Earlier this year, we looked at the role of engineers during the First World War; however this was not the only conflict to have prompted innovation and engineering excellence. Today, we take a look at the role of engineers in the Second World War. Directly involving more than 30 countries and over a hundred million people, it still ranks as the deadliest conflict in history – yet many inventions from this period are still in peacetime use today.
The film The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and released just a few weeks ago in the UK, highlights one of the innovations of the war. Alan Turing’s invention of the bombe machine and the breaking of the Enigma code is thought to have shortened the war considerably, saving thousands of lives, and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers voted it as their favourite recipient of the Engineering Heritage Award earlier this year. In addition, his work led to the development of modern computers.
While the work of the codebreakers at Bletchley Park was carried out in secret – and in fact only highlighted in recent years – other engineering projects of the war were more widely known. Two of the biggest projects of the wartime years were the Mulberry harbours and Project Pluto.
One of the problems faced by British naval forces was the Atlantic wall, a series of fortifications set around the western coast of Europe by German occupiers. In order to land an invasion force, they needed to be able to offload both cargo and men en masse. This was not possible without a harbour, and the Atlantic Wall meant it was not possible to capture one. The solution? To bring their harbour with them.
It’s not known who exactly proposed the Mulberry harbours, but amongst those involved were Welsh civil engineer Hugh Iorys Hughes, Professor J. D. Bernal and Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett. Two complete harbours were produced for the D-Day landings and although one was destroyed by a large storm ten days later, the other remained in use for ten months, being used to land over 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles and 4 million tonnes of supplies. Its remains can still be seen today from the beaches at Arromanches.
Project Pluto was similarly aimed at overcoming supply issues; the forces in France and mainland Europe needed a huge amount of fuel. The traditional method of shipping fuel in tankers was vulnerable to German U-boats, so an alternative was needed. The solution was to lay Pipe-Lines Under The Ocean – or PLUTO. The first line was laid on the 12th August 1944, covering 130km from the Isle of Wight to Cherbourg, and a further twenty lines were laid as fighting continued. Although 90% of the pipeline was recovered and scrapped after the war, small sections survive and their demonstrated effectiveness led the way for flexible pipes used in the development of offshore oil fields.
These are just a few of the things achieved by Second World War engineers – there were many other developments both large and small which are now part of everyday life.
Here at Airedale Springs, we recognise that innovation in engineering can come from all sorts of surprising places, both in peace and war. As spring suppliers, we aim to support innovation in a range of fields and industries with high-quality components – for more information, contact us today on 01535 643456.