...[a] riveting and poignant new book ... The Winter Fortress metamorphoses from engrossing history into a smashing thriller ... Mr. Bascomb’s research and, especially, his storytelling skills are first-rate. He even makes a reindeer hunt unnerving. And some of his anecdotes are priceless ... a tribute to courage, resourcefulness and patriotism in a neglected corner of the war.
...a spellbinding account of the quest to stop Germany from building an atomic bomb ... Bascomb uses diaries, memoirs, letters and interviews with family members to vividly re-create both action and dialogue. He includes remarkable details, such as team members receiving orders by listening to coded language on BBC news reports and the wind in a hellacious winter storm they encountered sounding like 'muddled screams' ... The narrative naturally flags a bit after the raid but otherwise The Winter Fortress is a taut and peerlessly told adventure story full of thrills, derring-do and heart-stopping tension.
Bascomb bravely tries to explain early research in nuclear physics, including the production of 'heavy water' and how that mysterious liquid was essential to German efforts to build a bomb. Norsk Hydro’s plant was the best place to produce it in necessary quantities. But while the science is accessible and interesting, the heart of the story is how a small band of Norwegians escaped to England after Norway’s surrender and occupation in 1940, how they trained with British commandos, developed an intelligence-gathering force back home and slipped back into Norway to deny Hitler that awful power ... In scene after dramatic scene, from remote Norwegian mountain hideouts to research rooms in Berlin to commando training camps in Britain, he uses crisp dialogue, lavish description, deep character development and other literary devices. It makes for suspenseful reading and feels honest, but at times one almost hears the camera’s whir ... The Winter Fortress is an intensely researched and vividly told account of one of the most critical episodes of the war.
Bascomb’s book makes a strong case for upgrading [Operation] Gunnerside’s profile ... Bascomb’s book brims with heroes. The most intriguing of the characters is Leif Tronstad, an esteemed Norwegian scientist who spent most of the war in London. He fled there in 1941 with details of the Nazis’ plans for the heavy water produced at Vemork. He directed Norwegian resistance but felt guilty over his comfortable residence near a London park...After three years in London, he returned to Norway to fight the hated Nazis.
The action is taut as it moves back and forth among all players from England to Norway as well as with the group of German scientists tasked to form an atomic weapon and ultimately to the success of destroying the plant and Germany’s capabilities of producing heavy water. Mr. Bascomb was able to speak with Mr. Ronneberg and the families of the men involved. He was also given access to the diaries and other notes kept by each man. He also toured the area where the men hid and where the plant sits. All of this access helps the reader to feel as if they are along for the mission.