Pluto and his/its whereabouts in Epsom

Back in 2005 during our re-enactment of a WW2 street party we were asked about PLUTO, the Pipe Line Under The Ocean. While it was known that this was built for getting fuel over to France for the D-Day landings the question was "did Pluto go through Epsom". So, did he, or should that be 'It', indeed go through Epsom??

Some of the Local History Centre volunteers knew of Pluto and associated code words like Dumbo and Bambi, other Disney characters of the time, but how and where to find out more relating to Epsom? Our enquiries led along many paths and while it would be easy to give a 'yes' or 'no' answer it would be unfair to both you and those involved not to relate at least some of the story to relay the impact of events.

Map of the Pluto Network
Map of the Pluto Network. Click image to enlarge.
Courtesy of

It quickly became apparent that we had to cast our net wider. Various websites, such as the excellent Combined Operations, ( (Opens in a new window)) although informative, did not mention Epsom as we had hoped. The standard maps used on these sites are not detailed enough to show the actual route taken in the Epsom area. A visit to the National Archives at Kew might help if and when volunteers' time permitted.

When 'Dunkerque' and 'Operation Dynamo' took place at the end of May and early June 1940 two things happened; firstly there was the relief of the return of 338,000 men; and secondly was the future consideration of our return to Europe.

When WW2 started, petrol was always going to be a problem. When the Germans rolled across France and the Low Countries they were stopping at road side filling stations and topping up like tourists, but at gun point! Fuel requirements would not be any easier on our return to Europe.

Plans for the invasion of Europe started in earnest in 1942 and Mr Geoffrey Lloyd, Secretary for Petroleum and the Petroleum Warfare Department were asked the question how do we get fuel to France?

Stripped down section of the HAIS version of the pipeline.  Click image to enlarge.
Stripped down section of the HAIS version of the pipeline.
Click image to enlarge. Image courtesy of

There existed already a fuel pipeline system around the country from before the war, running between Liverpool, East Anglia, Bristol, and the Isle of Grain on the Medway in Kent; that was a start, but how to build on it.

Cross-section of the HAIS version of the pipeline
Cross-section of the 3 inch HAIS version of the pipeline of the HAIS version of the pipeline
Courtesy of

In true military fashion a 'unit' was required so Force Pluto was set up under the command of Captain J.F.Hutchings CBE DSO. It started with 100 officers and 1000 men, mainly merchant navy personnel. The ships involved included 4 cable layers totalling 25,000 tons, 5 Ocean going tugs for towing CONUN Drums Link to BBC site with a view of a conundrum, 6 Motor Fishing Vessels, 9 motor Barges with 9 Launches and 1Yacht ! Why 1 yacht we have yet to find out, apart from its saving on fuel! But just what was needed to get fuel to France, and how to make a delivery system work?

A Conundrum being unrolled
A Conundrum being unrolled
Courtesy of

Until a port was captured the allied forces would use Mulberry harbours. Until Mulberrys were in place they would have to use Jerry cans - over twenty million of them. But the other question was how to get the fuel to the south coast? When at the coast what then; would the pipeline work and how would it be taken across the Channel? Obviously petrol tankers were out of the question, even if they could be found or spared from their essential duties, due to attack by the German Air Force. A pipeline was the answer.

The first tests on a pipeline system took place at Chatham on the Thames, when a 2inch pipe was tested in Chatham Dockyard. Next came deep water testing on the Clyde in Scotland. With the success of this it was time for a long term test to see if the system of pipe work would stand up to constant use.

This resulted in a long term trial from Swansea oil refinery via the Bristol Channel to Watermouth Bay in Ilfracombe. This was by 27miles of 2-inch HAIS cable delivering 125tons a day or 38,000 gallons a day for three weeks. Little would the people of Devon have known at the time, Dec 1942, that their fuel was coming via a pipeline that was being tested for the invasion of Europe. This was laid by HMS Holdfast a converted cable laying ship and a self propelled Thames barge 'Oceanic'.

Pipe laying by ship
Pipe laying by ship
Courtesy of

So the technology seemed to work but the Dungeness run would be 35miles to Calais and I. o. W. to Cherbourg would be 75miles once the fuel had reached the coast. Also where to link up to the main pipe line system? It was eventually agreed that for the Dumbo link the best place would be Walton on Thames. (Ref. at TNA Kew, DEFE 2/517)

Pipe laying became "Super Priority" for labour requirements and in June 1943, 8inch pipe was to be laid to the Kent coast from Walton on Thames to Lydd, near Dungeness, a distance of some 70 miles. If you were to lay a course from Walton on Thames to Dungeness you would find that it passes right by Epsom, but where exactly was the pipeline? We still did not have a good map showing the route. On the basis that officialdom would want to be 'on the ground' keeping an eye on the project, a clue to the route taken is that the Chief Signals Officer S.E. Regional Office was located at Tunbridge Wells in Kent, and the Command Centre for the area was at Reigate in Surrey.

On 7th July 1943 Dungeness became DUMBO, with plans for 5x2inch outflow pipes and 4 x 3inch pipes which would carry up to 2600 tons a day. The I.o.W. became BAMBI that is Shanklin and Sandown Pumping Station. The Solent lines were to become Soho and Bournemouth Bay was to become Tweedledum. With the network in place it only required the Navy to get the pipelines across the Channel.

There were basically two types of pipe, one called H.A.I.S. a flexible pipe designed by Mr A.C.Hartley of Anglo Iranian Oil and Siemens, the other was HAMEL a rigid steel 3 inch pipe designed by Mr H.A.Hammich, Chief Engineer of Iraq Petroleum Co. and Mr B.J.Ellis Chief Oilfield Engineer of Burma Oil Co. The Navy were to lay one by the cable laying ship HMS Persephone called because in Greek Mythology Persephone was the first consort of Pluto. The other type was to be laid by HMS Conundrum, so called as the system of pipes were coiled around a large drum that was tapered at the ends i.e. 'a cone ended drum'.

The initial pipes were laid to Cherbourg (code name Watson ) some two months after D-Day and to Calais (code name Dumbo Far) as the war progressed. While people tend to think of Pluto as one pipeline in fact a total of 17 lines were laid on the Dumbo route before the end of the war.

Furthermore by the end of the war fuel was being pumped from Merseyside to the Rhine, quite an achievement.

Part of the Pluto Minor Pipeline
Part of the Pluto Minor Pipeline
Courtesy of

Was all this worth while? General Eisenhower, Ike, stated that Pluto was second only to the Mulberry harbours in winning the war in Europe. When Pluto was recovered it yielded approximately 27,000 tons of lead. At the end of the war, Sir Donald Banks, the Director General of Petroleum Warfare, (whose book 'Flame over Britain' was helpful in part of this narrative and well worth reading in its own right) estimated that 'Pluto' had carried 575,000 tons of oil or rather a total of 173 million gallons! Of that total more than half of that did indeed go through Epsom.

The irony of this tale is that one of our volunteers had been walking over the line of Pluto nearly every week for 30 years without being aware of it. Part of its path ran across the grounds of the Royal Automobile Club. Quite by chance in a general conversation it came to light that all organisations which have pipe lines running on their property are subject to requirements of the Oil and Pipelines Agency. From this contact we were put in touch with Fisher German, Chartered Surveyors to whom we are indebted for the information regarding the actual route of Pluto, which did indeed go through Epsom.

Text Courtesy of Bert Barnhurst
Epsom and Ewell Local and Family History Centre

This video clip was found on and is of Universal Newsreel footage which contains about a minute and a half on the pluto pipeline. (The Pluto section starts 3mins 35secs into the clip.)

More movie footage is available at British Pathe and British Movietone News but you may have to register to use these sites.

Pluto's route through the Borough of Epsom and Ewell.

Approximate Route of the Pluto Pipeline plotted on a 1927 OS Tourist Map.   Click image to enlarge.
Approximate Route of the Pluto Pipeline plotted on a 1927 OS Tourist Map.
Click image to enlarge. Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection

A Pluto Marker
The route Pluto takes from the pumping station at Walton on Thames towards the Isle of Grain near Chatham and Dungeness i.e. Dumbo in Kent, passes through Epsom.

Leaving the pumping station the route goes towards Esher passing south of Claygate where it passes under the A3.

It continues towards Chessington crossing the A243 around the area between the Garden Centre and the World of Adventure.

Having crossed the road, the line enters the Borough running alongside the B280 south of the Hospital Cluster Site, where a marker post can be seen.

Continuing over Epsom Common it passes north of the Wells Estate and crossing the A24 heads towards Woodcote and the Royal Automobile Club. It enters the Club grounds having crossed Wilmerhatch Lane near The Lodge, where another marker post can be found.

Travelling up Captains Drive it leaves crossing Langley Vale and heads over Epsom Downs where it passes under part of the Derby Course before crossing the 'switchback road' and heading towards Tadworth.

It passes north of Tadworth before leaving the Borough when crossing the A 217 near Shelvers Way before heading towards Kingswood where another marker post can be found.

There may be other marker posts in the area but this should be sufficient help for anybody who wishes to trace the route.

Text and photo courtesy of Bert Barnhurst
Epsom and Ewell Local and Family History Centre

Text and photo courtesy of Bert Barnhurst
Epsom and Ewell Local and Family History Centre

The Little Train That Grew up and Went to War

Hercules, a 4-8-2 engine, was taken out of mothballs and given armour plating to become a mobile gun platform
Hercules, a 4-8-2 engine, was taken out of mothballs and
given armour plating to become a mobile gun platform

The Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway is an interesting narrow gauge system of some 15 inches, which was opened on 5th August 1926 by the then Duke of York. The brain-child of J.E.P.Howey, it was in answer to a local need for an extension to the main line, while attracting holiday passenger traffic.

An other view of Hercules in battledress
An other view of Hercules in battledress.

While I can vouch for its appeal to a small boy on holiday in the area at the outbreak of war, the role of the railway was to change very quickly. Normal services were to cease and the army took over from the pre-war staff. Soon the R.H.& D.R, had it's own armoured train sporting twin anti-tank guns for anti aircraft duties. Whether or not they were fired in anger is not known.

An articulated flat bed truck used to carry the 300ft sections of pipe.  
The normal load was 24 wagons carrying 60 sections weighting some 70 tons
An articulated flat bed truck used to carry the 300ft sections of pipe.
The normal load was 24 wagons carrying 60 sections weighting some 70 tons
Photo O.J. Morris

But it was R.H.& D.R's. work with 'PLUTO' which caused it the greatest distress. Being the closest rail link to 'DUMBO', the line was used not only to transport sections of pipe work totalling some 70 tons a trip, but their workshops were used for much welding work. After the war much of the track had to be re-laid to restore the system before it could be returned to its former use. The track is still in use today.

Damaged track caused by the heavy Pluto loads
Damaged track caused by the heavy Pluto loads
Photo A.W. Baldwin

Text courtesy of Bert Barnhurst
Epsom and Ewell Local and Family History Centre

Any further information on 'Pluto in Epsom' would be appreciated, especially if anybody recalls it being installed during the war.

Further Notes on Pluto

We have not found any evidence of the Pluto pipeline above ground in the Epsom area, even though the evidence of the route that it took can be seen from the yellow toped marker post. (See picture above.)

However, if you ever have the chance to visit the Isle of Wight, there are still clear signs of Pluto in Shanklin Chine.

Pluto in the Isle of Wight 1

This part of the pipeline was of smaller diameter than the main land line, like that running through Epsom, and was used to feed the final pumping station from the storage tanks at the top of the Chine. This pumping station was fed by gravity, to the foot of the Chine.

Pluto in the Isle of Wight 2
Some of the background to Pluto is shown on this plaque which is near by.

This together with various memorabilia in the Heritage Centre, contained within the Chine, give a very fine idea of the impact of Pluto. There is a small charge for entry to the chine and the Heritage Centre but it is not unreasonable, as there is much else to see relating to the Island's history.

Pluto in the Isle of Wight 3
A section of Pluto's inner core (see diagram above)

Pluto in the Isle of Wight 4
An example of the coupling device for the HAIS type cables.

The final pumping station where the fuel left these shores no longer exists. In fact Shanklin pier no longer exists, as it was decimated in the storms of October 1987. The spot is marked by a memorial stone.

Pluto in the Isle of Wight 5

The Islanders are justly proud of their involvement with Pluto, as are others whether they were aware of its existence at the time or not. This is clearly shown by the Illuminated Address on display in the Heritage Centre.

Pluto in the Isle of Wight 6

Text and images courtesy of Bert Barnhurst
Epsom and Ewell Local and Family History Centre

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