Heroes of Telemark: An Expedition of Remembrance by Alix MacKay November 9th, 2022

In March of this year, I joined 11 fellow military wives to become the first female team in the world to retrace one of the most important special forces missions in history: the Heroes of Telemark. The expedition took us 100km across Norway’s Hardanger plateau – one of the most inhospitable environments on earth – in temperatures as low as -10 degrees Celsius carrying over 300kg of kit between us on cross country skis (and snowshoes for me having broken my elbow two days earlier in training).

This was an expedition of Remembrance for the men who, in the winter of 1941-42, carried out a mission that changed the course of history.

Hitler’s invasion of Norway in 1940 saw him acquire a hydro electric power plant deep in the Norwegian mountains in a small town called Rjukan. He took control of Norway and the power plant because he knew something very significant was being produced as a by-product in the plant: deuterium oxide, also known as heavy water. Deuterium is the rare form of hydrogen that

contains an extra neutron making it slightly heavier than normal hydrogen. And that extra neutron in heavy water can be used to make plutonium from uranium, putting Hitler months, perhaps years, ahead of the allies in the race to make an atomic bomb.

But…

…the Professor in charge of the plant turned out to be one of the bravest men in Norwegian history. Professor Tronstad understood why the Nazis were demanding that his team scale the production of the heavy water so when his attempts to limit the yield were noticed, he knew there was only one thing left to do: inform the allies.


To the extreme danger of himself and his family, he secretly escaped Norway one weekend under the story of a long weekend in the mountains, travelled to Britain where he made contact with senior officers, informed them of the situation and managed to return to work the following week his family, friends, colleagues and Nazi occupiers none the wiser. His brave efforts were worth it; the intelligence reached Churchill and the planning to destroy Hitler’s heavy water production began.


The problem was the location of the power plant. Located on what is essentially a large rock at the face of a mountain reached only by a narrow suspension bridge, it was impossible to reach by land vehicles.

But the height of it meant that the Nazi guards would see a plane from miles away and have plenty of time to get ready to fire it down. Not only that but the power plant is located in the middle of a small town so an attack from the air would almost certainly lead to civilian casualties or worse. None of the plans on the table were ideal but a decision was made to launch a glider mission where two gliders carrying two large groups of British forces could land silently in the vicinity and ambush the Nazis. The mission was named Operation Freshman and for it they needed a reconnaissance operation to identify the ideal landing spot and they knew exactly where to find the men for that.


During the Nazi occupation of Norway, hundreds of brave resistant citizens escaped their country to Britain to join the ally forces and fight the Nazis – often via small boats across the North Sea to Scotland. In fact, so many Norwegians took this treacherous route it became known as The Shetland Bus. Here, they joined a controversial division created by Churchill during the war: the Special Operations Executive (SOE). The SOE were trained for informant and sabotage missions back in their own countries and the Norwegian companies of the SOE trained in the part of the UK that provided the hardest terrain and harshest climate to train the best soldiers: the Highlands of Scotland. Four Norwegian SOEs who were training in the Cairngorms around the SOE headquarters at Glenmore Lodge were selected for the three-week recce. They were Jans Anton Poulsson, Claus Helberg, Knut Haugland and Arne Kjelstrop and their operation was code named Grouse.


In October 1942, unaware of the exact reason for their mission, Grouse were parachuted into Norway with the task of finding a suitable landing strip and radioing information about the Nazi guard of the power plant. However, without the use of computers available today, and with no guiding lights from the inland rural regions, the pilot made the drop somewhat off course - 100km in fact, deep on the Hardanger plateau. Astonishingly, one of the members of Grouse recognised the area from family trips into the mountain range and knew the way to Rjukan.


Over the next two weeks Grouse made their way across the Hardanger plateau sheltering in small huts, using the skis and living off the ration packs that they had managed to find after the parachute drop. They found a lookout high above the power station and an ideal landing place for the gliders of Operation Freshman and radioed the information back to Britain.


The night of the glider flights was decided, and Grouse waited. They waited long into the night unaware that both gliders had crash landed, their crew either perished or captured and then killed by Nazi soldiers.

None of the 41 RAF pilots and commandos of Operation Freshman survived.

When Grouse received the news they were devastated. From a hut deep in the Hardanger plateau, they awaited further instructions – still unaware of the importance of the mission.

It was decided that the only course of action left was to send in a further group of Norwegian SOE agents to break into the powerplant and destroy the supplies of heavy water by hand; a sabotage mission. A sabotage mission that, given Nazi stronghold and isolated location of the power plant on the rock face, was sure to be a suicide mission.

The attack party were, again, chosen from the Norwegian SOE training camp in the Cairngorms and the men selected were code named Operation Gunnerside.


The plan was to parachute them onto the Hardanger plateau where they would meet up with Grouse and plan the attack. The drop had to happen at night to avoid being spotted by the Nazis and, to have a fighting chance of being dropped in the right place and meeting up with Grouse on this vast expanse of wilderness, they needed as much moonlight as possible. This gave only a 48 hour window in the month of November.

Meanwhile, Grouse were laying low on the Hardanger plateau with the climate getting colder and their two weeks of rations getting lower.

But…

Gunnerside didn’t get parachuted in in November because the weather was so bad it made visibility too poor.

So, Grouse waited for the December full moon.

And then the January full moon.

And finally, in February of 1942, after four gruelling winter months in one of the most inhospitable environments in the world, the emaciated men of Grouse were joined by Gunnerside – miraculously finding each other on the Hardangervidda. Grouse and Gunnerside put the final touches to the attack plan into place and set off towards the hideout looking over the town of Rjukan and the power plant itself.

At midnight on February 28th, the attack party made its way down from the mountain plateau on skis, down into the ravine over which the suspension bridge hung, back up the rock face to the power station unseen by the Nazi soldiers guarding the bridge, located the window closets to the room storing the heavy water, broke in through the glass, restrained the one member of staff who caught them breaking into the room, (apologised for breaking his glasses), made their way down to the supply of heavy water, fixed the explosives to the tanks, gave themselves 30 seconds on the detonator to get out, escaped out of the building, back down the ravine and up the otherside without being seen by any Nazi soldiers.


And, the whole time, the men of Grouse and Gunnerside didn’t know what they were destroying and the importance of their mission.


This is the journey we retraced as a group of military wives, from the DZ (drop zone), 100km to the hydroelectric power plant in Rjuken. The plant is now a museum where we had the honour of laying our poppies in Remembrance of Operation Freshman as well as laying a poppy at the memorial for the bravery of Professor Tronstad.


As a team of military wives, brought together and led by Forces Wives Challenge, we completed our expedition of Remembrance in March 2022 and became the first female team in the world to pay tribute to the Heroes of Telemark in this way.

by Alix Mackay

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By - Dr Arne Kruser - 14th November 2018

Dr Arne Kruse from University of Edinburgh gave a talk about Henrik Ibsen’s Retrospective Technique.The November talk was given by Dr Arne Kruse who has been employed at the University of Edinburgh since 1989, having previously worked at Volda University College, the University of Lund, and the University of Wisconsin. Dr Kruse took his degree at the University of Trondheim, researching in Place Name Studies, and followed up with a PhD at Edinburgh University. He currently lectures in Scandinavian Studies at the School of Languages & Literature there.

Dr Kruse gave us a brief history of Ibsen’s early years, described his writing technique to us, then gave us examples from several of his works. We were able to see how Ibsen’s own background is reflected in his work –themes of falls in social standing, illegitimacy, family secrets, personality change and manipulation of personal history.



Henrik Ibsen was born in 1828 in Skien, a little provincial town in Norway, to Marichen Altenburg and Knud Ibsen. Marichen came from a rich merchant family, and Henrik in his early years was used to the good life, being introduced by his mother to the arts, painting and the theatre. The family fortune declined when Knut took over the business - he became troubled and depressed and Marichen became a changed, very quiet woman.

Because the family were now in financial dire straights, Henrik had to become apprenticed at 15, to a pharmacy just south of Skien in Grimstad. Whilst there he had an illegitimate son with one of the maids and, although he paid towards his son’s upbringing he never met him and never recognised him later in life.

He left Grimstad at 22, went to Oslo to study theatre, then took a job in Bergen, where he wrote and produced a number of plays, finally returning to Oslo to develop his artistic skills. Following the failure of his early plays in Norway, in 1864 he went abroad, first to Italy and then Germany. Shortly after going abroad he developed a completely new persona – he changed his appearance, dressed differently, and even changed his handwriting.

Dr Kruse went on to describe Ibsen’s writing technique to us: in phase one he writes historical drama; in phase two he turns to social realism (A Doll’s House); in phase three his focus is on personal psychology (Hedda Gabler). Ibsen’s ‘well made play’ would have a very tight plot and be condensed into a very short time. Most of the story will already have taken place before the start of the play itself, exposition coming through the play’s dialogue. Ibsen doesn’t give us any answers. He leaves us with a big question, what happens now? - the play becomes open ended.

He wrote realistic plays placed in contemporary times. He wanted to address social issues that were relevant to real people.

Dr Kruse went on to give us a brief look at some of Ibsen’s best known works: A Dolls House, Ghosts, The Wild Duck , Hedda Gabler, When We Dead Awaken

Although he stayed away for 27 years, and the only person he kept in touch with was his sister Hedvig, Ibsen was a keen follower of what went on in Norway, subscribing to newspapers, going to Scandinavian clubs and trying to follow what went on in political life.

Anny gave a vote of thanks to Dr Kruse for an extremely interesting and informative talk, which I am sure inspired us to acquaint, or reacquaint, ourselves with Ibsen’s works.

Ken Kristoffersen


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By garrydirvine, Jan 1 2019 07:24PM

See the pictures from this year's basar by copying this link to your Internet browser...

https://photos.app.goo.gl/EhuxtG1eB5w2C6Kc7

Pictures courtesy of Garry's Photographs.




If any pictures are wanted for printing please get in touch with...

Garry on garry@garryirvine.co.uk


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