PLUTO Pipeline Route: Shanklin to Sandown

In 1942, in preparation for D-Day, the crucial issue of fuel supply for the tanks and vehicles of the Allied forces became a vital consideration for the military staff, charged with the planning of the landings in Normandy and the subsequent advance through France. It was realised that a reliance on oil tankers might bring with it problems of security and constancy in the supply of fuel, because of bad weather and attack by the Luftwaffe and German submarines. There was also the problem that ship-to-shore pipelines from the tankers would clutter up the beaches and obstruct equipment, men and vehicles from moving so freely about the beaches. To prevent an interruption in fuel supply, Arthur Hartley, chief engineer with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, developed the idea of a specially designed pipeline under the Channel, through which fuel could be pumped to storage tanks in France. The pipeline was to be based on submarine telephone cables with an armoured outer layer and a specially adapted core to accomodate the flow of fuel at pressure through miles of pipeline to France. The whole operation was known as Operation PLUTO. The fuel was routed from ports like Liverpool and Bristol through a network of pipelines to Dungeness and Shanklin and Sandown, finally being pumped under the sea of the Channel to France.

The Isle of Wight section of this fuel supply line started in the New Forest at Badminston Common, where there were underground storage tanks, covered over in grass. A pump at Mopley Pond then pumped the fuel to Lepe, from where the pipelines ran under the Solent to emerge on the beach at Thorness Bay. From here, a buried pipeline ran from Thorness to Shanklin, where the fuel was stored in a large fuel head reservoir (code name TOTO) at Hungerberry Copse, south of Victoria Avenue, the main road from Shanklin to Newport. From a 1944 map, it would seem that from the Hungerberry Copse storage tank, the pipeline forked into two separate lines: one descending, via Shanklin Chine, to pumps along the seafront and another running across fields behind Shanklin, Lake and Sandown to Sandown Fort (now Sandown Zoo).

Very little archaeological or documentary remains of this route exist. In the British Library, there is a defence map covering the South of England that shows the pipeline routes as a black and yellow dashed line: a section is shown running from the reservoir at Hungerberry Copse in land west of Lake and ending at the Sandown seafront pumping station.

Defence of Britain, defences throughout the south of England and Wales (Sheet E), British Library.

Only one marker remains on this route at Lake near the Merrie Gardens mini-roundabout. Both concrete upright posts of this marker are in a hedge but they have lost their oak crossbars. It marks the crossing underneath the main Newport to Lake road.

Further to the south-west, near Languard Holiday Park, there is a concrete support bridge next to an existing brick and stone trackway bridge that carries a public footpath over a tributary stream of Scotchells Brook. This seems most likely to have supported the Pluto pipeline where it crossed the stream. The construction of this small concrete bridge is almost identical with the remaining concrete bridges that carried the pluto pipeline across drainage ditches on Walland marshland towards Dungeness.

[Above] Short concrete bridge crossing the stream to the west of Whitecross Lane, Lake.

[Above] Long concrete bridge crossing a drainage ditch on the Walland Marsh, west south west of Snargate, near Dungeness. These were constructed to support the Pluto pipeline across the many drainage ditches that cover this area on its route to the Dungeness pumping installations to the south east.

A c. 1948 aerial photograph, showing a pipeline scar mark (marked out by red arrows) running from Languard to the Newport to Lake main road, confirms the connection between these two features.

[Above] c. 1948 aerial photo of the Lake area.

The cross country route is also alluded to in the reports submitted by various officers to the committee and written up in the form of "progress reports". At a meeting held on 15th. February 1944, it was noted on the subject of "Air Photographs", that "Mosaics were taken on 24 Dec 43 and 21 Jan 44. Comparison with last mosaic (Aug 43) shows no significant changes on all 3 sites, including cross-country 8" suction line linking sites (sited to fit ground pattern). Copies of both mosaics have been sent to site, and are proving most useful in checking detail for final camouflage treatments."

At a meeting on 28th March, 1944, "It is desired to put on record the excellent work done by Mr. Varcoe-Cocks (Shell Refinery & Marketing Co.) on camouflage of 8" pipe on both 'A' and 'C' Sites; also for cooperation in routing pipe for concealment across-country from Welded Tank to Sites."
[National Archives, Operation PLUTO: progress meetings, 1943 June - 1944 Aug. WO 272/11]

In a letter, dated 6 January 1944, discussing the jurisdictions of the various government bodies involved in the construction of the pipeline, reference was made to the inland route crossing the railway line at Sandown.
"... at the moment the Petroleum Division operates as far as the bottom of the Chine and as far as I know they cease to operate where the pipeline crosses the railway line just to the North-East of Sandown; ..."
[National Archives, POWE 45/35]