Great Panjandrum menaces North Devon
Experts to unleash unpredictable Nazi-busting wheel of destruction
Fireworks experts will this morning perhaps unwisely unleash a replica Great Panjandrum on the beach at Westward Ho! in North Devon - recreating the original tests of the rocket-powered wheel which sadly did not contribute to the 1944 allied landings at Normandy.
The Great Panjandrum was intended to thunder up the invasion beaches, cutting a swathe through German defences before detonating a ton of high explosive. It was, the Times notes, devised by naval lieutenant Nevil Shute Norway, later known as novelist Nevil Shute.
Shute Norway had worked with Barnes Wallis, but his top-secret Panjandrum failed to make the impact of the bouncing bomb. He'd calculated the beast would charge at "60mph on its two 10ft diameter steel wheels, smashing its way through any obstacles, before blasting a hole in the 7ft concrete of the Atlantic Wall large enough to drive a tank through".
Unfortunately, during not-so-secret tests at Westward Ho! in 1944, enjoyed by large crowds of locals and holidaymakers, the Great Panjandrum resolutely refused to follow a straight line.
Every time the cordite rockets were fired up, it simply veered off to one side. Shute and his team spent weeks tackling this problem, before assembling military top brass for a final demonstration. The Great Panjandrum failed to secure a place on the D-Day invasion fleet by once again careering wildly off course before exploding.
The 7ft diameter replica which will today menace Westward Ho! was constructed by Bristol fireworks company Skyburst, which reckons it'll trundle up to 550 yards at a modest 15mph.
Skyburst’s display director, Leigh Pittaway, insisted the Great Panjandrum would not be used to blow a big hole in the Westward Ho! seafront, and would be unarmed. He said: “We thought about it, as we have the whole beach to ourselves, but decided it would create too many complications. We don’t want to kill any dogs or onlookers.”
There's some footage of the original Great Panjandrum, along with other ill-conceived British military gadgets here. ®
The Great Panjandrum was named after the Samuel Foote poem of the same name.
Nevil Shute Ace. Never mind the Panjandrum.
I would not dis Nevil if I were you. Apart from his somewhat premature fondness for rocket power he is unique and don't forget the Panjandrum was conceived by Barnes Wallis (which just shows that even the best of us has bad moments).
There was a whole series of books and some made it into film, A Town like Alice and No Highway, and it is not easy to forget his post apocalypse On the Beach.
We are now trying to get a blue plaque for the house he lived in during WWII up to his emigration to Australia and where he wrote A Town like Alice and No Highway.
It is true that no one else can claim to be a pioneering engineer and a novelist of note, he was also a pretty good prophet; in No Highway he forecast fatigue failure in aircraft years before the Comet 1 crash, when he emigrated to Australia he declared that the reason for his leaving was that the UK was “going to the dogs”. As we all know we have now arrived.
You can find out more from www.nevilshute.org/.
[4 Anon John] If only this thing had followed the same design it might have worked. The whole design is bloody stupid and I for one will unabashedly "dis" Shute for not noticing it's stupidly high Center of Gravity. When run along a bumpy beach OF COURSE it would fall over eventually. The rockets only made things happen that much faster.
Not only that, if the rockets don't ignite properly, they will and did tip the bugger over before it even rolls an inch. Stupid design. Fixed axle meant that it would turn any time one wheel left the ground (archival footage will show how often tis happened).
If it had had a wider axle, maybe four times what it actually did have, and used the cottonreel tank AKA moonrover pole idea, but had the pole mounted in the middle of the axle, it could still have had a rocket assist. I'd have mounted it on the centerline of the wider device and used a single inline engine like a V1 pulse jet. The pole would serve to keep the thing in a straight line rather than supply motive power (each wheel would be free to turn so no fixed axle problems). Of course, then it wouldn't have fitted between the tank traps on the beaches, but the explosives were supposed to ding those up anyway.
We actually needed more of these things. The German defenders might then have laughed themselves to death.
[4 Paul Townsend] Exactly what I'd say if my department had spent money on it, once the newsreel footage got to the P.M.
Have none of you seen (Col.) Dick Strawbridge's recreations of this device?
I seem to remember that it required a set of 'reins' to keep it under any semblance of control.