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Fuelling the Wars

PLUTO

and the Secret Pipeline Network

1936-2015

by Tim Whittle

 

Hardback with dust jacket
270 pages, 250mm x 250mm
ISBN: 978 0 9928554 6 8
Price: £24.99 post free to UK mainland addresses
Publication date: 11 June 2017

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Unknown to many, a network of petroleum pipelines transport fuel from refineries and terminals to major airports, airfields, and distribution depots.  The largest of these pipeline networks has its origins as far back as the Second World War and is one of the few remnants, still operational, of the vast infrastructure that was built to fight that war.
In 1936 the RAF was inadequately equipped with mainly obsolete and obsolescent aircraft and its total fuel reserves amounted to just 8,000 tons.  At peak war time consumption they would have only lasted one day.  The RAF planned for many squadrons of Hurricanes and Spitfires, but these fighters would need fuel, which would require storage facilities that could withstand aerial bombardment.  A programme for the construction of a large number of protected storage depots was therefore started with the first of these facilities coming on line in 1939.  The outcome of the battle of Britain could have been very different without them.  In total the Air Ministry constructed 78 new storage depots with a total capacity of over 1.6 million tons.
Supply and distribution was initially by rail, coastal tankers, barges and road, but in 1941 the decision was taken to construct a pipeline network to transport fuel from the west coast ports eastwards and southwards.  Possibly the best known part of the network are the PLUTO cross channel pipelines.  However, they were not as successful as popularly imagined, and the battle of Normandy was won without a drop of fuel being delivered by PLUTO.
Immediately after the war most of the government system was decommissioned, but the ‘Cold War’ led to its reuse.  In the 1950s new import facilities, civil storage depots (including large scale fuel reserves located in salt cavities) and pipelines were constructed.  Increasing amounts of commercial fuel was also carried, with the system supplying fuel to both Heathrow and Gatwick airports.  During the 1970s and 80s virtually all depots not connected by pipeline were sold-off, hired out to commercial companies, or mothballed.  In the 1990s and 2000s, following the end of Cold War, many more depots and some pipelines were closed.  The use of the network for commercial aviation fuel, however, increased with both Stansted and Manchester Airports, and a new aviation fuel import facility being connected to the system.
This pipeline network and storage system has constantly adapted, evolved and transformed itself.  Pipelines have been reversed, pump-stations closed and new ones opened to meet constantly changing requirements.  This book sets out to chart how the system came to be built, its history and its continuing importance.

About the author:

Tim Whittle is a Chartered Engineer, now retired, with over forty years engineering experience; of which more than thirty were spent working on pipelines and over twenty years on the Government Pipeline and Storage System (GPSS).  During that time he developed a strong interest in the history of the network and came to be the acknowledged expert on its history.  He has had several papers and articles published related to the history and operation of the GPSS and has twice won the Ardley Prize for papers published.  He has also given several talks on the history of the system to various organisations including to the Institution of Engineering and Technology, the Institute of Measurement and Control, and Subterranean Britannia; and appeared on the Radio 4 programme Making History talking about the PLUTO cross-channel pipelines.  It was the realisation as to how few people recognised that it was the GPSS and not the PLUTO pipelines that were vital to the success of the Normandy invasion that encouraged him to write this history, which he has extensively researched for the past decade.