~ PLUTO ~
PLUTO, the 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 of 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 generations.
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 innovative solution.
It was known that oil storage facilities located near the English Channel would be 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. This was designed to carry fuel from safer storage and port facilities around Bristol and Liverpool to the English Channel. This network would later be linked to the planned pipeline at Skanklin 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!
The Combined Operations Experimental Establishment (COXE pronounced coxy) was involved in many top-secret projects. These included such diverse tasks as waterproofing vehicles, removing underwater obstacles, testing landing craft under a variety of sea and beach conditions and to this 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 - a culture which 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 powerful forces.
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 which were conducted in the Clyde estuary.
The 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. In addition it was 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 number of 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 and did not require highly qualified engineers and sophisticated equipment. Siemen's 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 left.]
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, Anglo/Iranian 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 fast single 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.
The 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.
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 PLUTO Machinery]. 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 huge bulks 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 square inch.
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.
Also 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.
The manufacture 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 https://www.youtube..com/watch?v=_N1UHU3z44U
In his 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 pipe-lines were vital arteries, which enabled the Allied Air Fleets and Land Forces to maintain the vital momentum needed to secure 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 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 handling equipment.
A number of 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.]
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. [Photo; pipelines 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 ashore."
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 Boulogne.
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.
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 1943/44.
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 Sandycroft. 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 1963.
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 pipes.
HMRT Bustler - 3200 indicated horsepower ahead.
HMRT Marauder - 3000 indicated horsepower ahead.
HMRT Danube V a smaller craft astern of the two above to facilitate steering of the tow.
S/S Empire Ridley as per PLUTO Fleet
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 recovery ships.
On This Website;
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 information.
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 &, 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 Online 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 October.
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... http://www.epsomandewellhistoryexplorer.org.uk/PlutoPipeline.html
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 http://www.greatstone.net/history/pluto.htm
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 old! [Ed].
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.
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 tons.
Without the knowledge gained during the PLUTO project, these modern solutions to laying pipes on the seabed might never have been created.
Craig Lang BSc (Eng) PE
Pumping 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 Roper.
I remember seeing photographs of the huge empty reels that looked like ‘’cotton bobbins’’ abandoned on the beach and of the massive array of pipework leading from the pumping houses. These were taken later in the war when the risk from the Luftwaffe had presumably diminished.
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 us.]
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 bookshops.]
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.
Anne E. Beveridge
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 appreciated.
(6/05) PLUTO. Son of Lt Col Howard EVERETT CRE 21st Army HQ E & M (PLUTO) Companies 548 & 796, wishes to contact all Officers and men under his command before and after the pipe line was laid. Please e-mail, write or phone Dr Christopher Everett with details, 47 Church Lane, Holybourne, ALTON Hants GU34 4HD, tel 01420 549 666.
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)
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.