Sunday, 28 February 2010

Victory Assured!

Following on from David's Twitter post this morning, here's his full report on the events of 28th February 1943…

All the axial lines lead to London. Well, just about all of them. You step back far enough you're going to be getting the Chinese inventing gunpowder and the agricultural revolution and, for heaven's sakes, an ape-like creature coming down out of a tree. And none of those happened in London, it goes without saying.

But this side of "the hinge century" - as we call that walk in the London History course (it's scheduled for October 16th at 2.30 pm in the Summer 2010 programme) - it feels, and deservedly so, as if this little acre was the centre of the universe.

Indeed, I've been known to speak of London's being the mise en scene for "the two most important moments in the 20th century". (Brian's Literary Bloomsbury Pub Walk on Wednesday night takes us to one of those two spots; the other one gets tackled from time to time on our Old Westminster Walk).

But I think the time has come to speak of "the three most important moments in the 20th century". It was conceived in London. And it bore fruit on February 28th, 1943. So, yup, today's the anniversary of one of the three most important moments of the 20th century! (How's that for a "did you know London factoid" to impress your pals with?)

Any of you who are London Walks Twitterees will by now have had an "alert". It was the Twitter that was headlined: "Hitler's Atomic Bomb Kaput!"

Here's the full story. Which is by way of saying, hats off to Operation Gunnerside! Conceived in London and brought to fruition at Vemork, near Rjukan, in Norway on the night of 27-28 February 1943. What Operation Gunnerside did was blast into smithereens the heavy water (deuterium oxide) plant in the Norsk Hydro complex.

The counter factual history hardly bears thinking about. Had that operation not been carried out the Nazis would have had all the heavy water they needed for the manufacture of atomic weapons.

And it didn't just break that vital link in the chain. It led to the "chain reaction" that the allies wanted more than anything - it led to Hitler losing confidence in his scientists' research into splitting the atom. It led, in short, to the effective abandonment of the Nazis' atomic bomb programme.

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