Knut Haugland, Sailor on Kon-Tiki, Dies at 92

Discussion in 'Off-topic Zone' started by zrinkill, Jan 7, 2010.

  1. zrinkill

    zrinkill Diamond surrounded by trash

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    Knut Haugland, the last surviving member of the six-man crew that sailed on the Kon-Tiki expedition in 1947, and a leader of the Norwegian resistance who helped carry out one of the most daring acts of sabotage of World War II, died in Oslo on Dec. 25. He was 92

    His death was confirmed by Maja Bauge, the director of the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo.

    By the time Mr. Haugland met Thor Heyerdahl, the future leader of the Kon-Tiki expedition, in a British paramilitary training camp during the war, he had already experienced enough danger to last a lifetime. A 101-day voyage from Peru to Polynesia on the open ocean aboard a balsa raft would have been the ultimate test of courage and endurance for most men, but for Mr. Haugland it was more like an adventure vacation.

    As a radio engineer, Mr. Haugland had fought the invading Nazis at the battle of Narvik in 1940 and then, while pretending to be a typical worker at an Oslo radio factory, took a leading role in the anti-Nazi resistance, training radio operators and setting up secret transmitters.

    Twice he was captured and escaped, once by back-flipping over a snow bank and running off into the woods before his guards could use their weapons. A third time, surrounded by the Gestapo at a maternity hospital in Oslo where he had set up a transmitter in a chimney, he shot his way to freedom with a pistol.

    His finest hour came in 1943, when he took part in a raid to sabotage the giant Norsk Hydro plant in Vermork, Norway. The Allies suspected that the plant, where heavy water was produced during the manufacture of chemicals for fertilizer, was part of a German program to make an atomic bomb.

    While Mr. Haugland stayed behind to maintain radio contact with Britain, his fellow commandos slipped into the plant, set explosives and escaped without a shot being fired. Some 3,000 German soldiers combed the countryside for the saboteurs, but in vain. All escaped. Gen. Nikolaus von Falkenhorst, the Nazis’ supreme commander in Norway, called it “the finest coup I have seen in this war.”

    Knut Magne Haugland was born Sept. 23, 1917, in Rjukan, in the county of Telemark. He trained as a radio technician in Oslo and led the radio unit of an artillery battalion on the Narvik front after the Nazis invaded in 1940.

    Immediately after Norway’s defeat, he began working for the resistance. He was arrested for the first time in August 1941, but escaped and made his way to Britain, where he joined the Norwegian Independent Company, a commando unit made up of Norwegians.

    On Oct. 18, 1942, he and three fellow commandos were parachuted onto the bleak Hardanger Plateau in Operation Grouse, organized by Britain’s newly formed Special Operations Executive. Their immediate task was to memorize blueprints and plans of the Norsk Hydro plant and await the arrival of additional team members by glider.

    Phase 2 of the operation was a disaster. Both gliders missed their targets and crashed. Survivors were captured by the Nazis, interrogated under torture and executed.

    Stranded, Mr. Haugland and his companions hunkered down for the winter in a hunting cabin, surviving on reindeer and oatmeal mixed with moss and lichen that they scraped from rocks. After identifying himself with the code words “three pink elephants,” Mr. Haugland transmitted back to Britain every night on a radio fashioned from a car battery and stolen fishing rods.

    The British, encouraged, sent a six-man commando team in mid-February for Operation Gunnerside. The two units linked up successfully and completed their sabotage mission on Feb. 27.

    Afterward, four members of the 10-man team skied hundreds of miles to the Swedish border. The rest, including Mr. Haugland, remained in Norway to work with the resistance.

    It turned out that the Germans were interested in electric power, not an atom bomb, but the daring and brilliance of the Norwegian Heavy Water Sabotage, as the raid became known, earned it a special place in the annals of the anti-Nazi resistance campaign.

    After evading capture in 1944, Mr. Haugland returned to Britain, where he met Mr. Heyerdahl and became fascinated by his theory that Polynesia had been settled by adventurers sailing from South America rather than Asia. When Mr. Heyerdahl put out a call for crew members to test his idea, Mr. Haugland signed on as a radio operator. With a six-watt transmitter, he broadcast daily progress reports, as well as weather data, to amateur radio operators, who relayed the messages to the wider world.

    At sea, Mr. Haugland showed the same pluck that carried him through the war. In one of the most gripping episodes related by Mr. Heyerdahl in his book “Kon-Tiki,” he leapt into a storm-tossed sea to rescue Herman Watzinger, who had been swept overboard. Holding a life belt secured to the raft by a long line, he reached the struggling crew member just as the raft threatened to leave him behind forever.

    Mr. Haugland’s postwar life, punctuated by the Kon-Tiki adventure, was devoted to the military and museums. In 1949 he and Mr. Heyerdahl, who died in 2002, founded the Kon-Tiki Museum. Mr. Haugland, its director until 1990, turned it into the most popular museum in Norway.

    At the same time he continued his military career, serving with Norwegian occupying forces in Germany and on the general staff of the Ministry of Defense. In 1952 he took over the Royal Norwegian Air Force’s electronic intelligence program for northern Norway.

    In 1963 he was granted temporary leave to help found the Norwegian Resistance Museum. The temporary leave became permanent, and he served as the director of the museum, which opened in 1970, until 1983. He was made a lieutenant colonel in 1977.

    In 1951 he married Ingeborg Prestholdt, who survives him, as do their three children and several grandchildren.

    Mr. Haugland was twice awarded the War Cross with Sword, Norway’s highest combat decoration, and received the Distinguished Service order and the Military Medal from Britain.

    The great raid on Norsk Hydro inspired the 1965 Anthony Mann film “The Heroes of Telemark,” with Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris.

    Mr. Haugland was not a fan. He particularly objected to the word “heroes” in the title. “I never use that word about myself or my friends,” he told BBC4 Radio in 2003. “We just did a job.” Referring to the glider crashes and the killing of the survivors, he added: “Forty-one men were killed, and it could have been avoided. Because of the loss of life, you shouldn’t glorify the story.”


    You are a Hero in my book Mr. Haugland ..... even though you hated the word.
  2. BrAinPaiNt

    BrAinPaiNt Winter is Coming Staff Member

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    Most heroes don't like being labeled a Hero and that in itself only reiterates that they were indeed a hero.

    A hero and good man, at the very least he lived a long life where so many did not get to.

    RIP Sir, you definitely deserve it.
  3. Bob Sacamano

    Bob Sacamano Benched

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    i won't be alive past 45
  4. DallasCowpoke

    DallasCowpoke Fierce Allegiance

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    Good story, interesting read for sure.
  5. CliffnMesquite

    CliffnMesquite Well-Known Member

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    Rest in peace.
  6. Hoofbite

    Hoofbite Well-Known Member

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    This guy's got a hell of a name.
  7. SaltwaterServr

    SaltwaterServr Blank Paper Offends Me

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    They never do like that label it seems like. I got to host at my restaurant a dinner banquet one night two or three years ago for military personnel who were wounded in action and had loss of limb in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Each person had a sponsor there, and the sponsor read off their list of accomplishments or bio depending.

    One guy was nominated for a silver star, a bronze star, and something else as well for his actions. He refused the decorations because men in his unit had died despite his actions. I remember vividly him saying, "People ask me why. I'm not a hero. I see the heroes every night, and their families won't ever see them again. It isn't fair, and I'm not one of them."

    That's about what he said, word for word. You could have heard a pin drop, but the other folks there who had been in his shoes just nodded in agreement.

    It got real dusty in there for me. I swear, I would have carded him for cigarettes he looked so dang young. Wisdom, sometimes, is imparted into youth before their time to accept it.

    I felt it an honor to stand in the room with them.
  8. burmafrd

    burmafrd Well-Known Member

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    REAL hero's NEVER call themselves that. Over the years I have been incredibly fortunate enough to meet people like Dick Winters and Pappy Boyington. And others not known to the public. NOT ONE OF THEM EVER CALLED THEMSELVES A HERO. And if you did, they would give you a dirty look at the very least.
  9. Yeagermeister

    Yeagermeister Active Member

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    I love what Dick Winters says at the end of BofB.

  10. arglebargle

    arglebargle Well-Known Member

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    Great post, Zrin! I had seen the short notice of this, but not the rather impressive details.

    Interesting that 'hero' gets widely overused nowadays, but these men who were definitely heroic downplay it personally.
  11. burmafrd

    burmafrd Well-Known Member

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    terrible comment on our society about how little deaths like his are noticed compared to those like Michael Jackson.
  12. SaltwaterServr

    SaltwaterServr Blank Paper Offends Me

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    It's a damn shame. It truly is.

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