X-ray helps to identify World War II canoe

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18 April 2012
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imports_MIL_drsoniaoconnorofbrad_03598.jpg Dr Sonia O'Connor of Bradford University, Paddy Ashdown and 3DX-RAY's Nathan Bailey
The Combined Military Services Museum in Essex has been able to unravel the history of an important canoe used in World War II with the help of x-ray. ...

The Combined Military Services Museum in Essex has been able to unravel the history of an important canoe used in World War II with the help of x-ray.

The museum team turned to 3DX-RAY, the x-ray inspection specialist, to establish the true provenance of a wood and canvas canoe believed to be the Cachalot. The Cachalot is the name given to a canoe used by the Cockleshell Heroes, during a raid of merchant ships in 1942. Six canoes were delivered by submarine close to the blockade runners moored on the River Bordeaux, France. A senior German officer said he believed it was the most significant raid of the Second World War.

Former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, who has been researching the Cockleshell Heroes for his latest book, called on 3DX-RAY to help. He believes there is a good possibility the collapsible canoe at the museum is indeed the Cachalot. The job for 3DX-RAY was to help reveal whether the original name had survived beneath the layers of paint applied during extensive renovations since the war.

Curators and conservators have used x-rays for several years to examine a huge range of items. However, 3DX-RAY’s portable x-ray technology enables scans to take place in situ removing the need to take fragile artefacts off-site in order to be scanned.

Simply by placing the x-ray source and detector panel either side of the canoe the team was able to obtain high-resolution x-ray images of the canoe. 3DX-RAY’s ThreatSpect image optimisation tools allowed the team to conduct deeper analysis of the images –focusing on areas of interest and filtering out excessive ‘noise’ in the images around areas such as bolts, brackets and wooden battens.

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Museum Director, Richard Wooldridge, said: “Someone in the past has fully restored the canoe, unfortunately completely painting over the name. However, if the canoe is proven to be the Cachalot then this is of national importance. It could well be the last surviving canoe from this world famous raid. We are also interested in seeing if there is underlying damage to the canoe – the Cachalot aborted the raid early after it was holed.”

The imagery found faint images of partial letters. However, further forensic examinations of the x-rays have to be carried out before the canoe can be conclusively revealed as the Cachalot.

Dr Sonia O’Connor, Bradford University, a specialist in cultural materials radiography also working on the project commented: “With the eye of faith, slight and soft edged variations in image density on the canvas look tantalisingly like a ‘C or ‘O’ and a possibly the top of a letter ‘T’. I am hopeful that further examination of the x-rays will indeed prove that this canoe is the Cachalot.”

3DX-RAY’s experience has largely been in using its x-ray technology to understand and image potential security threats. The work with the Combined Military Services Museum is the latest project that 3DX-RAY has undertaken in the antique and restoration sector following rising demand for its portable inspection devices. 3DX-RAY’s technology enables curators and restorers to quickly and simply understand the provenance of items, their construction and history, or to discover if repairs or modifications have taken place.

Vince Deery, sales director, said: “This was a fascinating project to be involved in, and one that really showcases the power of our x-ray technology for curators and archaeological researchers. We look forward to the final results being revealed and to continuing our work in this sector.”