Skis Against The Atom

Title:                      Skis Against The Atom

Author:                  Knut Haukelid

Haukelid, Knut (1974, 1989). Skis Against The Atom (2nd rev. ed.) Minot, ND: North American Heritage Press

LCCN:    89062268

D802.N7 H363 1989



  • Translation of: Kampen om tungtvannet.
  • Other Title: Attack on Telemark [New York: Balantine, 1974]
  • First edition: Skis Against The Atom [London: Kimber, 1954]

Date Updated:  February 14, 2017

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

Also titled Attack on Telemark, this first was published in 1954 by Ryerson. Haukelid was one of the Norwegians who took part in the daring SOE operations that first damaged the German heavy-water production facility in Norway and later sank the stock being sent to Germany. His story covers more than these two operations, for he also dwells on his work in the Norwegian resistance before and after these attacks. Haukelid was described by Gallagher in Assault in Norway[2], which deals with these same operations, as a powerful man with a chest that looked bullet-proof, “a kind of [Henry] David Thoreau with brawn.” This hero was also the twin brother of the actress Sigrid Curie. Gallagher’s account must be read to get a fuller awareness of the courage and daring of these raids, which have been praised by experts as among the most important acts of sabotage in history and indeed by one author (Foot in Resistance[3]) as the most important on record.[4] Haukelid’s account is good but too modest and too terse; he even fails to inform the reader that he was awarded the British D.S.O. He gives only a flavor of his life “of extreme deprivation and hardship” (in Gallagher’s words) between operations. General Gubbins’s introduction lets us know that he, the head of SOE, considered Haukelid’s account understated. See also the pictorial essay of these operations in Piekalkiewicz’s Secret Agents, Spies and Saboteurs.[5]

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[6]

Recounts the SOE-directed operations against the Norw2ewgian hydrogen electrolysis plant that was providing heavy water to Germany for atomic weapons experiments. See also Sanderson’s “The A-Bomb That Never Was” in Behind Enemy Lines[7] (chapter 10, section A). The book contains an introduction describing the nature of SOE activities by Sir Colin Gubbins, early architect of SOE and later its executive director.

From my point of view the book is poorly written (translated). He should not have included the chapter on nuclear weapons because it is almost naive in presentation. That aside, the story is truly heroic. The film, Heroes of Telemark is based in large part on this book.

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 231-232

[2] Gallagher, Thomas (1975, 2002, 2010). Assault In Norway: Sabotaging The Nazi Nuclear Bomb. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press

[3] Foot, M. R. D. (1977). Resistance : European Resistance to Nazism, 1940-1945. New York: McGraw-Hill

[4] While Constantinides and apparently Foot are quite sanguine on the importance of this raid, any nuclear physicist knows it was far from stopping a nuclear weapon research program. Heavy water is a moderator to slow down neutrons, and at the time was important in studying the fission process. Other moderators could just as well be used, and in the US, at the University of Chicago, the first nuclear reactor used a graphite pile and no heavy water was used at all. Fortunately the Germans failed in making a reactor that would sustain a chain reaction since they could not get graphite pure enough to be a moderator and they had at most half the heavy water that they needed. Further, led by Heisenberg, the Germans vastly overestimated the amount of U235 needed and assumed that an exploding reactor would be their only hope.

[5] Piekalkiewicz, Janusz (1973, 1974). Secret Agents, Spies And Saboteurs: Famous Undercover Missions Of World War II. New York: William Morrow

[6] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p.

[7] Sanderson, James Dean (1959). Behind Enemy Lines. Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand


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3 Responses to Skis Against The Atom

  1. Pingback: Assault In Norway | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  2. Pingback: Behind Enemy Lines | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  3. Pingback: The Winter Fortress | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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