Blood and Water is a gripping account of how Allied forces were determined to stop Nazi Germany from developing the atomic bomb. Dan Kurz-man brings together fragmented accounts of the heroic efforts of ordinary people and how they were able to find the courage to stop the Nazis. Kurz-man’s is the first complete account in over 50 years of actions taken by the scientific, military, and political communities of the British, Norwegians, and Americans to prevent Germany from developing nuclear weapons. The book covers the military campaign to deny the German nuclear research community the supply of deuterium oxide from the Norwegian Norsk Hydro plant. Kurzman stages the military operations from a disastrous British commando raid into Norway, with a focus on the all-Norwegian parachuting, skiing, and mountain-climbing commandos’ crippling raid against the fortress-like plant. He also covers the American attempt to destroy the plant with 388 B-17 and B-24
bombers from Eighth Air Force, as well as the final successful attack by saboteurs and members of the Norwegian resistance, who interdict the remaining supply of “heavy water” on a ferryboat shipment to Germany.
There are three distinct aspects of Kurzman’s book. First, it reads like a realistic suspense novel, as the author brings together the personalities of individuals with events, drawing the reader into the story. The reader gains an understanding of the players and why events happened as they did. Further, Kurzman leads the reader through the scientific maze of Allied and German nuclear research programs. The scientific community discovered two viable materials to control a nuclear reaction—pure graphite and deuterium oxide (H3O or “heavy water”) as the neutron-moderator material to use with uranium. The German approach was to use deuterium oxide because of a mathematical error in using graphite. When Allied scientists learned that German research was focusing solely on using heavy water as the moderator, Allied military planners drew up a scheme to destroy the only commercial facility to produce it. President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill rolled the dice by blessing the attacks to stop this production in German-controlled Norway.
Second, the reader gains an appreciation of how and why decisions were made in the cat-and-mouse race of developing the first atomic bomb. From Kurzman’s extensive research, the student of military history gets the facts and reasoning. The author documents this unbelievable story by drawing on firsthand interviews with the people involved, personal diaries, and official documents.
The third aspect of Blood and Water is Kurzman’s ability to breathe life into the individual personalities of players and decision makers who had a hand in the attacks on the Norsk Hydro facility. Kurzman does not pass judgment on individuals for their actions or statements; neither does he lead the reader to a conclusion or perception of individuals or events. After reading about this small group of Norwegian commandos who undertake a near-suicidal mission, one cannot help coming away with respect and admiration for them—and for the Norwegian nationals who were determined to stop Germany. In short, Dan Kurzman has done an exceptional job of tying together the disparate elements of what some World War II historians consider the most successful commando raid by the Allies against Nazi Germany.
Lt Col Thomas A. Torgerson, USAF, Retired
Colorado Springs, Colorado