Geologists at war, 1939–1945

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Introduction

Like everybody else, geologists and their work were affected by the outbreak of World War II. This page shows some of these effects and the contributions made by geologists to the war effort. In addition to the subjects covered the Survey was involved in a wide range of activities such as advising the on the siting of military camps, aerodromes and storage depots (surface and underground), surveying for minerals in the UK, giving advice on where to get sand for sandbags and producing a series of wartime pamphlets.


Preparing for war

As the prospect of war grew more likely, arrangements were made for what would happen to the Geological Survey of Great Britain and its staff.

File: “Emergency War Measures – Disposal of Staff”, 1938-1943 [GSM/DC/W/13]
Memorandum relating to preparations for the possible outbreak of war, 1938 [GSM/DC/W/13]
Letter from E B Bailey to J Fox relating to the Survey’s chemical work in the event of war, 1939 [GSM/DC/W/13]

Home Guard

Like many others, members of the Geological Survey joined the Home Guard to defend Britain from possible invasion.


Charles Findlay Davidson (1911-1967) graduated from the University of St Andrews in 1933 with First Class Honours in Geology and Mineralogy. In 1934 he was appointed Assistant to the Curator at the Museum of Practical Geology. During the war he was involved in the preparation of confidential reports for military and naval intelligence on the topographical and geological conditions in existing or potential theatres of war. He also produced reports relating to strategic minerals including Uranium and this resulted in his appointment as Chief Geologist of the Geological Survey’s Special Investigations Division (later the Atomic Energy Division) in 1944. In 1955 Davidson was appointed Professor of Geology and Mineralogy at St Andrew’s and held this post up until his death.

Secret and confidential

Geologists from the Survey were involved in a variety of confidential and secret working during the war.

Bomb!

At 11:47pm on 10 September 1940 a German bomb damaged the Geological Museum at Exhibition Road, London. Edward Bailey in his book Geological Survey of Great Britain records that the bomb "broke half the windows" and a later near miss in 1941 "completed out [sic, probably meant our] deglazing."


The other side

The British were not alone in their use of geologists during the Second World War as these documents show.

Walther Klüpfel was born at Heidelberg on 28 May 1888. He studied geology in Metz, Heidelberg, Berlin, Vienna and Strasbourg. He served in the First World War and was awarded the Iron Cross, Second Class for his efforts in supplying the German troops on the Western Front with water. He was teaching at the University of Giessen when he was called up for military service in 1941. At first he was in charge of a cartographic unit stationed at Granville before being moved to Jersey in August 1941. His task involved producing a report relating to the geological structure of the island, its building material , mineral resources and water supply. These factors were an important part of the plan to fortify the Channel Islands. At the weekends Klüpfel relaxed from his military duties by undertaking private geological studies. He appears to have left Jersey around the time of the D Day landings in June 1944. After the war Klüpfel returned to the University of Giessen and later the University of Marburg. He died on16 September 1964.

Aftermath

Even as the war continued, plans were drawn up for what work the Survey would be doing once peace finally came.