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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
i Optical Munitions
ii Aircraft
iii Armour
iv Radar
v Tropic Proofing

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



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The Second World War

Despite the private industry initiative in creating a new aircraft manufacturing industry in response to a perceived military threat, the Government maintained a policy of establishing munitions production in its own factories. It moved only slowly in building up defence production capacity, being content to take administrative action to set-up, in 1939, a Department of Supply and Development to take over munitions production, to undertake production planning and to stockpile strategic materials. Some public servants were making more detailed plans for the future involvement of private industry. John Jensen was prominent among these; he saw the rapidly-approaching need to establish a nationwide infrastructure of defence production, with its attendant technological support in materials testing and provision of manufacturing standards. These plans reached fruition in the creation of a Department of Munitions in 1939. The appointments of Essington Lewis, Chief General Manager of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company, as Director General of Munitions, and Laurence Hartnett of General Motors (Holdens) as Director of Ordnance Production, were a fundamentally important step in helping to put the nation's industrial strength on a war footing.

Leighton's basic objectives were about to be realised. A peacetime munitions supply establishment, based on government support could develop expertise and disseminate its knowledge to industry in wartime.[17] Some modernisation of government ordnance, ammunition and small arms factories had been taking place, albeit at a fairly leisurely pace since the mid-1930s when the first inklings of European and Asian tensions were exhibited. A notable advance was the establishment of forging of gun barrels at the Ordnance Factory at Maribyrnong.

The need for scientific support for the modernising process was accepted and personnel of the Munitions Supply Laboratories of the Department of Supply and Development structured a programme of investigations to prepare themselves for adopting modern munitions production processes and materials.[18] It was taken for granted that Australia would support Great Britain in any future war and would, therefore, equip its forces with arms and equipment compatible with those of the Mother Country. Australian defence scientists had maintained contact with their British counterparts as Leighton had encouraged twenty years earlier; at the outbreak of the First World War much valuable information about materials specifications and limits of acceptability of composition was brought back to Australia. The uneventful opening phase of the War allowed the industry build-up process to take place without excessive demands for productive output, but the collapse of the Allies in Europe in 1940 changed this. It became necessary for Australia to equip its own forces without any prospect of support from Britain.

Guns were a major requirement and contracts for 25 pounder field guns and 2 pounder anti-tank guns were placed with General Motors (Holdens) factories in South Australia and New South Wales. Complete working drawings were not always available and these had to be prepared from specimens held by the Army. Lightly armoured tracked Bren-gun carriers were produced in railway workshops, with engines and tracks manufactured by the Ford Motor Company. Suitable weldable armour plate had to be developed ab initio by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company.

A desperate shortage of machine tools was soon apparent. A Directorate of Machine Tools and Gauges commissioned industry to address the task of designing and developing products for which little previous experience existed. The need for accurate measurement techniques and their application to production had been foreseen by the Munitions Supply Board, which had already established a Metrology Section at Maribyrnong. The technology of gauge design and manufacture had to be transmitted to industry, which at the time was quite inexperienced in such matters.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Australia. Department of Munitions; Directorate of Machine Tools and Gauges; Ford Motor Company of Australia; General Motors Holden; Munitions Supply Board; Munitions Supply Laboratories (M.S.L.); Ordnance Factory

People in Bright Sparcs - Hartnett, Sir Lawrence J.; Jensen, J. K.; Leighton, A. E.; Lewis, Essington

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 928 - 929, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher