Norwegian ‘Hero of Telemark’ Dies

Colonel Jens-Anton Poulsson DSO, a member of the Special Operations Executive and Norwegian Resistance, passed away on 2 February 2010, aged 91, reports Arild Bergstrom.

Born on 27 October 1918, in Rjukan near Telemark, as a young officer of the SOE, Jens-Anton Poulsson led the in-country support team for two attempts to destroy the German-controlled heavy water plant at Telemark. Having enlisted in the Norwegian Army in 1939, in January 1941, he fled to Sweden, reaching the United Kingdom in the autumn of the same year and entered SOE’s Norwegian Section.

Towards the end of 1941 intelligence sources in occupied Norway reported a marked increase in the production of heavy water at the Norsk Hydro plant at Vemork, in the province of Telemark. To destroy or disable the plant, a force of glider-borne engineer commandos were to be deployed as part of Operation Freshman.

An advance party of four men from Company Linge (as SOE’s Norwegian Section had become known after its founder Captain Martin Linge) – codenamed Grouse – was dropped by parachute onto the Hardangerplateau in October 1942. With Poulsson as their leader, these men were to receive the gliders and guide the British engineers to the plant. Unfortunately, Freshman ended in disaster when the gliders crashed.

For the next three months, the men of Grouse survived in harsh isolation on the Hardangerplateau. They then received word that a new mission was being planned. In February 1943, five more men from Company Linge, codenamed Gunnerside, were dropped onto the Hardangerplateau and made contact with the Poulsson group (now known as Swallow).

On 27 February 1943, Gunnerside and Swallow conducted a successful attack on the heavy water plant, seen by many as SOE’s most successful and definitive raid. Despite extensive searches by the Germans across the wastelands of snow the Norwegians were never caught.

Poulsson returned to Britain and took part in the various SOE-courses. October 1944 he was again on the Hardangeplateau, this time as second in command of a group with Professor Leif Tronstad as commander of Operation Sunshine. The mission was to protect industrial plants and power stations in the region against destruction when the Germans would eventually begin their withdrawal. Poulsson took over as commander after Tronstad was shot by a Norwegian Quisling.

Poulsson remained in the Norwegian Army after the war and eventually retired with the rank of colonel. Until as recently as 2000, British forces took advantage of his knowledge in their winter warfare courses in Norway and in Scotland.

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