Joachim Rønneberg, saboteur who wrecked Nazi nuke program, dies at 99

You would have won the war in the Pacific anyway and the US getting nuclear weapons had no impact on Europe or the Nazi defeat. Everybody the US fights is said in its media to be a fanatic that will never surrender. Funny that. Aid to the Soviet Union was the US’s main input into the victory in Europe.


There’s an episode of Futility Closet where they cover this guy and his squad’s plot of blowing up the heavy water plant. It’s really good and the story is full of craziness, it’d make a great movie if it hasn’t been done already.

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There is an interesting “alternate history” novel about an A-bomb-less Pacific War called MacArthur’s War.

Read it a while ago. Found it fascinating in how they found a different narrative to the invasion of Japan outside of the usual ones projected.


There’s a great 3-part BBC documentary on Telemark, from survivalist/bushcraft expert Ray Mears. The survival aspects of the story are astounding and Ray recreates the trek across the ice with a bunch of British and Norwegian commandos. Here’s part 1


Without the A-bomb and Japanese surrender when they did, we would have ended up with:

  1. A divided Japan, where the USSR invades and controls Hokkaido (North and South Japan?)
  2. No “Japanese Economic Miracle” of the early 1960’s
  3. Millions additional dead Japanese civilians from starvation and being thrown right in front of the oncoming invading forces (as the Japanese did with its own civilians in Saipan and Okinawa).

As someone whose in-laws barely made it out of WWII alive as adolescents in Japan, I am grateful we did not decide to simply starve Japan out. I still can’t bring myself to watch Grave of the Fireflies a second time from beginning to end. (I can elaborate on request)


Did they use Telemark Turns in their getaway?


What would Europe look like today if Stalin hadn’t had to figure the bomb into his calculus? Probably not great?

Just about the only thing worse than the Cold War division of Europe would have been a Europe completely dominated by the Soviets.


The last time I can recall reading about it was a blurb in ol’ Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (chapter 85).

During World War II, there had been a project to sabotage the Nazi nuclear weapons program. Years earlier, Leo Szilard, the first person to realize the possibility of a fission chain reaction, had convinced Fermi not to publish the discovery that purified graphite was a cheap and effective neutron moderator. Fermi had wanted to publish, for the sake of the great international project of science, which was above nationalism. But Szilard had persuaded Rabi, and Fermi had abided by the majority vote of their tiny three-person conspiracy. And so, years later, the only neutron moderator the Nazis had known about was deuterium.

I also quite like the blurb about what the British did with their supply of heavy water. I’ll just link to the Periodic Videos episode. (Oh, that magnificent hair.)


God speed and rest in peace. The accomplishments of man, in time great need are simply mind boggling. My LEG gets stiff driving 200 miles. Skiing, skiing?!?!?!?! 200 miles?!?!?!? What. The. FUCK. Mere humans doing the superhuman. I do not have words to do this story justice.


Heavy water would work, certainly. It was just a lot more difficult to procure in the necessary quantities, even more so under wartime conditions. Hence, putting the Norsk Hydro plant out of commission was a significant blow to the Nazi bomb effort,


Apparently the real saboteurs didn’t really like Heroes of the Telemark, because it was too noisy, whereas they worked very hard to be silent. The most canonical film is Kampen om tuntvannet a 1948 French/Norwegian production where the saboteurs played themselves. You can watch the entire film with English subtitles here. The whole think is really the most remarkable story of bravery and skiing in equal measure…


Courageous man & team. However, this was but one part of the strenuous efforts.

It should also be remembered that, after the success of Gunnerside, repairs were made and heavy water production resumed. Subsequent air raids did some damage and the Germans finally decided to end operations there and transport remaining stock and critical components back to Germany in Feb 1944. The Norwegian resistance sunk the ferry (SF Hydro) carrying these over Lake Tinn.

Although the plan sought to minimize civilian casualties,14 Norwegian lives were lost in that action. They too should be considered martyrs to the cause of preventing Nazi atomic progress.

For a fuller account of this and other intriguing and critical intelligence actions of WW2, see Anthony Cave Brown’s Bodyguard of Lies.


I suspect if the Americans hadn’t followed up the UK’s Tube Alloys programme with Manhattan then the British and the Canadians would have pressed ahead no matter what the cost.

The British knew a bomb was possible as early as 1940 when Frisch and Peierls at the University of Birmingham had calculated the critical mass of 235U. The British also knew the best defence against an Axis bomb was to build an Allied bomb first.

But, even if the money could be found, there was no way that isotope separation could have been done whilst the country was being flattened by German bombers. Moving it to Canada would have solved that problem.

(And now I’m wondering how America would have responded had the UK been the first country to develop a nuclear weapon. A UK-US war was part of standard military planning on both sides in the 1930s, our relationship was not that friendly before WW2).


I watched that movie once, and i think it’s a great movie but could never bring myself to watch it again. It really shows the true cost of war: The suffering and helplessness of people who had nothing to do with the war, it also shows the indifference people have to the misery of others. I highly recommend the movie because i think the message is truly important but it will wreck you emotionally by the end (as you know). I haven’t been able to get anyone i know to watch it though, once i tell them what the movie is they just pass… it’s a hard sell.


Pity we finally lost to the Nazis in 2016.


My dad was prepping for the invasion of Japan. I’ll have to read the book to see if he makes it. Then again, maybe I’d just disappear if he doesn’t…



It makes it even worse when you are hearing real stories of people you know who went through that. My father-in-law told me stories about how he used to steal root vegetables from gardens and whatnot. It personalizes an emotional gut punch of a film. One the bright side, one of the funniest movie reviews I ever read online was of that film

“I am NEVER going to put myself through a movie like this again. NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER AND YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!”


I can understand that kind of dramatic license for a Hollywood film.

As Samuel Fuller once put it, " The only way to bring the real experience of war to a movie audience is by firing a machine gun above their heads during the screening."


The reason the Americans were cool on British involvement in the Manhattan Project was because the British had earlier frozen the Americans out of its own nuclear weapons project, Tube Alloys. Until 1941 or so, Britain was actually ahead in the nukes race, but it ground slowly because of its refusal to work with others and its lack of resources.

If the US doesn’t enter the war directly or doesn’t do it’s own nuke program, it would probably have eventually been brought in to get Tube Alloys done. This counterfactual is quite grim, because it likely ends a couple of years late with the Soviets overrunning Germany and Britain irradiating the entire continent west of Warsaw to keep them at arms length.