Excerpt: Hitler’s Nuclear Ambitions Were Thwarted By Skiers

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In 1943, a band of expert Norwegian skiers working as covert operatives helped turn the tide in the fight against Nazi Germany and Hitler’s relentless push to harness the power of a nuclear bomb. Their gripping mission to sabotage his plot was largely lost to time, until now.

norwegian ski operatives cross country
Dramatization of the saboteurs’ trek

In the dead of winter at the outset of 1943, Axis forces had swept into Norway and seized an obscure and remote hydroelectric plant and manufacturing facility for its rich production of deuterium oxide – known to most of the civilized world now as “heavy water,” the crucial – and for Hitler, elusive – ingredient of a nuclear weapon.

As Nazi forces relentlessly pushed co-opted engineers to accelerate the Reich’s nuclear program, a small covert band of Norwegian agents, proud patriots ready to give their lives to save the planet from the most nefarious terrorists to date, skated and slalomed toward the heavily fortified facility, and their place in history. —Adam Ruggiero

The Winter Fortress: Excerpt

The Winter Fortress: The epic mission to sabotage Hitler’s atomic bomb, by Neal Bascomb, is excerpted below with permission of the author and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

In a staggered line, the nine saboteurs cut across the mountain slope. Instinct, more than the dim light of the moon, guided the young men. They threaded through the stands of pine and traversed down the sharp, uneven terrain, much of it pocked with empty hollows and thick drifts of snow.

gunnerside team
Members of Operation Gunnerside following the mission at Vemork

Dressed in white camouflage suits over their British Army uniforms, the men looked like phantoms haunting the woods. They moved as quietly as ghosts, the silence broken only by the swoosh of their skis and the occasional slap of a pole against an unseen branch. The warm, steady wind that blew through the Vestfjord Valley dampered even these sounds. It was the same wind that would eventually, they hoped, blow their tracks away.

A mile into the trek from their base hut, the woods became too dense and steep for them to continue by any means other than on foot. The young Norwegians unfastened their skis and hoisted them to their shoulders. It was still tough going.

Carrying rucksacks filled with thirty-five pounds of gear, and armed with submachine guns, grenades, pistols, explosives, and knives, they waded, slid, and clambered their way down through the heavy, wet snow. Under the weight of their equipment they occasionally sank to their waists in the drifts. The darkness, thickening when the low clouds hid the moon, didn’t help matters.

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