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The Winter Fortress: The Epic Mission to Sabotage Hitler’s Atomic Bomb
By Neal Bascomb.
400 pages. Houghton Mifflin, 2016. $28.
Reviewed by Richard A. Gabriel


A CURIOUS PARADOX OF WRITING is that historians rarely write novels and novelists almost never write history. Occasionally, however, a writer combines historical research with a riveting narrative to produce a first-rate work of nonfiction. Neal Bascomb’s The Winter Fortress is just such a book. It’s a fast-paced adventure tale about how Norwegian and British commandos tried to destroy the heavy water plant at Vemork, Norway, during World War II, crippling the Nazi atomic bomb program by denying it this crucial element.

Through Bascomb we meet the Norwegian patriots who, making their way to England after the Germans have occupied their country, enlist in the British Special Operations Executive. We come to know their difficult training as commandos, their deployment by parachute in the winter night, and their struggle to survive the punishing weather of the Norwegian tundra as they prepare to assault the Vemork plant. We can almost feel the cold, hunger, and fear that these brave men endured for love of country. In the end, not all  of them survive the war or  its psychological aftermath. Owing to Bascomb’s skillful storytelling, this is sure to leave many readers with a sense of personal loss. MHQ


RICHARD A. GABRIEL is a professor of history and war studies at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario.


This article originally appeared in the Winter 2017 issue (Vol. 29, No. 2) of MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the headline: Reviews: Causes and Effects.

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