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The Heavy-Water War

The multi-titled anti-Nazi six-episode mini-series, “The Heavy-Water War”(for America); “The Saboteurs” (in Britain), and “Kampen Om Tungtvannet” (for Norway), is an amazingly-taut look at how British and Norwegian resistance-fighters stalled and then destroyed a major element of Hitler’s push to develop a nuclear bomb during World War II, Heavy Water (2H20).

With six writers from Norway and Denmark (mainly Norwegian Petter S. Rosenlund), and directed by Per-Olav Sørensen, the frightening idea that Germany could have developed the Atomic Bomb before we did, using its brilliant scientists, specifically Werner Heisenberg, a 1933 Nobel Prize winner (in Physics), and the needed-substance, Heavy Water, to be found only in Norway on the European continent, to make what the German’s labeled as “Uranverein.”  (Heavy Water is what results when you pump more hydrogen into H20.) When the Nazi’s invaded Norway, the plant which distilled it, the Norsk Hydro Factory, was one of the first places secured by them.

Those Norwegian resistance fighters who had fled to England and to Scotland were trained by the Brits on how to sabotage the plant.  Two large teams were sent in, the first one captured and executed; the second finishing the job.

There’s plenty of tensions in the six 44-minute episodes, along with heart-breaking wartime fatalities, including the sinking of a passenger ferry which was transporting the Water, and it’s not a spoiler to say they succeeded in destroying the plant and permanently frustrating Hitler’s plans.  (Whew!)  What is fascinating is how little we Americans know about that.

Featuring Norwegian, German and British actors:  Christophe Bach as Heisenberg, Marc Benjamin Puch as the German Major Decker, Anna Friel as Officer Julie Smith and Pip Torrens as General Wilson, the British leaders, Frank Kjosås as Knut Haukelid, Rolf Kristian Larsen as Einar Skinnarland, as doomed soldiers, Peri Baumeister as Frau Heisenberg, and so on.  Excellent actors making their characters react to being fraught with the challenges and dangers.

The episodes move quickly, with Norway in winter allowing for major ski chases, and war-time deprivations, especially under the watchful eye of German soldiers, filling in for those generations well-removed from WWII the grim facts these people had to live with.

This is exceptionally fine film-making, allowing for much enlightenment, along with its entertaining elements.