It’s one of the most enduring images of the preparations for D Day in 1944 - Southampton streets lined with trucks and fighting machines ready to go to Normandy.

These vehicles required refuelling on arrival in France and many times again as the Allies raced on towards Berlin.

A major logistics problem for the Allies was supplying sufficient fuel. This was critical as without petrol the invasion would stall.

An invasion of this scale had not been attempted before so there was little evidence from experience as to the amount of fuel required.

An American officer calculated that the Allies would need 1.56 gallons of petrol per man per day. Given that several million men were involved in the invasion then a substantial daily amount of fuel was needed.

Transporting so much fuel to France required careful planning and innovative thinking.

The English Channel was a very busy sea lane susceptible to air attacks and, added to this, the ports available in France were small and of limited capacity.

There were also serious fire and explosion risks if unsuitable ships were pressed into transporting petrol as there were insufficient tankers available.

An underwater pipeline across the channel was the agreed solution and was given the code name PLUTO being the acronym for pipe line under the ocean.

New Forest Post:

Two types of pipe line were used. One was made of steel pipe with the code name HAMEL while the other was made using techniques employed in the manufacture of underwater cable and code named HAIS.

Many local people were involved in the manufacture of the HAIS pipe at the Pirelli Cable Works in Eastleigh and Southampton.

It had a three-inch internal diameter lead tubular core, layers of paper tape, bitumen cotton tape, and steel armour wires.

46 tons of lead, steel tape and armour wire were needed for each mile of pipe.

New Forest Post:

A successful trial pipeline was laid across the Bristol Channel from Swansea to Ilfracombe and shortly after D Day the pipeline code name Bambi was routed the 65 miles across the English Channel to Cherbourg from the Isle of Wight and was laid in approximately ten hours.

Pumping stations were concealed inside various bomb damaged buildings at Sandown and Shanklin including an ice cream factory and a hotel.

One of the pumps can be seen at the Bembridge Heritage Centre and traces of the pipeline are visible at various locations on the Island.

Petrol arrived in tankers from America and was pumped ashore at ports in northwest England then to storage facilities along the route to the south coast.

In Fawley village, it was stored in tanks which were grassed over for camouflage.

From Fawley the fuel was pumped to the foreshore at Lepe then under the Solent to Thorness Bay on the Isle of Wight and overland to Shanklin and Sandown where it was pumped under the Channel to Cherbourg.

A similar PLUTO – code named Dumbo – was later laid between Dungeness and Boulogne.

As a large volume of fuel was needed, several pipelines of each type were laid alongside each other supplying a total of a million gallons of fuel a day.

New Forest Post:

At the end of hostilities the pipelines were salvaged by four Southampton owned ships crewed by local men.

This was dangerous work with the risk of encountering unexploded mines and other objects as well as serious fire.

The salvage was a great success with virtually all the pipe recovered and recycled.

A great many local people played an important part in the PLUTO project including many Pirelli employees at Eastleigh and Southampton.

John (Jack) Lewis was employed by Pirelli at Eastleigh and was awarded the British Empire Medal for his work.

New Forest Post:

His wife, hearing of his award, was thrilled thinking she would see the King at the awards ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

She was wondering what to wear when the medal and citation arrived by Royal Order at their home address, much to the relief of her very modest and shy husband.

  • By Godfrey Collyer - tour guide with SeeSouthampton.co.uk.