During the Second World War, Norway was the destination of what is seen as one of the biggest sabotage missions accomplished in the world’s newer history. Led by the 23-year-old journalist Joachim Rønneberg, a group of nine young Norwegian resistance fighters went through with a raid that would later affect one of Hitler’s most vital projects during the war: his nuclear bomb program. 75 years later, on October 21, Rønneberg passed away as the last remaining survivor of the Norwegian war heroes, placing an era of Norwegian heroism in the past.
On February 23, 1943, the nine Norwegian resistance fighters skied across the Telemark pine forest, sledged down a steep valley, and snuck into a factory occupied by German soldiers to fulfill a top-secret mission given by British intelligence. Without a single shot fired, the men successfully destroyed the Nazi production of heavy water; a chemical combination crucial for their ongoing process of creating a nuclear bomb.
The operation’s success sparked interest both nationally and internationally, even though few knew the concrete reason for the completion of the raid. Not even the resistance fighters understood the significance of their mission until after the war. “The first time I heard about atomic bombs and heavy water was after Americans dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Rønneberg told The New York Times in 2015.
The story about Joachim Rønneberg, a man who managed to lead one of the biggest raids of the Second World War without any military background, has become famous both in the United States and the United Kingdom in later years. His toughness and intelligence have been praised in several articles written by world-known newspapers, and he has received several honor-remarks all over the world. In his home country, Rønneberg’s recognition has been less prominent as an individual. In contrast to the rest of the world, Norway’s focus has been aimed towards the group as a whole, who, with different valuable inputs and great team essence, managed to successfully complete the raid.
Through descriptive information shared in the Norwegian education system, museums, and informative entertainment productions, a younger Norwegian audience has been able to gain valuable lessons from the mission that happened over 70 years ago. What has stood out to me personally, as a student and athlete, is the professional team spirit and team effort found within the group. Knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, in addition to having effective communication skills, was a crucial factor in order to reach the success they did.
The significant team work and leadership skills that existed amongst the nine members is relevant knowledge, and an excellent educational source for today’s younger audience. I found situation where communication was best emphasized during the mission to be when Rønneberg, as the leader, chose to disregard steps for infiltration from the original plan. Instead, he chose to follow the other group members belief that approaching the factory through a riskier but more hidden route would benefit their chances of not being discovered by the Nazis.
As an athlete, this mission in particular has portrayed to me what successful teamwork looks like. For me, success can only be reached if there is mutual respect and collaboration between each member of a team, in addition to having a strong connection with the coach. Rønneberg’s ability to listen to everyone’s input on the mission, and at the same time the other members’ ability to trust their leader in taking the right decisions, even though they did not have any assurance of success, is to me a perfect portrayal of a well-functioning team.
The death of Rønneberg is seen as a great loss for the Norwegian society and its heritage. His and the group’s courage symbolizes Norwegian patriotism and heroism at its finest – especially after a new finding following Rønneberg’s death. In 1943, he wrote in a letter his willingness to complete a second raid of the factory if necessary. Even though heroes similar to the members in this brave group of Norwegian resistance fighters have existed before, and will exist after, this story will always be well-known amongst the Norwegian people. It will always be a widespread portrayal of what great teamwork can lead to.
Image courtesy of navva.org.