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Operation Freshman

Codename of a British operation during WWII / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Operation Freshman was the codename given to a British airborne operation conducted in November 1942 during World War II. It was the first British airborne operation using Airspeed Horsa gliders, and its target was the Vemork Norsk Hydro hydrogen electrolysis plant in Telemark, Norway which produced heavy water as a by-product.

Quick facts: Operation Freshman, Type, Location, Planned&n...
Operation Freshman
Part of the Second World War
59°52′16″N 8°29′29″E
Planned byCombined Operations Headquarters
ObjectiveDestroy German heavy water production at Vemork
Date19 November 1942
Executed by34 glider borne commandos
Casualties41 killed, 2 Horsa gliders and 1 Halifax bomber lost

By 1942, the German nuclear weapons programme had come close to being able to develop a nuclear reactor, but for the reactor to function it would require a great deal of heavy water. The source of the heavy water was the Norsk Hydro plant, which had been occupied since 1940.

When the British government learned of the German nuclear developments, it was decided that a raid would be launched to destroy the plant and deny the Germans the heavy water required to develop a nuclear weapon. Several plans were discussed and discarded as impractical; it was decided that a small airborne force composed of sappers from the Royal Engineer units attached to 1st Airborne Division would land by glider, a short distance from the plant, demolish it with explosives and then escape over the Norwegian border into Sweden. After an extensive training period, the airborne force took off in two aircraft–glider combinations on the night of 19 November 1942. Both the gliders and tugs were operated by aircrews attached to HQ No. 38 Wing RAF.

The tugs and gliders managed to reach the Norwegian coast, but neither was able to reach their objective. The first pair suffered from navigational difficulties and severe weather, which resulted in the tow rope snapping and the first glider crash-landing, with its Halifax tug aircraft returning to base. Three airborne troops were killed and the survivors were captured shortly after the crash. The second pair fared even worse, with both the aircraft and glider crashing into a mountain after the aircraft flew low in search of the first glider. Both members of the glider crew were killed instantly, while one soldier passenger died soon afterwards from his injuries.

Those who survived the crashes were captured by German forces and killed as a result of Wehrmacht's Commando Order, which stated that any Allied personnel captured while involved in commando operations were to be killed immediately. At the end of the war, the Wehrmacht personnel involved were tried, sentenced to death and executed for their part in the murders.

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