Directorate of miscellaneous weapons development

The Department of Miscellaneous Weapons Development (DMWD), known colloquially as the Wheezers and Dodgers, was a department of the Admiralty responsible for the development of various unconventional weapons during World War II. The nickname was derived from their original title, the Inspectorate of Anti-Aircraft Weapons and Devices, IAAWD, (an office of Admiral Somerville) which was corrupted to "Instigator of Anti-Aircraft Wheezes and Dodges". Charles Goodeve was responsible for its expansion from an Inspectorate and widening of its role.

The Directors of the Miscellaneous Weapons Development were firstly Captain G.O.C. Davies (known as Jock Davies) who came from the Ministry of Supply[1] who was succeeded in 1943 by Captain F.W.H. Jeans, who came from the Admiralty in Washington. (1)(5).

Among the staff was Lieutenant-Commander N. S. Norway, RNVR (better known by his pen name - Nevil Shute), Lt-Cdr Edward Terrell RNVR who developed Plastic Armour and left in late 1941 to join the First Sea Lord's staff, renowned motor racing photographer Louis Klementaski and Barnes Wallis.

Projects

DMWD was responsible for a number of devices of varying practicality and success, many of which were based on solid fuel rocket propulsion. As might be expected of a small, dynamic and highly experimental group, their output encompassed both resounding successes and sublimely comical failures, notable among which were the Panjandrum rocket-propelled beach defence demolition weapon and Hajile, a rocket-powered alternative to parachutes for dropping materiel. A scheme to camouflage bodies of water, used as navigation markers by bombers, was undertaken by a group named "Kentucky Minstrels". It involved spreading coal dust from a ship, ironically named "HMS Persil". The scheme failed due to the actions of wind and tide but did produce some confusion when the coal-covered waters were mistaken for tarmac in the blackout.

Its successful and important developments included the Hedgehog anti-submarine weapon and Squid anti-submarine mortar, as well as the Harvey Projector, the development of an Army anti-aircraft rocket battery designed to be mountable on naval vessels, and the system of degaussing used to protect ships against magnetic mines, and above all an instrumental role in developing parts of the Mulberry harbour used in the D-Day landings. Hedgehog was developed after the Lt-Col Blacker's spigot mortar weapons were shown to the DMWD by MD1 ("Churchill's Toyshop").

Several experimental weapons were trialled at Brean Down Fort, a satellite unit of HMS Birnbeck (Birnbeck pier taken over as a base for DMWD) in Weston-super-Mare, North Somerset. Some of the better known weapons trialled were the seaborne Bouncing bomb designed specifically to bounce to a target such as across water to avoid torpedo nets, Anti-submarine missile AMUCK and the expendable acoustic emitter (designed to confuse noise seeking torpedoes).

References

  • The Secret War 1939-1945, Pawle, Harrap, London, 1956
  • Biography of Sir Charles Goodeve
  • Nevil Shute and the DMWD presented at the Nevil Shute Reunion meeting York, May 15–16, 2004
  • Victorian Forts data sheet on Brean Down Fort
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