Panjandrum, known also as the The Great Panjandrum, was a massive, rocket-propelled, explosive-laden cart designed by the British military during World War II. It was one of a number of highly experimental projects, including Hajile and the Hedgehog, that were developed by the Admiralty's Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development in the final years of the war. The Panjandrum was never used in battle.


The DMWD had been asked to come up with a device capable of penetrating the ten-foot high, seven-foot thick concrete defences that made up part of the Atlantic Wall. It was further specified that the device should be capable of being launched from landing craft since it was highly likely that the beaches in front of the defences would act as a killing ground for anyone attempting to deliver the device by hand. Sub-Lieutenant Nevil Shute calculated that over one ton of explosives would be needed in order to create a tank-sized breach in such a wall. The delivery method for such a quantity of explosives posed a significant problem, and one of the concepts discussed ultimately resulted in the construction of the prototype "Great Panjandrum". The proposed device was composed of two gigantic wooden wheels, ten feet in diameter with steel treads a foot wide, joined by a central drum fitted with the explosive payload. It was to be propelled by sets of cordite rockets attached to each wheel. It was predicted that when deployed with a full 4,000 lb load, Panjandrum would achieve speeds of around 60 mph, simply crashing through any obstacles to reach its target. The name "Great Panjandrum" was chosen by Shute as a reference to Samuel Foote's poem of the same name, in particular the closing line "till the gunpowder ran out at the heels of their boots".


The prototype was secretly constructed at Leytonstone and transported by night to the testing grounds at Westward Ho!, Devon. However, once there the secrecy surrounding the project broke down, as the beach chosen as a test site was also a popular destination for holidaymakers and from the first test on September 7, 1943 onwards, every trial was witnessed by large citizen audiences despite the DMWD's warnings concerning the safety of the weapon. Since nothing remotely resembling the Panjandrum had ever been constructed before, the trials began with a good degree of trepidation — only a handful of cordite rockets were attached to the wheels, and the payload was simulated by an equivalent weight of sand. When Shute gave the signal, the rockets were ignited and the Panjandrum catapulted itself forward, out of the landing craft used as a launchpad, and a fair distance up the beach before a number of the rockets on the right wheel failed and the weapon careened off course. Several further attempts were made with more and more rockets, but on every occasion the Panjandrum lost control before reaching the end of the beach.

After tinkering with the project for a further three weeks, the Department returned to the beach. Panjandrum was now equipped with over seventy cordite rockets and a stabilising third wheel. When launched, it hurtled towards the coast, skimming the beach before turning back out to sea. A number of the convert|20|lb|abbr=on rockets detached and whipped wildly above the heads of the gathered audience or exploded underwater. Despite these failures, Shute and his team persevered, removing the third wheel and attaching steel cables to the remaining two wheels as a basic form of steering. Panjandrum proved to be too powerful however, snapping the cables and whipping them back across the beach when they were used. More weeks were spent testing every conceivable variable from thicker cables to heavier rocket-clamps without success before the DMWD received notification that the weapon was only required to be consistently able to travel in the "general direction" of the enemy. With some degree of confidence, a final trial was scheduled to be performed in January, 1944, in front of a number of Navy officials and scientists, as well as an official photographer.

The final test

The day of the test was described in detail by Brian Johnson, for the BBC documentary "Secret War"::"At first all went well. Panjandrum rolled into the sea and began to head for the shore, the Brass Hats watching through binoculars from the top of a pebble ridge [...] Then a clamp gave: first one, then two more rockets broke free: Panjandrum began to lurch ominously. It hit a line of small craters in the sand and began to turn to starboard, careering towards Klemantaski, who, viewing events through a telescopic lens, misjudged the distance and continued filming. Hearing the approaching roar he looked up from his viewfinder to see Panjandrum, shedding live rockets in all directions, heading straight for him. As he ran for his life, he glimpsed the assembled admirals and generals diving for cover behind the pebble ridge into barbed-wire entanglements. Panjandrum was now heading back to the sea but crashed on to the sand where it disintegrated in violent explosions, rockets tearing across the beach at great speed."

Given the results of the trial, it is perhaps not surprising that the project was scrapped almost immediately over safety concerns. However, it has since been claimed that the entire project was a hoax devised as part of Operation Fortitude, to convince the Germans that plans were being developed to attack the heavily fortified defences surrounding the Pas-de-Calais rather than the less-defended Normandy coastline. In particular, the near-complete lack of security surrounding the tests themselves is cited as proof that the Allies wished German spies to know about the project.Fact|date=December 2007

Popular culture

Although not named as Panjandrum, a similar device was the focus of an episode of the comedy Dad's Army, "Round and Round Went the Great Big Wheel". The device malfunctions in a similar way to the original, although for comic purposes it is more manoeuvrable and remains active far longer.

The Panjandrum tests are featured in the film "Overlord" by Stuart Cooper.

The Panjandrum was mentioned in "The Right Stuff" by Tom Wolf

Footage from the final test is shown in Episode 17 of the BBC documentary series "The World at War"

External links

*"" by Samuel Foote, on Wikisource.
* [ Eye witness account by Thomas William Leeson] On BBC WW2 People.


* Pawle, G. "The Secret War", White Lion, 1972. ISBN 0-85617-120-4
* Johnson, B. "The Secret War", BBC Publications, 1978. ISBN 0-09-920790-7

ee also

*Hobart's Funnies

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • panjandrum — (n.) mock name for a pompous personage, 1755, invented by Samuel Foote (1720 1777) in a long passage full of nonsense written to test the memory of actor Charles Macklin (1697 1797), who said he could repeat anything after hearing it once …   Etymology dictionary

  • panjandrum — [pan jan′drəm] n. [arbitrary formation from a nonsense passage by Samuel Foote (1721 77), Eng actor & playwright] a self important, pompous official: a satirical title …   English World dictionary

  • panjandrum — [18] Panjandrum is an invented word, coined in 1755 by the English actor and playwright Samuel Foote (1720–77) to test the memory of the actor Charles Macklin, who claimed to be able to memorize and repeat anything said to him (it was one of… …   The Hutchinson dictionary of word origins

  • panjandrum — [18] Panjandrum is an invented word, coined in 1755 by the English actor and playwright Samuel Foote (1720–77) to test the memory of the actor Charles Macklin, who claimed to be able to memorize and repeat anything said to him (it was one of… …   Word origins

  • panjandrum — noun (plural drums; also panjandra) Etymology: Grand Panjandrum, burlesque title of an imaginary personage in some nonsense lines by Samuel Foote Date: 1856 a powerful personage or pretentious official …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • panjandrum — [pan dʒandrəm] noun a person who has or claims to have a great deal of authority or influence. Origin C19: from Grand Panjandrum, an invented phr. in a nonsense verse (1755) by Samuel Foote …   English new terms dictionary

  • panjandrum — /pan jan dreuhm/, n. a self important or pretentious official. [1745 55; pseudo Latin word (based on PAN ) coined by Samuel Foote (1720 77), English dramatist and actor] * * * …   Universalium

  • panjandrum — noun /pænˈdʒæn.drəm/ a) An important, powerful or influential person. b) A self important or pretentious person …   Wiktionary

  • panjandrum —  Self important person, pompous official …   Bryson’s dictionary for writers and editors

  • panjandrum — pan·jan·drum || pæ>n dʒændrÉ™m n. conceited person, pretentious person; haughty person, boastful person …   English contemporary dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”