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"Swallow Blue" is Einar Skinnarland, a native of Rjukan, the town nearest the plant. From his hut on the Hardanger Plateau above Rjukan, Skinnarland, along with other members of the Resistance both outside and within the plant, served as the Special Operations Executive's eyes on Vemork. "IMI" is the codename for heavy water. By "reprisals" after an attack, Skinnarland means the Germans would naturally suspect and take revenge on local Norwegians, a great concern to the Resistance fighters, who grew up in the area.



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Skinnarland's boss in London was Leif Tronstad, chief of intelligence, espionage, and sabotage for the Norwegian Resistance effort and, as it happens, codesigner of the original high-concentration plant at Vemork. All messages between the two were in Norwegian and had to be translated for their British counterparts. "Limpet" here refers to plastic explosive. To keep retaliations against locals to a minimum, Tronstad suggests the saboteurs leave behind British effects so the Germans will think the attack was conducted by British commandos.



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"Bonzo" is Knut Haukelid, another Resistance operative, who is heading up the operation to sink the ferry. Through Skinnarland, Haukelid is passing on what he's heard from one of the partisans' most valuable contacts inside the plant, Kjell Nielsen, Vemork's transport engineer. Nielsen believes the amount of useful heavy water the Germans would be able to secure from the Norwegian stocks is not worth the inevitable reprisals on locals. As the transfer of the heavy water is set to begin in three days, Skinnarland requests an immediate response from London.



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Tronstad obliges by responding the same evening. (The year, given here as 1943, is a transcriber's error.) Fearing the worst—that even such uneven stocks of heavy water could help the Nazis create an A-bomb—the Allied High Command decides that the probable loss of Norwegian lives from the explosion aboard the ferry and by drowning in the freezing water of Lake Tinn, as well as through Nazi reprisals, is regrettable but necessary.



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In the wee hours of February 20, the day the ferry sailed with the heavy water, Knut Haukelid and two companions slipped aboard the vessel, affixed a long tube of plastic charge in the bow belowdecks, and retreated. The charge was set to go off roughly 45 minutes after the ferry left the dock at 10 a.m., to ensure the boat had reached deep water. As this message of Skinnarland's three days later declares, the operation was a success—save for the loss of 14 innocent lives.



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The day after Skinnarland's telegram describing the outcome of the attack, Tronstad replies. London is pleased but still concerned about any heavy-water stocks remaining at Vemork that might make it to Germany. They just can't risk any chance for a Nazi nuclear bomb.



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Over a week later Tronstad and his English bosses in London still seek confirmation of exactly what went down with the ferry. Beyond assurances from Norwegians who swore they saw the loading of heavy water into barrels at the plant, confirmation was impossible, however, as the barrels now lay at the bottom of Lake Tinn. After the war, Karl Wirtz, a German expert on heavy water, claimed that German officals at Vemork had indeed put dummy barrels on the ferry. Only the NOVA expedition in 2003 confirmed that the shipment did hold the coveted compound after all.



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Hitler's Sunken Secret
Nazis and the Bomb

Nazis and the Bomb
How close were the Germans to a nuclear weapon?

Norwegian Resistance Coup

Norwegian
Resistance Coup

A midnight raid was the masterstroke of a broad insurgency.

See the Spy Messages

See the Spy Messages
Read the actual telegrams sent between Norway and London.

Dangerous Water

Dangerous Water
What is heavy water, and what makes it a threat?



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