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Norwegian who thwarted Nazi nuclear plan dies

Norwegian resistance fighter Joachim Ronneberg who sabotaged Nazi Germany’s nuclear weapons ambitions during World War Two, has died aged 99.

Rønneberg led a five-man team that daringly blew up a factory producing heavy water, depriving Nazi Germany of a key ingredient it could have used to make nuclear weapons.

Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg said Rønneberg, who died on Sunday, was “one of our finest resistance fighters” whose “courage contributed to what has been referred to as the most successful sabotage campaign” in Norway, the Guardian reported.

Rønneberg was recruited by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) — Britain’s wartime intelligence gathering and sabotage unit — to destroy parts of the heavily guarded plant in Telemark, southern Norway, in a raid in February 1943.

Operation Gunnerside was immortalized in the 1965 Hollywood film “Heroes of Telemark”, starring Kirk Douglas.

Ronneberg later worked as a radio journalist and helped raise awareness about the dangers of war among the young.

He told the BBC in 2013 that he only realized the importance of the mission after atomic bombs were dropped on Japan’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

In a 2014 Norwegian documentary coinciding with his 95th birthday, Rønneberg said the daring operation went “like a dream” — a reference to the fact that not a single shot was fired, the Guardian said.

Parachuting on to snow-covered mountains, the group was joined by a handful of other commandos before skiing to their destination. They then penetrated the factory to blow up its production line.

Rønneberg said he made a last minute decision to cut the length of his fuse from several minutes to seconds, ensuring that the explosion would take place but making it more difficult to escape. The group skied hundreds of miles across the mountains to escape and Rønneberg, wearing a British uniform, ended up in neutral Sweden.

“He is one of our great heroes,” Solberg told NTB news agency. “Ronneberg is probably the last of the best known resistance fighters to pass away.”

“We must not forget what he stood for and has passed on to us,” said Eva Vinje Aurdal, the Mayor of his hometown of Ålesund.

The town ordered flags to fly at half mast on Monday and flowers were laid at the foot of a sculpture of Rønneberg, showing him in a uniform, walking up a rocky path. Inaugurated in 2014 by Rønneberg, the granite monument carries the names of all the men who took part in the Second World War raid.

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