Blowing Up The Hydro
By James Donahue
The Hydro was a 53-foot
steam powered ferry that carried railway cars and passengers on Lake Tinnsja in Norway between Mael and Tinnoset during the
war years from 1914 to 1944. The little ferry was blown up and sunk in the deepest part of Tinnsja by resistance fighters
on February 20, 1944, to destroy a cargo of heavy water that Nazi scientists were allegedly using to create a nuclear bomb.
The little ferry, operated
by Norsk Transport, was one of two small ferries used on the 19-mile-long route to connect the railway between Rjukan and
the port at Skien. The rail cars carried mostly fertilizer and chemicals from the Norsk Hydro plant at Rjukan, plus passengers.
During the German occupation
of Norway, there were rumors that the Nazi scientists were working on a terrible new weapon, an atomic bomb. The Americans
also were working on such a bomb. It was feared that if Hitler had the bomb first he would win the war.
The barrels of heavy
water were loaded on the ferry the night before the vessel was to make its trip across the lake. Four saboteurs broke their
way into the ship where they placed plastic explosive. The plan was designed to sink the ferry in deep water, but close enough
to shore that passengers and crew could escape. The blast was calculated to blow a hole in the hull and sink the ship, but
not cause casualties among the people on board.
As the ferry was steaming
its way across the lake, just before reaching the lighthouse at Urdalen, the bomb exploded. The crew attempted to turn the
vessel toward land but the ship sank quickly in 1,410 feet of water. Farmers on the lake brought boats out to rescue the crew
Strangely, the ship’s
crew failed to release the lifeboats and there were no life vests handed out. Consequently 18 people were killed. These included
eight German soldiers, a crew of seven and the rest were passengers. There were 29 survivors.
located the wreck of the Hydro in the 1990s. Barrels of heavy water were found on board, thus erasing all doubt concerning
the significance of the decision to sink the ferry.