Operation Grouse. 1942
In the early days of World War II, German scientists and engineers cast covetous eyes on Norwegian stocks of heavy water, produced by Norwegian industry and crucial to the development of both nuclear power and nuclear weapons. German seizure of Norway in 1940 gave the Germans access to this critical material and the British were aware of the need to disrupt the supply to the German atomic weapons research, helped by prodding from the Americans.
Most Norwegian heavy water was produced near the town of Rjukan by the Vemork Chemical Plant. Heavy bombers were ineffective in striking the plant due to prevailing weather conditions and the defenses of the German Luftwaffe. The only feasible means of crippling the Norwegian heavy water production was through sabotage of the plant.
Special Operations Executive (SOE) began training a team for insertion into Norway for the purpose of destroying the plant in 1942. The Norwegian team would land in Norway and prepare a landing strip for a glider delivering special equipment and British Commandos, who would then strike at the plant. Both the terrain and the toughness of the German mountain troops in place to defend the plant made the likelihood of success slim. A first strike by British commandos was defeated by bad luck, bad weather, and the Waffen SS, in November 1942. A second group, which was planned to coordinate with the first failed mission, was even less fortunate. Seven commandos were killed when their glider crash landed, the rest were captured by the Germans.
All of the captured commandos were tortured and eventually shot by either Gestapo or SS agents, but not until maps and other papers were obtained by the Germans, which revealed the identities of several Norwegian resistance fighters and others working with the British.
As an act of sabotage Operation Grouse was an abysmal failure, as an act of espionage it was a catastrophe. Still, the initial team of Norwegians the British had trained to pave the way for the commandos survived and in 1943 they contributed to the successful bombing by sabotage of the Vemork plant, which led to later targeted bombings by British fliers, and severely limited the company’s ability to provide heavy water to the German research program.