Heroes of Telemark 2006
The reality behind the films.
You may or may not remember the 1965 film "The Heroes of Telemark", but I certainly do. I saw it first as a child, and have seen it several times since. If you have not seen it, I recommend you do - this area will seem a whole lot more interesting as a result (although its beauty should be easily enough). I had lived so close to this area for over half a year, but had not realised it. So on one of my visits to Norway, I had to take the opportunity to look at it in person.
The film is based heavily on a true story, but with obvious inaccuracies that I will try to clear up. The first inaccuracy is that it stars annoying dimple-chin Kirk Douglas, who plays an American. Or at least, he is supposed to be Norwegian, but he is the least convincing Norwegian I have ever seen, and is clearly an American, complete with American character traits and accent. Well of course, they save everyone everywhere, right? Wrong. In reality, his character never existed. During the Second World War, the Germans had set up a heavy water refining plant in the hydroelectric power station at Vemork in Telemark. The heavy water was a byproduct of the fertiliser production, which took place using the electricity at the factory. The heavy water was to be used as part of the German atomic bomb production, which the Allied forces mistakenly feared would be ready very soon.
A small Norwegian advance force hid out in the surrounding mountains, waiting for the British teams to arrive. These were flown over, but crashed, and all survivors were captured and executed. The advance force survived on moss, lichen, and a single reindeer, for 4 months through the icy winter. Reinforcements later arrived in the form of several more Norwegians. They crossed the gorge near the factory, went inside, set explosives on the refinery and escaped without any shots being fired (although the film shows otherwise). Several of them then escaped to Sweden.
Six months later, the factory was running again, so the Americans tried bombing it - badly. They did little damage to the plant itself, but succeeded in hitting the nearby Norwegian towns instead. The Germans decided to move production to Germany, and prepared to ship the refined water across the nearby lake, the only real way out of that part of Telemark. The British (or London, strictly speaking) gave the order to sink the ferry, even though it would be used by local Norwegians as well, many of whome would be known personally, even intimately by the resistance.
The ferry was sunk in deep freezing water in the lake, killing the 14 Norwegians who were on board, as well as the 4 German guards. Unlike the story portrayed by the film, the ferry itself was virtually unguarded while it was at the dock, and there was no possible attempt to help save anyone on board. The German atomic program was halted (although after the war, finds showed that they were never even close to completion). The Norwegian resistance involved in the factory sabotage, and sinking the ferry, are regarded as Norwegian heroes, even by the families of those they had been forced to kill.
There had been some speculation that the barrels were simply a decoy. Recent archaeological expeditions recovered some barrels from the floor of the lake, and confirmed that they had indeed contained heavy water.
We had planned to spend two days here, sleeping outside overnight. But then it rained on the saturday, and we decided it would be better to take a night bus, and see everything in one day (which worked very well, as it turned out). The bus trip was supposed to be a chance to sleep, but annoying and selfish idiots returning from a festival meant that sleep was impossible. Then after leaving my watch on the first bus, I could not sleep on the second one in case I overslept the stop.
The night before had been the Opera work party, which finished at 03:00, and was followed by getting up at 06:00 for the morning bus that we did not use. I slept for another hour on saturday, while Moose slept longer to stave off an impending cold. Oh well, sleep is unimportant.
- We reached the lake at about 05:15, just before the first light of day. We stopped at Mæl, in the Tinn kommune of the Telemark Fylke.
- The rain had stopped and the clouds began to lift slowly, and stream around the mountains.
- A high waterfall between Håkansfjell (1249 metres) and Ønenipa (1332 metres), nestled in the land of the spruce and birch.
- The lower waterfall below it, beside the home of the damer.
- This picture turns up everywhere around here. The accompanying description is "Gaustatoppen, which many claim to be the most beautiful mountain in Norway". Sorry, but I have seen Stetinden, and there is absolutely no contest. Gaustatoppen is reasonably beautiful, but it is totally overshadowed by many of the mountains in Nordland.
- The ferry visible in the distance is a museum dedicated to the latter part of the story.
- For Mac users; "Ok, I found the Command key, now where's the 'WC' key?". For normal humans; "A WC that contains ammonia (hardly surprising) - and they call it a place of interest?".
- This railway, which you may notice is missing the level crossing gates, was used to transport the trucks of heavy water to the ferry.
- A remnant of the water pipes used by the factory.
- This is as close as we would get to any of the water pipes, and feeling the significance of such a simple piece of rusting metal, I reached up to touch it.
- Mæl station, where the ferry would dock.
- Looking onto the ferry museum.
- Unfortunately, this is as far as we could go. This is the Ammonia; the ferry that replaced the sunken original Hydro. The name Ammonia is quite appropriate, as it was ammonia that was used to produce the fertiliser, and the heavy water as a byproduct.
- The railway bridge connecting to the ferry. In the film, you may remember they hid under this bridge after setting the explosives and timers on the Hydro.
- The bow of the Ammonia, where you can see the oil tanks and trucks that would have been used to transport the heavy water (though obviously not the exact ones, as they sank).
- A Norsk Hydro truck, used to transport the barrels. Norsk Hydro were the owners of the power plant (if you can call them owners when they were being occupied).
- Docking pillars.
- For fans of the Neverending Story, I give you the Luck Dragon.
- The major inlet branch of Tinnsjø. This is the route the ferry would have taken, crossing from left to right of this photo. The mountain in the middle is (I think) Husvoll/Mælåsen (1047 metres), and on the right is Rivsfjell (1220 metres).
- The shore of Tinnsjø.
- The mighty Moose takes a rest from wilfully wondering on the shore of Tinnsjø.
- Tinnsjø Hytta. The lake is also sometimes known as Tinnsjå.
- A slide.
- A boat launch at Håkanes. The rails are so uneven, it is hard to imagine how the truck chassis can possibly use it.
- My postcard picture of Tinnsjø.
- Tinnsjø, the lake tinted blue by the clouds. This is approximately where the ferry would have been sunk, as far as I can tell. The inlet is around the butress to the left, and the branch ahead-left leads to the cities of Atra and Tinn Austbygd. The lake itself is at about 500 metres altitude, but being the third deepest lake in Norway at a maximum depth of 460 metres, its bottom is nearly at sea level.
- Rocky shore.
- Cloud lifting on Håkenesfjell.
- Cloud lifting over Miland.
- Vestfjorddalen between Skipsfjell (1115 metres) and Husvoll, with Dalsnut (1237 metres) enveloped in cloud.
- Dire hotel.
- Looking upstream along Vestfjorddalen.
- Lake reflection.
- Finally the cloud lifted. We caught the next bus to the city of Rjukan, prepared to walk to Vemork. The driver had other plans, and she drove us all the way there instead, 10 kilometres extra round trip, giving us prime position for photographs. One more bus driver we owe a beer to.
- Gaustatoppen, looking its best. At 1883 metres high, it is the tallest mountain in the area, even higher than any in the nearby Hardangervidda national park. From the top, you can apparently see one sixth of Norway on a clear day. To the left is Heddersfjell (1461 metres), and the road up to the Gaustatoppen summit path. At the base of the cliff on the front of Gaustatoppen is the city of Rjukan.
- A waterfall below the sunrise on Heddersfjell. This freezes in winter, and apparently is a popular destination for climbers.
- Rjukan. Blink twice and you will miss it. But then, this is Norway, after all.
- Heading towards Vemork, with Krokan (1281 metres) and Piggnatten (1136 metres).
- The hydroelectic power plant and heavy water factory at Vemork.
- The massive pipes can be seen bringing the water down from the plateau to the power plant.
- The bridge over the gorge to the factory.
- The bungee jumping platform.
- Looking upstream along the gorge.
- Suspended cows over the gorge. Of course. And why not?
- In suspension.
- Downstream along the gorge. In the film, the saboteurs absail down a cliff; well, in reality this is it. The real saboteurs absailed into the left side of this gorge, crossed the river, and climbed up the other side to the factory.
- Bungee jumping into the gorge. No, that was not us.
- Berry picking.
- I had always wondered how they get back up. A weighted rope is lowered, and he reaches for it, then clips it to his harness, following which he is hoisted back up. So now I know. Apparently he felt as comfortable doing this as we felt watching it.
- In memory of the children and adults who perished in the bombing attack on Vemork 16 November 1943.
- This grass roof could be in Switzerland.
- The factory front.
- The Heroes of Telemark.
- Hydroelectric generators. The refinery was below these, but is not accessible to mere mortals now. Phooey.
- WWII motorbike. We ate in the cafe here, and because of lack of sleep, I was struggling to do simple maths trying to add numbers on the bill. For someone who got an advanced level maths qualification, and a degree in a maths oriented subject, this is quite pathetic.
- Windows Control Panel.
- Windows networking.
- Windows workstation.
- The power station outflow. The mist is the breath from the outflow.
- When water flows out of the outflow, it plunges into the gorge over this steep edge in a thundering waterfall. Sorry for the picture quality, but they had a fence preventing me from getting a better shot.
- The pipes. This is as close as I could get.
- The single track railway where the saboteurs entered the factory.
- Pearl necklace.
- From Vemork to Rjukan. The valley is so deep that Rjukan rarely sees direct sunlight. The sun actually set on the city before midday.
- Stairway to the plateau.
- Road to Rjukan.
- Twisted sediment.
- Slow down!
- Ethernet adapter.
- ICMP packet.
- Rjukan and Gaustatoppen.
- Breaking through.
- Sunlit plateau.
- Rocky plateau.
- Plateau ridge.
- The Cafe in Gvepseborg at the top of the cable car. For the price of a burger here, you could descend the cable car, catch the bus to Oslo, and buy a bigger burger there instead. We fell asleep for about an hour under an umbrella outside here, as it began to rain. Apparently such activities are not welcome, and we were shooed away by the waitress. Jaja. That makes 5 hours sleep since friday morning.
- Approaching cloud.
- Gaustatoppen point.
- Gaustatoppen peak.
- Gaustatoppen cliff.
- Grand building in Rjukan. Time to catch the bus back. I will return once more at least, perhaps to tread further into Hardangervidda.
- Tinnsjø lake.
- Tinnsjø lake.
- Tinnsjø lake.
- Tinnsjø lake.
- Blefjell (1341 metres) above Tinnsjø.
- Tinnsjø lake.
- Sun intersection.
- A peak we passed on the way back.
- Another peak we passed on the way back.
- Notodden, where we change busses.
- Forest lake.
- Town waterfall.
- Sunset bridge. I did not sleep on the way back (and Moose only managed to scratch a few minutes), so 5 hours was it between friday morning, and midnight Sunday night.