SS Broompark taking 'Heavy water' from Bordeaux 1940

Discussion in '1940' started by Roy Martin, Dec 1, 2010.

  1. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    Just before noon on 20 June 1940 the following merchant ships sailed from Le Verdon for Falmouth: the KASANGO with 100 British passengers; the NIGERSTROOM with 600 British passengers; the VILLE DE LEIGE with 200-300 Polish and Czech troops and the BROOMPARK with unknown number of British nationals and machine tools. The brief mention of 'machine tools' on the BROOMPARK hides a more interesting story. Denholm's almost new tramp ship BROOMPARK was under the command of Captain Olaf Paulsen when she arrived at Bordeaux to load.

    The only place where heavy water (deuterium oxide) could be isolated was at the Norsk Hydro Ryukan plant in Norway. By the end of 1939, Ryukan was receiving orders from the German chemical giant I.G. Farben for up to 100 kg of heavy water a month. French intelligence became aware of the increased German demand, and, in early March, Lieutenant Jacques Allier, a Deuxième Bureau agent, managed to spirit the entire Ryukan 165 Kg of heavy water, in 26 five-litre containers, out of the country. When France was invaded the French nuclear scientist Jean Frédéric Joliot-Curie1 took charge of the material, hiding it first in a Banque de France vault and then in a prison. Joliot-Curie then moved it to Bordeaux, where it, plus research papers and most of the scientists ( Joliot-Curie remained in France) boarded the BROOMPARK. The ship already had industrial diamonds, machinery and a number of British evacuees aboard. BROOMPARK delivered her passengers and cargo, together with all of the free supply of heavy water, to Falmouth on the 21 June. The award of an OBE to Captain Paulsen was recorded in the London Gazette of 4 February 1941.

    Any additional information would be most welcome - especially Captain Paulsen's report, if he made one.
    Chris C likes this.
  2. Jedburgh22

    Jedburgh22 Very Senior Member

    Can'nt find anything on this in the SOE, Cabinet or Admiralty files at TNA Kew.
  3. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Hi Roy,

    This sounds rather Interesting, do keep the thread updated with any more info you come across.

  4. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    Hi Andy,

    I have dug deeper and am now satisfied that it is for real. I have downloaded information from the University of British Columbia and information about Charles Howard, Earl of Suffolk, who was involved and came back on the Broompark - with his secretary! I have sent messages to two people who were enquiring about the ship/captain on the Warsailors website. A film was made about this in 1947, presumably in France. Will keep all posted - this adds quite a bit of spice to the story of Aerial.


  5. The Earl of Suffolk lived at Charlton House near Malmesbury. After an entertaining early life he became an undergraduate at Edinburgh in 1934, aged 28. By 1937 he was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the next year got the first Honours degree in Pharmacology. At the start of the war as well as being Malmesbury's Cheif ARP Warden he joined the Ministry of Supplies Scientific Research Dept. Sent to Paris as Liaison Officer, as France was collapsing he went round the city armed with 2 .45 automatic pistols 'persuading' jewellers and bankers to give him diamonds for transport to England. Then he started on rare chemicals. Escaping just ahead of the Germans he raced off to Bordeux.

    The ship sailed on 19 June and arrived off Falmouth three days later where a special train took the passengers & cargo to London. Arriving at the Ministry at 0400 the porter was not keen to allow the strangely dressed man admittance but the .45s seem to have done the trick again. In Herbert Morrison's absence Harold Macmiilan saw him and arranged for a destroyer to collect the rest of his booty.

    He went on to be the foremost bomb disposal expert but was killed on 12 May 1941, being awarded the GC. In all these advantures he was accompanied by his Secretary, Eileen Morden and his 'man Friday' Fred Hards - the Holy Trinity. They all perished together.

  6. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

  7. Yes, Andy he's the same man. As this thread is about the heavy water I'll add some more detail about that taken (as was the previous info) from A Hill Top Town by Stan Hudson.

    Suffolk was tasked with collecting machine tools, a group of top atomic scientists and a quantity of heavy water. Once in Bordeux he commandeered the Broomfield (a forceful personality as well as being armed) and loaded it with machine tools, diamonds and the heavy water which had been sent on ahead in lorries. Whilst still loading a Belgian banker named Paul Timbral arrived having been sent there by the British Embassy. Timbral brought two cases of industrial diamonds and found Lord Suffolk stripped to the waist, covered in tattoos from his time as a crewman on a sailing ship, looking like a pirate and speaking fluent French to give orders and crack jokes to keep everyone hard at work.

    After sailing Fred Hards stood guard at the gangway with orders to shoot any of the passengers who dared to disobey the order to stay below. Meanwhile Suffolk, Timbral and the ship's carpenter made a raft on which the diamonds and cans of heavy water were lashed so that they would be saved if the ship sank. Then he doled out champagne and worked out rotas for the women to do the cooking!

    Macmillan's book The Blast of War describes his interview with Suffolk and again refers to the heavy water as well as saying the material saved by the destroyer included more scientists and radium recovered from hospitals.

  8. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    Thanks Charles,

    All a bit confusing as several people have written widely differing accounts. There was even a French language film made in 1947 La Bataille de L'Eau Lourde. The French seem correct in saying that Jean Frédéric Joliot-Curie transported the heavy water to Bordeaux via Mont-Dore and a woman's prison. By the sound of it the Earl was already on the Broompark seeing his goodies loaded. One newspaper story suggests that he did everything himself having got the crew drunk on champagne - I think that is probably rubbish as the Master seemed quite willing to load the cargo, and 'Mad Jack' and his secretary. The ship was one of 120 or so merchant ships that went to western France to save troops and equipment during Operation Aerial. It seems strange that the Broompark was chosen when there was a British cruiser and two destroyers there. Was it one of these who took the radium etc? One French site says that the Broompark stopped on the way back and hid the heavy water in a cave, most other accounts dispute that.

  9. Roy - I'm sure the stories retold in Malmesbury have a basis in fact but are short on detail, for example the dates don't seem to be right. I note Jedburgh22 had a look at Kew - perhaps there's something in the Ministry of Supply files? Wiltshire's History Centre has documents from the Charlton Park estate but nothing in their catalogue leapt out at me when I was looking for WW2 information.

    Although I haven't read Macmillan's book it's interesting that he apparently confirms the destroyer being sent back. Suffolk doesn't seem to have been able to charm RN officers himself!

  10. Hugh MacLean

    Hugh MacLean Senior Member

    Hello Roy,
    I don't know if there will be mention in the ship's Official Logbook. The file for 1940 will be held at Kew in BT 381/1196.
  11. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    Thanks. I will follow up the Official Log, as you know they are often short on detail about the most interesting things.

  12. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    Sorry Hugh,

    I missed your reply for some reason. I am off to TNA on Tuesday to look at about 20 files that may cover the voyage of the BROOMPARK, passengers, cargo etc and I will look at the Official Log.


  13. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    I didn't get far at TNA, Captain Paulsen only mentions that he had 101 souls on board. Bruno Comer and Kerin Freeman have continued to provide me with information on this interesting story. I can provide a copy.

    Among the snippets I have received from Bruno is:

    Timbal writes on page 282: During the afternoon (red: June 18 1940), a detachment of the Royal Air Force ground forces, with anti-aircraft machine guns, arrived under the command of Major A.V. Golding. An anti-submarine gun was also brought on board, and was placed at the stern.

    I note the strange rank for a RAF officer. Can anyone cast light on this, please or add any more about the evacuation from Bordeaux? At this time Major Frank Foley was also in Bordeaux, issuing UK visas to Jewish people.
  14. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    A sequel to the Broompark epic. When the Earl of Suffolk arrived in London he was seen by Harold Macmillan, among others. According to Macmillan the Earl said that he had hidden a cache of material on the coast near the Gironde. If a ship was sent and identified herself with a three letter lamp signal, the material could be loaded. Macmillan says that this was successfully carried out - this has been confirmed by a member of the Earl's family.

    Does anyone know if this most interesting event and the name of the destroyer that was sent?

    Roy Martin
  15. Montypines

    Montypines New Member

    Does anyone know where the Heavy Water went from
  16. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    It went to the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge in small consignments; I not sure if the balance was sent to Canada for the Chalk River project (from memory). Then the Americans caught up and started producing their own.
    Answering my own query in post #14 - no a destroyer was never sent, it turned into a mess up!
  17. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian researcher

    I can't believe this hasn't been turned into an espionage or action movie by Hollywood. :)

  18. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    Nor can I but no one seems interested. The evacuation took place during Operation (or Plan) Aerial, and there are many Aerial deniers. There was a BBC four part series, but that was largely based on US press reports from 1942, which were mostly fictional.
  19. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    in Brook Richards book, Secret Flotillas Vol 1 - it says that :
    "...........the French destroyer Milan, which was evacuating a team of French nuclear scientists and their stock of heavy water to Plymouth"
    This destroyer also carried De Gaulle to the UK

    There are a goodly number of threads on this subject

  20. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    Not heard of that one TD, except that she carried De Gaulle to the UK. The two nuclear scientists, Halban and Kowarski were on the Broompark with all of the heavy water. This is confirmed by their own accounts and the Suffolk Golding mission accounts etc. They went to Falmouth. The two scientists met de Gaulle in the UK, but refused to tell him anything, because their instructions from Joliot-Curie was to hand the HW over to the British Authorities. They were to co-operate with them, and De Gaulle was not the British Authorities; this angered De Gaulle!

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