Bandits head for Telemark: fearless dozen aim to follow in footsteps of WWII heroes (From Bournemouth Echo)
When news happens text pix and video to 80360. Start your message with BE then leave a space.
Bandits head for Telemark: fearless dozen aim to follow in footsteps of WWII heroes
12:53pm Tuesday 12th March 2013 in News
IT is regarded as the most successful act of sabotage during the Second World War.
Against all odds, six courageous Norwegian members of the British Special Operations Executive braved temperatures of -40C across a frozen wilderness to deal a serious blow to Nazi attempts to build an atomic bomb.
The February 1943 operation cost the lives of some 30 British commandos.
Some were killed when two gliders crashed while attempting to land in Norway, and others were captured, tortured by the Gestapo and shot.
The operation that blew up the heavy water plant and saw the team escaping on skis inspired the 1965 movie The Heroes of Telemark, starring Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris.
Now, 70 years on, 12 fearless men including severely injured servicemen will follow in the footsteps of the heroes to honour their bravery thanks to the New Forest charity Pilgrim Bandits.
On Friday, they will set off for the two-week Arctic expedition to become the first group including amputees to retrace the journey across the treacherous Hardanger Plateau.
Among them will be the most seriously wounded soldier to survive the Afghanistan war – the remarkable Lance-Bombardier Ben Parkinson, 27, who lost both legs and suffered more than 40 injuries including brain damage – and 23-year-old Rifleman Paul Jacobs, the only injured serviceman to return from the conflict having completely lost his sight.
Coordinating the expedition is New Forest grandad-of-two and the charity’s founder Mike Witt, who hopes the team will be met on the final night by the last surviving saboteur of the original mission 93-year-old Joachim Ronneberg.
Mike, 60, a former martial arts instructor who was employed by the MOD for 14 years, runs Pilgrim Bandits from his New Milton home, providing vital support to injured veterans.
He said: “It’s never been done before, and it is not often you can say those words.
“It is an extreme environment and it will be horrendous but it is all about pushing your physical boundaries.”
Paul, who was awarded the George Medal for his bravery in helping his comrades when he was blown up by a bomb in Helmand Province, and is supported by the charity, said it would be an honour to pay tribute to the saboteurs.
He said: “Pilgrim Bandits makes it possible to have routine, and be pushed. If we don’t have that, we would break down emotionally – a busy soldier is a good soldier.”
The £50,000 expedition is made possible by members of the public who volunteer for challenges to join the ex-servicemen raising vital funds.
Among the men in the team is Gary Jones, a 49-year-old retired Dorset policeman from Wimborne, who served 32 years in the force and will lead Paul.
“I’ve done a lot of outdoor expeditions and things have got more extreme over the years but this will be a privilege,” he said.
“It’s going to be hard enough for able-bodied people to do this, it was hard for the originals, so for these injured lads it will be tough but I’ve every confidence they are going to blast it.”
The charity, set up in 2010, raised £120,000 in its first year – and this year has raised £240,000. Mike was inspired to change the lives of young injured service personnel following the death of his son, Darren, who was killed aged 19 in a road traffic accident in 1998.
Mike said: “It is important to have challenges in life, personal goals, and we didn’t feel enough was being done for the injured lads.
“My background has made it easier because I know what is achievable.”
For more information, visit www.pilgrimbandits.org To support the Telemark team go to www.justgiving.com/Team-Pilgrimbandits
History of the raid:
CODENAMED Operation Gunnerside, the raid took place on February 27, 1943, and targeted the Norsk hydroelectric plant, perched on a steep ravine 660ft above the River Maan in Telemark, southern Norway.
An earlier attempt to destroy it had ended in failure when some of the gliders carrying the team of 30 Royal Engineers crashed. Those who escaped were captured, tortured and killed.
In the second attempt, the Special Operations Executive gambled on a six-man squad of Norwegians, who parachuted in and met up with four surviving members of the previous mission.
To avoid the guards, the commandos climbed down one side of the ravine, waded across the icy river and scrambled up the other side, reaching a railway track leading to the plant.
One group smashed a window and the other crawled through a cable duct.
They placed explosive charges on the heavy water chambers and set 30 second fuses before dashing out.
They used cross country skis to make the 250-mile journey through snow storms into neutral Sweden, escaping 3,000 German soldiers sent to search for them.
Around 1,000lbs of heavy water and equipment was destroyed, thwarting Germany’s chances of developing an atomic bomb.