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Page last updated at 11:01 GMT, Tuesday, 8 June 2010 12:01 UK
PLUTO wartime petrol pipeline remembered in Sandown
Restored PLUTO pump
PLUTO pumped petrol 60 miles over to France

One of the Isle of Wight's key contributions to victory in World War II has gone on display in its original location.

The PipeLine Under The Ocean project (PLUTO) laid a pipeline under the English Channel.

It was to supply Allied forces in northern Europe with much needed petrol.

One of the pumps has been refurbished in the Victorian fortifications - which are also now home to various exotic creatures of the Isle of Wight Zoo.

Pluto's role

PLUTO was the brainchild of Lord Mountbatten, during World War II.

It was set up in order to supply the allies with fuel following the D-Day landings and the subsequent invasion of Europe as they pushed on to Berlin and eventual victory in 1945.

The new exhibit
The pump is housed in its original location

Taking conventional oil across the channel in tankers would have meant exposing them to submarine attack.

Secrecy was key to the success of the plan to pipe petrol underwater.

Robin Maconchy, Chairman of the Bembridge Heritage Society, who has been behind the restoration project explained:

"In secrecy terms, it was next in importance to Bletchley Park which cracked the Enigma codes. If the Germans had discovered we were going to supply petrol to our troops, they would have blown the place out of the water - no question about that."

He described the role PLUTO played in winning the war as "remarkable" as fuel supply was crucial to both sides.

He explained: "If PLUTO hadn't worked, there is a chance we wouldn't have won. The Germans' equipment was better in a lot of cases but they had fuel problems too and in the end it was the petrol supply that sorted it out."

Pumping station

The Isle of Wight was a crucial part of the pipeline network. The derelict Palmerston fort housed 13 of the 16 Sandown pumps, with the five remaining ones at Brown's golf course and the Grand Hotel.

Laura Barlee remembers PLUTO

The pumps were housed in the arches of the derelict, Victorian Palmerston Fort, which was heavily camouflaged and closed off to local people who had to divert Brading to Sandown.

Fuel was pumped across the Solent from Lepe to be stored on the island before being gravity fed into the pumping system across more than 60 miles to Cherbourg in France.

By March 1945, over 3,000 tons a day of petrol was flowing through the flexible pipelines which had been laid using the huge floating 'cotton reels' called 'Conundrums' and and specialised cable-laying vessels.


The fort was converted into a zoo in the 1950s.

Most of the pumps were broken up and dismantled at the end of the war.

Up until 1998, it was believed only two were in existence - one in Bembridge Heritage Centre and one in the Imperial War Museum.

However, another one came to light being used by the National Grid to wash electrical insulators.

The seven-tonne pump has now been brought back to its original position under the fort's gun arches, where a World War II themed display tells the story of this unique part of wartime history.

The official opening of the display took place on the 66th anniversary of D-Day, on Sunday 6th June 2010.

PLUTO project veteran Laura Barlee cut the ribbon to open the display.

She said: "It's splendid - so nice to know that PLUTO is still in existence."

Ms Barlee was a WREN, working at PLUTO command Norfolk House in London during World War II, and is the niece of Britain's post-war prime minister, Clement Atlee.

She recalled: "It was incredible ... as time went by, we got over the difficulties we had with PLUTO - it was very exciting stuff."

In pictures: D-Day commemorations
06 Jun 09 |  In Pictures


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