Home       All Pages Index        Search        Membership         Donate           Memorial          Roll of Honour

  They Also Served      Notice Boards       Books       External Links        FAQs       About Us         Contact Us


Memorial donations of around £27,500 funded construction, dedication and routine ground maintenance in perpetuity.

  Donate here to a small contingency fund to repair and maintain the memorial structures as and when required.

Geoffrey Nathaniel Pyke; 1894 -1948.

"Not a scientist, but a man of a vivid and uncontrollable imagination"

Geoffrey Nathaniel Pyke; 1894 -1948.A short account of the life and times of Geoffrey Nathaniel Pyke, variously described as a genius, an eccentric and less flattering names too. However, it is beyond question that he was a one man think tank, who had the 'ear' of Churchill and Mountbatten.

The Pre WW2 Years

Described by Lord Zuckerman as "not a scientist, but a man of a vivid and uncontrollable imagination, and a totally uninhibited tongue."

During WW1, Pyke informed the Daily Chronicle that he planned to go to Berlin to send back dispatches to the paper. On arrival, he soon came to the attention of the German authorities, who, apparently, considered shooting him as a spy but decided instead to intern him in a camp. Accompanied by another Englishman, he escaped back to England where the Daily Chronicle turned him into a public hero! He subsequently wrote  a book about his exploits and undertook numerous lectures and talks.

After WW1, he dabbled in the Stock Market making a small fortune, which he used to fund his own school. It was the antithesis of his own experience of education, when he was bullied, because he was a Jew, because his mother insisted on a special diet for him and because he wore different clothes from the other boys. The pupils at Pyke's school were never punished, reprimanded or forced to study any particular subjects. They were, however, encouraged to develop an enquiring mind and to find things out for themselves. It worked better than many expected but the school was forced to close when the funds ran out.

During the Spanish Civil War, he fitted Harley-Davidson motorbikes with sidecars designed to carry hot food to the front line and casualties back for treatment. He also proposed to save coal by fitting bicycle pedals and appropriate transmissions to shunting engines! These were but portents of what was to come.

In 1939, as the prospect of war seemed more and more inevitable, he recruited 10 students to undertake a clandestine public opinion poll of German citizens. His students, posing as golfers, conducted informal interviews whenever opportunities arose. The preliminary results showed that most Germans were against war but, before Pyke could submit the results to Hitler, war was declared when Germany invaded Poland.


The Romanian Oilfields. Pyke was recruited to the Combined Operations Command's think-tank, where his uninhibited mind considered problems and issues presented to him. An early scenario concerned Commando raids to destroy strongly defended Romanian oilfields. In readiness for this, Commandos were deployed to Turkey on low profile duties to allow them to strike at short notice if/when the order was given.

Pyke's suggestions included; 1) using a team of dogs to howl like wolves causing the guards to flee in fear of their lives, 2) providing copious supplies of alcohol for the guards to reduce their efficiency. This would be achieved by releasing dogs carrying small barrels of brandy around their necks, St Bernard-style and 3) diverting the guard's attention from security to the prospect of sex by deploying a team of women in the area. Meantime, numerous small fires would be started around the oilfields, giving the Commandos the opportunity to drive around unchallenged, disguised as Romanian firemen in replica fire-engines. Rather than dousing fires, they would spread them by deploying small, timed incendiary bombs through their fire hoses.

COM_PHOTOS/GEOFFREY PYKE.jpgThe Motorised Sledge. The sledge would carry heavy loads across snow, controlled through reins by a soldier walking behind. In the event of the sledge falling into a crevasse, the driver would just let go! However, this left the driver exposed to gunfire and the elements, so most operators preferred to ride inside the vehicle and to take their chances with crevasses.

The motorised sledge could easily be adapted to a torpedo or other explosive mobile device and used tactically in particular situations. For example, it could be driven slowly up a slope, tempting the enemy to investigate. The torpedo could then be released to roll down the hill onto the Germans and blow them up! 

[Photo; The M29 Studebaker Weasel, in service with the US Army in WW2, was designed in Ottawa and based on an original idea of Geoffrey Pyke.]

Furthermore, to prevent the Germans from tampering with any sledge they came across, each could carry a warning, in German, advising finders to keep clear of the "secret Gestapo death ray", or "Officers' Latrine for Colonels only" on the premise that all Germans obeyed orders!

Pyke was sent to America to experiment with his motorised sledges in the Rocky Mountains, where his scruffy appearance must have raised a few eyebrows. He was tall with a straggly beard, unkempt clothes and no socks. However, there was an imperative at the time to develop Pyke's motorised sledge ideas, as the following extract from the 'Ottawa Rewind' website, explains.

"During World War 2, the chief industrial threat was the creation of heavy water used in the German atomic weapon research at Rjukan in Norway. In March 1942, an eccentric British inventor by the name of Geoffrey Pyke proposed an idea called Project Plough to Lord Louis Mountbatten, Chief of Combined Operations Headquarters in England. This idea would see Allied commandos parachuted into Norwegian mountains to establish a base on glaciers for commando attacks against the German army stationed there. These troops would be equipped with a radical new snow vehicle to disarm the Nazis and prevent Hitler from further developing nuclear capabilities. The special forces would require a snow vehicle that would be light enough to be carried in aircraft and dropped by parachute and be durable, powerful and able to climb through all types of snow."

More information from the Ottawa Rewind website.

Project Habakkuk and Pykrete. Habakkuk was to be an enormous aircraft carrier half a mile long, with a hull 30 foot thick made from a frozen mixture of water and wood pulp, which was infinitely stronger than ice alone, more stable and less inclined to melt. A ship made from this frozen material, which later became known as 'Pykrete', would be virtually unsinkable. A torpedo, for example, would only cause relatively minor damage to the outside, which could be quickly repaired. Pipes circulating cold air would keep the hull permanently frozen.

Huge ice ships, clad in timber or cork, would superficially look much like ordinary ships but several times the length of the Queen Mary, the largest ship of the time. They would serve as transporters and aircraft carriers, while smaller ships would be adapted to attack enemy ports. One plan envisaged the capture of enemy warships by spraying them with super-cooled water, encasing them in ice and forcing them to surrender. Using blocks of Pykrete, a barrier would be constructed around the port, making it an impregnable fortress. From there, special teams would spread out into the countryside, spraying railway tunnels with super-cooled water to seal them up and paralyse transport.

Lord Mountbatten, head of Combined Ops, took the idea to Churchill. He dropped a lump of Pykrete into his hot bath to demonstrate its resistance to melting. Mountbatten later demonstrated its superior strength to a group of generals at the Quebec Conference. Mountbatten then demonstrated its impregnability by firing at the Pykrete block. The bullet just ricocheted off the solid lump to the danger of everyone present!

A experimental ice ship was built on a Canadian lake. Full story here.

A People Pipeline. An idea for a pipeline for pumping men and equipment from ship to shore, or across difficult terrain.

Pyke often worked from his bed to make the most of his waking hours. He would hold bedside conferences in his Hampstead flat among piles of papers, bottles and other debris. After the war, he helped the fledgling National Health Service solve staffing problems, wrote articles and broadcasts on radio, hoping to capture the interest of influential people. However, he wasn't successful in this and he became increasingly pessimistic about the world. One evening, in the winter of 1948, he shaved off his beard and swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills, ending a quite remarkable life at the young age of 54.

Mountbatten's Appreciation

In October 1943 Mountbatten left Combined Operations Headquarters for the Far East. On his last day in charge of Combined Operations he wrote to Pyke...

Combined Operations Headquarters
1a Richmond Terrace
Whitehall SW1

Dear Pyke,

I am leaving C.O.H.Q. today and feel that I must write to thank you for all you have done for me during the past eighteen months.

You must feel proud to think that the force, the creation of which you originally suggested to me in March 1942, has become such a vital necessity in the coming stage of the war that General Eisenhower and the C-in-C Middle East are vying between them to try to obtain the services of this force, probably the most bold and imaginative scheme of this war, and owing its inception to you. It is still too secret to refer to it in a letter of this nature, but one day I feel that you will be able to look with pride on this child of your imagination.

My Chief Planners told me that you have on more than one occasion contributed valuable suggestions to their plans and in general I consider that the original thoughts which you have contributed to this Headquarters have been of the utmost value to the war effort.

I am arranging for you to help the Director of Plans, Admiralty after I leave.

Your sincerely

Louis Mountbatten

Further Reading

See Ice Ships in the Rockies on this website.

Eccentric Lives & Peculiar Notions, by John Mitchell (Citadel Press/Thames & Hudson, ISBN 0-8065-1031-5)
Timpson's English Eccentrics, by John Timpson (Jarrold, ISBN 0-7117-0559-3 hardback, 0-7117-0683-2 paperback)
Pyke, the Unknown Genius, by David Lampe (1959).

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.Back to top butten.

News & Information

Photo of single poppy.About Us

Background to the website and memorial project and a look to the future; plus other small print stuff and website accounts etc. Click here for information.

Photo of single poppy.

Featured Links; Combined Ops Heritage; 40 D Day Stories & Combined Operations Jigsaw Challenge


Photo of single poppy.Remember a Veteran

Pay a personal tribute to veterans who served in, or alongside, the Combined Operations Command in WW2 by adding their details and optional photo to our Roll of Honour or They Also Served pages on this website, which include the Combined Operations prayer.

Facebook button.


Visit our Facebook page about the Combined Operations Command in appreciation of our WW2 veterans. You are welcome to add information, photos and comment or reply to messages posted by others.

Photo of single poppy.Events and Places to Visit

Organisers: Reach the people who will be interested to know about your Combined Operations or war related event by adding it to our  webpage free of charge. Everyone else: Visit our webpage for information on events and places to visit. If you know of an event or place of interest, that is not listed, please let us know. To notify an event or place of interest, click here. To visit the webpage click here.

Photo of single poppy.Find Books of Interest 

Search for Books direct from our Books page. Don't have the name of a book in mind? Just type in a keyword to get a list of possibilities... and if you want to purchase you can do so on line through the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE).

Photo of single poppy.Combined Operations Handbook (Far East)

The handbook was prepared for Combined Operations in the Far East. It illustrates the depth and complexity of the planning process necessary to ensure that the 3 services worked together as a unified force.

Photo of single poppy.New to Combined Ops?

Visit Combined Operations Explained for an easy introduction to this complex subject.

Copyright © 2000 to 2022 inclusive [www.combinedops.com.] All rights reserved.