Had Nazi Germany won the competition to build the first atomic bomb in the early 1940's, the world today could be a very different place. The book entitled The Winter Fortress: The Epic Mission to Sabotage Hitler's Atomic Bomb by Neal Bascomb is the gripping true accounting of the race to build the atom bomb during World War II.
In 1942, the Nazis were working on the atom bomb and they depended on a necessary ingredient "heavy water," which was produced in Vemork, Norway at an electricity plant run by Norsk Hydro. The Nazis invaded Norway and commandeered the facility, which was set in a castle fortress above a precipitous gorge. The production of heavy water was forcibly increased and shipped to Germany to be used in experiments needed to create the atomic bomb.
Bascomb sets the stage explaining the production of the bomb and the background of the story's Norwegian participants, who planned and implemented what may have been the most significant and daring commando raid of World War II. Various plans were hatched in Britain and communicated to Norwegian spies, who during the winter on their cross country skis in the backcountry withstood hardships to avoid the German occupiers. The Winter Fortress has plenty of activity on cross country skis including a long distance chase escaping Germans on skis, which would make any Norwegian Olympic biathlete proud.
The winter-oriented hardships were dramatic such as parachuting at night, freezing temperatures, the search for food, and during the nighttime trek to the Vemork plant "trudging through snowdrifts sinking nearly to their armpits in wet snow." During the raid the saboteurs were dressed in white camouflage suits over British Army uniforms to make it look like they were not Norwegians to spare the local population from German retaliation. They advanced on skis and on foot before climbing a 600-foot wall above the Mana River to clandestinely reach the facility, which was set on a rock ledge.
The efforts of the Norwegian underground to sabotage the plant were marred for months by miscalculations, malfunctions, and calamities as the men waited to receive orders. They braved multi-day blizzards, unsuccessful hunting for food, and cabin fever to the enth degree. These Norwegians, who refused to submit to the Nazi occupiers were mostly trained in Britain and supported by local sympathizers. They awaited the conceptualized schemes by British and Norwegian masterminds. The plans had various possible results that were outlined and comparatively analyzed by the author.
The story is a roller coaster of determined undertakings to interfere with the German efforts to produce and transport heavy water. The impact on the protagonists and their families and neighbors are portrayed as well as Nazi brutality in the war.
Neal Bascomb lives in Seattle and is a former international journalist, who is a widely recognized speaker on the subject of World War II and the best-selling author of Hunting Eichmann, The Perfect Mile, and Red Mutiny. The publication date of The Winter Fortress from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is scheduled for May 3, 2016.