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The Hedgehog

This is but several extracts from the following site, reproduced with permission of Peter Goodeve
(site no longer exists 2022) copyright (c) Peter Goodeve & Royal Society. Created: 21 May 2005

  • The Hedgehog Defeating the U-Boat

  • HMS Vernon World War 2

  • Winston Churchill Prime Minister

    Icebound Hedgehog mounted on HMS Magpie

    CHARLES FREDERICK GOODEVE was born on 21 February 1904 in the small town of Neepawa, Canada. This stood on the eastern edge of the prairies one hundred miles west of Winnipeg. His great-grandfather, William Daniel Goodeve, had been the brewer in Wimborne, Dorset, before he emigrated. William Daniel appears to have been the only technologist among Charles's forbears.


    In the autumn of 1927 Charles arrived in London with his 1851 Scholarship at University College London. He followed the advice of Donnan, his head, and started to work on new topics which were then full of promise, notably unstable molecules and absorption spectra. This led him into photochemistry and the associated reaction kinetics and ultimately into his work on the physical chemistry of vision. In1928 Charles became an assistant lecturer, having proved himself by successfully giving C. W. Bonnicksen's physical chemistry lectures at less than a day's notice when Bonnicksen was unexpectedly called away. Charles was appointed Lecturer in Physical Chemistry in 1930 and Reader in 1937. During his time at University College Charles became a keen member of the Faraday Society and many of his papers were published in its journal. He became a member of its Council in 1935, and after the War was President from 1950 to 1952. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1940. Charles kept up his naval interests through the R.N.V.R. He went to sea in submarines and minesweepers, and served in four battleships and three destroyers. He qualified as a torpedo specialist at Devonport and then specialized on the electrical side. In 1936 he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Commander and began to direct some of his researches towards naval problems. For these he obtained Admiralty finance and as a result became acquainted with Admiralty departments and procedures. He did attachments in H.M.S. Vernon, the mining establishment in Portsmouth, and these led to his being appointed there when war broke out in 1939. As a result of his naval experience in Winnipeg RCNVR, Charles saw great value in scientific and engineering skills being coupled with experience at sea. It was like the old argument of a chemical engineer's achieving more than a chemist working with an engineer. So he tried hard in 1938 and 1939 to get scientists and engineers specially enlisted into the RNVR. But he had no success. The Admiralty took the view that scientists and engineers were civilians who should work ashore: they did not need experience of problems at sea, for they could get all the advice they needed from regular officers. How wrong they were and how soon Charles proved it were shown by those wartime successes which are described in a later section.


    HMS Vernon

    Much of Charles's naval work was vividly and accurately described by Gerald Pawle in his book The secret war (G. G. Harrap and Co. Ltd, London, 1956). Excerpts from this book have therefore been quoted, with kind permission of both author and publisher, in the sections below dealing with Charles's naval exploits.

    The Hedgehog

    Towards the end of his time in Vernon, Charles had heard of attempts being made at H.M.S. Osprey to develop a weapon to throw antisubmarine charges ahead of a destroyer or corvette. Such an ahead thrown weapon could in principle be far deadlier than existing depth charges, which were dropped astern and gave a submarine too much time to take avoiding action during an attack. After D.M.W.D. had been formed with its wider terms of reference, Charles returned to this problem which had assumed much greater importance because of the enormous success of the German Atlantic submarine offensive. In November 1940 1 was investigating the possibility to using a type of spigot mortar developed for the army by Major Mills Jefferis of M.D.I. at Whitchurch, Bucks., for the purpose of propelling wire devices against aircraft attacking ships. I suggested to Charles that he should consider this mortar for his anti-submarine projectiles. He was quick to take up the idea and soon envisaged a weapon firing a pattern of relatively small contact changes from an array of spigots mounted in the forecastle of an escort. In the final design there were 24 projectiles in the pattern, each with a charge of 31 lb of explosive: they landed in a 130 ft diameter circle 215 yards ahead of the firing vessel. The weapon is illustrated in figure 3.

    The most attractive features of the proposal were lightness of the mounting, the sea worthiness of the loaded round and the possibility of firing the pattern of projectiles in a ripple, so that no strengthening of the forecastle would be required. The preliminary design of the mounting was drawn up by Major Jefferis, whereas the design of the, projectile and the study of its underwater trajectory were undertaken by a group in D.M.W.D. led personally by Charles. Two designs for the fuse, which became armed as the projectile passed through the water and fired on contact, were developed simultaneously. The successful one was mainly the work of Lieutenant Commander H. D. Lucas on the staff of the Chief Superintendent of Armament Design, assisted by D.M.W.D. From here the story is told by Gerald Pawle:


    'The speed in which a new weapon could be put into service, depended, however, on the priority allocated to its full-scale production, and here Goodeve knew he would have to secure influential backing. No matter how much he and his department believed in the new weapon, they had no say in the matter of priorities; these were decided on a much higher joint-Service level.

    'He and Captain Davies were still considering ways and means of boosting the Hedgehog's claims when they learnt that the Prime Minister was to be present at trials of a new type of anti-tank bomb which Jefferis was staging in a chalk quarry not far from Chequers. If they could capture Mr Churchill's interest in their own new weapon the battle was as good as won, and as Chequers was quite close to M.D.I. at Whitchurch this seemed the ideal opportunity. The trial was taking place at ten o'clock one Sunday morning, and Lord Cherwell readily agreed to suggest to the Prime Minister that he should drive over to Whitchurch after watching the anti-tank demonstration. When the day came, however, Davies and Goodeve, deciding to leave nothing to chance, set off for the scene of the first trial. The area near the chalk pits swarmed with military police checking the identity of every visitor, but although neither of the interlopers from D.M.W.D. had passes with them, Davies waved some entirely irrelevant documents out of the car window and they were allowed through the cordon.

    'On a grassy slope in front of the targets they found a distinguished gathering of Service leaders and civilians, and jefferis put on a spectacular show for them. . . . After a while the Prime Minister looked at his watch. 'Time for lunch', he remarked, and began to walk back up the slope, the onlookers forming a line along which he passed. Taking a strategic position at the far end of the line, Goodeve looked round for Davies to support him, but he was nowhere to be seen, so when Lord Cherwell introduced the R.N.V.R. officer to the Prime Minister, Goodeve hurriedly brought up the subject of the Hedgehog on his own.

    'Mr Churchill listened intently, and then, looking again at his watch, he said: "I'm sorry, but I haven't time to come and see this weapon now. We are late already".

    'He turned away, and was about to get into his car when his daughter, who had just walked up to the group, firmly grasped his arm.

    '"We must see Captain Davies's bomb-thrower, Daddy", she pleaded, "of course there's time". Davies, with his winning manner, had not been idle!

    'Smiling ruefully, Mr Churchill gave in, and the procession of cars shot away to Whitchurch. Watching the Hedgehog give a highly impressive account of itself, the Prime Minister soon forgot all about his lunch.

    'The mortar was set to fire twenty-four rounds, two at a time in quick succession, until all the projectiles were in the air at once. Climbing the blue sky, they formed a strangely graceful pattern and as they reached their zenith they turned lazily over, before starting their swift dive to earth. Then came the bangs of the discharges as they landed round the target-the shape of a submarine outlined on the ground with white tapes.

    'The Prime Minister asked for a second salvo to be fired . . . then a third. Here at last, it seemed, was the instrument which could turn the tide of the U-boat war, and Goodeve did not have long to wait for repercussions of this successful demonstration.

    'The following morning the First Sea Lord sent for him.

    "This anti-submarine gun of yours . . . how soon can you arrange a trial for me?" asked Admiral Pound. And straightway he promised all possible assistance in getting the Hedgehog into operational use.

    'This new and influential support came at a timely moment. Although there had been no serious setbacks in producing the prototype, Goodeve knew that in certain quarters there was keen resentment at the intervention of his little department in a sphere outside its normal field of operations.

    'This opposition was expressed in constant sniping at the Hedgehog for shortcomings which had no foundation in fact. Again and again D.M.W.D.'s development officers were obliged to stage extra trials or waste time on elaborate calculations on paper in order to refute criticism for which there was no real justification. The reason for this became clearer when a man in a responsible position in another department arrived one morning and asked to see Goodeve. Point-blank a request was made that D.M.W.D. should abandon work on the new weapon altogether. Goodeve's visitor said bluntly that he wanted a clear field for the development of one of the competing anti-submarine weapons. The future of his own establishment depended on getting their own A.S. weapon into service, whereas Goodeve had no need to enhance his own reputation. Clearly, added his caller, the only honourable course of D.M.W.D. was to cease all work on the Hedgehog forthwith!

    'Happily the Hedgehog had now progressed far enough for its merits to be known to a wide circle of naval experts. No amount of pressure from any vested interest could stop production, and after the Whitchurch demonstration Goodeve was in a much stronger position to deal with departmental rivalry.'

    By May 1941 the Hedgehog mounted in the destroyer HMS Westcott was ready for sea trials against a submerged wreck in Liverpool Bay. The weapon functioned perfectly. The Admiralty went all out for the Hedgehog and before the end of 1941 it was being fitted into our escorts. Later American escorts were similarly armed and by the end of the war the weapon had accounted for some fifty enemy submarines.

    Following his outstanding successes in weapon development, Charles was awarded an O.B.E. Then in October 1942 the Third Sea Lord (the Controller) Vice-Admiral Wake-Walker, (Later Admiral Sir William Wake-Walker) had him appointed Assistant (later Deputy) Controller Research and Development. This was a new civilian appointment in which Charles wielded the powers of the Controller in relation to Research and Development.

    Footnote: On Oct 30th 2010, I was working at Ashorne Hall, near Warwick and got into conversation with a sprightly 86 year old gent who remembered staying at Ashorne in the early 50s. He mentioned Sir Charles Goodeve and asked if I had heard of him. Yes I replied and pointed him to this very page. He was astonished that I should know of this gent. He knew Sir Charles very well. He told me that Sir Charles had some initial difficulty getting some very short sighted officers to release a ship to him for trials. The rest as they say, is history.

    Hedgehog - Liverpool Maritime Museum - February 2008

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