resistance group did. Later he experienced a Hollywood portrayal of himself in the “Heroes of Telemark” with Kirk Douglas in the roll of Rønneberg. -“The fight over heavy water” was an honest attempt to describe history. On the other hand, he says, “Heroes of Telemark” had little to do with reality.

A right to ask

Joachim Rønneberg’s skepticism to taking part in the film projects has created a myth that he does not want to talk about his war experiences. This is not so. The last years he has been giving lectures to thousands of students.

The first couple of years it was perhaps a little difficult to talk about the things I had experienced. As time has passed, I’ve come to realize that people have a right to ask, and they are entitled to be answered.

Martin Linge

For Joachim Rønneberg the fight began in earnest as he was leaving for Scotland in 1941. He wanted to join the Navy, but after a couple of days met Martin Linge of the close to legendary Linge Company. There he became a fast rising star — among the British too.

“Rønneberg was one of the most outstanding men we had. He was well-balanced, intelligent and awfully hardy,” narrator Colonel Charles Hampton said in the film program. Just before Christmas 1942, second lieutenant Rønneberg, designated as the explosive material expert, was put in charge of the action against the heavy water plant at Vemork. At the end of February the following year, the sabotage action was accomplished-without loss of life.

Joachim Rønneberg speaks matter-of –factly about his contributions. He prefers to place the emphasis on his fellow saboteurs: Birger Strømsheim, Knut Haukelid, Federik Kayser and Kasper Idland to mention a few. Or telegraph operator Olav Aasæther. He also becomes eager and enthusiastic when the subject changes to present day defense-politics.

“It is frightening that we no longer have a proper military defense in today’s Norway”, Rønneberg reflects. Earlier this year he was among those who signed the partition (?) “Give Norway a proper military defense”.

Among other things, Rønneberg believes that it is important to insist on conscription.

“We must not forget history. It can happen again”.Caption to left of Joachim Rønneberg’s photo: Leader of the heavy water action. Tomorrow NRK’s documentary film features Joachim Rønneberg’s contributions during the Second World War. “I hope that this will make people understand how easy it is to lose their freedom again,” he said.

Translated by Terry Rønneberg and Sigmund Rønneberg.