Avoiding the U-Boats: the Clyde-Forth Oil Pipeline

By Warwick M. Brown, published November 2004


With the growth of the German Navy at the start of the twentieth century posing a new threat to British naval supremacy, geographic realities dictated that the North Sea would be the main scene of naval operations in the event of an Anglo-German conflict. However all the existing home bases were located on the South Coast. To overcome this plans for a new base at Rosyth were drawn up. Although the base was far from complete by the start of the war the Battle Cruiser Force and the Light Cruiser Squadron were transferred to Rosyth for the duration of the war, necessitating the need for considerable quantities of oil fuel to provide for the ever increasing consumption by the fleet. The U-Boats unrestricted warfare campaign of 1917, which threatened the supply of oil by sea round the coast of Scotland, led to the idea of an oil pipeline from the Clyde to the Forth to obviate this threat. Initial detailed discussions concluded that the cost, length of completion time and the shortage of materials and labour would prevent the start of the project. However, on the other side of the Atlantic the British War Mission to the United States organised the expertise of the leading pipeline construction companies, who, with Admiralty approval, took over the project. With materials purchased in the United States, American technical knowledge and manpower provided by two companies of Royal Marine Engineers work on the pipeline, following the line of the Clyde- Forth canal, commenced in July 1918. It was completed by the end of September, with oil flowing on 10th November 1918. A remarkable achievement and a credit to Anglo American relations.

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Filed under: WW1 | Internal Waterways | Other (location)
Subjects include: Logistics

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