Joachim Ronneberg, the last surviving member of an operation to sabotage Nazi heavy water production in 1943, attended the remembrance ceremony at the SOE memorial on Embankment.
The success of the raid made it impossible for the Nazis to build an atomic bomb, altering the course of World War Two.
The operation, code named Gunnerside, captured the public imagination with the 1965 film The Heroes of Telemark, starring Kirk Douglas.
Two gliders of Royal Engineers were initially sent to carry the raid, but the gliders crashed in bad weather and the survivors were captured and executed by the Germans. In February 1943, a smaller group of six Norwegian commandoes were parachuted into the wilderness to carry out the mission.
Skiing was a vital part of the operation. The Norwegian commandos skied to the factory in Telemark, planted explosives and escaped to Sweden on skis, being chased for a fortnight over 250 miles by 3000 German troops and the Luftwaffe. Ronneberg nonchalantly described their extraction from occupied Norway as “The very best skiing weekend I ever had”.
Such a phlegmatic approach to danger was greatly approved of by the British, who gave Lieutenant Ronneberg the Distinguished Service Order for gallantry. Ronneberg said he was glad to come to the ceremony in London, which gave him “a chance to remember my friends”.
“Somehow, we were lucky all the way”.
So if you need to destroy an enemy deuterium oxide plant deep in occupied territory, skiing clearly a crucial skill to have.
By Bernard Goyder