John F. Hanley

  • Big bombs need Heavy Water

    Heavy Water L’Eau Lourde or deuterium oxide D20

    The removal of the world's entire supply of 185 kg of heavy water from Paris just before the German army arrived is a true story though, for dramatic purposes, I have added a deception plan which is not inconsistent with the devious means employed to acquire the stock from Norsk Hydro by French Military Intelligence (Deuxième Bureau) in March 1940.

    To split the atom it was necessary to use D2O as a moderator. Extracting D2O from normal water (H2O) was a complex process which used large quantities of expensive electricity. The Norwegian hydro plant produced this cheaply so was a good location for the production facility.

    So many stories from the war read like 'Boys Own' adventures and the mission to escape the German advance with the D2O along with radium, rare machine tools and industrial diamonds, masterminded by an eccentric British lord, Charles Howard, 20th Earl of Suffolk, is one of them. Commonly known as 'Mad Jack' he got the shipment out via Bordeaux assisted by his lady private secretary and his chauffeur. Later, these three became well known as bomb disposal experts and christened 'The Holy Trinity'. Unfortunately, on 12th May 1941, whilst tackling their 35th unexploded bomb in London, as Churchill put it, "up went the Earl of Suffolk in his Holy Trinity".

    Two elements of the original extraction from Norway attracted me and spawned the idea of a second shipment to deceive both the French and the fifth column in June 1940. The first was the use of two flights from Oslo; one booked to Amsterdam and the second to Glasgow. The Germans, who were desperate for the D20 themselves, used the Luftwaffe to intercept the flight to Amsterdam and forced it to land in Hamburg but the real shipment had gone to Glasgow before being spirited to Paris.

    The second was caused by the Deuxième Bureau's insistence on absolute secrecy. The D20 was destined for Nobel prize winner, Frédéric Joliot-Curie's laboratory in Paris where he had a cyclotron. However, there was concern about the original nationality, Austrian and Russian, of Joliot's two main co-workers Halban and Kowarski who were only naturalized French in 1939. To guarantee, in case there was a security leak, that neither could be suspected, Joliot asked each of them to spend the duration of the mission under surveillance. Their compulsory holidays in two islands, one in the Mediterranean, the other in Brittany, ended once the shipment was safely in the cellars.

    As Miko was already working in the Palace Hotel in Jersey, it was a short step to make that the 'island in Brittany' and send the Russian, I've renamed Korshanenko, there for his 'holiday'!

    Immortalised in the film 'The Heroes of Telemark', the attempts to sabotage German production of heavy water in Norway through a series of raids in 1942/43, are better known than these earlier but equally important actions.

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