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Welfreighter (1944); Service vessel; Submarine; Welman submarine

Ship models

Object connections:

Collection Ship models
Gallery locationNot on display
Publication(s)Ship models : their purpose and development from 1650 to the present : illustrated from the ship model collection of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

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Object details:

Object ID SLR1596
Description Scale: 1:8. A highly unusual model of a little-known vessel. The exigencies of the Second World War produced drastic changes in industry in Britain, but there are no more striking examples than the output that took place at municipal vehicle manufacturers Shelvoke & Drewry Ltd. (S&D). Commonly known more for their dustcarts, during hostilities the company began producing for the war effort items such as aircraft undercarriages and landing gear, anti-tank guns, tank transporters, and submersibles. The ‘Welfreighter’ (circa 1944) was a 37-foot miniature submarine developed by the British Special Operations Executive and manufactured by S&D. Classified top secret for over 50 years, it is only in recent years that official files detailing the existence of this project have been made public. During the war, even the local residents of Letchworth were unaware that the factory was building these vessels. The ‘Welfreighter’ was intended to be used for clandestine operations such as delivering agents behind enemy lines, gathering of coastal intelligence, transporting Special Forces personnel and for sabotage. Surfaced, seen from a distance, they looked like small motor boats. S&D built a large number of them and, with their welded steel hulls they could be assembled in just seven days. Propulsion when running awash was by diesel engine and, when submerged, was by electric motors running off storage batteries. They carried a crew of four and embodied practically every feature of a full-size submarine: refrigeration, lighting and air-conditioning plants; water, oil and air pumps; and all the necessary gear for surface and underwater navigation. Sadly no actual ‘Welfreighters’ are known to have survived so the model is important as a primary source of reference.
Date made circa 1944

Artist/Maker Shelvoke & Drewry Ltd
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Materials coating: varnish; metal: brass; organic: cotton; paint; wood
Measurements Overall model and case: 677 x 1517 x 400 mm
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