~ PLUTO ~
PIPELINE UNDER THE OCEAN
WW2 Pipeline Under
the Ocean, was designed to supply petrol from storage
tanks in southern England to the advancing Allied armies in France in the months
following D-Day. This page tells the story of the planning, development, testing
and installation of the pipelines and their contribution to the war effort.
It is based on information provided by Capt. F A Roughton MBE
who was involved
in the laying down of the pipelines and their salvage after the war. Capt
Roughton died on the 11th March 2013 at the age of 100. We are grateful to him
for the legacy he left behind about PLUTO for the benefit of future
The technical data about, and images of, the HAIS
flexible pipeline are from an article written by Mr E. A. Beavis, BSc, AIMEE
and published in Seimens Brothers Engineering Bulletin No 224 dated January 1946.
A reliable supply of petrol for the
advancing Allied forces following the D-Day landings was of the highest
priority. Planners knew that the future invasion of Europe would be the largest
amphibious landing in history and without adequate and reliable supplies of
petrol any advance would at best slow down and at worst grind to a halt. A loss
of momentum could jeopardise the whole operation as German forces would have
time to regroup and counter-attack. Conventional tankers and 'ship to shore'
pipelines were in danger of cluttering up the beaches, obstructing the movement
of men, armaments and materials and, in all circumstances, were subject to the
vagaries of the weather and sea conditions and they were easy targets for the
Luftwaffe. The idea of a pipeline under the ocean, (the English Channel), was an
storage facilities located near the English Channel were vulnerable to attack by
the Luftwaffe. To reduce the risk of losses, a network of pipelines was, during
early discussions about PLUTO, already under construction. The network was
designed to carry fuel from less vulnerable storage and port facilities around Bristol and Liverpool
to the English Channel. This network would later be linked to the planned
pipeline at Shanklin on the Isle of Wight and Dungeness further to the west.
(see map below). The terminals and pumping stations were heavily disguised as
bungalows, gravel pits, garages and even an ice cream shop!
Plans & Preparation
The Combined Operations Experimental
Establishment (COXE pronounced coxy) was involved in many diverse top-secret projects
including the waterproofing vehicles, the removal of underwater
obstacles on landing beaches and the testing of landing craft under a variety of sea and beach conditions.
To this formidable list was added the supply of petrol to France using underwater pipelines. All
these challenges were borne out of a culture that encouraged bold and
imaginative solutions to intractable problems. Such a culture was
encouraged at the highest level when Churchill ordered Roger Keyes, the then
Director of Combined Operations, and his successors, to think offensively when
many were at the time rightly concerned with the defence of the country.
In the early part of 1942 Geoffrey
Lloyd MP, who was in charge of the UK's fuel policy, met with the Mountbatten,
Chief of Combined Operations (CCO) and others to consider the fuel supply issue.
There was no 'off the shelf' solution that did not invite the Luftwaffe to attack
shore installations or slow pipe-laying and support vessels. Lloyd approached
Sir William Fraser CBE Chairman of the Anglo-Iranian Petroleum Corporation.-
They picked up on an idea of Mr Hartley, the Chief Engineer of the Anglo-Iranian
Oil Co., to use existing submarine cable technology, minus the core, as the
basic building block of a petrol pipeline. Siemens Brothers & Co Ltd., of
Woolwich, London, who were experienced in the design and manufacture of such
cables, eagerly took up the challenge. Other design work was undertaken by Henlys, Pirelli, Johnson & Phillips, the National Physical Laboratory and the
Post Office. It was a complex task, and there were many failures arising from
twists, kinks, bursts and collapse due to external water pressure and other
Early designs were for a 2 inch bore
pipe of hardened lead with 2 layers of 2 mm steel strip reinforced with
galvanised steel wire. Sections were 'bench tested', a preliminary design
specification was settled upon, and about 1100 yards were manufactured for
'field' testing. In May 1942, the pipe was laid across the Medway by the Post
Office cable laying ship
Alert and fuel was pumped successfully at a pressure of 600 lbs. per
square inch. From observations and data collected, the programme of
experimentation and modification continued, and by June of 1942, they were ready
for deep water trials that were conducted in the Clyde estuary.
Post Office cable ship Iris laid lengths of both Siemens’ and Henleys’ cable in
the Clyde. Both pipelines were completely successful and PLUTO was formally
brought into the plans for the invasion of Europe. The project was deemed
‘strategically important, tactically adventurous, and, from the industrial point
of view, strenuous’.
The Clyde trials showed that it was necessary to maintain an internal pressure
of about one hundred pounds per square inch in the pipeline at all times, even
during manufacture, to prevent distortion or collapse. It was also found
that existing cable ships were not large enough and their loading and laying
gear were not sufficiently powerful and robust for the task.
To tackle the inadequacy of the pipe handling and
laying gear on board the cable ships, the Petroleum and Warfare Department turned
to Johnson and Phillips for a solution. Mr G Whitehead re-designed the gear, and
a few merchant ships were converted to pipe-laying duties by stripping out
their interiors, installing larger cylindrical steel tanks and fitting
strengthened special hauling gear, sheaves and guides. These modifications took
account of the fact that
the minimum diameter needed to coil the pipe was ten-feet. The final equipment
was fitted to HMS Holdfast.
The design, manufacture and testing of
couplings to join sections of pipe together also presented complex problems. The
aim was to achieve leak-free joints in a relatively straightforward process that
was quick to complete and did not require highly qualified engineers and
sophisticated equipment. Siemens were entrusted with the design, testing and
manufacture of the couplings and the training of personnel. The expertise of
lead-burners Frank Stone and his brothers Albert and Ron was called upon. They
produced sample joints which were tested and refined until they passed all
tests. They were awarded the contract for the manufacture of the joints and
working 18 hours per day for 2 years made 500 joints at Siemens and 800 at
Calmens who had been sub-contracted to manufacture some of the pipelines.
Each length of pipe was sealed at both
ends and pressurised during the manufacturing process using 'copper bursting
discs.' Within the coupling, the two pipe ends were only an inch or so apart and
when the full operating pressure was applied the discs burst open allowing the
free flow of petrol. [See image
The complexities and commercial scale
of the operation needed specialised knowledge in many disciplines, and suitably
qualified people were drawn in as advisers and experts. One such was John
Augustus Oriel, Chief Chemist of Shell Petroleum Co., Ltd., of London, who was a
Fellow of the Institute of Chemistry GBI. Despite suffering from impaired
vision, as a result of a gassing incident in the 1st World War, he made a
substantial contribution to the PLUTO project.
Hundreds of miles of pipeline were
needed, and there were concerns over the supply of lead and the time available
for manufacture. Two senior engineers (Hammick & Ellis) working on the project,
had experience of laying 3" steel pipelines. They recalled that these were also
flexible when laid in long lengths. This was welcome news and a parallel project
was set up to find a second solution using steel pipes.
For security reasons the two distinct
systems were known as HAIS, a flexible multi-layered lead-based pipe and HAMEL a
steel pipe. The former took the initials from Mr
Hartley the inventor,
his employer, and
Siemen the designers &
manufactures while the latter was derived from Mr Henry Alexander
Hammick Chief Engineer of the Iraq Petroleum Company Oil and Mr
Ellis, Chief Engineer of the Burmah Oil Company. It was essential in war
time to use terminology that would convey nothing to the enemy. As a fall back
the use of pipe or pipeline was forbidden and all concerned were encouraged to
think of cables rather than pipes or pipelines.
Both systems had to be capable of
laying down their pipes on the sea bed in a single, continuous, fast procedure. The HAIS
pipe would be coiled on board the cable laying vessel and fed out as the vessel
progressed across the Channel and the HAMEL pipe would be coiled around huge
drums towed behind a tug-like vessel and fed out as they drum rolled along.
final specification of the HAIS pipeline was for a flexible pipe comprising an
inner lead pipe of 3 inches diameter, two layers of prepared paper tape, 1 layer
of bitumen prepared cotton tape, 4 layers of mild steel tape, jute bedding,
steel armour wires and an outermost layer of jute servings. Each mile of pipe
used 24 tons of lead, 7.5 tons of steel tape and 15 tons of steel armour
wire and smaller amounts of lighter materials. The external diameter of the pipe
was 4.5 inches.
Detailed specification; lead tube
internal bore 3.05 ins, minimum thickness 0.175 ins coated with petroleum
residue compound, two layers of 10 mm prepared tape two ins wide, one layer of
bitumen prepared cotton tape 2.25 ins wide applied with slight overlap, four
layers of unvarnished cold rolled mild steel strip 2 ins wide by .022 ins thick,
coating of petroleum residue compound, one serving of tarred jute yarn, 57
galvanised mild steel wires each 0.192 ins and separately compounded, coating of
compound, two servings of tarred jute yarn compound between layers and overall
and finally a coating of whitewash. The outside diameter was about 4.5 ins,
maximum bursting pressure was 4,350 lbs/sq in, weight per mile approximately 47
tons - 54.25 tons when filled with pressurised water.
Manufacture of Pipeline
One company with a huge involvement in
the manufacture of the HAIS pipeline was W T Henley of Gravesend [for
information about the firm who supplied the machinery visit
An idea of the vastness
of the project is conveyed by the fact that Henley's alone used 8,000 tonnes
of lead and 5,600 tonnes of steel wire and strip, as well as large quantities
of other materials. Transporting and handling these exceptionally heavy
cargoes under war conditions was an enormous task, and great credit is due to the
suppliers whose ready co-operation made these vital supplies available.
The cable was usually
manufactured in continuous lengths of 40 miles weighing 2000 tons. The weight
of the cable, pressurised with water for laying, was around 67 tons per
nautical mile. It was designed to operate safely at a pressure of 1,500 lbs
per square inch and tested to destruction at a pressure of 3,500 lbs per
Glovers Cables, located in Manchester's
Trafford Park Industrial Estate, took delivery of the first specially built
HAIS pipeline manufacturing machine, followed later by a second machine. The
remaining four being delivered to a cable firm on the Thames. It was rumoured
that Glovers machines produced a hollow cable -- an electrical cable minus its
core of electrical conductors. We also heard that the machines produced the
special cable in such unprecedented lengths that they had to pass along an
overhead conveyor. The conveyor and its cable hauling units formed an
unmistakable landmark that extended from the end of Glovers works and
delivered the cables to either a cable-ship berthed on the Manchester Ship
Canal alongside Trafford Park, or coiled the unwieldy cable alongside the
canal wharf for later shipment.
involved in the production was British Insulated Callender's Cables (BICC) of
Erith, Kent, England ... but even this was not enough to meet the demand, so
USA firms - General Electric, Phelps-Dodge, Okonite Callenders and General
Cable were drafted in. Of the 710 miles of PLUTO pipeline manufactured 140
came from the USA.
of the Hamel steel pipes was a very different process. At Stewarts & Lloyds of
Corby, Northamptonshire, England,
machines were designed to manufacture, cut and weld the lengths of steel pipes
with exacting quality control measures to ensure reliable operation under
pressure on the seabed of the English Channel. S & L at Corby had a leading
role although some tubes were supplied from their Tollcross works in Glasgow.
There is an excellent Ministry of Information film about Stewarts & Lloyd's
role in the PLUTO project at
1952 book, A History of Phelps Dodge,
Richard Glass Cleland describes the scene; "Special machinery was designed,
built and installed to perform all manufacturing operations simultaneously.
Armouring and covering machines, each stretching over a distance of one hundred
and sixty feet, applied all the many separate layers of protective coverings
in a single continuous operation, thus producing the pipeline in the required
lengths and at high speed. A specially designed superstructure ninety feet
high then carried the pipe to large outdoor platforms where it was coiled
preparatory to loading into especially converted cargo ships alongside the
plant docks. One such coil, 50 miles long, weighed about 4000 tons - a weight
greater than the tonnage of two United States destroyers. In order to prevent
the coiled pipe from being crushed by its own weight, it was kept filled with
water at all times.
Exactly one hundred and
sixty-two days after Phelps Dodge Copper Products Corporation had tackled its
unique assignment the specially built plant shipped the last foot of its
quota. Shortly thereafter this "made in Yonkers" pipeline was supplying vital
fuel to the Allied armoured Divisions driving toward Germany."
Soon after D-Day, a
continuous flow of petrol to meet the heavy demands of the liberation armies
and air fleets was maintained by the 'Pipelines Under the Ocean.' These
pipelines were vital arteries, which enabled the Allied Air Fleets and Land
Forces to maintain the vital
momentum needed to secure a victory. Moreover, Operation PLUTO made it possible
to dispense with the fleets of tankers and spared them
the ordeal of concentrated enemy attacks in congested waters, thus undoubtedly
saving many hundreds of lives.
With the specification settled, a large
scale trial was set up. For this, the cable laying ship 'London' was taken into
service as HMS Holdfast under the command of Commander Treby-Heale OBE
RNR. Its task was to run a pipeline between the Queen's Dock in Swansea and
Watermouth, near Ilfracombe, some 45 miles away. Two specially fitted LCTs ran
2000 yards of the pipeline from each shore - the one at Swansea connected to a
pumping station and the other to receiving tanks at Watermouth. The free ends
were buoyed and a few days later, on December 27th 1942, the Holdfast
recovered the Swansea end, joined it up to the main pipeline on board (HAIS
pipes coiled on large drums), and steamed at 4 to 5 knots towards Watermouth
laying the pipeline as she went.
The importance of this trial was manifest in the list of those
monitoring its progress - Mr Hartley and Mr Tombs of Anglo-Iranian Oil, Mr
Colby of Iraq Petroleum, Mr Betson of the Post Office, Commander Hardy of the
Admiralty and Mr Whitehead of Johnson and Phillips who had designed the pipe
Some setbacks followed. It took
much longer than expected to effect a good joint, the pipeline was damaged, and a
tanker dragged her anchor and severed the line. It was 100 days before pumping
began at a rate of 1500 gallons per hour. It was a modest beginning but would
eventually lead to 1,000,000 gallons per day being pumped across the channel.
Production of the 3" pipe started at
Woolwich in September 1943 and a number of lengths had been completed a year
later, one of which was 40 miles long and weighing 2,200 tons.
Many regarded PLUTO
as yet another wild fantasy of C.O.H.Q. Concerns were alleviated to some extent
by the concurrent use of 'Tombola,' a conventional tanker-ship to shore storage
system. This was set up at Port-en-Bessin and at Ste. Honorine two miles further
to the west and was fully operational by June 14 1944.
[Photos below courtesy of
the US National Archives
and the US Military History Institute.]
Operation Pluto 'Minor' initially pumped fuel from
tankers a mile or so off-shore.
When Port en Bessin fell to the Allies, fuel was pumped
directly from berthed tankers.
From the harbour two six inch lines, with booster pumps,
carried motor vehicle and aviation fuel to the US tank farm at Mont-Cauvin,
near Etreham, for British and American forces.
In addition to the two lines from Port en Bessin there were
two from Sainte Honorine des Pertes. They joined up at Mont Cauvin where
German prisoners filled jerry-cans for use in the field.
The main line from Port en Bessin was routed alongside the
D6 road to Escures passed the area where the British/Commonwealth Bayeux
cemetery now lies.
Steel can still be seen in the western harbour wall today,
and possibly some pipes in the harbour, at low-tide.
The main 'Pipeline Under the Ocean' operation was initially
based on Cherbourg and the laying process, over the 70 miles from the Isle of
Wight to the Cherbourg peninsula, took as little as 10 hours.
However, on the approaches to the beach, there was an unforeseen difficulty
beyond the knowledge, skills and experience of the individuals concerned. The HAIS pipe
had to be pulled up the beach at Cherbourg but engineers calculated that the power required was
way beyond the limit of winches available to them. There
was however a most unlikely solution from an earlier age as information taken
from a 1965 article by Captain J.F. Hutchings explains.
arriving on the Isle of Wight from Hampshire courtesy of John Farthing.]
"It appears that a naval officer charged with the task of
getting the pipelines across the Channel was having difficulties getting the
pipes ashore. The officer recalled a boyhood memory of watching two steam
powered ploughing engines at work. A phone call to the Ministry of Agriculture
& Fisheries resulted in six (sic) engines being allocated to the PLUTO
project. It appears that two engines went to the IoW... one each to Sandown
and Thorpes Bay, one to Lepe at the entrance to Beaulieu River on the
mainland opposite Cowes, one to the PLUTO training exercise area at
Hengistbury Head near Bournemouth and one to France which was given the name
STEVE - a Fowler class BB1 with works No 15220, built in 1918. The
engine's modified hauling drum exerted a 14-ton pull to bring the pipes
By the time the
two HAIS flexible pipelines and two HAMEL steel pipelines were pumping petrol
the Allied armies were well on their way to Belgium. The length of the supply
lines needed to be shortened so 11 HAIS pipelines and 6 HAMEL pipelines were
laid in a swept channel two miles wide between Dungeness and Ambleteuse near
In all about 500 miles of pipeline were laid in an average laying time
over the 30 mile stretch of about 5 hours. In January 1945 the system delivered
a disappointing 300 tons but by March this had increased to 3000 tons and later
still to 4000 tons. This amounted to over 1,000,000 gallons per day giving a
total of 172,000,000 gallons delivered in total up to the end of hostilities.
During the operation to lay the cables an HQ ship, several cable ships, tugs,
trawlers and barges were employed on this specialised work - a total of 34
vessels with 600 men and officers under Captain J.F.Hutchings.
Land Based Operations
Most of the innovative work was on the design, development and
testing of the submerged pipelines but on land much preparatory work took place,
particularly in southern England, to provide storage tanks, a pipeline
distribution network and pumping stations where the pipelines entered the
English Channel. One such pumping station was at Dungeness on the Kent coast
where the photographs below, supplied by Gordon Stirlng, were taken circa
Beachside bungalows were used as pumping stations. This
photo before work started...
... half way through the conversion and
A Mather and Platt pump in one of the bungalows.
The pumping control room.
PLUTO pump station installation team (see
Major Vessels Used
A standard British 'Empire' ship, type
Y1 of 6,838 gross tonnage and 10,000 tons deadweight. Built by Lithgow
Limited of Port Glasgow (No. 939). Launched 21/8/41 and completed in Nov 41.
Taken over by the British Admiralty and converted to a cable laying vessel for
Operation PLUTO in 1943 and renamed HMS Latimer. Returned to Ministry of
War Transport in late summer 1945. Sold to Norway in 1949 and underwent
conversion in Italy and re-sold to new Italian owners and renamed Acheo.
Scrapped in Sakai, Japan in 1964.
Standard British 'Empire' ship type Y1
of 6,978 gross tonnage and 10,000 tons deadweight. Built by Lithgow Limited of
Port Glasgow (No. 957). Launched late August 1941 and completed in October 1941.
Taken over by the British Admiralty and converted to a cable laying vessel for
Operation PLUTO in 1943 and renamed HMS Sancroft. Returned to the
Ministry of War Transport in 1946 and later that year was renamed S/S
Clintonia for the Stag Line of North Shields. In 1960 she was S/S Aspis
of the Faros Shipping Company of London. Scrapped in Yokosuka, Japan in
HMS Holdfast was the first HAIS
cable laying ship. She was converted from the Dundee, Perth & London Shipping
Company's coastal passenger ship 'London'. She was built in 1941 by
Hawthorns & Co Ltd of Leith, Scotland and was of 1499 gross tonnage. Conversion
commenced in the summer of 1942 and was completed later the same year.
A ship of 2315 gross tonnage converted
for the purpose of pipe laying. She was formally the S/S Algerian
of Messrs Ellerman & Papayanni Lines Ltd.
All the above conversions were carried
out by Green and Silley Weir Ltd,. London and all cable handling machinery was
by Messrs Johnson & Phillips.
Inshore craft comprised the coastal
motor barges Brittanic, Oceanic and Runic and the twin
screw barges Goldbell and Goldrift.
W24 was a 725 gross tonnage dockyard
hopper barge which became HMS Persepone when taken over by the Admiralty
to undertake experimental work on the HAMEL steel pipes. She was converted at
Portsmouth in 1943 being fitted with a cable drum of 48 feet diameter positioned
in the hold and mounted on trunnions on the main deck. In operation steel pipe
was fed through the open hopper doors in the bottom of the vessel. She was the
forerunner of the floating 'CONUN' drums which, when employed in the
Force, became known as HMS Conundrum!
Following successful trials with a
large prototype in early 1944 five 'conuns' were commissioned to a modified
design. The new drums of 30 feet diameter were fabricated in Scunthorpe, erected
in Tilbury Docks and launched into the Thames. Each of the conuns weighed in at
250 tons and had a combined capacity to carry up to 60 nautical miles of HAMEL
HMRT Bustler - 3200 indicated
HMRT Marauder - 3000 indicated
HMRT Danube V a smaller craft
astern of the two above to facilitate steering of the tow.
S/S Empire Ridley as per PLUTO
S/S Empire Taw as per HMS
Holdfast of the PLUTO Fleet.
S/S Empire Tignes was a tanker
of 407 gross tonnage built in 1943 for the German Navy. Prize 1945. It was
converted to recover HAMEL steel pipes by Marine Contractors of Southampton. It
was sold in 1949 to Risdon, Beazley & Co and became Topmast No 15. Sold to Dutch
buyers in 1953 and in 1959 became an inland waterways tank barge.
S/S Wrangler was a Mark III Tank
Landing Craft converted by Marine Contractors Ltd. to recover HAMEL steel pipes
and to undertake general salvage work
M/V Redeemer was an ex Navy
wooden hulled motor fishing vessel built in 1940. It served as tender to the
On This Website;
PLUTO in Fawley,
PLUTO - the Salvage Operation &
PLUTO Pipe Manufacture.
There are around 300 books listed on our 'Combined Operations Books' page which can be
purchased on-line from the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE) whose search banner
checks the shelves of thousands of book shops world-wide. Type in or copy and
paste the title of your choice or use the 'keyword' box for book suggestions.
There's no obligation to buy, no registration and no passwords. Click
'Books' for more
PLUTO - World War 11's Best-Kept Secret by Bob Knight, Harry Smith & Barry
Barnett. Published in 1998 by Bexley Council. Softback, 34 pages with many
illustrations about the involvement of The Callender Cable Co.
PLUTO - Pipe-line under the Ocean by
Adrian Searle. Publisher Shanklin Chine, 12 Pomona Road, Shanklin, Isle of
Wight PO37 6PF. ISBN 0 9525876 0
(Description of book. To many in WWII, it
seemed a preposterous idea - an undersea pipeline laid across the bed of the
Channel to carry fuel to the Normandy beaches. It was carried out in absolute
secrecy and, according to Eisenhower, it was "second in daring only to the
artificial 'Mulberry' Harbours.' The extraordinary project, & the millions of
gallons of fuel it carried, helped to ensure that the Allied armies could
break out after D-Day. 126pp, photos, ills, maps).
National Archive, Kew, London
Some records on
PLUTO are available to be
viewed (personal callers or paid researchers only - NOT available on line). You
may find others by visiting their
Catalogue. Copies of documents can be ordered on line.
1) The Shanklin Chine on the Isle of
Wight is a beautiful place in its own right but for those with a special
interest in the 'Pipeline Under the Ocean' it harbours something of a
surprise. Here is an extract from the Shanklin Chine website.
"During the war the Chine was taken over
and used as an assault course by the Commandos whose HQ was at Upper Chine
School. 40 Royal Marine Commando trained there in preparation for the Dieppe
raid in 1942. A plaque to their memory was dedicated on 6th June 1984, the
40th Anniversary of D-Day.
PLUTO also ran through the Chine and
there are still 65 yards of the pipe remaining. PLUTO, one of the great secret
successes of the war, was the idea of Lord Mountbatten. During the Normandy
invasion in 1944, forked pipelines from the Chine and Sandown carried petrol
65 miles under the Channel to Cherbourg, the first taking only ten hours to
lay. The pipelines delivered 56,000 gallons a day until the Allies advanced so
far that the line was transferred to Dungeness in Kent. There a million
gallons daily were piped to Boulogne and eventually as far as the Rhine. A
cross-section of the actual pipe can be seen in the Heritage Centre, together
with a video of the story of PLUTO and other exhibits.
Shanklin Chine and Heritage Centre is open from April to the end of
2) On the other side of the channel at
Port en Bessin
you can still see remnants of PLUTO. Nigel Stewart, an official Normandy Guide
writes; "The remnants can be seen at low tide in the left-hand western
harbour of Port-en-Bessin. Drive into the harbour and walk down to the
causeway on the front. The remnants are there, easily visible. For those
travelling independently the Port of Bessin is due north of Bayeux."
3) For information about PLUTO in the Epsom area of Surrey
visit this excellent local history website at...
4) For information about PLUTO in Greatstone on the east Kent
coast between Folkestone and Rye, and about one mile from the cinque port of
New Romney on the Romney Marsh, visit
Corby's Contribution to PLUTO
I have just
completed a major education project focused on the Corby end of the PLUTO
operation. This is intended to better inform 10-17 year olds and was made with
help from 30 young people from Corby. They built a model Conundrum which is
now in the Heritage centre at Corby. The also made 12 downloadable podcasts
each covering aspects of PLUTO, Bambi & Dumbo etc.
material draws heavily on the 1946 film ‘Job 99’ but also has much newly shot
HD images of the Isle of Wight artefacts.
intended for young people I hope it may also be of interest to some of your
members. Access is FREE and all podcasts may be downloaded to keep.
All the best
Recollections of Veteran
I served on HMS Latimer and recall
the first pipeline run from Shanklin to near Cherbourg. We had an escort
corvette which anchored just astern as we arrived at the raft just under the
cliffs on to which we flaked down the remaining pipe. Unfortunately, the
corvette on heaving up anchor, fouled the pipe we had just laid, causing some
Later on, the last pipe we laid
between Dungeness and Boulogne, began to disintegrate and the operation was
abandoned. Latimer sustained some very minor damage while berthed in KG Dock
as a V2 rocket hit the entrance lock gates nearby.
Latimer, formerly Ridley, recalls
the Archbishop and Chaplain who were burned at the stake in the reign of Queen
Mary, and I think HMS Sancroft was named after the Archbishop who crowned
James 2nd but refused to crown William and Mary. He was pensioned off.
For what it’s worth, I was an OS
at the time, ex Merchant Navy deck boy. I took to seafaring, post war, and, as
a Master Mariner, eventually Trinity House Pilot, London District. Now retired
My best wishes.
Charles, Samuel or Edwin
Lawrence. My granddad served on the Empire Ridley and was involved with
the Pluto pipeline. He was presented with a piece of the pipeline but it was
sold by his 2nd wife and family. I was just wondering if anyone had any
information on my granddad and his role with the Pluto line. We have no photos
I wonder if
their is a list of crew members anywhere. I know there was a captain Ingham
(not sure of the spelling) on his ship. Thank you for all your help. (Please
contact us in the first instance.)
The Power of the PLUTO
Pumps. David writes, In 1982 I had the offer from a CEGB
transmission engineer to ascend the north transmission tower (you call them
pylons!) of the West Thurrock to Dartford 275 Kv Thames crossing. He informed
me that PLUTO pumps were installed at the base, they were the ones capable of
pumping water to such a great height to clean the insulators from the deposits
from the adjoining power station chimney (West Thurrock, now demolished) . I
understand they were replaced, but sadly, no longer needed.
This provides us with an
insight into the quality of the design and manufacture of the pumps. These
towers are several hundred feet tall and when in use the pumps were 40 years
Photo of Dungeness Pump-house (6 above). I believe
the man on the extreme right of photo numbered 6 is my uncle jack who died
in 1967. He previously worked for Pratts/Esso in their tank and pump
departments. His name was John Benjamin Patrick Geary. In WW1 he served as a
Lewis gunner in the East Surries in France, gaining the Distinguished
Conduct Medal in 1918.
21st Century PLUTO
I was born
in Campbells Street, Renfrew in 1936 and grew up hearing the riveting from
Simon's Lobnitz who built some of the unique vessels for Normandy.
I first heard about PLUTO when I was an apprentice fitter
with Barclay Curle & Co, Ship Repair Yard, Scotstoun West, Glasgow, 1952-57.
Years later, while driving in Los Angeles to work on the Hughes Glomar
Explorer, I heard about the Fluor Daniel reel barge in Houma, Louisiana
where they were wrapping 10 inch steel pipes on a 54 ft diameter drum. I was
amazed to hear that the bending was done cold.
In time I became Project Engineer on the Santa Fe
International Inc project "Apache" and was responsible
for developing a concept to lay 24 inch pipes using an arrangement of towers
on a ship. This proved to be too complex so I made a desk top model, proved the analysis was wrong, stripped out the towers and
produced the Apache as it is today.
Desk model with towers.
Desk model with towers
Apache, Skandi Navica.
The Apache was not accepted until the 80s when the oil
price collapsed and CRINE, (Cost Reduction In the New Era), was introduced
in the UK. Since then the Apche has laid seven billion dollars of pipe and
has been copied many times. The original is now owned by French Technip.
Even when people saw the Apache working they said it damaged the pipe!
Apache carries 2000 tons of pipe while my Sidewinder design carries 10,000
Without the knowledge gained during the PLUTO project,
these modern solutions to laying pipes on the seabed might never have been
Craig Lang BSc (Eng) PE
Station at Dungeness. I read with interest the detailed information on the
Pluto project. It was due to his involvement with Pluto that my father David
Stirling (photo opposite) came to meet many people previously employed in the
oil industry and subsequently spent the rest of his working career with Iraq
Petroleum finishing as senior inspection engineer.
He was a draughtsman/design engineer
working for Frank Pearn and Co in Manchester who were contracted to supply the
pumping equipment to be used at Dungeness and the Isle of Wight. The pumps
were installed in bungalows in a pre-war holiday camp at Dungeness which were
buried under tons of pebbles. During the build-up to D-day my father was in a
reserved occupation, attending meetings in London as the Pluto project
gathered momentum. To the horror of my mother early in 1944 he returned from
one such meeting as a member of the armed forces. He was sent on a month’s
intense training in North Wales and was then posted to Dungeness as Captain
Stirling to join the team putting together the project in Dungeness and the
Isle of Wight.
My father and other members of the team
were billeted in a row of ex-coastguard cottages at Littlestone. The one my
father occupied called ‘Flag Cottage’ was the property of a lady called Annie
I remember seeing photographs of the huge
empty reels that looked like ‘’cotton bobbins’’ abandoned on the beach and of
the massive array of pipe-work leading from the pumping houses. These were
taken later in the war when the risk from the Luftwaffe had presumably
My father remained with this unit and
achieved the rank of Major before his demob in 1946. This was due to pressure
from his old employer on the war office to release him, to get back to work.
For them it eventually proved in vain as Iraq Petroleum soon offered him a
post and he remained there until his retirement in 1974.
My father considered himself to be one of
the lucky people who benefited from the war. As he said on a number of
occasions, if it had not been for Pluto and the people he met during that
time, he would probably have remained as a design engineer working on pumps
for the rest of his working life. As it was he had a varied and very
interesting career working for Iraq Petroleum.
I trust some of this information may prove
of use in helping to build a complete history of this clever engineering feat.
My grandfather, John Findlater Simpson,
who was born in Edinburgh in 1885, was heavily involved in PLUTO. He moved
to Scunthorpe pre 1924 to become the manager of the gasworks in Dawes Lane
Scunthorpe. He was also involved with founding Orthostyle Engineering works
and my family believe that he and Horace Codd were the brains behind the
floating pipe laying buoys used in Pluto. He never, ever spoke about his
involvement in war work but his wife was sure that his many secretive
meetings were all about Pluto. He died in the early sixties taking his
secret to the grave. I attach a photograph of him taken circa 1940.
Jill Wallace (Simpson)
[If anyone knows of John F Simpson's
involvement in the PLUTO project please contact
PLUTO Markers - Isle of Wight
I've been resident on the Isle of Wight
for some 55 years and a few years ago I was shown a PLUTO marker. These were
placed in hedgerows to locate the position of the pipeline below as it ran
alongside roads, tracks, paths or a field boundaries. Their purpose was to
alert anyone digging in the area of the presence of the pipeline.
With my curiosity kindled I set out to
locate more of these markers and to plot the course of the pipeline across the
Island from Thorness Bay, where the 20 or so feeder pipelines arrived after
crossing the Solent from Lepe in Hampshire (1st photo). The pipes where fed
into a manifold (2nd photo) with a single larger outlet pipe for the land
crossing of the Isle of Wight to Shanklin where multiple pipelines left
England for France.
I found 42 markers some in a very poor
state after 60 plus years while others were in surprisingly good condition.
(Remaining 3 photos). From a distance the markers could be mistaken for styles
no doubt a deliberate ploy to avoid detection from the air. Each comprised two
concrete posts with rectangular holes to receive up to 4 horizontal oak slats.
There is a PLUTO pump on display at the
Bembridge Heritage Centre
and I believe another one has been found and it is
expected to be similarly
restored and put on display at Sandown. There were pumping stations on both Shanklin
and Sandown seafronts close to where the pipes entered the Channel.
[John wrote a book entitled 'Where PLUTO
Crossed the Path' describing eighteen walks where markers can be found
adjacent to rights of way. A few copies may still be available in local
PLUTO in Canada!
I have just found your website. I have
always been curious about the piece of PLUTO that I have in my basement in
Canada. My brother, who died last year in England, had another piece. I was
born in Scotland in 1941 and did not really see my father, Jack Sloss, until
about 1944. Although he did not talk about the war (having also served in WW
I, being torpedoed by a German submarine when serving on a Royal Navy/merchant
oil tanker), I know from my mother that he took part in the survey of the sea
bottom to map out the best route for PLUTO.
He served on several Post Office Cable
ships – Monarch, Alert and Iris. The older versions of the first two were sunk
by the Germans during the war. My father spent 1945 on Tyneside supervising
the installations of cable equipment in the “new” Monarch. He was the design
engineer for the “new” Alert which was build in Fairfield’s shipyard on the
Clyde in 1958-59. He was chief engineer of the Iris when it surveyed the
Atlantic bottom before laying the cable from Scotland to Newfoundland in the
early 60s. (He also designed the engines for the John Cabot, the first ice
breaking cable ship in the world.)
He apparently met Winston Churchill at
some point during the brainstorming of the design for the PLUTO cable. This
was after silently surveying along the French coast under the noses of the
Germans. I wonder if he may have been on board the Betsie Jane (see below). I
know he spent time on the Isle of Wight and Portsmouth.
Motor Launch Betsie Jane
I am currently restoring a motor cruiser
that was built for Lord Ebbisham by Saunders & Roe IoW in 1938. I have managed
to trace the son of the original skipper, Frank Toogood. Frank’s son, Peter,
has written about the wartime exploits of his father and “Betsie Jane”.
In his account he mentions an incident in
which his father was ordered to ‘report without a crew to King’s Stairs
Portsmouth there to wait under armed guard until high ranking officers came
aboard with surveyors. He was also given sealed orders “ From Admiralty via C
in C Portsmouth to HM Betsie Jane. You are to proceed to SE of Wight there to
steam at 3-4 knots in a westerly direction approx 1- ½ miles off the coast and
heave to when ordered. Message ends”. Frank later realised that the surveyors
were undertaking an initial survey for the Pluto Pipeline.
Although Betsie Jane’s involvement in the
operation is somewhat miniscule I am searching for any scrap of evidence to
put together a history of Betsie Jane and so any assistance would be very much
(6/05) PLUTO. The
son of Lt Col Howard EVERETT CRE 21st Army HQ E & M (PLUTO) RE Companies
548 & 796, has a lot of un-published and detailed information about these
two companies who ran the European pumping complex after D Day [Cherbough to
Germany . He would consider making it available to a serious enquiry. He would
like to hear from any relatives of the Officers and Men
under his father’s command, before and after the pipe line was laid.
e-mail, write or phone Dr Christopher Everett with details, firstname.lastname@example.org
8 Wetherdown PETERSFIELD GU31 4PN tel 01730203008
Denys Knight and
Mavis Knight (nee Bills)
Far left; PO MM P/MX 517203 Denys Knight. Posted to Force PLUTO, Abatos 2nd May 1944. Drafted to SFV Grampian 5th June 1944, arrived off Port-en-Bessin probably D+2. Returned to ABATOS end of June 1944. Retired from RN 24th December 1945.
WRNS 75525 Mavis Bills (now Knight)
Drafted to HMS Mastodon, Exbury House, New Forest, to supply kit to RM 47 Commando in May 1944. Drafted to ABATOS 3rd June 1944.
Denys and Mavis now live in Fremington Devon and would dearly like to contact or know what happened to - Marjorie and Bill Wright, Mary Batten, Pat Bartlam, Gladys Williamson, Jim Francis and Dennis Gibbons. Please contact Richard Knight (son) by e-mail or phone 01892 549733.
(2/04) PLUTO - Pipeline Under the Ocean. I've just found out that my late grandfather, Norman Kellington, was involved in the design of PLUTO. He was chief engineer at Orthostyle, Brigg Road Works, Ashby, Scunthorpe. He worked there under Admiralty orders to design the floating pipe laying buoys for PLUTO which were manufactured in Scunthorpe and assembled in Tilbury. Much of this information comes from a recently discovered press cutting from the Scunthorpe Star dated May 1977.
I'm trying to find any further information about this aspect of the project or advice on where I might find it. Thanks for your help. (also posted to the website Notice Board page).
Please contact us if you have any information.