PLUTO Fuel Pipelines - the
Pipe Manufacturing Machines
Making the Machines that made
the 'HAIS' Pipelines
Line Under the Ocean (PLUTO) was designed to pump petrol from storage tanks in southern England to the Allied armies in France in the months following D-Day. This page
chronicles one firm's involvement in the top secret project to manufacture the
equipment for the production of the pipeline.
As one of the employees
at David Bridge & Co Ltd (DB & Co), a heavy engineering firm located in the
Castleton suburb of Rochdale, about 10 miles north east of Manchester, WW II saw
us intimately involved with high-priority Government contracts. To set the DB &
Co scene, one section of the firm built and supplied heavy-duty machines for the
rubber processing industry and the then mushrooming plastics and synthetic
rubber processing industry.
[Photo; General view of the rubberised HAIS
pipe being relayed from the hold to stern. © IWM (A 28807).]
Those machines covered the full range, from
hydraulic splitter-presses that sliced bails of raw rubber into chunks, through
the essential Banbury masticating machines, the two-roll mills, the calendaring
equipment, the extruders and almost every item of specialised plant equipment
required by individual rubber processing companies. The client list included all
the tyre manufacturers including those requiring equipment for producing
aircraft tyres for the RAF and bullet-proof tyres for the Army. Other clients
included firms that produced the ebonite battery cases for the Navy's submarine
Another section of the firm supplied hydraulic
presses including, the special vulcanising presses used, for example, in the
production of tyres and the processing of the extra-long colliery conveyor
belts. Yet another section of the company supplied most, if not all, of the UK's
cable production firms with the whole range of plant and equipment for the
production of electric cables. The range extended from fine radio wires to
heavy-duty lead-covered and wire-armoured electricity distribution cables to
suit both underground and undersea environments.
Inevitably, WW II saw some client firms receive
bomb damage by enemy action. In many cases, DB & Co's sturdily built machines
suffered little more than superficial damage, so it became 'run-of-the-mill' for
bomb damaged plant items to pass through the works for repair and refurbishment.
components passed through as replacements for
items that had failed due to war-time's abnormal
wear. Consequently, when an occasional 'peculiar'
item for a cable-machine passed through the works,
it appeared to be yet another 'spares-job' and as
such, those items attracted no more than normal
interest. With the advantage of hindsight, we
later realised that the steady flow of 'peculiar'
cable machine items had formed a series of
progressive modifications to existing cable-making
machines, the outcome of which led to DB & Co
receiving a contract to design and supply six
unusually large machines for producing a special
type of armoured lead cable. As the exceptional
armouring stage had 57 strands of steel wire, the
machines promptly became dubbed as 'THE HEINZ
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.
Glovers Cables, located in Manchester's Trafford
Park Industrial Estate, took delivery of the first Heinz Job, followed later by a
second machine. The remaining four being delivered to a cable firm on the
Thames. We heard via the 'grape-vine' that Glovers machines produced a hollow
cable, effectively an electrical cable minus its core of
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.
Like all war-time projects, the Heinz Jobs
became lost in a veil of secrecy. We gained no 'job-satisfaction', as we had no
way of knowing if the specially built machines had produced a successful product
or whether they had proved to be one of war-times brain-storming schemes that
had failed during field tests and fallen by the wayside.
When, in June 1945, Churchill announced to the
world that petrol had been supplied to the invasion forces via pipelines under
the Channel, we felt certain that it must have flowed through the hollow cables
made by the Heinz Jobs produced by DB & Co. But secrecy continued and our thirst
for 'job satisfaction' remained unquenched. Then, in 1947, we spotted an advert
that announced the showing of a 16mm sound film titled "Job No 99 -- PLUTO --
Pipe Lines Under The Ocean." The 30 minute film proved to be a spectacular
example of British Engineering and left indelible impressions
on my grey matter.
But it also caused a twinge of disappointment. The film showed the entirely
successful production and laying of STEEL pipelines across the Channel, thus
providing a strong hint that the LEAD version had indeed fallen by the wayside.
In due course, the Imperial War Museum provided me with a video version of
their silent film, so both the LEAD and STEEL versions have been combined as
one treasured record of PLUTO. The 'lead' version's production stages include
views of the cable machine in action, each view being readily recognisable as
one of the six Heinz Jobs built by DB & Co.
[Photo; The crew of HMS
SANCROFT cheer at the successful completion of the final pipeline. © IWM (A
Even way back in the late 1980s it became clear that PLUTO's fine details were
very thin on the ground. That is what prompted me to put my personal
recollections and the results of my research on record, otherwise future
generations will find very few of PLUTO's nitty-gritty facts have survived.
the time the two HAIS flexible pipelines and the two HAMEL steel pipelines to
pumping petrol, the Allied armies were moving west towards Paris and Belgium. 11
new HAIS pipelines and 6 HAMEL
pipelines were laid in a swept channel two miles wide between Dungeness and Ambleteuse near Boulogne
to shorten the supply route.
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 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
The 21 pipelines were
vital arteries, which enabled the Allied Air Fleets and Land Forces to maintain
the momentum needed to secure a victory. Moreover, PLUTO obviated the need for
fleets of tankers, sparing their crews the ordeal of concentrated enemy attacks
in congested waters.
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.
Issue 42 (June 2004) of the Archive Magazine (the quarterly
journal for British Industrial and Transport History). An excellent account of
the PLUTO story by the author of this page.
See also main PLUTO page