Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Photo TimeLine

1931 - 1940 page 6

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Sir Dennistoun Burney

Shute first worked under Sir Dennistoun Burney on R100. They collaborate in 1939 and 1940 on radio-controlled gliding torpedoes. ( BW )

Summer 1939

Shute works on An Old Captivity and sails his yacht Runagate.

September 3 1939

World War Two begins. Shute is sailing his new yacht Runagate with his wife Frances and is caught in fog off the coast of France when war is declared.

Runagate is a 40 foot Hillyard Schooner specially built for Shute. Nevil and Frances are in Runagate, in a fog off the French coast, when war is declared. Runagate means either Renegade or Vagabond. ( HMC ) Click for larger image


Runagate in 2003 Since 2003, Runagate's whereabouts are currently unknown. The father of Colin Henderson of UK is the last known owner. In 2003 Runagate was aging but her hull was in good to very good condition.(Photo: Colin Henderson 2003)

(but see Newsletter for November 2007 for latest information on Runagate's whereabouts and also photograph on the "Virtual Museum")

Runagate pennant Click for larger image

The burgee from Shute's yacht Runagate. Anyone who can identify the heraldry should contact us. We have established that it is not the Shute or Norway family crest. If the 3 animals are lions then the indication is probably that the sailors are brave but if they are, as they look to me, 3 pussycats in a boat then maybe the pennant had a humorous intent. (HMC /Photo: RM 2002)

We have subsequently (July 2009) heard from Michael Ferrier, Former Commodore, Blackwater Sailing Club, that the pennant shown is the burgee of the Blackwater Sailing Club (founded 1899) Heybridge Basin, Maldon, Essex. (See The arms depicted on the burgee are in fact those of the former Borough of Maldon and have been used by the club since the 1920s. It is not known why Nevil should be wearing this burgee. It could imply that he was a member of the Blackwater Sailing Club, which seems unlikely given that he lived on the South Coast. It is more likely that pehaps he visited the Blackwater Sailing Club and exchanged burgees, a practice common at that time.

Shute sailing his yacht Runagate in the late 1930s.
( INSS )

Shute sailing Runagate

Autumn 1939

To avoid stray bombs aimed at Portsmouth, the Shute family move to The Old Mill in Langston. The Old Mill is owned by Flora Twort.

Langstone Mill Click for larger image

The Shute family temporarily live here at Langstone Mill in late 1939. Shute also does some gliding torpedo research work on the ground floor from 1939 to mid 1940. (Photo: DDT 2002)

1939 August to January 1940

Shute attended some of the 40+ trials of the Toraplane gliding torpedo off the coast of the Isle of Wight. These trials had the co-operation and support of the Admiralty and had the active support of Winston Churchill who was then the First Lord of the Admiralty. Shute attended several meetings of The Toraplane Development Committee and was referred to as "Mr.Norway - Sir Dennis Burney's assistant". Landfall, which was almost certainly begun immediately after this time, mirrors these events.


This paravane deployed below the Toraplane and was used to detach the wings just before entry into the water. (JA)

October 30 1939

Shute attends the first of four meetings over 6 weeks under the Chairmanship of Admiral Sir William James regarding the plans for the Toraplane and the Doravane that were being designed by Sir Denistoun Burney. In the minutes Shute is described as Sir Denistoun Burney's assistant.

December 04 1939

Nevil Shute Norway, Sir Dennistoun Burney, Rolf Edmund Spencer, Arthur Henry Cooper and Henry Edward Gauss file for a patent titled "Improvements in or relating to Observing or Sighting Devices". This is for a gyro-stabilised aiming sight for the aircraft, which launched the Toraplane gliding torpedo. The device has a "computer" to correct for wind drift and other factors.

Sydney Hansel (1904 - 2004)

Photo of Sydney Hansel

Sydney Hansel (1904 - 2004) Born on 1 st April 1904, Sydney Hansel worked with several aircraft companies and was very active and successful in design, test flying and sales. He first worked with Shute at Airspeed, then again with Shute and Sir Dennistoun Burney on the Toraplane and the Doravane and then again with Shute in the DMWD in WW2.
Hansel moved to the Pacific Northeast of the USA after WW2 and kept in touch with Shute well into the 1950s when he provided research for Beyond The Black Stump. Hansel designed the Hansel de-barker for removing tree bark with water jets. The Hansel de-barker is mentioned by name in Trustee From The Toolroom when Keith Stewart visits the lumber mill. Hansel died in 2004 having reached 100. (Photo: Courtesy of The Hansel Family 2006)

1939 - 1940

Shute attempts to write The Lame Ducks Fly but stops after typing one chapter.

British submarine HMS Snapper.
On December 03 1939 an Avro Anson of Coastal Command attacked the British submarine HMS Snapper in error. The sub was reportedly hit by at least one of the Anson's small 100-pound bombs but allegedly only suffered 4 broken light bulbs. Shute researcher John Anderson has investigated the many connections between this factual incident and the sinking of the fictional submarines in Landfall. HMS Snapper was later lost with all hands in January-February 1941. It seems possible that if Shute had just started The Lame Ducks Fly (see the previous entry) when he heard of the Snapper incident he might have dropped The Lame Ducks Fly after just one chapter to pursue the more promising HMS Snapper / Landfall idea. (Photo: PAF)

Late 1939

The Shute family move to Langstone Place in Langstone Harbour.

Langstone Towers

Langstone Towers on Langstone Harbour provides a temporary home for the Shute family from late 1939 to mid 1940. (Photo: RM 2001)

Click for larger image


Early 1940

With Sir Dennis Burney and Sydney Hansel, Shute is involved in the specification and design of the Burney Amphibian. A huge six-engined airborne aircraft carrier, it carries 4 torpedo-laden fighter-bombers within its wings. Never built, the aircraft is typical of Burney's adventurous approach to design.

Burney Amphibious Flying Aircraft Carrier

The Burney Amphibian aerial aircraft carrier was to weigh 220,000 pounds and be 125 feet long with a wingspan of 180 feet. With a top speed of 240mph, it was designed to carry a crew of 18 and its 4 Fighter-Torpedo-Bombers for up to 24 hours to a range of 5,300 miles.

Burney Satellite TBF

The Satellite Torpedo-Bomber-Fighter, 4 of which were housed in and launched from the wings of the Burney Amphibian, was 26 feet long with a 17 foot wingspan. With a top speed of 360mph and weighing 5,300 pounds, the Fighter had a real Buck Rogers look.


An Old Captivity Published.

Middle 1940

The Shute family leaves Langstone Place. Shute sends his wife Frances, Heather (7) and Shirley (5) to Canada. This is a War Plan he had outlined in What Happened To The Corbetts / Ordeal in 1938. Unable to draw on Shute's funds in Canada, Frances and the girls go to Bermuda.


Although designed after Shute's departure from Airspeed I am including the AS39 in the album as a tribute to Hessel Tiltman and because I believe Shute would have found the aircraft interesting. After the incessant quest for higher aircraft speeds up to the late 1930s it must have been refreshing to receive a brief for an aircraft which was designed to go very slowly. Initiated before radar or helicopters were proven effective at sea, the Tiltman designed AS39 Fleet Shadower was created to fulfil to a 1937 Admiralty specification asking for a slow observation aircraft with a long duration to track enemy fleets especially during the hours of darkness. Although the specification never mentions it, it sounds like this plane could have potentially been very useful in convoy anti-submarine work too. Airspeed was among several companies who built test aircraft to this Admiralty specification. Finally produced in 1940, the AS39 Fleet Shadower prototype cruised easily at only 38 knots (70 kmph or 44mph) for a duration of six hours. It had 4 small engines, a crew of 3 in a comfortable cabin, great visibility for the crew, small dimensions when its wings were folded for shipboard storage and it made little noise at cruising speed. Interestingly, the AS39 was designed from data obtained from Royal Aircraft Establishment tests on a "flapped" Airspeed Envoy. The full story and pictures of this fascinating aircraft and its main competitor can be seen at the AeroArchive from by clicking here (Photo: PAF)


Shute attempts to join the Navy as an RNVR "Elderly Yachtsman" to command a trawler or mine sweeper but, to his chagrin, is immediately drafted into the Admiralty Department of Miscellaneous Weapon Development (DMWD).

Autumn 1940 - Later 1941

Picture of Acoustic aircraft warning device

Shute has a leading role in developing the Acoustic Warning Device. Containing sensitive microphones and the ability to ignore non-threatening sounds, it was placed high up on a ships mast to detect approaching aircraft. The Gramophone Company (later to become EMI) was involved and 600 merchant vessels were fitted with the device. Detailed information on Shute's DMWD war work can be found in John Anderson's article "Nevil Shute and the DMWD" which can be found on the website. ( TSW )


Landfall is published.

Ship Inn at South Harting Click for larger image

The Ship Inn at South Harting in Sussex, mentioned in Landfall, is one of the very few pubs with its real name in a Shute novel. Shute mentions South Harting in a 1925 letter. (Photo: RM 2003)

The Trout Inn
In Landfall, Charenton who is about to be shot by the Nazis asks Mr Howard to drink a pint of beer for him at The Trout Inn "sitting on the wall looking at the fish in the pool..."
You can find The Trout Inn and the beer and the fish at 195 Godstow Road, Lower Wolvercote Postcode: OX2 8PN in The UK.
Telephone (01865) 302071
Click here for map

Trout Inn, Oxford

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