Birger Strømsheim passed away over the weekend, at age 101.
Birger Edvin Martin Strømsheim was born Oct. 11, 1911, in Alesund, Norway. His parents had a small farm. In addition to his son, survivors include a daughter, Liv Kristen Oygard; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. His wife, Aase Liv, died in 1997.
Well, if you read this blog, you’ve met Mr. Strømsheim before. He was one of the commandos who, seventy years ago this February, destroyed the German heavy-water operation in a daring raid on the Norsk Hydro plant in Rjukan, Norway. I won’t rewrite the whole story (’til February, anyway), but here’s the piece I wrote about the raid a couple of years back.
Strømsheim didn’t start out that way, though; he had no military experience. When Germany occupied Norway, he was working as a contruction contractor; he even found work building barracks for the occupiers, before escaping to Scotland:
After the Germans took control of Norway in 1940, Mr. Stromsheim and his wife were among many people who left for England. Mr. Stromsheim had not been a soldier in Norway, but he became part of the Special Operations Executive, which the British formed to support and coordinate resistance in the occupied countries of Europe.
The mild-mannered Strømsheim, an expert cross-country skier and hunter, became an explosives expert, and the leader if not commander of the raiding party. Older than the rest of the team, his calm stoicism (even by Norwegian standards) anchored and centered the rest of the team on the raid.
He and other members of the mission at Norsk Hydro received medals from several Allied countries. In 1965, Hollywood produced “The Heroes of Telemark,” a film starring Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris that included shootouts, dramatic chases through the snow and love scenes. The soldiers roundly panned the movie as unrealistic.
“He saw that,” Mr. Stromsheim’s son said. “He didn’t like it. It was too glamorous.”
And totally unbefitting the men who actually did the job.
RIP, Birger Strømsheim.