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The Winter Fortress: The Epic Mission to Sabotage Hitler’s Atomic Bomb Hardcover – May 3, 2016
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Behind the scenes with Neal Bascomb
This is Dr. Leif Tronstad, a brilliant young Norwegian professor, who designed the heavy water plant at Vemork. On the Nazi invasion, he became active in the resistance—and then was forced to flee his country to avoid capture by the Gestapo, leaving behind his wife and two young children. In London, he informed the Allies of German interest in heavy water and learned how essential it was to their atomic bomb plans. After trading his laboratory coat for a military uniform, Tronstad became deeply involved in special operations against the Nazis in Norway, chief among them the sabotage of Vemork. In my research, I had rare access to his voluminous diaries and the many letters he wrote to his family. His is a hero’s story, but also one of war’s impact on the soul.
Photo courtesy of Norsk Hydro Collection/Norsk Industriarbeider Museum.
A hundred miles west of Oslo stands the hydro-electric plant and industrial complex called Vemork. Built of tons of steel and concrete, nestled in a steep valley on the edge of a precipitous cliff, surrounded by miles and miles of frozen tundra, it is indeed a winter fortress. This photograph—and others of Vemork—do little justice to the foreboding nature of the place. During my research, I spent many weeks in the area, living in old cabins buried in snow, hiking and cross-country skiing, and combing through the plant’s archives. Day after day, I would approach the plant and marvel each time at the imposing task the saboteurs faced in attempting to infiltrate and destroy Vemork.
Photo courtesy of Norges Hjemmefrontmuseum.
Commandos on the Vidda
This narrative is truly a story of epic survival. With rudimentary equipment, the saboteurs dropped by parachute into Norway at a place called the Hardangervidda, where they then lived for months before their operation began. The 3,500 square mile high plateau had no roads, no permanent habitations. Many stretches were barren, lifeless hillsides of broken scree, one mile indistinguishable from the next. On the Hardangervidda, Norwegian legends said, it could grow cold enough, quickly enough, to freeze flames. While there, the team maintained wireless radio contact with London, and their cipher messages speak of terrible blizzards, starvation, desperate hunts for reindeer, and an indomitable spirit to survive in face of such conditions.
Haukelid Family Photo.
"Weaving together his typically intense research and a riveting narrative, Neal Bascomb's The Winter Fortress is a spellbinding piece of historical writing."
–Martin Dugard, author of Into Africa and co-author of the "Killing" series
"Neal Bascomb's The Winter Fortress is a riveting, high-action World War II thriller with nothing less than the fate of Planet Earth on the line. Just imagine the horror if Hitler had gotten the atomic bomb? Written with great verve and historical acumen, Bascomb hits the mark of excellence. Highly recommended!"
–Douglas Brinkley, New York Times bestselling author of The Great Deluge and Cronkite
"This book is a must read! A small band of spies commit themselves, their lives, and their family's lives to literally saving the world from the Nazis. An exciting and accurate story detailing a very dark time in world history, when the world pendulum could have tipped either way. If you liked Bridge of Spies, you are going to love this!”
–Scott McEwen, #1 New York Times Bestselling Co-Author of American Sniper.
"What would have happened if Hitler had managed to develop nuclear weapons? In The Winter Fortress, Neal Bascomb brilliantly tells the extraordinary true story of arguably the most important and daring commando raid of WWII: how an amazing band of men on skis made sure Hitler never got to drop the ultimate bomb."
–Alex Kershaw, New York Times bestselling author of The Longest Winter
“Brilliantly written, The Winter Fortress cinematically captures a commando team’s efforts to destroy one of the most important secret facilities in World War II. Bascomb’s riveting prose puts the reader into one of the more daring missions of the war and the Allies’ efforts to sabotage a crucial aspect of Germany's nuclear program. An excellent read.”
–Patrick K. O’Donnell, bestselling author of First Seals and Washington’s Immortals
"This well-told and deeply researched account sheds light on an aspect of World War II that is little known or remembered, creating a valuable history that will be beneficial for most collections."
"An exciting, thorough account . . . Featuring excellent characterization and exquisite detail concerning a theater of the war (Norway) not well-mined, this will make a terrific addition to World War II collections.”
–Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Bascomb, a WWII historian and former journalist, thrillingly recounts the commando effort to destroy the Norwegian Vemork hydroelectric plant . . . A fascinating read about how a small group of Norwegians refused to submit to the brutal occupation of their country and contributed significantly to Allied victory."
"Gripping . . . Parts of the book read like an adventure novel, others like straightforward history, but the combination will appeal to readers of both WWII fiction and nonfiction."
--Booklist, starred review
"An authoritative account . . . Vivid and gripping."
“Bascomb brings this overlooked tale of wartime nuclear sabotage to life while taking care to explain the science behind the story.”
"A spellbinding account of the quest to stop Germany from building an atomic bomb….The Winter Fortress is a taut and peerlessly told adventure story full of thrills, derring-do and heart-stopping tension. And it packs an even more powerful punch because so much is at stake.”
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"Told with both historical and scientific accuracy...this book has rocketed into my pantheon of the top suspense-filled stories about [WWII], along with The 900 Days and The Colditz Story."
—Ethan Siegel, Forbes
"Deeply researched . . .Bascomb interweaves the stories of Hitler’s ‘Uranium Club’ and of atomic chemist Leif Tronstad, who directed the Allied operation, with the thriller-esque tale of the commandos who put the plant out of action in 1943."
"Suspenseful . . . An intensely researched and vividly told account of one of the most critical episodes of the war."
“Riveting and poignant . . . ‘The Winter Fortress’ metamorphoses from engrossing history into a smashing thriller . . . Mr. Bascomb’s research and, especially, his storytelling skills are first-rate.”
—Wall Street Journal
"This tale of a daredevil mission to slow Germany’s World War II progress toward an atomic bomb could only be conjured by a master storyteller. Neal Bascomb’s a master all right, but the events he describes in fly-on-the-wall fashion—working from recently declassified documents, firsthand interviews and previously unseen diaries and letters—are true. . . It’s part spy tale, part action-adventure yarn as the saboteurs strap on skis and undertake the mission of a lifetime. We know how it will turn out, but there are plenty of surprises along the way in a book that, once you reach the midpoint, is almost impossible to put down."
"Gripping ... compelling and makes for an absolute page-turner. It is as much a saga of adventure and survival in the mode of Jon Krakauer and Sebastian Junger as it is an account of wartime sabotage, secret agents and resistance fighters . . . epic in its sweep and is masterfully narrated by Bascomb."
—Knoxville News Sentinel
From the Inside Flap
Its 1942 and the Nazis are racing to be the first to build a weapon unlike any known before. They have the physicists. They have the uranium. Now all their plans depend on amassing a single ingredient: heavy water, which is produced at Norways Vemork, the lone plant in all the world that makes this rare substance. Under threat of death, Vemorks engineers push production into overdrive.
For the Allies, the plant must be destroyed. But how would they reach the castle fortress, set on a precipitous gorge in one of the coldest, most inhospitable places on earth?
Based on a trove of top-secret documents and never-before-seen diaries and letters of the saboteurs, The Winter Fortress is an arresting chronicle of a brilliant scientist, a band of spies on skies, perilous survival in the wild, sacrifice for ones country, Gestapo manhunts, soul-crushing setbacks, and a last-minute operation that would end any chance Hitler could obtain the atomic bomband alter the course of the war.
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