The Heroes of Telemark

The Heroes of Telemark is a British 1965 Eastman Color war film directed by Anthony Mann based on the true story of the Norwegian heavy water sabotage during World War II from Skis Against the Atom, the memoirs of Norwegian resistance soldier Knut Haukelid. The film stars Kirk Douglas as Dr. Rolf Pedersen and Richard Harris as Knut Straud, along with Ulla Jacobsson as Anna Pedersen. It was filmed on location in Norway.

The Heroes of Telemark
Directed byAnthony Mann
Produced byBenjamin Fisz
Written byBen Barzman
Ivan Moffat
Based onSkis Against the Atom
1954 novel
by Knut Haukelid
But for These Men
1962 novel by John Drummond
StarringKirk Douglas
Richard Harris
Ulla Jacobsson
Music byMalcolm Arnold
CinematographyRobert Krasker
Edited byBert Bates
Distributed byColumbia Pictures (US)
The Rank Organisation (UK)
Release date
Running time
131 minutes
LanguageEnglish, French, Norwegian
Budget$5 million[1]
Box office$1,650,000 (est. US/ Canada rentals)[2]


The Norwegian resistance sabotage the Vemork Norsk Hydro plant in the town of Rjukan in the county of Telemark, Norway, which the Nazis are using to produce heavy water, which could be used in the manufacture of an atomic bomb.

Kirk Douglas plays Rolf Pedersen, a Norwegian physics professor, who, though originally content to wait out the war, is soon pulled into the struggle by local resistance leader Knut Straud (based on Knut Haukelid, portrayed by Richard Harris).

They are both smuggled to Britain to have microfilmed plans of the hydroelectric plant examined, and then return to Norway to plan a commando raid. When a force of Royal Engineers, who were to carry it out, are all killed, Pedersen and Straud lead a small force of saboteurs into the plant. The raid is successful, but the Germans quickly repair the equipment.

The Germans then plan to ship steel drums of heavy water to Germany. Pedersen and Straud sabotage a ferry carrying the drums, and it sinks in the deepest part of a fjord.

Besides this sequence, the raids (Operations Grouse, Freshman, and Gunnerside) and the final attack are depicted in location filming, in which snowy Norwegian locations serve as a backdrop for the plot.



Knut Haukelid wrote a memoir of the attack called Skis Against the Atom published in 1954.[3] John Drummond wrote a novel based on the same story called But for These Men. Both books formed the basis of the screenplay.

The film was originally announced in 1963.[4] It was made by Benton Film Productions, a company of director Anthony Mann and producer S. Benjamin Fisz. Financing came from America's Allied Artists and Britain's J Arthur Rank Productions.

Scenes early in the film when the main characters escape from occupied Norway were filmed around Poole and Hamworthy in Dorset with the former Channel Islands ship TSS Roebuck playing the role of the hijacked steamer. SF Ammonia was used to represent the train ferry SF Hydro in the final fjord scenes.

The movie was originally called The Unknown Battle and was to star Stephen Boyd and Elke Sommer and be written by Ben Barzman.[5] Later Anthony Perkins was announced as star.[6] Eventually Kirk Douglas signed as the lead.[7] Cliff Robertson was mentioned as a possible co-star before Richard Harris came on board.[8]

"I hear they are spending five million dollars, so it's got to be spectacular and that means more fiction and less fact," said Haukelid during filming.[1]


It was amongst the 15 most popular films at the British box office in 1966.[9]

Stephen Boyd later sued Mann for half a million dollars when funding for the initial project fell through in early 1964. "I missed out on four good roles and plenty of money when he signed me without financial backing and then dropped the project," said Boyd later. "He asked me again later but I'd made other commitments so Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris made it under another title."[10]

Other versions

Ray Mears made a documentary called The Real Heroes of Telemark. Despite mainly sticking to the factual evidence, some scenes in the documentary, like the film, were partly dramatised, focusing more on the survival skills involved in the operation.

The same story was also covered in the 1948 Franco-Norwegian film Kampen om tungtvannet (La bataille de l'eau lourde — "The battle for heavy water"). Quite faithful to the real events, it even had many of the original Norwegian commandos starring as themselves.

In 2015 the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation showed a TV series called Kampen om tungtvannet (also known as The Heavy Water War or The Saboteurs) based on the events.

See also


  1. How a Few Norse Beat Nazis: One from U. S. Is Hero of Movie Bjornsen, Bjorn. Chicago Tribune (1963–Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 31 Jan 1965: a3.
  2. "Big Rental Pictures of 1966", Variety, 4 January 1967 p 8
  3. Sabotaging the Atom Sykes, Christopher. The Observer (1901–2003) [London (UK)] 28 Feb 1954: 9.
  4. Ice Age Reverses Black, White Roles: Nazis' A-Bomb Plot Bared; Palance, Montgomery Travel Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923–Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 18 Mar 1963:
  5. PICTURES AND PEOPLE: Debuts for Warner LeRoy, 'Atrox' – War in Norway – Local Producers By A.H. WEILER. New York Times (1923–Current file) [New York, N.Y] 09 Feb 1964: X9.
  6. Warners Will Film New Mailer Novel: Perkins in 'Unknown Battle'; 'Cleopazza' an Italian Spoof Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923–Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 27 Feb 1964: C9.
  7. 'Unknown Battle' to Star Douglas Los Angeles Times (1923–Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 13 July 1964: C18.
  8. Sicily Seeks to Save 'Bible' Set of Sodom Los Angeles Times (1923–Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 29 Sep 1964: C10.
  9. "Most popular star for third time." Times [London, England] 31 Dec. 1966: 5. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 11 July 2012.
  10. Looking at Hollywood: Steve Boyd Is Back After Stint Abroad Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Tribune (1963–Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 29 Dec 1964: b11.
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