Ordinary to Extraordinary Lives: Joachim Ronneberg

Joachim Ronneberg

Under the cover of night, a five-man special operations team, parachuted into the snow laden region of Telemark in Norway. Their goal; to sabotage the Vemork plant, the Nazi’s only source of “heavy water,” a key ingredient in the manufacture of weapons-grade plutonium.  23-year-old Joachim Ronneberg and his team knew only that the Nazis were working on a “super weapon” and that the destruction of the plant was critical in thwarting those efforts.

The parachuters missed their mark and were forced to camp and wait out a snowstorm. On the night of February 27, 1943, the team made it to Vemork after a perilous journey negotiating frozen rivers and dangerous gorges in order to bypass a heavily-guarded bridge. Armed with metal cutters, Ronneberg gained access to the plant’s ventilation system, crawling through in order to find the series of pipes that were the intended target. Once there, he fitted the pipes with a series of bombs. He made a last-minute decision to trim the fuses so the bombs went off in 30 seconds instead of the originally planned 2 minutes. He wanted to be sure the bombs ignited successfully. They did. And miraculously the team escaped unscathed.

The team skiied more than 200 miles to reach Sweden before returning to Britain as war heroes. Joachim Ronneberg, the last surviving member of the 5-man team, passed away October 22, 2018 at the age of 99. The heroic tale of his team was told in the “The Heroes of Telemark,” a 1965 film starring Kirk Douglas.

Ronneberg rarely spoke of his role as a resistance fighter and hero. In his later years, he realized the value of sharing his experiences. “A few years ago,” he said, “I realized that I am part of history. Having been more or less silent for years, now I realize it is important and quite natural for people to ask about the past so they can plan for the future. People must realize that peace and freedom have to be fought for every day.”