There are at least two books titled "The Secret War"
Both including reference to one of Nevil Shute's greatest wartime creations
The Great (or Grand) Panjandrum
One is by Gerald Pawle a member of Nevil Shute's wartime department
image of book cover ©Harrap 1956
©White Lion 1972
©Corgi Paperback 1959
t\this book is reviewed on the foundation site at:-
Reviewed By Andy Burgess 11/25/01
The other is by a BBC documentary producer Brian Johnson for a 1980's television series (six programs as listed in the book contents list, and is an expanded account of his researches for the series of the same name that is available on video from time to time
Secret War, The - Vol. 2 - If... / Terror Weapons
the paperback cover images are taken from the Brian Johnson book and are therefore copyright ©Brian Johnson 1978 and the publishers © BBC Publications 1978 and © Arrow Press Ltd 1979
This contains a splendid account of the Panjandrum trials:-
"Around the Devon town of Appledore,
Assault Loading- Appledore May 1944 Watercolor by Dwight C. Shepler
where the rivers Taw and Torridge converge to run into the Bristol Channel, there was
stationed in 1943 the Combined Operations Experimental Establishment.COXE, as it was known,
had been created to test and evaluate the various weapons and implements of war for the coming invasion of Europe.
The area was ideal: wide sandy beaches, which on occasion produced high surf; sheltered estuaries, some with steep shingle, others flat mud;
there were rocks and sand dunes - everything that was required to test and develop the many strange devices that came to COXE.The problems of mounting the biggest amphibious operation of all time were such that many were
called and many were chosen; the market for the offerings of the smaller back rooms had never
been so great. One of the most spectacular was the Great Panjandrum.The Department of Miscellaneous Weapons Development, DMWD - known as the Wheezers and Dodgers, had been given the task of devising a method of breaching a concrete wall ten feet high and seven feet thick, which was said to be the first line of defence of the Atlantic Wall
on the enemy coast. The beaches, it was pointed out, would certainly be mined and have obstacles and be covered by machine guns and artillery fire. One of the scientists working on this problem
was Nevil Shute Norway, the well-known novelist, who was also an aerodynamicist; he had calculated that at least a ton of explosive would have to be placed at the foot of the wall to blow a hole wide enough for a tank to pass through. The question was how to get the explosive to the wall.
were considered and turned down. Then one day an Air Force officer, a Group Captain Finch-Noyes,
came from Combined Operations with a rough sketch of what was to become the Great Panjandrum. It was a bold concept: two 10-ft wheels with 1 ft-wide steel treads joined by a wide drum.The centre section would be packed with 4000 lbs of high explosive and round the circumference of each wheel there would be a number of cordite rockets which would propel the whole thing at 60 mph off a landing craft, through the surf and, indifferent to obstacles and mines, up the beach to the wall. There the wheels would collapse and the explosive would be detonated.
Within a month the prototype had been constructed in great secrecy at Leytonstone in north-east
London. With equal secrecy it was transported under cover of darkness to Appledore. Strangely, in
view of this secrecy, when it arrived at the Devon seaside resort it was simply rolled off its transporter on to the beach in full view of a large number of holidaymakers.
The beach chosen for the initial tests was Westward Ho
and the trials, which began on 7 September
1943 were to enliven many a drab wartime holiday for the watching crowds. For the maiden run the explosive drum was ballasted with 4000 Ibs of sand and, since the behaviour of Panjandrum under
power was, to say the least, speculative, a mere eighteen peripheral rockets were used.
With some trepidation, Norway pressed the electrical firing button and with a roar the Great Panjandrum, all flame and smoke
the 3 trial pictures and the diagram above are taken from the book by Gerald Pawle and thus are ©Gerald Pawle and©his publishers as listed above
thundered down the inclined ramp of the landing craft, forded
the water in clouds of steam and rolled on to the beach. For a time it kept a straight course,
then two rockets failed on one side and the machine swung away to the right, described a circle,
and stopped in a dense cloud of smoke. It was under-powered. The number of rockets was doubled and
the next day the landing craft carried the Panjandrum to Instow beach on the Torridge estuary.
Again it charged into the water, again rockets failed and, although it did travel about twice as
far as on the first run, it was still considered to be underpowered. A third wheel was added
to increase the number of rockets. The next test was pure farce: the three-wheeled Panjandrum
was set up on a wooden ramp near the low-tide marker unfortunately, when the firing button was
pressed,nothing happened and, while the fault was being sought with ever-increasing urgency, the
tide was inexorably coming in. The Panjandrum was slowly engulfed; when the tide ebbed and the
machine was salvaged, the third wheel on which all hope rested had collapsed. The team went back to London and their drawing boards. Three weeks later they returned with a new Panjandrum and more runs were made, now powered by more than seventy rockets. The display was sensational: down the ramp it roared, through the sea, hurling spray and steam high into the air. Then, just as it was about to run up
the beach it suddenly turned back into the sea, overturning and detaching live rockets which zoomed over the sand, while the remaining rockets exploded under-water, sending up jets of high-pressure steam. Undaunted, the team once again salvaged the wreckage. They now reverted to a two-wheeled version
with a rudimentary form of remote steering, consisting of long steel cables, with a breaking strain of a ton,
rigged from either side of Panjandrum to winches on the beach. Norway was in charge of the winch brakes as the Panjandrum ran along the wet beach, working up to over 60 mph. Almost at once it began to veer off course as Norway applied a touch of the port brake to correct the turn, the cable snapped like cotton and
2000 feet of steel wire came snaking over the heads of the onlookers. This tests continued: with heavier
cables, more rockets, fewer rockets, different treads to the wheels; but the results were depressingly
consistent. Due to centrifugal force, at speeds over 50 mph some of the 20-lb rockets would become
detached, usually taking two or three adjacent ones with them. As the rockets each gave 40 Ibs of
thrust for 40 seconds, they roared over the beach at very high speeds in quite unpredictable directions.
The team spent several weeks trying various modifications to improve the rocket clamps and solve
the steering problem when, to their great relief, DMWD were informed by Combined Operations that
absolute accuracy was no longer essential; all Panjandrum had to achieve was to head in the genera
l direction of the enemy. It was in early January 1944 that the final trials took place.
An impressive assembly of Whitehall Warriors and scientists had gathered at Westward Ho to decide
on the fate of the Great Panjandrum which was waiting on board its landing craft, just offshore.
The well-known prewar motor-racing photographer, Luis Klemantaski, was on hand to film the event;
also present among the less distinguished observers was an Airedale dog named Ammonal, which was about to gain immortality.At first all went well. Panjandrum rolled into the sea and began to head for the shore,
the Brass Hats watching through binoculars from the top of a pebble ridge. Accelerating across the
beach, the two gigantic Catherine wheels were wreathed in bright jets of fire.To Klemantaski behind
his cine camera it seemed to be doing 100 mph. Then a clamp gave: first one, then two more rockets
broke free: Panjandrum began to lurch ominously. It hit a line of small craters in the sand and began
to turn to starboard, careering towards Klemantaski, who, viewing events through a telescopic lens,
misjudged the distance and continued filming. Hearing the approaching roar he looked up from his
viewfinder to see Panjandrum, shedding live rockets in all directions, heading straight for him.
As he ran for his life, he glimpsed the assembled admirals and generals diving for cover behind the
pebble ridge into barbed-wire entanglements.Panjandrum was now heading back to the sea but crashed on to the sand where it disintegrated in violent explosions, rockets tearing across the beach at great speed ~ one pursued by the splendid Airedale, Ammonal - a scene which Klemantaski, returning to his still-running camera, was able to catch. It survives in the archives of the Imperial War Museum to this day. It seems
somehow a very English end to Panjandrum.
It was the end, of course. Conversation between the Weezers and Dodgers and the Brass Hats was limited
after they had been extricated from the barbed wire. The official reason for dropping the idea was the
damage Panjandrum could do if one broke loose in transit on board its landing craft. But there remains
a mystery surrounding the Great Panjandrum. Was it ever intended to be used or was it, as some writers
have suggested, a hoax - part of the plans to delude the Germans into thinking that the invasion would be
in the Pas de Calais, which was the strongest part of the Atlantic Wall where Panjandrum might just
conceivably have been used, rather than the much less heavily fortified Normandy beaches where the actual
landings were made? The lack of security at Appledore lends colour to the hoax idea. Sir Charles Goodeve,
who was Head of DMWD (though he had left by the time of Panjandrum), simply says he does not know,
though adding: "We did test much more unlikely things than Panjandrum."
That is hard to believe."
the above text is taken from the Brian Johnson book and is therefore copyright ©Brian Johnson 1978 and the publishers © BBC Publications 1978 and © Arrow Press Ltd 1979
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