I love a drama that is set during times and circumstances that were pivotal in history. This past spring, while perusing the suggestions Netflix made for me based on previous programs I’d watched, I stumbled upon The Heavy Water War — a six episode miniseries produced by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation. (It’s title in Norwegian is Kampen om tungtvannet and in the UK it was titled The Saboteurs.)
Directed by Per-Olav Sørensen, the series was filmed in Norway and the Czech Republic. The Heavy Water War tells the story of the German atomic weapons program during the Second World War. At the outset of the series we see the events unfold from two different perspectives.
On the German side we watch Werner Heisenberg struggle with his conscience as he realizes the potential devastation a weapon derived from a tiny amount of radioactive uranium could wreck on the world.
On the Allied side, we see the story focus on Norwegian Intelligence Officer, Lief Tronstad, as he oversees the planning and training for a mission by the British Army and Norwegian resistance fighters to sabotage the facility in Norway that produces heavy water (deuterium oxide – D2O, a necessary component in the production of a nuclear reaction).
The series begins with the invasion of Norway by Germany and Tronstad escaping to Britain to warn the Allies of his suspicions that the Germans are attempting to build an atomic bomb. As the Germans take over the country, production is doubled at the heavy water facility, Rjukan.
When Tronstad establishes contact with the War Ministry, a plan to destroy the Hydro facilities is drawn up. In Rjukan, new managing director Erik Henriksen is tasked with rooting out suspected saboteurs from the heavy water facility, after the first attempt, Operation Grouse, is a disastrous failure.
Even though the production facility is nearly impenetrable to bombs, the American Allies press the British and Norwegians for a bombing raid. Nevertheless,Tronstad persuades the Allies to send in a team of Norwegians instead. In Germany, Nobel Prize winner Werner Heisenberg promises a breakthrough in the development of a Nazi atomic bomb. He is not entirely trusted by the German government and is under constant scrutiny.
Without revealing any spoilers, this story was as exciting and nerve wracking as any spy thriller a fiction writer could invent in the pages of a novel. I highly recommend this series not just to history buffs, but to anyone who enjoys an edge-of-your-seat adventure!