Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Write for the BIOGRAPHICAL Genre (12/04/14)
TITLE: The Man With a Passion for Peace
By Ann Grover
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Birger Edvin Martin Strømsheim was born on October 11, 1911, in Ålesund, Norway, to Jens and Johanne Strømsheim. Growing up on a farm surrounded by the azure waters of the fjord and the high peaks of the Sunnmøre Alps, blond, blue-eyed Birger became an experienced outdoorsman, competent in hunting, skiing, hiking, and bicycling.
Those skills would serve him well.
Birger had been working as a building contractor before the Nazis entered Norway, and had even been constructing barracks for German soldiers during the early occupation. Although he had no military experience, he made it his personal mandate to fight the Nazis by going to Britain to become part of the SOE (Special Operation Executive), and in September 1941, he and his wife, Åse, escaped to the Shetland Islands. His early training involved munitions and hand-to-hand combat, but his most crucial instruction came at Brickendonbury, Hertfordshire, England, where a full-scale model of the Norsk Hydro station’s basement had been constructed.
The raid, called Operation Gunnerside, was not the first attempt to dismantle German control of the power station. In October 1942, four Norwegians were parachuted into Telemark to do reconnaissance work for the British, and afterwards, gliders carrying thirty Royal Engineers were flown in, only to hindered by winter storms, causing three gliders to crash, killing some of the soldiers; others were captured, tortured, and executed by the Gestapo.
Undetected by the Nazis, the four Norwegians wintered in an abandoned cabin, eating reindeer and even the lichen from the reindeers’ stomachs to survive. Creating a radio from a battery and a fishing pole, they planned another attack on Vemork.
In February, Birger Strømsheim and his five compatriots parachuted onto the plateau in the midst of another winter storm. It took the six-man team five days to ski eighteen miles through unimaginable snowy and frigid conditions, without the benefit of high-tech winter gear or GPS equipment, before joining with the original quartet.
Led by Joachim Ronneberg, and with the wind whistling across the Hardangervidda, the ten men approached the fortress-like power station, which sat atop a deep, heavily forested gorge. One narrow bridge, soaring over 600 feet above gorge’s floor and heavily guarded, offered no access. The team descended the steep, ice-coated cliff, crossed the River Maan, and scrambled up the other side. The radio operator was left at the top, and another man aimed his machine gun at the Germans patrolling the bridge.
At thirty minutes past midnight, with the moon threatening to emerge from the snow-laden storm clouds, the fence was forced open with bolt-cutters. Birger and three others dashed through and headed for the basement, where the cylinders containing the heavy water were located. Unexpectedly, a mole who was to have unlocked the door for them had been too ill to work that day. While Ronneberg and Kayser crawled through a cable duct, Birger and Idland broke a window.
Working quickly, the men laid charges on the cylinders, opting for thirty-second fuses rather than two-minute fuses. Though the revision narrowed their chances of escaping alive, the threat of failure by being discovered was the greater hazard. The howling storm and the not-unusual rumbling of the factory muffled the explosion, and the Gunnerside team escaped across the gorge before the Germans knew what had happened.
One thousand pounds of heavy water flowed away, down the basement drains.
Birger, along with Ronneberg, Kayser, Idland, and Storhaug, skied to Sweden, a distance of 250 miles. Ronneberg described Birger Strømsheim as “the best member of the party ... He was a calm and balanced person who was extremely valuable ... almost like a father to us.”
For his role in what was undoubtedly one of the most critical and most daring of all World War 2 endeavours, Birger Strømsheim received the British Military Medal, the Norwegian St. Olav Medal, the US Medal of Freedom, and the French Legion of Honour and Croix de Guerre.
Birger Strømsheim died November 10, 2012, at the age of 101. May he rest in peace, the peace for which he fought so fearlessly and passionately.
Berg, Mitch, "Det Var 67 år Siden I Dag," February 27, 2010, Shot in the Dark Blog, http://shotinthedark.info/wp/.
"Birger Strømsheim," Telegraph, November 15, 2012. http://www.telegraph.co.UK/news/obituaries/.
Yardley, William, "Birger Strømsheim, Hero on Skis in an Anti-Nazi Raid, Dies at 101," New York Times, December 9, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/.
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