Blood and Water

Dan Kurzman, Author Henry Holt & Company $27.5 (288p) ISBN 978-0-8050-3206-2
In the spring of 1940, British intelligence found that a German-controlled complex of hydroelectric and electrochemical plants in Norway was turning out increasing amounts of deuterium oxide, or heavy water, a key ingredient of nuclear reactions. At any cost, the plants had to be destroyed. In his new work of popular military history, Kurzman (Left to Die, 1994, etc.) combines published and archival sources with participant interviews to reconstruct British-Norwegian operations aimed at that destruction. Reprisals against civilians, along with a German policy of taking no prisoners from raiding parties, made direct strikes virtual suicide missions, but bombers lacked the capacity to knock out the small, easily defended targets from the air. With novelistic skill, Kurzman demonstrates that in complex clandestine operations, anything that can go wrong is likely to go wrong. Were the subject not so serious, some of the anecdotes about missed trains, misunderstood orders and mishandled interrogations would read like amusing satire. When the Germans decided to move their heavy water plant to Germany, it was for reasons of convenience. As a final irony, that decision created an opportunity to sabotage the ferry carrying the machinery and the heavy water. On February 20, 1944, preplanted explosives sent the ferry to the bottom of a Norwegian lake. Kurzman tells his exciting story well, while showing that Germany's nuclear program was undermined as much by its own errors as by the efforts of the Allies. He thus renders his book a study in psychic reality: because the allies thought heavy water production important, it became important-another example that war is most often an exercise in shadowboxing. Photos not seen by PW. Rights (except first serial and electronic): IMG/Julian Bach. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
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