Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Operation Pluto (Pipe-Lines Under The Ocean) was a World War II operation by British scientists, oil companies and armed forces to construct undersea oil pipelines under the English Channel between England and France. The scheme was developed by AC Hartley, chief engineer with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, after Admiral Louis Mountbatten initiated the concept. Allied forces on the European continent required a tremendous amount of fuel; pipelines were considered necessary to relieve dependence on oil tankers, which could be slowed by bad weather, were susceptible to German submarines, and were also needed in the Pacific War.
Two types of pipeline were developed; the flexible HAIS pipe with a 3 inch (75 mm) diameter lead core, weighing around 55 long tons per nautical mile (30 Mg/km), was essentially a development by Siemens Brothers (in conjunction with the National Physical Laboratory) of their existing undersea telegraph cables, and known as HAIS from Hartley-Anglo-Iranian-Siemens. The second type was a less flexible steel pipe of similar diameter, developed by engineers from the Iraq Petroleum Company and the Burmah Oil Company , known as HAMEL from the contraction of the two chief engineers, HA Hammick and BJ Ellis. It was discovered in testing that the HAMEL pipe was best used with final sections of HAIS pipe each end.
The first prototypes were tested in May 1942 (across the River Medway), and in June in deep water across the Firth of Clyde, before going into production. Due to capacity limitations in the UK, some HAIS pipeline was also manufactured in the USA.
After full-scale testing of a 45 nautical mile (93 km) HAIS pipe between Swansea in Wales and Watermouth in Cornwall, the first line to France was laid on August 12, 1944 over the 70 nautical miles (130 km) from the Isle of Wight through the English Channel to Cherbourg. A further HAIS pipe and two HAMELs followed. As the fighting moved closer to Germany 17 other lines (11 HAIS and 6 HAMEL) were laid from Dungeness to Ambleteuse in the Pas-de-Calais.
The PLUTO Pipelines were linked to pump stations on the English coast housed in various inconspicuous buildings including cottages and garages. Though uninhabited these were intended to cloak the real purpose of the buildings. In England, the PLUTO pipelines were supplied by a 1,600 km (1,000 statute mile) network of pipelines (constructed at night to prevent detection by aerial reconnaissance) to transport fuel from ports including Liverpool and Bristol. In Europe, the pipelines were extended as the troops moved forward, and eventually reached as far as the Rhine.
In January 1945 300 long tons (300 Mg) of fuel were pumped to France, which increased tenfold to 3,000 long tons (3000 Mg) in March. In total over 781 million litres (over 172 million imperial gallons) of gasoline had been pumped to the allied forces in Europe by VE day, providing a critical supply of fuel until a more permanent arrangement was made, although the pipeline remained in operation for some time after.
Along with the Mulberry Harbours that were constructed immediately after D-Day, Operation Pluto is considered one of history's greatest feats of military engineering. The pipelines are also the forerunners of all flexible pipes used in the development of offshore oil fields.
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