Pavior Court Assistant John Nutt gave an illustrated talk via Zoom to 30 Paviors and their families on Tuesday 08 December. John is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Engineer and Logistics Staff Corps that is a reserve unit within the Royal Engineers. He had given an earlier version of this talk to the Corps in Normandy in 2018. ​

On D-Day in June 1944, 156,000 troops were landed on the Normandy beaches. Within four weeks of this, the number of troops had risen to 1.16 million. Mulberry Harbours had been built in Britain and floated across the channel to Normandy to receive the huge number of supplies needed to support this operation. The amount of fuel needed each day was 10,000 tonnes, a quarter of the total supplies. Well before D-Day in 1942, Louis Mountbatten, Head of Britain’s Combined Operations realized that the supply of this fuel by tanker would be very vulnerable to Luftwaffe operations. He therefore conceived the idea of running a pipeline under the Channel to supply fuel when the Allies invaded Europe. Recognizing that such a pipeline would be very difficult to achieve technically, the challenge was taken up by British engineers, oil companies and the military. This was known as ‘Operation Pluto’.

The initial concept was to lay a three-inch steel pipeline. However, after trials, this was rejected because the steel only had a life of about six weeks in the harsh underwater environment where it was placed. Instead, technology was ‘borrowed’ from the design of underwater telephone cables to construct an armoured pipe that became known as a ‘HAIS’ cable. Early trials were made with cable-laying ships and it was found that a pressure of 250psi was needed in the pipe to stop it buckling. Eventually, this pressure was raised to 1,500psi under operational conditions. After capture of Cherbourg in August 1944, four pipelines were laid – two of steel and of two of lead-HAIS – and a total of 250 miles were laid from the Isle of Wight to enable fuel to be pumped to Cherbourg in September. With the rapid advance of the Allies in the Par de Calais area, it was possible to lay a further 500 miles through 17 pipelines – eight of steel and nine of HAIS – on the much shorter crossing from Dungeness to Boulogne

Great secrecy surrounded the operation and a result of this was that the factories manufacturing the cables (never referred to as pipes) were never bombed. The pumping stations on the shoreline were camouflaged as beach houses and ice cream parlours, which proved to be a successful deception. Fuel was imported to Britain through Liverpool, and transported to Dungeness and the Isle of Wight via two pipelines. On the Isle of Wight, the route of the pipeline was marked by concrete posts, disguised as stiles – many of which are still visible today. As the Allied troops advanced, pipelines were built across Europe to support the operation. By the end of the war, one million gallons were being pumped each day.

This proved to be a fascinating talk on a subject about which few of the audience had any knowledge. It was well-illustrated and thanks are due to John Nutt for his interesting and enjoyable presentation. ​