3-590 Memorandum to Field Marshal Sir John Dill, April 3, 1943

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: April 3, 1943

Subject: World War II

Memorandum to Field Marshal Sir John Dill

[April 3, 1943] [Washington, D.C.]


Subject: Interference with German Operations.

1. At Vemork, Norway there is a large hydro electric installation and from this installation the German military authorities have been obtaining a considerable amount of heavy water which is an essential item in one of the processes for production of the super-explosive. The latest information is that there has been no interruption in the production at this plant. Any successful aerial bombing of the target would seriously affect, even if it did not destroy, the actual productive equipment and would damage the generating station to such an extent that a serious interruption to production would ensue.

2. I understand that the German Army High Command is greatly interested in the super-explosive problem, that their scientists are working under more favorable conditions than ever before with unlimited funds and opportunities for experimentation and it is thought freedom from army conscription.

3. Mr. Akers, the British Scientific representative, who was recently in this country, informed one of my officers on January 26 that the British were planning a Commando raid on the plant;1 that the mission of this raid would be to destroy the key production equipment for the manufacture of heavy water and to seize and carry away any heavy water (possibly as much as 100 kilograms) which was on hand at the time. No information has been received to the effect that this raid has actually been made.

4. A Commando raid does not appear feasible as Vemork (80 miles west of Oslo and 3 or 4 miles from Rjukan) is 75 miles inland from the nearest water, approximately at Larvik, almost at the entrance of the Oslo Fjord. Vemork is 125 miles from the nearest point on the Atlantic Coast, just south of Bergen.

5. It is felt that although the procurement of a quantity of the heavy water would have its advantages, the delay incidental to the staging of the Commando raid, which might not succeed, makes it desirable to bomb this target at the earliest opportunity.

6. If you agree, I suggest that the attached cable be transmitted to Portal.

Faithfully yours,



It is recommended that the hydro electric installation at Vemork Norway be set up as a first priority bombing objective. The attack should be made in force promptly with the mission that of destroying the complete installation including the electrolytic hydrogen plant adjacent to the generating station, the generating station, the penstock pipe lines and the electric switching installation and particularly the heavy water manufacturing installation if the latter is in a separate building from the hydrogen plant. The destruction of the heavy water manufacturing installation is of the utmost importance but reference to it as such should be kept secret from all persons whose duties do not require such knowledge.



Document Copy Text Source: Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers (RG 77), Manhattan Engineer District, Office of the Commanding General, I, 7E, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.

Document Format: Typed memorandum.

1. Wallace A. Akers was an engineer who headed the British Directorate of Tube Alloys. For information regarding Akers’s visit to the United States, see Vincent C. Jones, Manhattan: The Army and the Atomic Bomb, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1985], pp. 229-33.)

2. This cable draft was marked “not used.” Instead, Dill sent another cable to Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal in which he inquired of the raid Akers had mentioned in January. “As nothing has been heard of this raid and as in fact a raid may be impossible, Marshall, as advised, feels strongly, repeat strongly, that the installation should become bombing target of first priority.” (Dill to War Cabinet Offices, April 3, 1943, NA/RG 77 [Manhattan Engineer District, Office of the Commanding General, I, 7E].) Portal replied, “S.O.E. [Special Operations Executive] state that after one unsuccessful attempt they succeeded about a month ago in destroying the plant which they now consider to be ineffective for at least two years. . . . Although question of bombing the plant does not now arise, it had in fact been considered earlier but idea was not pursued owing to tactical and other difficulties.” (War Cabinet Offices to Dill, April 6, 1943, ibid.)

Brigadier General Leslie R. Groves (U.S.M.A., 1918), commanding general of the Manhattan Engineer District, wrote later that the plants at Rjukan were damaged during a February 27, 1943, raid by three Norwegian saboteurs, but the plant producing heavy water resumed partial operation in April. A massive air attack on Rjukan followed in November 1943. For Groves’s account, see Leslie R. Groves, Now It Can Be Told: The Story of the Manhattan Project [London: Andre Deutsch, 1963], pp. 187-89.

Recommended Citation: ThePapers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens(Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 3, “The Right Man for the Job,” December 7, 1941-May 31, 1943 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), pp. 630-631.

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