PLUTO in Fawley, Hampshire.
Pipe Line Under The Ocean
PLUTO, the WW2 Pipe
Line Under The Ocean, had a sizeable network of
storage tanks, pumping stations and pipelines in southern England to ensure an
adequate supply of fuel could be pumped to the Allied armies as they advanced
across occupied mainland Europe and into Germany. There were many essential
elements to the successful outcome of the war on the western front, but none was
more critical than the supply of fuel. This is an account of one tiny part of
that network as remembered by a local resident, then a young boy.
[Map courtesy of
David Ride grew up
in Fawley, Hampshire, during the war years and beyond. It was then a small rural
community within easy walking distance of Southampton Water along relatively
quiet country roads. Today it's a bustling town of 15,000 with the largest
oil refinery in the UK on its doorstep. The origins of the refining industry in Fawley were much more modest when, in 1921, the AGWI (Atlantic
Gulf and West Indies Petroleum Company)
was established. In 1926 it was taken over by a larger operator and
has seen numerous expansions since then.
During the war there were real concerns amongst the locals that the Germans
would bomb the refinery. It was a legitimate target for their bombers but the
only damage sustained was to the chancel of an ancient local church, courtesy of
the Italians. These are
David's childhood recollections of those times in general and the PLUTO storage tanks, pipelines and pumping
station in particular.
Being close to one
of the major embarkation points on the south coast of England, Fawley and its
surrounding areas witnessed the transit of troops and their military equipment.
It was quite an exciting time for the children in the area, who had little
understanding of the reality of war. In those days David lived near the middle
of Long Copse, between The Kennels at Holbury and Rollestone
Crossroads, in a bungalow then called Merryoak.
He recalls that
American troops were camped along Long Copse Road for a couple of weeks before
D-Day. Their living conditions were primitive and many slept under their
vehicles, where they were parked. To ease their discomfort his mother opened up
her garage, which soon metamorphosed into a clubhouse, where they played cards,
smoked Camel cigarettes and read their ‘American comics’ which, curiously, had
an unfamiliar, characteristic smell. Suddenly, they were gone and everyone knew D-Day had
come. In the weeks ahead, British troops were followed by more Americans,
each taking their places in
the embarkation queue for nearby Lepe Beach. Later, yellow
boxes were painted on the road to define parking places for individual vehicles
such as tanks and half-tracks.
One unit, comprised
entirely of black American troops with white officers in charge, stood out
from all the others. In those days institutional racism was rife and these
troops were considered unfit for combat roles, so were assigned to support and
engineering duties. They were a great source of interest to the children, most
of whom had never seen a black man before. The men were friendly and cheerful
and much liked by the local community but, like all who had proceeded them, they
were gone within a week, leaving little evidence that they had ever existed.
Lepe Beach was not
just an embarkation point for the invasion force. It also had the distinction of being the site where six B2 breakwater, Phoenix,
caissons were constructed. The remains of the 400
metres long platform and rail-tracks are clearly visible today. Two of the
caissons, for whatever reasons, were not used, since they were moored well off the beach at Calshot
for a long while after the war. Knowing how meticulous was the planning for
Operation Neptune (the amphibious phase of Operation Overlord) and Operation
Overlord itself, it would be unsurprising if these were spares!
There were many
wartime installations in the area, including the storage tanks used for the
Pluto project. They were located at the end of Badminston Lane just off
the Fawley to Calshot Road in an area generally known as The Common. It was
largely open heath-land, much like the New Forest, covered with
heather and gorse. The soil in the area was a mixture of sand and gravel, which
has, in more recent times, led to extraction on a grand scale.
Half way along
Badminston Lane, on the south side, was a small sentry post constructed of
filled sandbags. There was also a gate made of girders and barbed wire that
could cordon off the road if necessary. Similar gates were erected at three
places along Copthorne Lane in Fawley, presumably to shut off access to the
Refinery. These positions would not have provided a strong defence against even a
light mechanised assault but the sentries were no doubt in telephone or radio contact with a
local command and control centre.
At the end of
Badminston Lane, on the left, was a moderately sized red brick and slate
building with aerial masts nearby, suggesting it may have been a relay or radio
station, The down lead from the aerial array entered the building though a huge
pane of yellow glass set high up in the wall. Its purpose is unknown but it may
have been used for
communications by the nearby RAF Calshot or some local command and control
centre. It was turned into a primary school after the war and is now (2012) a
car breakers business. There were wooden hutments in the field to the east
of it, most likely for accommodation or stores.
The Pluto tanks
were located beyond this brick building. The tanks measured about 180 metres by
100 metres and stood about three or four metres high. They were covered over
with soil and sand taken from an adjacent area to the SW of the tank compound
and then grassed over to conceal their position and purpose. The removal of the
sand and gravel left a huge scar on the landscape about a metre deep and required
to be camouflaged. This was achieved by lopping off the top 2 metres of pine
trees, positioning them in the manner of plantation trees and securing them in
position with wooden pegs and galvanised
iron wire. They soon became a local feature as a forest of small dead tree
The tanks were
housed in a lozenge shaped compound about 280 metres by 170 metres, surrounded
by a high green fence made of creased iron strips with the tops splayed out to
form a trident of spikes. A small concrete building stood inside the gate, with
pipe connections similar to those used by tanker lorries.
The beginning of
the PLUTO pipeline ran some 500 metres to the WSW from the compound to the pump
at the eastern edge of Mopley Pond. Mopley Pond was formed in the mists of time
by damming the valley, where two streams met. A course of four-inch glazed
earthenware sewer pipes, mostly laid on the surface, ran from the direction of
the tanks towards Mopley Pond but it's by no means certain what they contained.
All traces of the PLUTO pipeline were removed during post war salvage operations,
so no evidence now exists of its precise route. However, it's possible it
followed the above route, since the earthenware pipes would have provided protection
for the pipeline within.
The pump-house was
constructed of corrugated iron with a gabled tin roof and double doors in the
end. To all intents and purposes it looked like a domestic garage. Its position
near the pond suggests that the water was used to keep the pumping engine
cool. The supply of fuel from the storage tanks to the nearby pump house may have been
gravity fed, because there was a ten metre head between the pond and the tanks.
All that is left today is the concrete base and even this is overgrown with vegetation.
From Mopley to
Stone Point on the Lepe foreshore is a straight run of 3.25 kilometres. The
Pluto pipeline then ran underwater across the Solent to Thorness Bay on the Isle of Wight and thence across the Island to Shanklin Chine, where it
the Channel to the Cherbourg Peninsular.
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PLUTO The Project
PLUTO Pipeline Manufacturing Machines
We're grateful to
David Ride for providing the information on which this article is based. The
text was approved by him prior to publication. Inevitably there's much informed
guesswork and speculation in this article but it does provide a useful record of
the existence of a long forgotten local wartime project. If anyone can add to
our knowledge of this PLUTO installation, or any other similar
installations, please get in touch using the 'contact us' link at the top of the