Review of The Winter Fortress: The Epic Mission to Sabotage Hitler’s Atomic Bomb by Neal Bascomb rating ****
From the subtitle, you might assume that this book tells the story of a single sabotage mission. That is not the case. There are three separate missions made by different saboteurs.
Two of the planned attacks are successful. One goes terribly wrong. As compelling as each planned attack is, the book suffers from too many characters with hard to pronounce names and a lack of images that would have helped enormously.
I listened to most of the book, reading on my Kindle between what I played on Audible. The Winter Fortress in the title refers to a manufacturing plant in Norway that produced heavy water. The author explains in detail what heavy water is, the production process, and how the Germans were using it in their attempts at building an atomic bomb. If I read that section ten times, I probably still couldn’t fully understand it.
While the sabotage attempts are engaging, much of the book dwells on different characters struggling to survive in Norway’s mountains awaiting orders. Men who have family a day hike away instead decide to rough it in the mountains. Supply drops go unrecovered. There is poor planning in almost every phase of the initial action.
The first attempt at sabotage involved men crammed into large gliders who were supposed to land in a hastily prepared landing spot. The mission was doomed from the start. Pilots towing the gliders navigated by beacon, which only got them into the general vicinity of the landing strip. It was at night. It was mountainous terrain. The men waiting for them on the ground had only crude signal lights that went unseen. It ended in tragedy for all involved.
This book is a perfect example of how images would have made the story easier to follow and appreciate. No matter how well the author tried to describe the fortress, a character, a ferry, a plane, or a ship, it didn’t match a simple picture’s power.