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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 (continued)

The Munitions Supply Laboratories at Maribyrnong, and the National Standards Laboratory in Sydney acted initially as checking standards, but as output rose, other centres were established in selected industrial laboratories. By the war's end over three hundred thousand items had been checked at Maribyrnong alone. Some items such as Johannsen slip gauges, accurate in surface flatness to one hundred thousandth of an inch, had never been produced in Australia. Organisation of their production was entrusted (most successfully) to a plant pathologist, who knew nothing about the process. Nevertheless, learning quickly and introducing some innovations in production, he enlisted the help of a former District Commissioner of Girl Guides, who organised a team to carry out the checking of gauges against a standard measure.

Another aspect of quality control of production items requiring scientific support was the radiological examination of castings and welds. Techniques in X-ray and gamma ray radiography had been developed at the Munitions Supply Laboratories and were applied to the examination of light alloy castings in the aircraft industry, to the examination of aircraft engine forgings, and to heavy castings and welded items. Personnel had to be trained in the new processes and centres of testing set-up in appropriate factories. From a core staff of one hundred and fifty at the beginning of the War the dispersed radiographic effort grew to eleven hundred in four years. In fact, from the Maribyrnong Laboratories flowed most of the scientific support for the systematic examination of defence material, embracing explosives, textiles, fuels, lubricants and paints

Being cut off from external sources of materials supply and without access to the accustomed sources of technological support, Australians had to rely on their own resources. The response was impressive and the nation's talent for improvisation was coupled with an ability to mobilise and co-ordinate its limited supply of technical and scientific manpower.

An immediate consequence to Australia of the reduction of British support in 1940 is exemplified in the production of gas-masks for the Services. The fear of gas warfare had remained since the First World War and the protection of both military and civilians had to be assured. Respirators were designed to give protection against mustard gas; the technology incorporated in the filters was of British origin but, as supplies of Chinese feather-down impregnated with lamp black became unavailable, substitute merino wool and asbestos mixtures had to be investigated. MSL has been charged many years before by the Gas Warfare Board to acquire knowledge in this field; although machines to produce suitable fillings had been ordered from the United Kingdom, the inevitable delay in delivery could not be accepted. Down fillings of Australian origin had to be developed, and the standard charcoal absorbers had to be modified to give protection against arsine gas. A process of impregnating with silver nitrate was developed.

Over half a million service respirators were produced in six months in 1940; all production remained in the laboratories because of material problems. A substitute for the glass composite eyepiece had to be found, because there was no machinery in the country for its manufacture. Cellulose nitrate was tried, but eventually toughened glass was adopted. The tropical environment of the war led to new formulations of the rubberised material and the demand for new designs of respirators. Later, the threat of gas warfare receded and the research effort was directed elsewhere.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Munitions Supply Board; Munitions Supply Laboratories (M.S.L.); National Standards Laboratory

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 929 - 930, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher