Peter Danckwerts

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Peter Victor Danckwerts
Born (1916-10-14)14 October 1916
Emsworth, England
Died 25 October 1984(1984-10-25) (aged 68)
Cambridge, England
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve
Rank Sub-Lieutenant
Unit HMS President

Second World War

Awards George Cross
Member of the Order of the British Empire
Other work Shell Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Cambridge (1959–77)
Fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge

Peter Victor Danckwerts, GC, MBE, FRS[1] (14 October 1916 – 25 October 1984) was awarded the George Cross in 1940 for "great gallantry and undaunted devotion to duty" while defusing enemy mines.[2]

He later became Shell Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Cambridge from 1959 to 1977 and a Fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge.

Early life[edit]

Danckwerts was the eldest of five children of Vice Admiral Victor Hilary Danckwerts and his wife Joyce Middleton. His grandfather was William Otto Adolph Julius Danckwerts, a noted barrister. He showed an early interest in chemistry, constructing his own laboratory in an attic at home counter to his family's history of naval and legal service.[3] He was educated at Stubbington House School, Winchester College and Balliol College, Oxford, where he obtained a First in Chemistry in 1939.[3]

Second World War[edit]

Danckwerts was made a sub-lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve at the beginning of the Second World War, and was trained as a bomb disposal officer. In 1940 he was posted to the Port of London Authority as a bomb disposal officer, and received the George Cross[4] for the "great gallantry and undaunted devotion to duty" he showed in defusing land mines dropped by the Luftwaffe on London.

Despite not being trained to handle magnetic mines he volunteered to attempt to defuse them, which he did successfully, and on one occasion worked continuously for almost two days, dealing with 16 mines.[3]

Later in the war he was transferred to Sicily, and after being wounded in action there he was posted to the Combined Operations Headquarters in Whitehall, subsequently being appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1943.[3]

George Cross citation[edit]

Notice of Danckwerts' George Cross award appeared in the London Gazette on 20 December 1940.[5]

The King has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the George Cross, for great gallantry and undaunted devotion to duty, to: Sub-Lieutenant Peter Victor Danckwerts, R.N.V.R.

— London Gazette

Post-war career[edit]

After the war Danckwerts studied Chemical Engineering, obtaining a master's degree from the MIT[6] thanks to a Harkness Fellowship.[3] His return to Britain was at the same time as a donation to Cambridge University by Shell, which allowed the university to set up a dedicated chemical engineering department under Terence Fox.

Danckwerts became a lecturer and researcher, but felt he had insufficient teaching experience to lecture effectively, and as a result left to join the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority in 1954. He left this job in 1956 to become professor of chemical engineering science at Imperial College London, a newly created position, and continued to research as well as teach.[3] In 1959 Fox resigned as Shell Professor of Chemical Engineering at Cambridge, and Danckwerts was elected to take his place.[3]

As Shell Professor Danckwerts did a large amount of research, particularly in the fields of mixing phenomena and gas absorption, and became a noted international speaker.[3] He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1969 and received honorary degrees from the universities of Bradford and Loughborough. He received an Honorary Science Doctorate from the University of Bath (1983) and he also gained foreign associateship of the National Academy of Engineering.

Between 1965 and 1966 he served as president of the Institution of Chemical Engineers, and after retiring from the Shell professorship in 1976 became the executive editor of Chemical Engineering Science. He died in Cambridge on 25 October 1984, with his wife surviving him. His son from his relationship with Eileen Mitchell, Peter Jonathon Mitchell, lives in Australia.


  1. ^ Denbigh, Kenneth George (1986). "Peter Victor Danckwerts. 14 October 1916–25 October 1984". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 32: 98. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1986.0004. JSTOR 770109. 
  2. ^ WW2 Awards Peter Victor Danckwerts
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Denbigh, K.G. (2004). "Danckwerts, Peter Victor (1916–1984)". The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/30996. 
  4. ^ "Peter Victor Danckwerts, GC". George Cross database. Archived from the original on 16 November 2007. Retrieved 23 November 2007. 
  5. ^ London Gazette 20 December 1940
  6. ^ Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 3 (1989)

Further reading[edit]

  • N. Amundsen (1986) Chemical Engineering Research and Design, Volume 64a pp 233–240 "P. V. Danckwerts – His Research Career and its Significance"
  • P. Varey (2012) Life on the Edge – Peter Danckwerts GC, MBE, FRS brave, shy, brilliant PFV Publications ISBN 0953844013