Norwegian saboteur who stopped Nazi nuclear plan dies

The Norwegian saboteur credited with stopping the Nazis from acquiring nuclear weapons has died aged 99.

Joachim Roenneberg headed a small team in Operation Gunnerside, that blew up a Third Reich plant producing heavy water in 1943.

The explosion in Telemark, southern Norway, deprived Nazi Germany of a key ingredient that could have been used to produce nuclear weapons.

The daring operation was recreated in the 1965 film The Heroes of Telemark which starred Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris.

Norway’s prime minister Erna Solberg said Mr Roenneberg was “one of our finest resistance fighters” after his death on Sunday.

She added that his “courage contributed to what has been referred to as the most successful sabotage campaign” in Norwegian history.

Mr Roenneberg, then 23, had been tapped by Britain’s wartime intelligence gathering and sabotage unit the Special Operations Executive.

He was then tasked with leading a team to destroy key parts of the heavily guarded plant in Telemark.

The Heroes of Telemark starred Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris
Image:The Heroes of Telemark starred Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris

Mr Roenneberg parachuted on to snow-covered mountains before he was joined by a handful of other commando soldiers.

They then skied to their destination before penetrating the fortress-like plant to blow up its production line.

Mr Roenneberg said he made a last-minute decision to cut the length of his fuse from several minutes to seconds, ensuring that the explosion would take place but making it more difficult to escape.

The group skied hundreds of miles across the mountains to escape and Mr Roenneberg, wearing a British uniform, ended up in neighbouring neutral Sweden.

Mr Roenneberg said in a 2014 Norwegian documentary that the operation went “like a dream” where not a single shot was fired.

Eva Vinje Aurdal, mayor of his hometown Aalesund, said: “We must not forget what he stood for and has passed on to us.”

The town ordered flags to fly at half-mast Monday and people left flowers at the foot of a sculpture of Mr Roenneberg, showing him in a uniform, walking up a rocky path.