Page 904
Previous/Next Page
Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 13

I Colonial Origins

II First World War

III Between The World Wars

IV The Second World War

V Post-second World War

VI After The Joint Project

VII Science And Decisions At The Top

VIII Armed Services Technology

IX New Tasks And Projects

X Transfer Of Research And Development

XI Acknowledgement



Contact us
First World War (continued)

Australian attempts to establish a wartime munitions manufacturing industry were fraught with unsuspected difficulties and were largely unsuccessful. The serious shortage of shell in the Allied side during 1915 provided an opportunity for large scale production, but the problems of supply of raw materials and a lack of skill and experience proved unsurmountable. A more effective contribution to the total war effort was made by sending the most skilled operatives to work in the munitions establishments of the United Kingdom. Of most particular importance was Leighton's secondment for the duration of the War to the British Ministry of Munitions. In this position he was able to contribute to Australia's long term munitions production capability by placing the best young technologists in situations where the most effective experience could be gained.

At home the Australian Government developed the concept of a Commonwealth Arsenal, [7] to be set up at Tuggeranong, near Canberra, the site having been chosen as being safe from the attentions of marauding war ships. The idea had its origins immediately after Federation, but received scant attention until the munitions crisis of 1915 and, when revived by the Minister for Defence, Senator George Pearce, lapsed for want of Allied support and in response to advice from Major S. H. Barraclough,[8] Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Sydney University. After inspecting the munitions industry in the United Kingdom on the Government's behalf, he advised that the best contribution Australia could make would be to send workers to the main centre of manufacture. The Arsenal project remained alive, however, and Leighton was appointed its Controller.

Technical support for the existing munitions industry in Australia continued to be provided by Bell's small laboratory in Melbourne.[9] They investigated ways of overcoming a shortage of tinplate and applications of the new plastic material, Bakelite. They issued specifications for steel for high explosive shell and investigated a German technique for manufacture of tri-nitro-toluene (TNT). The Prime Minister, W. M. Hughes, became aware of the need for scientific enquiry into areas formerly covered by German science, no longer available, and set up an Advisory Council for Science and Industry, with Professor David Masson as Chairman. This body, however, directed its enquiries towards civil, rather than military problems.

Barraclough's report to the Government had noted the need to provide a firm scientific support to the Commonwealth Arsenal when it was eventually established. J. K. Jensen, who had moved into defence administration from the Lithgow Small Arms Factory, took up this matter and arranged for Bell to become Superintendent of Laboratories in 1916, incorporating his area in Melbourne with those at the Cordite Factory and Small Arms Factory. Bell was sent to England to investigate all phases of the munitions production effort and assist Leighton with the planning of the Arsenal. Bell, on his return to Australia, enunciated his ideas upon the role of a defence scientific support organisation. Technological innovation was not in his mind; he envisaged that the establishment of manufacturing standards would be important, as would be investigation of the suitability of local materials for Australian manufacture of standard British items and the study of new production methods before their introduction into defence factories, and the collection and dissemination of information about new techniques and technology.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Advisory Council of Science and Industry; Commonwealth Arsenal; Small Arms Factory

People in Bright Sparcs - Barraclough, Maj. S. H.; Bell, Marcus; Jensen, J. K.; Masson, Prof. David

Previous Page Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering Next Page

© 1988 Print Edition pages 923 - 924, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher