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PLUTO - Pipeline Under the Ocean.

21 Fuel Pipelines Under the English Channel to France in WW2.


PLUTO, the WW2 Pipeline Under the Ocean (the English Channel really), was designed to supply fuel from storage tanks in southern England to the Allied armies in France, without which any territorial gains would soon be lost. This page tells the story of the planning, development, testing and installation of the 21 pipelines and their contribution to the war effort.

[Photo; In the main control room at Dungeness. Captain J F Hutchings, RN, Senior Naval Officer Commanding Force "PLUTO" explaining the workings of the control panel which monitored the amount of fuel passing through each pipe line to France. Captain Hutchings developed the PLUTO concept.  © IWM (A 28818).]

A reliable supply of fuel 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 fuel, 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 opportunity to regroup and counter-attack.

Conventional oil 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. They were easy targets for the Luftwaffe. The idea of a pipeline under the English Channel was an innovative solution that stretched the boundaries of knowledge.

Oil 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 an early priority and 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 of 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 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.

Design Specifications

Early designs envisaged the creation of 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.

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. 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 also been sub-contracted to manufacture some of the pipelines.

[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017.]

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.

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 conveyed nothing to the enemy. Furthermore, the use of the words pipe and pipeline was forbidden, all concerned with the project being encouraged to think of cables rather than pipes.

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.

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.

Pipeline Manufacture

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.] The massive scale of the project is conveyed by Henley's consumption of 8,000 tons of lead, 5,600 tons of steel wire and strip and large quantities of other materials. Transporting and handling these exceptionally heavy cargoes, under war conditions, was an enormous task in which the close cooperation of suppliers was paramount in making 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. In regular use it could operate safely at a pressure of 1,500 lbs per square inch and was tested to destruction at a pressure of 3,500 lbs per square inch, leaving a considerable safety margin.

Glovers Cables, located in Manchester's Trafford Park Industrial Estate, took delivery of the first purpose built HAIS pipeline manufacturing machine, followed later by a second. The remaining four were delivered to a cable firm on the Thames. There was speculation that the Glovers machines produced a hollow high voltage electrical cable minus its core of electrical conductors. The machines produced the cable in unprecedented lengths that required an overhead conveyor, with cable hauling units, to deliver the completed pipes directly to cable-ships, berthed on the Manchester Ship Canal alongside Trafford Park, or to be stored in huge coils alongside the canal wharf for later shipment. The structures required to do this formed an unmistakable local landmark that extended from the end of Glovers works to the canal.

Also involved in the production was British Insulated Callender's Cables (BICC) of Erith, Kent, England and USA firms General Electric, Phelps-Dodge, Okonite Callenders and General Cable. Of the 710 miles of PLUTO pipeline manufactured, 140 came from the USA.

[Photo; Laying the pipeline: A 'conundrum', loaded with a HAMEL steel pipe, is ready to be towed across the Channel. As the conundrum spun in the water the pipe uncoiled. © IWM (T 54).]

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 the 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.

One hundred and sixty-two days after Phelps Dodge Copper Products Corporation had took on 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."

Pipe-Laying Operations

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.

[Photo; General view of the rubberised HAIS  pipe being relayed from the hold to stern. © IWM (A 28807).]

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.

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 with the ability to pump oil to the shore for storage. 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.]

Photos l to r; 1. Operation Pluto 'Minor'  initially pumped fuel from tankers a mile or so off-shore. 2. When Port en Bessin fell to the Allies, fuel was pumped directly from berthed tankers. 3. 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. 4. 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. 5. 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. 6. 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 at Cherbourg. The pipe 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. 

[Photo; pipelines arriving on the Isle of Wight from Hampshire courtesy of John Farthing.]

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. 

"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 Isle of Wight, 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."

[Photo; The crew of HMS SANCROFT cheer at the successful completion of the final pipeline. © IWM (A 28812).]

By the time the two HAIS flexible pipelines and the two HAMEL steel pipelines to Cherbourg were 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 across the English Channel 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 Captain Hutchings.

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.

Major Vessels Used

Pipe Layers

Empire Ridley (HMS Latimer)

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.

Empire Baffin (HMS Sancroft0

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 1963.

HMS Holdfast

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.

[Photo; HMS Holdfast football team 1943/44 with names o thumbnail below.]

HMS Algerian

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

Inshore craft comprised the coastal motor barges Brittanic, Oceanic and Runic and the twin screw barges Goldbell and Goldrift.

Hopper Barge

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 when a cable drum of 48 feet diameter was positioned in her 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!

Conun Drums

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.

The Salvage Fleet

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.

When the PLUTO project was finally disbanded in 1945, its Senior Naval Officer Commanding Force PLUTO, Captain J F Hutchings, wrote a letter of appreciation and good wishes to his men. This particular copy was received by Charlie Bradshaw, who served aboard HMS Latimer for a couple of years or so. Charlie passed away in 2016 and always spoke fondly of his time on the Latimer.

Land Based Operations UK

In order l - r; 1. Beachside bungalows were used as pumping stations... 2. This photo before work started half way through the conversion. 3. Following camouflage. 4. A Mather and Platt pump in one of the bungalows. 5. The pumping control room. 6. PLUTO pump station installation team (see correspondence below).Most of the innovative work was on the design, development and testing of the submerged pipelines. However, this does not diminish the scale or importance of the land based preparatory work, particularly in southern England. The engineers, scientists and Army personnel provided storage tanks, a pipeline distribution network and pumping stations, where the pipelines entered the English Channel. The 1943/44 photos, below, of the pumping station at Dungeness, on the Kent coast, were supplied by Gordon Stirling.

The army, in the guise of the Royal Engineers, Royal Army Service Corp, Pioneer Corp and the Royal Canadian Engineers were all involved in laying the pipelines over land.

Land Based Operations Mainland Europe

Stan Mould writes... My father, Captain Hubert Alfred Hill Mould, Officer Commanding the No 1 Welding Platoon, Royal Engineers, worked on the western HAMEL steel pipelines from Cherbourg and the eastern pipelines from Calais to Emmerich. The cartoon sketches below record their progress in a humorous yet informative way. On that journey, he met my mother at Aalst, just south of Eindhoven, where the platoon were billeted for some time pending the Allies push into Germany. They married in June 1945 and returned to the UK in time for her birthday the following month.

[In this colourised photo of the No 1 Welding Platoon of the Royal Engineers, the colour of the uniforms may not be accurate. The Commanding Officer, seated front row, is Captain Hubert Alfred Hill Mould.]

Operation Wellhit, the battle for the liberation of Boulogne, commenced on the 17th November, 1944 and was completed by the 22nd. The way was then clear for the  17 PLUTO pipelines from Dungeness to be laid down and for construction of the land lines that would eventually extend to Emmerich in Germany, 250 miles (410k) to the north east.

The cartoon style sketches of the recruitment, training and operations of the No 1 Welding Platoon, Royal Engineers, provide a light-hearted and humorous insight into memorable events during their 17 months of service on the PLUTO pipeline project. The significance of the D Day + references and the scattering of place names, apparently out of sequence, remain ambiguous.

1. Western Map including Cherbourg & Port en Bressin.
2. Front cover of booklet.
3. Recruitment & Training. Tendring is a district in NE Essex, clearly of some significance.
4. Arrival at Port en Bessin in Normandy. Confined for a while, 1st recce under battle conditions. Place names mentioned - Marquise, Lier, Aalst, Glendringen and Cleve (Kleve?)
5. The daily grind - places mentioned Arromanches, Antwerp and Materborn.
6. HQ - places mentioned - Bayeux, Linth, Aalst & Materborn.
7. Celebrations at Eeklo, Belguim in the summer of 1945. Job done, hostilities over, home and demob imminent. The wedding bells are a symbol of Captain Mould's marriage.
8. Eastern map including Calais, Antwerp and Aalst.

Further Reading

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. They, or any other books you know about, can be purchased on-line from the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE). Their search banner link, on our 'Books' page, checks the shelves of thousands of book shops world-wide. Just 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.

Other Sources;

Stewart & Lloyd Film of their manufacturing process - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIYS_9EI5j0

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  Online Catalogue. Copies of documents can be ordered on line.


This account is based on information provided by Capt. FA 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 EA Beavis, BSc, AIMEE published in Seimens Brothers Engineering Bulletin No 224 dated January 1946.

Places to Visit

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.

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.

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


Did you know that the PLUTO pipeline runs through the Dudmaston estate, a 17th-century country house in the care of the National Trust in the Severn Valley, Shropshire, England?

The pipeline was an ingenious way of providing fuel to troops operating in France during the Second World War. In all, over 700 miles of pipe were laid under the English Channel during 1944 to support Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944. An estimated 172 million gallons of oil were supplied during the landings — all underwater and under the Germans’ noses.

Sections of the pipe were re-laid and re-aligned in 1978, with the National Trust and Lady Labouchere making sure that no damage was done to the land or property.

Ann Sadler

 Room Guide and Research Volunteer

PLUTO - Bernard J Ellis

Dear Geoff,

I wanted to thank you for posting my call for material on the Combined Operations website (see below), it has resulted in many descendants of engineers and military personnel who worked on both PLUTO and Mulberry getting in touch with me. 

My PhD has one year left to run and I was hoping that I might be able to send you another post for the Combined Operations site. It is in regards to PLUTO. I have been trying to track down the descendants of the three principle PLUTO engineers and I have found the families of two. The one which is missing is that of Bernard J Ellis. I was hoping that a post on the Combined Ops website might result in a connection being made with the descendants of Ellis.

Very best wishes and stay safe,


Email: jacob.tl@aol.co.uk

Contact No: 07796284894

Jacob Thomas-Llewellyn


Operation OVERLORD - PLUTO Pipelines & Mulberry Harbours

I am a PhD student currently undertaking my doctoral research with the University of Reading at the Department of History. My project focuses on the design and manufacture of the Mulberry Harbours and the Pipeline Under The Ocean (PLUTO). This is an appeal for any material including letters, company papers, blueprints, photos, diaries etc. relating to these projects. Of particular interest are any records relating to the work of the military planning department Transportation 5 (TN5) and the principle planning staff responsible for PLUTO. Additionally, any material pertaining to the relationship between the military and the political establishment during the preparation for Operation OVERLORD would be gratefully received.  I can be contacted at the following:

Email: jacob.tl@aol.co.uk

Contact No: 07796284894

Jacob Thomas-Llewellyn

Hi Geoff

From 1966 I worked in the Department of Research & Technical Development at Stewarts & Lloyds in Corby. The chief metallurgist for the company (which had many offshoots in England, Wales and Scotland) was at the 'top of the tree' in the development of the steel pipeline. He was instrumental in the selection of the most suitable steel composition along with the correct properties for its use. His name was Paul Whittaker, a very quiet and reserved man. I have never seen any credit for what he contributed to the PLUTO project without which the main 'pipes' could not have been manufactured and successfully deployed.

John Richards

Dear Geoff,

My great grandfather, Joseph Gray, was a war artist in WW1 and a camouflage officer in WW2. He invented a kind of camouflage material called steel wool that was used to cover some of the storage tanks and pipes of PLUTO.

[Photo; Steel wool in use camouflaging two infantrymen. 11 November 1940 © IWM (H 5464).]

Joe served in WW1 in the Black Watch and after he was invalided out became war artist to the Graphic newspaper. During the thirties, his growing anxiety about the power of the Luftwaffe and the threat of an aerial assault, prompted him to write a book about camouflage. He begin searching for a tough new camouflage material that could mimic the effect of vegetation and be rolled over sites of importance to disguise and hide them. He was recruited by the Royal Engineers to work on the concealment of War Office sites and Royal Ordinance factories and the like. By 1939 he had developed a new steel wool camouflage material - a sample of which can be found in the Imperial War Museum. 

Steel wool was tough and durable and could be painted any colour to match the vegetation and was widely used when concealing the pipes and tanks for Pluto on the Isle of Wight. It also made a good canopy to hide men at work. Eugene Mollo and Ashley Havinden  worked together on the Isle of Wight camouflaging all the sites, with help from Peregrine Churchill, nephew of the PM. Peregrine was an engineer by training and an adviser to the Air Ministry on camouflage and with Mollo became quite the expert on making large scale static covers - for which he favoured steel wool. Although steel wool was expensive compared to basic camouflage nets, is was longer-lasting and really ideal for the Pluto sites.

Best wishes,

Mary Horlock

[Mary has written a book about her great grandfather called "Joseph Gray's Camouflage" which includes a chapter on PLUTO. Antony Gormley writes ‘This beautiful and moving book tells the story of an artist who became skilled in painting as a way of hiding things in plain sight, and who ultimately hid even himself from the world. It shows how painting can reveal truth and at the same time disguise it. Gripping and sharp, it is a brilliant exposure of creativity in the arena of death’ Hardcover: 352 pages; Publisher: Unbound (22 Mar. 2018); Language: English; ISBN-10: 1783524685 & ISBN-13: 978-1783524686.]

Corby's Contribution to PLUTO

Dear Geoff,

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.

The video material draws heavily on the 1946 film ‘Job 99’ but also has much newly shot HD images of the Isle of Wight artefacts.

Though 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

Paul (5/08)

Recollections of Veteran Philip Greengrass. 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 damage.

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 aged 90.

My best wishes.

Philip Greengrass.

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 or information. 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 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.   

 John Parker

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 pipe-work 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.

Gordon Stirling

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 Farthing.

[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.

 Many thanks

Paul Rainbird

(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. 

Please e-mail, write or phone Dr Christopher Everett with details, cbga.everett@gmail.com   8 Wetherdown PETERSFIELD GU31 4PN tel 01730203008

(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).