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English Channel Pipeline - Fuel for Normandy

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Normandy Invasion and Fuel

As planning was underway for the WWII Allied invasion of Normandy, a means to supply fuel was addressed. Once the troops landed and began their advance, a reliable supply of fuel would be needed for the tanks, trucks, and other vehicles, as they moved across France and Belgium to Germany. Video clip to the right is from the Universal Studios Newsreel of June 4, 1945. Victory Pipe Line.

Jerry cans could be hauled over but could not handle the volume needed. Oil tankers could deliver the necessary volume, but they were subject to weather conditions and would be targets for enemy attack. Also, this would reduce the number of tankers available to supply the troops who were fighting in the Pacific against Japan. An innovative idea was conceived that would be backup to the shallow draft tankers, and hopefully release more tankers for the Pacific War.1,2

Pipeline under the English Channel

The backup would be called Operation Pluto, short for Pipe Line Under The Ocean also called Pipeline Underwater Transport of Oil. It was to be a means to supply fuel by way of a pipeline under the English Channel, a phenomenal feat for the time and multiple problems were addressed and eventually overcome. Fuel lines would need to be strong and flexible, and there would need to be a means to lay the lines across the Channel.

Initial plans were to lay the fuel lines across the Channel at its shortest distance at the Strait of Dover, however, it was decided the target of first assault would be Normandy, where it would be least expected by the Germans, and the line would be laid from the Isle of Wight in England to Cherbourg, France, a much greater distance than initially planned, and later, as ground was taken, another set of lines would be laid across the Strait from Cherbourg to Boulogne.

Two types of fuel lines were eventually manufactured and used: HAIS cable, and HAMEL3 steel pipe and the operation was camouflaged to avoid detection by the enemy as it was being built and tested. Eventually, the lines were laid and fuel was pumped successfully through the submerged pipeline. Once the lines reached France, a network of pipes were built to extend it inland, eventually reaching Germany.


Operation PLUTO reflected the best of wartime cooperation between the military, private industry, and engineering4.

Commanding more than 100 merchant navy officers, a variety of ships, 1,000 men4 and was used to deliver more than 1,000,000 gallons of fuel a day across the Channel.5

1 Arnold Krammer, "Operation PLUTO: A Wartime Partnership for Petroleum", Technology and Culture, Vol. 33, No. 3 (Jul., 1992) p.447.

2 Adrian Searle, PLUTO, Pipe-Line Under the Ocean. Isle of Wight: Shanklin Chine, (1995). p.13.

3 HAIS is an acronym for the cable developers' names, Hartley Anglo-Iranian Siemens and HAMEL is the acronym for the names of the steel pipe developers', Hammick and Ellis.

4 Krammer, op. Cit., p.465

5 A. C. Hartley, "Operation Pluto", Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 1847-1982 (vols 1-196) v154 n1946. p. 495.