12th August 1944. Pipeline Under the Channel.

Pluto was the god of the underworld in Roman mythology, was the son of Saturn and brother of Jupiter and Neptune.

By 1942 Pluto had become the acronym of a plan to sink a pipeline under the English Channel as planning was being undertaken for the invasion of Europe in 1944. And just as armies march on their stomachs, in the modern age they also march on oil.

To supply the vital oil and petrol, major difficulties had first to be solved as nothing similar had been attempted before, except the laying of telephone cables. The pipes needed to be pressure resistant and leak-free.

This was the idea picked-up by Arthur Hartley, Chief Engineer of the Anglo Iranian Oil Company, which he based on adapting submarine telephone cables, without the core, and whose idea was accepted when The Minister for Petroleum, Geoffrey William Lloyd met Mountbatten t Chief of Combined Operations.

Pluto pipeline showing different layers.

However this cable known as HAIS, required a lot of lead so an alternative was designed by engineers of Burmah Oil and The Iraq Petroleum Company, known as HAMEL  after the names of their engineers, Hammick and Ellis, using the  less flexible mild steel.

PLUTO  formally started operating from Today in 1944, involving laying over 70 nautical miles (130 km) from Shanklin Chine, Isle of Wight to Cherbourg, using a flexible 3 inch pipe, with a lead core, developed by Siemens Brothers and The National Physics Laboratory.

An alternative pipeline was laid from Dungeness to Calais and like the eventual others, from a network of pipelines stretching to Manchester and Liverpool, supplying the Allied armies moving towards Paris and Belgium.

Conundrum, code-name of the drums around which the HAMEL cable would be wrapped, in preparation for towing behind a tug.

PLUTO wouldn’t have happened for the largely unknown makers of equipment such as Pit-Head Wheel makers, Thompson and Southwick who made the giant drums for the HAMEL pipes which as with the HAIS model, in all required 1000 miles of tubes supplied by Stewarts and Lloyds of Corby.

Other main contractors included BICC Cables of Erith, Glovers Cables of Manchester, Pirelli, Johnson & Phillips and Siemens.

Then there were the cable-ships and tugs, in all 34 vessels; 600 men and all the servicemen engaged on shore. By the end there were 11 HAIS and 6 HAMEL pipelines laid as the need came to shorten supply lines.

The American General, Eisenhower said, ‘that second only to the Mulberry Harbours, was Pluto.(1)

(1) The artificial concrete harbours towed to France.






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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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