>It has been speculated that one reason the Americans suffered so heavily on D-Day was their reluctance to adopt the ‘funnies’ – experimental kit developed by the British for theirs and the Canadian beaches. Gold, Sword and Juno were no picnic on D-Day, but this revolutionary equipment undoubtedly saved lives.
Some of this new gear was hugely succesful, like the mine-clearing ‘flail’ tank or the AVRE, based on the Churchill tank that came in umpteen variants, including anti-bunker, ditch filling and bridging roles. However, many of the ‘funnies’ barely made it past the planning stages. One such project was the ten-foot rocket propelled wheel known as the Great Panjandrum. The idea was that this would roll up the invasion beach, crushing all obstacles in its path before exploding at a pre-determined target. However, tests of a prototype round the coast from Braunton at Westward Ho proved to be as dangerous to the launchers as the enemy, as witnessed by BBC correspondent Brian Johnson:
“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. 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 (recording cameraman) 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.”
Tests of the Panjandrum were carried out in full view of crowds of holidaymakers, and it’s this lack of secrecy that has lead some historians to believe that the whole thing was some sort of elaborate double bluff, to keep attention away from the real ‘funnies’, tested more covertly in Suffolk.
A couple of weeks ago, as part of the Appledore Book festival a replica was launched on the same stretch of Westward Ho beach – and thanks to ‘elf ‘n’ safety restrictions it was much less hair-raising, but still spectacular.
>Wonderful! It must be over 40 years ago that I got a small book from the library on the Dept of Miscellaneous Weapons Development – and read about the Great Panjandrum! They had some very gifted out-of-the-box thinkers, like Neville Shute-Norway, the stress-calculator for the R100 airship and a founding partner of Airspeed Aviation, and already a very successful (and readable) novelist. Successes included Radar, Mulberry harbours, flamethrowers, the degaussing equipment that counteracted the German magnetic mines and camouflaging the Manchester Ship Canal with coal dust (!!). Failures included the Panjandrum, but my favourite bit was a marvellous description of an attempt to set German harbours on fire by first floating in a layer of oil and then, using a submarine, releasing a stream of oxygen gas across it! When the first test didn't quite work, an intrepid sailor was requested to row into the middle of the oil, and drop a match over the side…….
>Neville "Town Like Alice" Shute! Of course – I didn't even realise it was the same bloke!One thing we've always done well in this country – and something we still do well – is engineering. There's a few in our family – including my dad and brother (who holds a patent on an important bit of pressure containment kit).
>Ol' Nev is worth reading up on…in 1938, he wrote a book called "Whatever Happened to the Corbetts" which forecast the near annihilation of London by aerial bombing. It was of course rubbish and never happened, as was his book "No Highway", about a new type of aeroplane that suffered metal fatigue…which didn't happen to the Mk1 Comet either. Fortunately, he WAS wrong (so far) with "On the Beach"!!
>There was also a test with the Panjandrum at Walmington-on-Sea and this was recorded in the Round And Round Went The Great Big Wheel episode of Dad's Army.
>bikerted, one of the other things we do well in this country is comedy – especially when we're laughing at ourselves!