Friday, October 14, 2011
A Second World War weapon tested to destruction in Devon and which nearly killed the generals who were going to buy it, is one of the subjects in a new book by an Exmouth writer.
Former Exmouth Herald reporter Paul Nero and his co-author, national newspaper journalist James Moore have penned Pigeon Guided Missiles And 49 Other Ideas That Never Took Off, which is to be published by the History Press this month.
The Panjandrum – a rocket-powered cart packed with explosives - was designed in London and tested on the beach at Westward Ho!
The plan was that it would nip out of the ocean from a landing craft and blast its way through the Atlantic wall, a Nazi defence line, at 60 miles an hour.
The bad news is that the Panjandrum didn’t work. Even the need for secrecy was compromised when the good people of Devon, having been implored by the authorities to stay away for their own safety, responded by turning up in droves to watch what many hoped to be a magnificent firework display.
A series of tests resulted in varying degrees of failure. Once it launched itself in every direction at the same time. Once it spluttered to a halt and was left to the incoming tide. And once it tried to assassinate the watching generals and official cameraman. In short, it was a consummate failure.
Paul said: “The Panjandrum takes its place in the book amongst other enthralling examples of startling schemes, including the story of how birds were trained to direct World War Two weapons to their targets, the ideas for a nuclear powered car, anti-seasickness ships and inventor Thomas Edison’s plan for concrete furniture.
“Some of these ideas became the victims of the eccentric figures behind them, others succumbed to financial and political misfortune, and a few were just too far ahead of their time.
“Pigeon-Guided Missiles also explains why the great groundnut scheme cost British taxpayers £49 million; why the bid to build Minerva, a whole new country in the Pacific Ocean, sank; and why the first Channel Tunnel (started in 1881, over a century before the one we know today) hit a dead end.”