Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Surprising connection to PLUTO revealed in Inverness

I still find that some of the items which come to light about World War II arrive as something of a surprise, especially when they tie together subjects which show just how widespread some activities were. Here we have a building/business in Inverness, which played a vital part in Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of France scheduled for June 6, 1944, D-Day.

Essential for this success of this invasion plan was PLUTO (not Pluto, which is a planet), the PipeLine Under The Ocean. PLUTO was vital, as the D-Day landings could easily have stalled and come to a dead stop had there been no fuel for the vehicles involved. Without it, a massive shipping operation would have been needed in order maintain fuel supplies, supplemented by any supplies which could have been captured on the other side of the Channel – a need the German forces would surely have thwarted, as they would sooner have destroyed what scant reserves they had by then, rather than allow them to be captured. Reliable and continuous fuel supplies were fundamental and essential.

The pipeline would stretch across the English Channel, and be almost 80 miles long. And, it was not a single pipeline, with some 20 ultimately be laid across the Channel. Two different designs – a flexible type for the ends, and a less flexible steel type for the central section – were laid while the Allies were advancing towards Germany.

Clyde tests

Test were carried out in the Firth of Clyde (it really was a busy place during the war), when sections of pipe were laid by the Post Office cable ship Iris during 1942. These tests proved invaluable, as they showed that the pipes had to be pressurised,  not only during laying, but also during manufacture (at 7 bar or 100 psi). Additionally, the Clyde test showed that none of the existing cable-laying ship ships were large enough or powerful enough to handle the PLUTO pipeline. Merchant ships were quickly stripped out and converted to handle the job, using specially designed gear to handle the massive pipeline.

On the south coast of England, pumping station feeding the pipeline were disguised to look like ordinary cottages, garages, and shops. And even ice-cream parlours.

In order to feed the pipeline, more than 1,000 miles of pipeline were constructed to connect ports to the pumping stations. This was all constructed during the night, to avoid detection on photographs taken by German aerial reconnaissance patrols.

In terms of numbers, January 1945 saw 300 tons of fuel being pumped to France per day, increasing to 3,000 tons per day by March, and reaching a peak of 4,000 tons (almost 1,000,000 Imperial gallons) per day. By VE day, a total of more than 781,000 m³ (equivalent to a cube with sides more than 92 metres or 300 feet  long), 0r over 172 million imperial gallons of fuel had been pumped to the Allied forces in Europe.

Inverness welders

So, where did Inverness figure in all this?

Welders in Inverness worked on the fuel pipeline that eventually supported the D-Day landings and subsequent advance towards Germany.

It has just been reported that attempts to secure funding for the renovation of the former AI Welders premises in Academy Street, Inverness, were unsuccessful.

It seems that the factory also made parts for Spitfires, and welded  the hubs into which carried the propeller blades.

Workers also made parts for the Pipe Line Under The Sea, also known as Operation Pluto.

The operation involved laying pipelines in the English Channel to supply fuel from pumping stations on mainland England and the Isle of Wight to stores on France.

Delivering fuel by ship was deemed too risky. Allied commanders feared the vessels would be sunk by German submarines and aircraft.

There were also concerns the ships would get in the way of other Allied shipping.

Many of the pumping stations were disguised in an effort to prevent the sites being attacked. One station was built to look like an ice cream shop and another as a fisherman’s cottage.

Unsuccessful bid for funds to restore Inverness building

The AI Welding building

It took me a while to track down the actual building this story referred to, as the factory referred to began life as the offices of the Rose Street Foundry.

AI Welding is no more, and the building, or the ground floor at least, became Deeno’s – described as “Sport’s Bar”, or more likely a pub for football supporters. If the online stories are anything to go by, a place to steer well clear of, or it would be, had it not closed some years ago.

Fortunately, someone has shared pics, so we can see the building, and the surviving detail on the fascia, dating from its original life as part of the Rose Street Foundry. Originally a series of three murals decorated the upper fascia, but now only two survive. The one on to the left was already obscured when the building was photographed in 1988, so this is not a recent loss. Although it was not recorded, it seems to have at least some features visible in the pictures seen here, which date from 2011. In the 1998 picture, it was blank, having apparently been painted over. The two remaining mural are in reasonable condition, given that this building dates from 1894:

There’s little to be seen of the mural on the left, but the centre and right hand side items can still be seen and photographed:

Although I have referred to them as AI Welding’s mural, this is purely in the context of this article about the wartime use of the building, as the mural subject clearly relate to the work of the Rose Street Foundry.

18/05/2013 - Posted by | Transport, World War II | , , , ,


  1. I worked at AI Welders from 1987 – 2002. In 1991, the owners; Verson International decided to close the Inverness operations down and move everything down to the Midlands. During 1991 and 1992, there was a management buyout, lead by John Hunter and Harry Cossar. With so much history in the company, I decided it was too good to just end up in a skip, so with assistance of the Highland Council Archivist Bob Steward, I collected Directors Minutes books, old drawings, photos, 35mm film of PLUTO and Cable Belt, also an original linen drawing of the office building in Academy Street/Rose Street dated 1895.

    I also had made a bronze plaque, which I mounted on the wall in 1992 to celebrate the 120 years of the company which started life as an agricultural implement company, the welding side came along in 1922.


    Comment by Brian Aspinall | 08/01/2017

  2. Thanks for that Brian, the story gets more interesting.

    Wish I’d had ‘local’ interest when something similar happened to my company – as it was, I just had to save the antique kit and store it myself, as it was considered worthless compared to modern electronics. But that’s another story, not relevant here.

    I wonder if the Highland Council Archive has access to the material online, or is it accessible at all?

    Impressed by the plaque.

    Are there pics of it anywhere online?

    Also, consider having it moved somewhere safe indoors, and replaced by a base metal item on the building – the stories of the scum that steal bronze memorials to fund a quick fix for a few pounds are becoming all too frequent.


    Comment by Apollo | 09/01/2017

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