A scientifically savvy RCNVR Officer who became a key to the Allied victory

Charles Goodeve, a University of Manitoba alumni and former Winnipeg Division Officer.

Charles Goodeve, a University of Manitoba alumni and former Winnipeg Division Officer.

Charles Frederick Goodeve was born on 21 February 1904 in Neepawa, Manitoba. When he was three, his family moved to Stonewall, located just north of Winnipeg. Charles’s father, F. W. Goodeve, M.A., was an Anglican clergyman, who did not earn much money. Charles also had two older sisters and two younger brothers. His mother, Emma (née Hand), was a woman of skill and energy, who was determined to do the very best for her children despite her husband’s limited income.

When Charles was ten, his father moved to a church in Winnipeg. The family then had enough money to buy a cabin at Gull Harbour on Lake Winnipeg. During the summers at Hecla Island, Charles and one of his brothers acquired an old boat which they refurbished and sailed on the lake. That was how he developed his love of boats which later led to his naval career.

In Winnipeg Charles went to Kelvin High School, where his science teacher, Mr. Wilson, aroused his scientific interests. His mother regarded Charles as the cleverest of her children and was determined he should go to university. He initially tried his hand at accountancy, however, he greatly disliked balancing books to a degree of accuracy that he considered unjustifiable. In 1919 he entered the University of Manitoba as an arts student. He transferred to science two years later and in 1925 passed his B.Sc. exams with honours in chemistry and physics.

During his early years at university, Charles was hard pressed for money, so he made all he could by working on the side: cutting grass and cleaning windows in the summer, installing double glazing against the prairie winter in the autumn and removing it in the spring. In his second year he secured an appointment as a junior laboratory demonstrator and this paid his tuition fees. This appointment naturally gave him access to chemicals and it is said he even talked his barber into giving him free haircuts, in return for a specially designed hair lotion that Charles concocted.

Charles Joins the Winnipeg Division

In 1923, during his third year at University, Charles’s sailing interests led him to join Winnipeg’s newly established Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve Division. The Winnipeg Division recruited Charles with the promise of a yearly, two-week training period at the coast. In the meanwhile, drill was required one evening a week. As an officer the pay was attractive and more than covered his expenses. Charles enlisted as a midshipman and he took every opportunity to go to sea and train as an Ship’s Officer. His time in the Winnipeg Division also helped him to develop his social poise, that he would find so valuable later in his life in helping him to handle almost any situation.

Of course, Charles Goodeve’s goal as a young naval officer was to achieve his Bridge Watchkeeping Certification. In the summer of 1927, while on training in Esquimalt, Midshipman Goodeve finally was given the chance to take the reserve training ship, the aged destroyer HMCS PATRICIAN, to sea. The PATRICIAN had been just previously broken down, but the dockyard had just patched her up and she was again ready to sail as a training platform for reservists.

Goodeve had studied very hard for his part in the evolution, which included him giving the orders to take the PATRICIAN away from the jetty and then sail to an anchorage. At the appointed time, Charles gave the orders: “Let go after springs!”… “All lines clear aft, sir.”… “Fifteen port!”… “Slow ahead, port”. As the stern swung out there was a loud explosion from aft and clouds of steam billowed from the engine room hatch. Apparently, the PATRICIAN had blown her main engine, and of course this marked the end of the PATRICIAN’s career. (She was finally paid off on 1 Jan 1928.)

Sadly, Charles Goodeve never again had the opportunity of gaining his qualification as an RCNVR Officer, his future endeavors would soon take him overseas to England.

A Scholarship in England

When in the autumn of 1927 Charles went to study in at London, England, in University College on a scholarship. Soon, Charles found he had come to an outstanding chemistry department, which was then one of the leading centres for chemical research in Britain and indeed in the world. His attractive personality and good connections with industry enabled him to raise adequate funds to run his prestigious Department.

In 1932 Charles married Janet Wallace, the daughter of a Presbyterian Minister from Goodlands, Manitoba. Janet was also keen on science and after teaching for a few years in primary school went in 1924 to the University of Manitoba where she studied chemistry. She was in the chemistry class to which Charles lectured in his closing years at Manitoba and the two of them became friendly. In 1929 Janet graduated top of her class. Charles, hearing of her success offered her a grant to study at University College in London. In 1932 they were married at her parents’ home in Goodlands, Manitoba.

While in England, 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 his research 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.

The “Double L” Sweep

The Double-L Sweep.

The Double-L Sweep.

With the outbreak of war in September 1939 the Germans were beginning to use their magnetic mines with marked success. During the month of November 200,000 tons of shipping was sunk by magnetic mines and the Port of London was all but closed. The mines were designed to rest on the sea bed and were actuated by the magnetic field induced beneath a steel vessel as it passed over.

There were some ideas of how to deal with the mines but none were viable, up until Charles Goodeve proposed a “Double Longitudinal Sweep” method. To trial this method Goodeve used a lake near Portsmouth named Canoe Lake, where small boys commonly sailed model boats. While worried about security for such a test Goodeve thought up an ingenious cover-plan. While many people sailed model boats one boat actually contained test equipment. The test proved successful and the theory of the “Double L Sweep” was proven.

Later, a full scale test gave more success and the “Double L Sweep” was successful used to sweep magnetic mines in February or 1941. Special wooden minesweepers, modeled after the design of Yarmouth trawlers, were commissioned and they operated most effectively: 74 mines were swept by March, and nearly 300 by the end of June 1940.

The speed with which the enterprise was brought to success owed much to Charles’s enormous energy and enthusiasm and his skill in dealing both with the naval personnel concerned with trials and the civilians responsible for the design and manufacture of the cables and the electrical equipment.

The Development of Degaussing

With the success of the Double L sweep Charles (who had by then been promoted to the rank of Commander) began thinking about protecting ships directly. The Admiralty had already begun fixing ships with copper cables: these carried an electrical current which induced an N-pole-up magnetic field to counteract the ship’s own N-pole-down field. But there were neither cables nor fitting facilities sufficient to cope with the great numbers of ships that required protection. Warships and the largest merchant ships had priority. Something was desperately needed for the remainder of the ships.

Charles came up with the idea that ships could be subjected to a very strong magnetic field in facility such as a wet dock surrounded by an enormous electric coil. The trouble was that the power required and the cost of even one installation would be exceedingly great. Charles saw that the idea of inducing permanent magnetism in a ship was the right one but somehow the current required must be vastly reduced. He then had the idea of passing a horizontal flexible rubber-insulated electric cable up and down a ship’s side so as to induce the required permanent magnetism in the ship’s plates.

Charles performed actual field tests on submarines which were highly successful. By April 1940, ten degaussing stations were operating in Britain; by June about 1000 ships of all kinds had been wiped and many vessels that took part in the Dunkirk evacuation were so protected, thus ensuring their safety in the operation.

Charles is also credited with inventing the term ‘degaussing’, which he named after Karl Friedrich Gauss.

After the war Charles received an award of £7500 for his invention, which was the largest individual award made in connection with claims for devices designed to combat magnetic mines. This he generously shared with those who had helped him bring the idea to success.

Establishment of the D.M.W.D

With the success of these counter measures to the magnetic mine he began to gain a reputation for cutting through red tape and pushing his projects against all opposition. At RN Headquarters the expression “to do a Goodeve,” which meant “to do something by hook or by crook”, grew to be a popular saying.

Charles’ ability to cut through the red tape and get positive results in very little time earned him notoriety. Through his accomplishments he was tasked to head up a newly established Department of Miscellaneous Weapons Development (D.M.W.D.).

Many of the developments originated from the junior officers in the department, some originated from outside, and some again from Charles himself. But every single one was examined by Charles and generally improved by his inventive and critical suggestions. The two most important inventions of that period were plastic armour and the Hedgehog ahead-thrown antisubmarine weapon which was masterminded by Charles. Another vital task which Charles undertook was to get the Oerlikon A.A. gun into production.

The Manufacturing of the Oerlikon Gun

The Oerlikon gun was desperately needed for the antiaircraft protection of both warships and merchant ships. It was being manufactured by the Swiss who were making them for the Germans and had produced a few for Britain during the early days of the war. But with the fall of France, and Italy entering the war, the supply of Oerlikon guns had gone away.

There was an agreement to produce the Oerlikon under license in England, but the project had not taken shape. A factory had been earmarked at Brighton, but when France fell this was considered too close to the coast. An alternate site was suggested at Bangor, in North Wales. This is as much as was accomplished when Charles Goodeve was put onto the task.

Goodeve saw a situation where the British manufacturer was complacent, and projected the first Oerlikon Gun to be produced in two years. This was not good enough for Charles. Charles arranged for railroad shed in Ruislip to be converted into a factory. There were many teething problems, including equipment difficulties and labour disputes, but the factory went into full production only 7 months after Charles was put in charge of the project. Within a year the Ruislip factory was turning out 750 Oerlikons every month, and by the autumn of 1942 this output had risen to 1000.

Development of the Hedgehog Antisubmarine Mortar

The Hedgehog antisubmarine mortar.

The Hedgehog antisubmarine mortar.

The Hedgehog antisubmarine mortar.

The Royal Navy had been attempting to develop a weapon to throw antisubmarine charges ahead of a destroyer or corvette. This type of weapon be far deadlier than existing depth charges, which were dropped astern and gave a submarine too much time to escape.

Charles drew up plans for a weapon firing a pattern of relatively small contact charges from an array of spigots mounted on the bow of a ship. 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.

This time it was not complacency that attempted to scuttle the project, but political influences. However, a demonstration of the weapon was arranged for Winston Churchill, and successful sea trials were completed by HMS Westcott against a submerged wreck in Liverpool Bay. The weapon showed it’s worth and was adopted by the allied navies. 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 the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.). At the conclusion of the war in recognition of his great contributions to the allied effort at sea, Charles was created a Knight Bachelor (1946) and awarded the U.S. Medal of Freedom with Silver Palm.

During the last years of his life Charles was stricken with Parkinson’s disease. Throughout his illness Charles carried on with characteristic fortitude, greatly concerned for those to whom he felt he was becoming a burden: wonderfully he never lost his sense of humour.

For More Information about Charles Goodeve

Credits: http://www.chem.ucl.ac.uk/resources/history/people/goodeve_cf/index.html

Book: The Secret War 1939 – 1945 by Gerald Pawle

Photo of Charles Goodeve:
Used with permission from the Department of Chemistry, University College, London