WWII Hero Credits Luck and Chance in Foiling Hitler’s Nuclear Ambitions

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WWII Hero Credits Luck and Chance in Foiling Hitler’s Nuclear Ambitions

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“There were so many things that were just luck and chance. There was no plan. We were just hoping for the best.” JOACHIM RONNEBERG, who led a mission to destroy a Nazi production plant in Norway.CreditCreditMauricio Lima for The New York Times

ALESUND, Norway — For a man who saved the world, or at least helped ensure that Adolf Hitler never got hold of a nuclear bomb, 96-year-old Joachim Ronneberg has a surprisingly unheroic view of the forces that shape history.

“There were so many things that were just luck and chance,” he said of his 1943 sabotage mission that blew up a Norwegian plant vital to Nazi Germany’s nuclear program. “There was no plan. We were just hoping for the best,” Mr. Ronneberg, Norway’s most decorated living war hero, added.

The leader and only living member of a World War II commando team that destroyed the Nazis’ only source of heavy water, a rare fluid needed to produce nuclear weapons, Mr. Ronneberg has had his exploits celebrated in a 1965 blockbuster movie, “The Heroes of Telemark,” starring Kirk Douglas; been showered with military medals; and been honored, belatedly, with a statue and museum display in his hometown here on Norway’s west coast.

M.R.D. Foot, the official historian of Britain’s wartime sabotage and intelligence service, the Special Operations Executive, which organized Mr. Ronneberg’s mission, described the raid on a Norsk Hydro plant producing heavy water in Nazi-occupied Norway as a “coup” that “changed the course of the war” and deserved the “gratitude of humanity.”

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