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Mission "Moonlight” - Norway 1944

The 26-year-old Norwegian lieutenant, Jens-Anton Poulsson, organised and led the local resistance efforts in the subdistrict code-named "Moonlight”. The purpose of the operation was to prevent the Germans from destroying key hydro-electric power plants and local industry. "Moonlight” was an area of operations that was part of Operation "Sunshine” in South Norway during 1944 - 45 which was never carried out because the German Wehrmacht surrendered.

"Moonlight” included virtually all power plants and all industrial sites within the Rjukan area. The Rjukan power plants produced a considerable portion of East Norway’s (Østlandet) power supply, while the industry in Rjukan was indeed one of the pillars of the vast industrial complex run by Norsk Hydro.

To accomplish the mission of Operation "Sunshine” specialists from the exiled Norwegian forces stationed in Great Britain were brought in. Their assignment was to take over, reorganise, equip, and train Rjukan’s own local resistance forces. "Moonlight” was the codename of one of three local subdistricts of operation covered by "Sunshine”. The other two subdistricts were "Lamplight” (Notodden) and "Starlight” (Kongsberg and Numedal).

The key man behind "Sunshine” was the 41-year-old professor of chemistry and army major Leif Tronstad. In accordance with his wishes, he was also given command to lead the operation in the field.

He was likewise successful in having his own way when it came to selecting his subordinate leaders. As field commanders for the subdistricts, Leif Tronstad appointed three young officers from Company "Linge” (Norwegian Independent Company No. 1, NORIC1). They were 26-year-old First Lieutenant Herluf Nygaard ("Lamplight”), 31-year-old First Lieutenant Arne Kjelstrup ("Starlight”) and 26-year-old First Lieutenant Jens-Anton Poulsson as the commander of "Moonlight”.

Jens-Anton Poulsson

Jens-Anton Poulsson (born October 27, 1918) grew up in the industrial town of Rjukan during its heyday in the 1920s. His father, engineer Jens Poulsson, was one of the key players in Norsk Hydro’s development of the industrial community in the Vestfjord Valley. The family’s social network in Rjukan later turned out to be most valuable during the organisation of "Moonlight”. Already early in his teens Poulsson was taken out on hunting and fishing trips to the Hardangervidda Plateau. As it turned out, this outdoor life was to become one of young Poulsson’s main interests. By the time his family moved from Rjukan in 1934, 16-year-old Jens-Anton had already acquired a comprehensive knowledge of the mountain terrain surrounding Rjukan, and he was capable of staying out on his own, both in summer and in winter. This capability proved to be of crucial importance just a few years later.

In assessing his efforts during the war years, it is plain to see a clear connection between the skills he had acquired during his teens and the results achieved in the operations he led. This concerns not only his practical skills, but also the self-confidence, sense of security, and calm which he later demonstrated that he possessed when sometimes caught in the most difficult circumstances.

Lieutnant Jens-Anton Poulsson´s Previous Missions:

When First Lieutenant Jens-Anton Poulsson set foot on Norwegian soil at the start of the operation on October 5, 1944, it was the second time he had taken part in an operation with the British Special Operations Executive (SOE). It was approximatley two years since he had landed just a few kilometres farther west, then as commander of the "Grouse” team. Operation "Grouse” was to pave the way for Operation "Freshman”. The goal of Operation "Freshman” was the destruction of the facilities for heavy water (deuterium oxide) production in the Norsk Hydro plant at Vemork. When Operation Freshman backfired, Poulsson’s team was instructed to remain under cover on the Hardangervidda Plateau in anticipation of a new operation. The next operation got underway early in 1943, and on February 28 the resistance groups "Grouse” and "Gunnerside” joined forces to launch a successful raid on the heavy water facilities. The operation turned out surprisingly simple for the participants. Admittedly, it cost plenty of physical exertion for the resistance fighters to make their way down the arduous course from the mountains to the valley floor far below at Vemork, and then to make the subsequent strenuous trek back up to the mountains, pursuing a different route. As for the execution of the sabotage itself, the mission was carried out with such surprise and speed that the guarding troops did not sound the alarm until the commando team was already on its way back to the mountains.

The greatest accomplishment, however, was the five months spent alone in the mountains. With only basic winter outfit and provisions, they managed to sustain themselves in the high mountainous terrain northwest of Rjukan. For long periods of time they were completely cut off from contact with the outside world, and when their provisions ran out, they managed to subsist by hunting reindeer.

The main reason why the comrades in the "Grouse” party managed so well is that they obviously shared the same kind of chemistry between themselves. Poulsson had quite clearly made a sound assessment when he handpicked his own men prior to the operation, in the summer of 1942.

When Professor Leif Tronstad selected First Lieutenant Poulsson as his second in command for Operation "Sunshine” in 1944, it was not simply because of Poulsson’s connection to Rjukan. Undoubtedly also of prime importance were the character and leadership skills that Tronstad saw residing in this officer. Poulsson was to demonstrate such qualities on numerous occasions: First, through his perseverance and determination on the long journey to reach England; then through his successful leadership of Operation "Grouse”. Last but not least, Poulsson distinguished himself through his initiative and willingness to accept responsibility in working with the Norwegian Independent Company No. 1 during his training stints in Great Britain.

The Mission "Moonlight”

As part of "Sunshine”, "Moonlight” was assigned the following mission: To prevent the execution of German demolition plans in the Rjukan Valley by:
  • gaining control of the charges and/or the firing points
  • capturing or killing German troops in the area, and
  • subsequently, preventing German reinforcements from reaching the objectives.

If required, the base area was to be reinforced and extended for offensive purposes.

The most important objectives in the Rjukan Valley were the protection of the hydroelectric power plants of Frøystul (26 000 kW), Vemork (135 000 kW), and Såheim (112 000 kW). Nowadays these figures may seem rather small, however, in 1945 they represented a considerable portion of the power supply to Eastern Norway (Østlandet). In addition to protect these power plants, the mission objectives included securing industrial sites at Vemork and Rjukan. The execution of the mission was, among other things, based on Allied experiences in Italy in 1943. There it was discovered that it was possible to reinstate power and restart industrial production after a relatively short time. The reason was that German demolition commandos had settled for simply blowing up the buildings, in many cases leaving most of the vital machinery beneath the rubble of the demolished walls and roofing intact.

The importance of the industry at Rjukan can also be judged by the implementation of four operations designed to knock out the heavy water production from autumn 1942 to winter 1944. In November of 1943 the Allied bombing of Rjukan, involving over 150 American bombers, hit the industrial town hard. It now became something of a contradiction that Allied forces, which up to then had been expending considerable resources dedicated to destroy vital elements of the same industrial capacity that was now should be protected.

Situation for German forces

By May 1945, according to a report from "Moonlight”, the German forces posted in Rjukan reached approximately 400 men. Of this number, the largest section was comprised of the 2. Batterie/Leichte Fliegerabwehrabteilung 781/Fliegerregiment 162. This anti-aircraft (AA) battery was basically deployed with six 2-cm-guns (2-cm-FlaK 38) at Møsvatn, three 2-cm-guns (2-cm-FlaK 38) at the bottom station on the Krossobane cable car, and six 2-cm-guns (2-cm-FlaK 30 and 38) at the sports field in Rjukan. These forces were also complemented by a signals troop outfitted for listening and direction-finding located on the mountain of Gaustatoppen. The industrial complex and power plants belonging to Norsk Hydro were guarded by a small Norwegian SS unit under German command. The administration of these units and the role of the local German headquarters was executed by a separate "Ortskommandantur”, complete with staff, command and medical personnel.

In 1944 the Germans started building positions for an 8.8-cm-cannon ("Acht-Acht”) AA battery at Gvepseborg (near the upper station on the Krossobane cable car). The AA guns and ammunition were transported up to these positions, but were never used in combat. The above-mentioned intelligence report from "Moonlight” dated December 9, 1944, describes how through public assistance transport of the ammunition back down from the positions had already begun. The 8.8-cm-shells were sabotaged by people from "Moonlight” by substituting the power load with explosives. According to the report the Germans intended to remove the ten AA guns themselves. A Royal Norwegian Air Force survey dated June 25, 1945 reports there were 14 8.8-cm and 20 2-cm-AA-guns as well as 100 tons of ammunition in Rjukan at the time. The decision makers needed time to order the removal of the heavy AA material from Rjukan apparently during the last winter of the war, in spite of the desperate situation in central Europe. This situation might indicate that the German military command in Norway still felt it was vital to defend Rjukan’s local industry and electric power production given a crisis situation.

Geographically, the German forces were spread thin over a relatively large area. It is a distance of almost 20 km from Møsvatn to Rjukan, and the road following the valley floor is the only reasonable means to transport forces between the various objectives in the area. Due to the precipitous valley walls and deep gorges, all means of physical exchange would prove impossible should the road become blocked. For this reason the German local command would face a major problem if it had to move troops within this area in a combat situation.

The German units in the area, therefore, could quickly find themselves in a situation where they would be prevented from reciprocally supporting each other, should they become engaged against MILORG (militaer organisation - the main Norwegian resistance organisation in World War II). It would also pose just as much of a problem to receive support from other German forces outside the area. The largest concentration of German forces in the closest distance was situated in Kongsberg. Basically, these were troops being transported from the fronts in Finland and Murmansk back to Germany. The roads into Rjukan were difficult because the only connection was running from Bolkesjø over Hovinheia to Rjukan. In pure driving time one would have to recon almost three hours to cover this stretch.

From Notodden the railway could be used; however, from Tinnoset to Mæl the trip involved taking a ferry. The only other way to get to Rjukan would require crossing mountain ranges.

"Moonlight” - organisation and plan

In 1945 the table of organisation of "Moonlight” involved nine combat platoons. The command and support apparatus consisted of one signal platoon, one engineer platoon, one medical platoon, No. 11 Platoon (whose assigned tasks remain unknown) and one police platoon. The power plants and industrial complexes were protected by two workers protection platoons. In addition the workers protection platoons deployed a detached section to the Lake Tinnsjø ferry and another section to the Frøystaul power plant. All together this amounted to 16 platoons. "Moonlight’s” total force thus numbered around 490 MILORG resistance fighters.

All platoons had weapons and equipment easily accessible relative to their respective mobilisation points. Starting at the mobilisation points, the basic plan was to secure the vital power supply and industrial objectives. This was to be undertaken by the workers protection teams which tasks were the protection of factories and power plants. The combat platoons deployed in Rjukan were to attack and disable all German forces in Rjukan. Carrying out these missions would involve street fighting inside the town of Rjukan. The No. 2 Platoon had to engage the German unit at the Krossobane Railway, while the No. 7 Platoon´s task was to engage the German AA battery at the sporting grounds. The No. 1 Platoon should attack Tveito School, whereas No. 3 Platoon was assigned various objectives of lower priority around the town. The Tinn Austbygd platoon was to cut off German reinforcements advancing toward Rjukan over Hovinheia from Kongsberg. The Atrå platoon was given the task to capture and secure the airfield facilities at Atrå, Middøla and Gvepseborg.

During the final phase of the war, "Sunshine’s” headquarters was to be moved from Atrå up to Gøystdal. A smaller force should take control of the ferry landing at Mæl, and secure the ferry by taking it to a certain place farther down Lake Tinnsjøen. The Rauland and Møsstrand forces should secure the dam sites at Møsvatn and take control of the approach roads over to Tinn from Rauland.

The most important immediate action to be taken by the signals platoon was to cut all communication links between the Germans units, both the internal and external ones. Reconnections have already been in place to enable "Moonlight´s” instant access to the line network for their own communications. Likewise, preparations had already been made to maintain communication lines between "Moonlight”, "Starlight” and "Lamplight”. These lines of communication would then serve in addition to the existing radio communication among the "Sunshine” men.

The medical platoon should establish one medical aid station in Rjukan and one in Atrå. The unit should also detach medics to the combat platoons. The engineer platoon should detach a half section each to the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 7 Platoon, while the No. 9 Platoon was to receive an entire section. The remaining half section should man "Moonlight’s” headquarters.

Great emphasis was put on synchronising the operation during its initial phase, so that all the attacks could have been carried out simultaneously. Jens-Anton Poulsson estimated that it should be possible to accomplish the mission in one or two hours. In that time all the objectives should be secured and all the German forces should be defeated or would have captured.

The chain of events - a rough outline

After the landing at Ugleflott on October 5, 1944, the commanders of "Starlight” and "Lamplight” were whisked off to their respective local districts. Jens-Anton Poulsson (who went under the cover name of "Jens”) and "Moonlight’s” radio-telegrapher Claus Helberg ("Sverre”) remained at "Sunshine’s” headquarters for a few weeks before moving on to Rjukan. 34-year-old Thor Viten ("Viggo”), who had been in charge of local MILORG districts in Rjukan and Tinn, had to turn over his command to Poulsson, and was instead appointed second in command for "Moonlight”. The same re-organisation process took place in the subdistricts "Starlight” and "Lamplight”. According to Poulsson, the cooperation between Thor Viten and himself worked quite well, despite the fact that they were very different persons and came from completely different circles in Rjukan.

Only a short time after their arrival on October 5 an important coordination meeting was held with two of the engineers at the Saltpeter Factory in Rjukan. Professor Tronstad also took part in this meeting. They discussed the main points in the anti-sabotage work at Rjukan. One of the results of the meeting was the establishment of a separate factory militia, which was to deal with all protective measures inside the factory premises. Hydro’s head engineer, Arne Enger, paid a visit and asked to "turn a blind eye” to any activity which might appear to be out of the normal procedures. Hydro’s administration did nothing to prevent work on the protective measures while the operation was in progress. This was probably not so strange, bearing in mind that the operation’s objectives certainly must were in accordance with Norsk Hydro’s interests.

MILORG in Telemark had been experiencing serious problems in connection with exposures and arrests in February 1944. The reorganisation after the crack down had also proven difficult in Rjukan, however most of the strands were tied together again by summer 1944. Still, it was not exactly a streamlined organisation that met Poulsson when he turned up in October 1944. The personnel were at their posts, although there was a lack of weapons, equipment, and even a specific mission. It was essential that the organisation had to be put to work soon. For this reason platoon commanders and persons having other key functions were called in separately to receive their orders and missions directly from the commander of "Moonlight”.

Through a series of nightly meetings in an annex to Admini, Hydro’s public relations assembly hall, the key actors in "Moonlight” received information concerning their mission, plans, and the situation so that further work could be initiated by each individual.

By the end of January, plans of action had been worked out for all platoons and conveyed to their respective commanders. Eventually "Moonlight” was also receiving a number of airdrops, amounting to ten in all. The drops were dispersed over a period from December 27, 1944 to March 24, 1945. But by the beginning of March the main portion of the weapons and equipment had been already received.

As soon as each platoon had received its weapons, it underwent instructional training under the direction of Poulsson, the British Captain Norman Lind (posted at "Sunshine’s” headquarters), and Rolf Sørlie (under the cover name "Finn”). Rolf Sørlie was an engineer at Norsk Hydro. After having participated in the blowing up of the Tinnsjø ferry in February 1944, he had spent some time training with "police” forces in Sweden, before Poulsson had recalled him in November 1944. "Finn” served as "Moonlight’s” engineer and demolition expert, in addition being responsible for organising the workers protection platoons.

In the course of winter "Moonlight” carried out two actions. One was the sabotage of 8.8-cm-AA-shells that had been transported up to Gvepseborg in connection with German attempts to establish a separate AA battery there. All of the 27 8.8-cm-AA-shells were filled with explosives, so that they would explode in the gun barrel when fired. The action was carried out without being discovered by anyone on the German side.

The second action involved destroying a Fiesler "Storch” reconnaissance plane at the airfield in Atrå. The raid was carried out successfully by six men in the night of April 5, 1945.

On March 15, 1945 Professor Tronstad and Gunnar Syverstad from "Sunshine” headquarters were killed while they were interrogating the local Norwegian Police Chief (a member of the nazi party) in Rauland. The Police Chief´s brother surprised the two during the interrogation and shot and killed them both. In the aftermath of this unfortunate event, Poulsson had to accept command of the entire Operation "Sunshine”.

The event came as a shock for the young First Lieutenant, however the mission was what counted most and work had to continue. Thor Viten took over the command of "Moonlight” after Poulsson. At the same time Poulsson decided to transfer "Sunshine’s” headquarters to "Thickery Lodge” in Gøystdal, a smart move that enable closer and more direct contact between "Sunshine” and "Moonlight” than what it had been prior to Tronstad’s death.

In the course of the winter there was only one German action that caused problems for "Moonlight”. The background for this event was that XU’s man (XU was Forsvarets Overkommando avdeling IV´s own intelligence organistation in Norway) in Rjukan was arrested. Unfortunately, he had knowledge of parts of "Moonlight’s” organisation, something which led to the subsequent arrest of "Moonlight’s” chief of supplies. These arrests, however, did not lead to any further consequences, and after about a week things were pretty much back to normal.

In late winter 1945, MILORG in Oslo came across a letter to the GESTAPO (Geheime Staatspolizei - Germany´s Secret State Police) from a young Rjukan man. There was no previous knowledge about this individual to indicate whether he cooperated or sympathised with the Germans. The contents of the letter, however, were so compromising for "Moonlight” that SL decided to liquidate the person. The liquidation was effected by people from the action group connected to MILORG’s central administration; hence the case did not have any further bearing on "Moonlight”.

"Moonlight” took control of Rjukan in the night before May 9, 1945. Everything happened without incident. Five days later all of the German forces pulled out of Rjukan, and carried only their personal gear and provisions. All of their weapons and all of the German unit’s equipment remained behind in Rjukan, under "Moonlight’s” control.

Observations and closing remarks

MILORG’s activities in Rjukan in 1944-45 serve as an excellent example of an insurgent movement that grew into a fixed military organisation. The movement had a specific mission and was equipped, trained, and highly motivated to accomplish it. From how it was structured and grew one may deduce that the insurgency had developed into a late and final phase.

The possibility of cutting off a substantial portion of the electric power supply to the region of East Norway (Østlandet), when seen in connection with the planned large-scale allied operations in South Norway, would clearly have great significance for any such actions. We cannot help but notice here some striking modern-day parallels that serve to illustrate how insurgent movements, for a limited space of time at least, have managed to gain control of key objectives, small towns and densely populated areas.

In November 2004 we saw how Iraqi militia had gained control over the town of Fallujha. It took American and British forces days to regain control over the town. (There are also numerous examples of how insurgents in the same country have attempted to control or sabotage oil fields, blow up pipelines and otherwise disrupt the distribution of the region’s number one strategic resource.) The implications for the situation in Rjukan in those days would clearly have proved far more serious, since the town is situated in a (practically) inaccessible and inhospitable mountainous terrain.

We may also notice how the German defences of the industry in Rjukan were focused on (Allied) air attacks and sabotage raids from small (local) groups. The German forces posted at Rjukan - given their distinctive character, size and deployment - would not have stood much of a chance if forced to fight off an attack launched by local Norwegian forces. In order to neutralise the local German units, speed and synchronised timing became decisive factors for the leader of "Moonlight”.

It is important to note all the possibilities that avail themselves when the local population gives wide support to the insurgency. In a small industrial town such as Rjukan it would not have been possible to build up a large illegal organisation without broad backing among the local inhabitants. "Moonlight’s” leaders resided in the town of Rjukan much of the time. From various cover apartments they were able to operate comparatively freely, not the least because a good portion of the local police was also members of the organisation.

The influx of experienced leaders from Great Britain changed a passive and poorly equipped resistance movement to a potent fighting unit in less than six months. We see how the young First Lieutenant Jens-Anton Poulsson clearly played a pivotal role in this work. We must also bear in mind that Poulsson and his closest associates were introduced as outsiders to an already well-established organisation. At a number of other places, however, it was exactly this type of situation that created some difficult conflicts regarding who was to assume the leader roles. Poulsson, on the other hand, carried with him a new and important mission that most everyone could rally around. This was surely a significant reason why no internal strife between the "old” and the "new” leaders came to pass. Still, one could argue that it must have been Jens-Anton Poulsson’s leadership skills, experience, determination, and motivation that provided the most important criteria for having so successfully organised and led "Moonlight”.


Autor: Major Knut Werner-Hagen started his career in the Norwegian Army in 1982. He has a graduate from the Norwegian Military Academy and the Army Staff College I. He holds a master degree in history from the University of Oslo and has lectured in military history at the Norwegian Military Academy since 1997.

Sources:

Staff documents from "Moonlight” and "Sunshine”, Norway’s Home Guard Museum 187/35, NO 1 - 5.

MILORG in Rjukan, from Tinn Museum. Norwegian Industrial Workers’ Museum.

Per Longum’s private archive, Norwegian Industrial Workers’ Museum.

Einar Skinnarland’s diaries and radio logbooks, Norwegian Industrial Workers’ Museum.

Jens-Anton Poulsson, private documents from Operations "Sunshine” and "Moonlight”.

Eigentümer und Herausgeber: Bundesministerium für Landesverteidigung | Roßauer Lände 1, 1090 Wien
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