Friday, July 12, 2013

Skis Against the Atom by Knut Haukelid, Collin Gubbins (Adapted by)

After reading, "Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World's Most Dangerous Weapon"by Steve Sheinkin, I wanted to revisit this book I read when I was in my 20's. It details Knut Haukelid's role in foiling the German's plans to build an atomic bomb. Knut lead nine commandos who broke into a heavy water plant and blew up the containers storing the special water the Germans needed to create a nuclear bomb. This gripping story is full of tension as the group broke into the plant. Two commandos crawled into the plant through the floorboards while the other two broke a window to gain entry. They shooed a German worker out who refused to go without his spectacles. "They are on your nose" one of Commandos told him before he ran away into the night. After setting up the bombs the nine waited outside for the explosion, which Knut said was not very spectacular. This was the first setback to the Germans in their atomic bomb program. Unfortunately, the plant was repaired in two months and the Germans continued to collect the heavy water needed to build a bomb. Knut struck again when the Germans tried transporting the water from Norway back to their homeland. He led a group that masqueraded as workers and planted explosives on the ferry transporting the water. The group successfully sunk the ferry and permanently derailed Germany's atomic bomb program.

This isn't a beautifully written book. It isn't grammatically correct. But it is a story that needs to be told and for that reason it is worth reading. Knut's first language is Norwegian and this book has many awkward sentences, grammatical errors, and incorrect words. It also captures the flavor of a man who was a hero and willing to defend his country and its freedom at all cost. The ugliness of war comes through in his non-emotional account. Knut and the Norwegians didn't kill people willy-nilly, but it didn't always make sense to me when they decided it was right or wrong. At the plant when Jens asks about shooting a lone German who came out of a hut Knut says the task was to blow up the plant not shoot a German. Earlier in the book, he talks about how he and some buddies were on a ferry and saw a German and just picked him up and threw him into the icy fjord waters to drown. Perhaps the point is that nothing is clear-cut in war. 

The tales of how Knut survived in the mountains during harsh winters as a wireless operator for the Resistance is truly amazing. He talks about twisting his ankle while out skiing and living for three weeks under a boulder off of raw meat that he had in his rucksack. The understated writing as he portrays these situations had me going, "Huh!" "He did what!" Then I would go back and reread the passage to make sure I got it right. Another time he explained how he and another guy ate reindeer and in order to get the proper nutrition during the winter; it was important to eat the stomach that contained the reindeer's digested vegetables and grass. When I saw a photo of the hut he lived in for the winter, I couldn't see a door. It looked like a weeny igloo I would build with my best friend in the snowbanks. I know the hut was buried in snow but it didn't look like a person could stand up in it. I could not imagine living like that for months on end. Not to mention the 15 degree below zero weather days. I wonder how many toes and fingers he frostbit over the years. 

2 Smileys

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