The RAN Armament Depot (RANAD) Kingswood was located in the outer western suburbs of Sydney, New South Wales, at the foot of the Blue Mountains. The site was first occupied for military purposes by the US Army (specifically, the US Army Services of Supply), who constructed a chemical weapons depot there during World War 2.
The RAN first occupied the site as a sub-depot of RANAD Newington when the US Army left. The most likely date for the formal handover is 28 May 1945, as this date is mentioned in several files now in the National Archives of Australia dealing with parcels of land requisitioned for the US Army. However anecdotal evidence hints at earlier occupancy by the RAN and this may have been in anticipation of the US Army handover and through informal arrangements. By early 1945 the Armament Supply organisation was struggling to accommodate the ammunition reserves for the British Pacific Fleet. Further details about the handover can be found on the page for the US Army Ordnance Depot.
Overview of Storage Area at Kingswood, 4 Years After the US Army Evacuated the Site
(For more photographs taken in 1949, see the US Army Ordnance Depot page.)
A 1954 auction advertisement ( Sydney Morning Herald 27 October 1954) for disposal of chlorosuphonic acid (smoke agent) refers to the site as the R.A.N. Armament Depot, Kingswood, although the depot did not attain an independent existence until the 1960s.
From about 1957 the RAN constructed new explosives storehouses, a magazine (for dusty explosives), a detonator store and laboratories (workshops) to accommodate mass-detonating explosives displaced from RANAD Newington. Prior to this, the temporary structures erected for the US Army were used; there were also some modest additions from 1945 to provide temporary laboratories.
The new explosives storehouses were constructed of brick, with light roofs and heavy earth traverses. The laboratories were of light, frangible construction but also with heavy earth traverses to suit the mass-detonating explosives handled there.
Explosives Storage Area, RANAD Kingswood c.1986, Looking North-west
The storehouses were placed close to the minimum separation distances permitted by the quantity-distance rules of the time. This was to create problems from 1981 onwards when NATO Safety Principles for the Storage of Military Ammunition and Explosives were adopted in Australia; many of these buildings were then unable to be filled to physical capacity without the issue of licence waivers. The press cutting below refers to this situation.
Compliance with the NATO Safety Principles Created Difficulties in the 1980s
These first buildings were designed for either manual handling (for small packages) or lifting by the use of overhead travelling gantry cranes. Consequently, when storage of ammunition in unit loads became the preferred method in the 1960s, these buildings were poorly suited to the use of forklift trucks.
Storehouses constructed later were designed for forklift operation whilst guided weapon storehouses were equipped with air conditioning (to maximise rocket motor life) and mobile compactus platforms accessible by sideloading forklifts.
Category Z Storehouse, RANAD Kingswood c.1970 - Containerised Ikara Missile on Sideloading Forklift Truck
In 1960, the Director of Armament Supply described the depot thus in a minute relating to the loss of HMAS Woomera:
"Situated 37 miles west of Sydney, this depot covers an area of 880 acres. It comprises about 70 buildings, many of which, being of the cheapest war-time construction, are now approaching the end of their useful life. The depot provides for the storage, examination, repair, and supply of explosives (Category Z). It is being developed as a joint RAN/RAAF Area, and in current planning it provides for all foreseeable needs, including guided missiles. At present it is operated as a sub-depot of Newington."(DAS minute to Secretary, Department of Navy of 23 December 1960)
Also described was the sub-depot at St Marys:
"Situated in the Department of Supply Explosive Area adjacent to the new filling factory some 5 miles from Kingswood. It comprises 10 buildings in which category Z explosives are held. At present it is operated as part of the Kingswood Sub-depot."
The St Marys annex was not given up until circa 1970.
Prior to late 1960 the depot had no resident member of the "Directing staff". One result of the inquiry into the loss of HMAS Woomera in that year was a decision to provide continuous management oversight; initially this was by a daily rotation by Newington-based staff of the Assistant Armament Supply Officer or Deputy Armament Supply Officer levels. Later, a position of Deputy Armament Supply Officer was based there.
Whilst not a complete list, around 1967 the RANAD was storing ammunition such as:
In the early 1960s a Guided Missile Unit (GMU) was formed within the RANAD to maintain the Seacat missile; this was subsequently expanded to cater for the Ikara and Tartar missiles before gaining independence in the 1970s as the RAN Missile Maintenance Establishment (RANMME). Further expansion of RANMME through to the 1980s catered for the Standard and Harpoon Missiles (in the 3 variants of ship, submarine and aircraft launched) and the Mk48 Torpedo.
Seacat Missile Facility, Guided Missile Unit, Kingswood c. 1970
The Seacat missile workshop was located close to the existing ammunition laboratories, allegedly because this would save the cost of building a new toilet block. From this nucleus, the Ikara and Tartar workshops spread westward towards Bringelly (now The Northern) Road.
Integrated Weapon Facility (Mk48 Torpedo/Harpoon Missile) Under Construction at RANMME During 1980s (photo courtesy of Joe Garrett, Gould Field Engineer)
More information is available about the Guided Missile Unit and the RAN Missile Maintenance Establishment.
RANAD Kingswood was civilian-manned throughout its life. Around 1968 the Officer-in-Charge position was upgraded to that of Navy Stores Officer (previously Deputy Armament Stores Officer) and the depot became independent of RANAD Newington. Both depots at this period reported to the Superintending Armament Supply Officer, resident at Spectacle Island and later Newington.
Early Officers-in-charge were Kevin Goffey (c. 1967), John Templeton Miller (c. 1969; in staff photo on this page) and Robert J. Hughes (c. 1972).
Some Staff of RANAD Kingswood and Guided Missile Unit About 1970
If you would like a high quality scan of this photo or the RANAD Kingswood badge shown above, please email a request to the page owner whose email address is shown at the bottom of this page.
To see a very early prototype of the Ikara missile, click here. (Artist unknown - please email me if you can help identify the originator of this piece of workplace humour.)
RANAD Kingswood closed on 24 August 2001.
It is likely that the RAAF took up occupancy of part of the site around the same time as the RAN. An unreferenced source gives 20 March 1945 as the date occupancy commenced but 10 May 1945 as the date that personnel arrived. A Sydney Morning Herald report of 5 December 1946 refers to an air force guard firing shots at thieves "...attempting to strip a large house used as a R.A.A.F. establishment in Bringelly Road, Kingswood, early today...". A report from the Sunday Herald of 5 June 1949 regarding inadequate security at government munitions sites said:
"...Hundreds of heavy aerial bombs are stacked in scrub country near Kingswood, N.S.W. Last week, there was only one unarmed man detailed to guard the dump. A senior R.A.A.F officer commented in Sydney yesterday: "Given a truck and a couple of men, I could get sufficient bombs from the Kingswood dump in half-an-hour to blow the harbour bridge sky high - and the theft might not be discovered for weeks.""
A report by Flight Lieutenant H. C. May, Inspector of Explosives, to the Secretary, Air Board dated 12 July 1950, gives a thorough description of the depot at that time. Storage buildings comprised 38 corrugated fibro cement igloo type buildings, each 36 feet by 18 feet; 2 wooden sheds without walls and with malthoid roofs and 3 steel sheds, each 60 feet by 20 feet. A majority of these were empty; the remainder contained bomb tails. These types of buildings are consistent with those known to have been present at the US Army Ordnance Depot.
The total stock of aircraft bombs was 62,637, with a total explosive content of 9,294,164 pounds of explosive. All of these were field stored (i.e. in the open), with 65% being stacked and the remainder not. According to May:
"...for the most part, bombs are stacked within this area with a total disregard for safety distances..."
The explosives area had no lightning protection, electric light, power or telephones. Security comprised a low fence not of man-proof design and a continuous patrol by a single horse-mounted civilian guard. Air Force staff were only present when the depot was being worked, attending when necessary from the Glenbrook sub-depot. (Report contained in National Archives of Australia item: A705, 12/4/628 Inspection of explosives storage and danger buildings, Number 1 Central Reserve)
In 1951, construction of traversing for bomb stacks was in progress. In March 1952 this work was still incomplete and acquisition of additional land to improve safety distances, and provide a site for a permanent camp, was foreshadowed.
By 1954, permanent brick buildings were in prospect according to tender notices in the Sydney Morning Herald, and other tender notices of the period for domestic services suggest that RAAF personnel were living at the site.
An inspection report from July 1957 showed a much improved state of affairs. Explosives storehouses 241 - 246 were complete and the SAA, Pyrotechnics and Bomb Laboratories (207, 208) were nearing completion as were the detonator storehouses 201 and 206. Proof Yard buildings and facilities were also nearing completion. Some roads had been sealed and a reticulated water supply for fire fighting was available. Lightning protection, lighting and power were available to the new buildings, however telephones were not generally available. Security had been improved by man-proof fencing. (Report contained in National Archives of Australia item: A705, 12/4/628 Inspection of explosives storage and danger buildings, Number 1 Central Reserve)
RANAD Kingswood and RAAF 1 Central Reserve Kingswood/1 Central Ammunition Depot operated from the 1950s under a Joint User Agreement whereby each Service took responsibility for certain common services. For example, the RAN organised the grass cutting and provided Naval Police for security; RAAF paid for water, electricity, sewerage and telephones.
All Navy and RAAF units on the site have now been incorporated into Australian Defence Force joint logistics organisations and the joint site is known as the Defence Establishment Orchard Hills.
As of 2011, the Defence Establishment Orchard Hills comprised:
If you can contribute information, photographs or memories, please contact the author at the email address given at the foot of the page.
Material on this page may be copied for personal use. If you intend to republish any substantial part of the page in any manner, please acknowledge the source and provide the URL of the page.