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RAN Missile Maintenance Establishment Kingswood

RAN Missile Maintenance Establishment badge

Introduction

In the early 1960s a Guided Missile Unit (GMU) was formed within the RAN Armament Depot, Kingswood 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 facility at Kingswood 1970s

Seacat Missile Facility, Guided Missile Unit, Kingswood c. 1970

The Guided Missile Unit

The decision to create a Guided Missile Unit was advised to the Flag Officer East Australia Area in the time honoured naval jargon on the 8th of April 1963:

"I am directed by the Naval Board to inform you that approval has been given for the formation of a Guided Missile Test and Assembly Unit, to be established under the control of the Superintending Armament Supply Officer, Sydney, in the Kingswood Naval Armament Depot."

The creation of the Guided Missile Unit, which quickly became universally known as the "GMU" heralded a new era for the Armament Supply branch. For the first time professional engineers and technical officers were employed. (For the record the initial establishment comprised one Engineer Class 2, one Senior Technical Officer Grade 1, one Technical Assistant Grade 2 and two Assistants (Armament), the latter being unskilled grades. The GMU grew rapidly as first the Seacat, then Ikara and Tartar missiles were acquired by the RAN. In 1972 the GMU was given an independent existence as the RAN Missile Maintenance Establishment under the control of the Superintendent, RAN Torpedo Establishment who was retitled as the Superintendent Missile and Torpedo Maintenance.

RAN Missile Maintenance Establishment Facilities (Bricks, Mortar and People)

The following article was published in RANMME on Target 1964 -1989, a publication prepared for the Establishment's Silver Jubilee in 1989.

"The establishment of an explosives storage or maintenance facility is normally subjected to stringent statutory requirements such as explosive and non explosive site separation distances, buffer zones and the like. In the case of the RAN's first Guided Weapon Maintenance facility for Seacat Missiles it has often been stated and never denied, that the prime consideration for the Director of Armament Supply was the presence of a lavatory and water supply across the road at the existing conventional ammunition explosive workshops.

The design of the buildings explosive protection requirements and floor plan was lifted directly from buildings already in use at RANAD Newington and constructed during the nineteen twenties and thirties.

If the site and the buildings were somewhat nondescript, the staff recruited and the work performed by them was and is anything but. Among the original staff members were ex RAN Chief Petty Officer Jack "Skeeter" Graham and ex WW2 POW Ted Van Lierop and Inspectorate of Naval Ordnance representative Les Watson. Both Jack and Ted remained with the facility in a supervisory position until their retirement over twenty years later. Les rose to a very senior QA position at the Headquarters of his branch in Sydney.

As the pioneer facility for Intermediate Level Maintenance (ILM) of RAN Guided Weapons it is appropriate that Seacat also set up the first exclusively RAN Depot Level Maintenance (DLM) repair facility. Under the leadership, firstly of Darrell Morris and more recently of Ian Nicholson this has been an initiative of long term importance to the RANMME and the Department of Defence (Navy.

The second facility to be commissioned was for the ILM of the Australian designed and built Ikara A/S weapon. This facility was commissioned during 1965/66 and was the first to employ a designed for purpose building, that is the "Giraffe House" Building N22 which owes its somewhat peculiar architectural style to the need to stand the missile on its butt to carry out a number of measurements and adjustments to its aerodynamic parameters. Once again a totally new staff was recruited. These included Bob Pearce from South Australia, Ray Scanlon from Garden Island Dockyard, Dick Woolfe and Bill Yeomans also came from other sections of the Department of Navy in the Sydney area. All of these people stayed at the RANMME until their retirement. One exception is Bill Ball who was recruited from the Overseas Telecommunication Commission as a Technical Assistant and is currently assistant Weapons Maintenance Manager responsible for the operation of the Ikara, Seacat and Harpoon ILM facilities and for a number of DLM activities in Seacat and Ikara as with Seacat. As with Seacat the Ikara facility buildings, with very little addition or alteration still perform their original functions - they were certainly built for endurance not for appearance or comfort. These facilities were also the only ones built with discrete functions in separate buildings, necessitating the continual movement of the weapon under maintenance from site to site - a decided disadvantage in any thing other than clement weather.

The next RANMME cab off the rank was the Tartar Missile facility. This broke new ground in several important fields. It marked the entry of US of A weapons into the RAN inventory thus terminating a very long tradition and history of British (or local) weapons and ships in service with the RAN.

The Tartar facility was also the first to be constructed with all work spaces connected by roofed tunnels and corridors. Once the boxed weapon was inside the facility it could be moved at will without interference from the elements. However for reasons never explained the whole facility was constructed with a pronounced gradient from west to east, which combined with some sharply angled corridors and tunnel junctions caused some nervous flutters during missile movements particularly in the early days. This facility was commissioned in 1967 just in time to provide support to RAN ships involved at the war in Vietnam.

The staff was a mixture of transfers from existing facilities i.e. Bob Pearce and Ray Scanlan from Ikara and Bill Price from Seacat. New starters were Laurie Kirwan from Garden Island, Jack Jones and Fred Freckelton from other RAN sections and Warren Sheather and Bill Holmes from the old PMG's department. Later arrivals were Col Campbell from the RAAF, Peter Collins and Jim Thompson from the Navy and Richard Piotrowski from AWA - Bill Price, Peter Collins and Richard remain in senior positions in the Standard Missile facility which gradually replaced the Tartar Missile over the period 1975 - 1986.

The period of 1965/1966 also saw the transfer of the administration and domestic facilities from RANAD(K) to the new site that would eventually - in 1972 - become the RANMME.

These facilities were housed in two single storied buildings, somewhat remote from the three missile handling facilities, identified as N38 - Administration Centre - and N28 as the Domestic centre - for the establishment. These buildings, both of which have been extended and modernized, perform the same basic functions as they did nearly a quarter of a century ago. It should also be mentioned that the non explosive Ikara Guidance Unit or to use its common name the Ikara Fin was and still is maintained in the N38 building. Ilmar Kaabus was one of the original recruitments for this task and like many other original Ikara identities Ilma remained at the RANMME in a supervisory technical position until his retirement in 1988.

The late 1970s and early 1980s ushered in a totally new era at the RANMME in almost every significant aspect of its operation, for this was and is the era of the introduction of the "next generation" of weapons and weapon facilities - the Harpoon anti ship missile, the Standard VI anti aircraft missile and the MK 48 heavy weight torpedo.

The impact of these weapons can best be gauged by measuring the increase in population. This was from a total of approximately fifty people to in excess of two hundred.

These new facilities were established concurrently - the Integrated Weapon Facility for the processing of the explosive compound of the MK 48 and for processing - all-up Harpoon and Standard VI missiles, a MK 48 Torpedo non explosive heavy workshop known as the MK 48 "off-line" Facility at N88 and a new administration complex - or at least the first stage of a promised three stage complex - RANMME is still waiting for stages two and three.

It is said of the Integrated Weapon Facility - IWF - there are only two categories of people in the RAN Weapon Maintenance Programme. Category A comprises those who have known of, worked in and consequently cursed and vilified the IWF. Category B are those who have never heard of the IWF.

In fairness to the project planners it can be said that both facilities were very much like the curate's egg - good in parts. The problem for the operation of both facilities has been the almost complete absence of accommodation for the staff, both domestic and facility work control and supervision, lack of dedicated storage space for Weapon Maintenance equipment and weapon components and very meagre weapon or personnel transportation.

The Naval Support Command has made good most of these deficiencies.

There are however still some shortcomings in the overall infrastructure of the RANMME. One of the more significant needs is for an adequate built-for-purpose training building. The whole concept of quality in complex weapon system maintenance revolves around skilled staff availability and the continuous updating of their skills with in house training. It is as true today as when the famous American patriot John Adam said it two centuries ago that "Education (training) makes more difference between man and man than nature does between man and brute".

In conclusion it can be said that all the requirements for an integrated guided weapon maintenance programme are now completely understood at Kingswood. Time alone will tell us if the lessons learnt by trial and error at Kingswood have percolated to a wider audience.

L.K."
Aerial view of RANMME June 1986

Aerial View of RAN Missile Maintenance Establishment Looking West, June 1986

RANMME Chronology

1963

8 April 1963. The Flag Officer East Australia area was advised of the Naval Board's decision to form a Guided Missile Test and Assembly Unit at RANAD Kingswood, usually known as the Guided Missile Unit (GMU).

The first engineering staff, Don Barkley and Ross Vaughn-Taylor were appointed to the GMU.

1964

Production of Seacat Mod 0 missiles and their issue to RAN River-class Destroyer Escorts commenced.

25 May 1964. HMAS Derwent fired the first practice Seacat missile.

1965

June 1965. The Ikara missile facility at the GMU was commissioned, and the first outfit was assembled for HMAS Stuart.

1966

28 November 1966, E.E. Hambley, General Dynamics engineer commenced Tartar Installation Set to Work.

December 1966: Committee appointed, to be chaired by CAPT B.J. Castles, RAN, "to examine the procedure for the maintenance, overhaul and repair of torpedoes and associated equipments ashore and to recommend to the Naval Board the the future policy to be followed to ensure the greatest efficiency in the supply of these weapons and equipment to the Fleet."

1967

Tartar Facility handed over by Dept of Works during quarter ending 31 March 1967. Missile processing commenced in June 1967.

Security lighting in Guided Missile Unit was completed during quarter ending 30 June 1967

1968

The Castle Committee's deliberations seem to have been remarkably protracted; their initial recommendation in July 1968 was essentially "business as usual". However, reading between the lines, Navy Office politics resulted in a major reworking of the Committee's recommendations, which by October 1968 included (Navy Office letter 2-204-68 of 15 October 1968):

In the event, some of these recommendations were deferred. Navy Office letter of 21 November 1968 advised FOICEAA that:

M5 Ikara variant, able to carry either Mk 44 or Mk 46 torpedoes, was introduced.

1972

The Guided Missile Unit was given an independent existence as the RAN Missile Maintenance Establishment.

1978

Processing of Standard (SM-1) missiles commenced.

10 July 1978: Cabinet approved construction of maintenance facilities for the Mk48 Torpedo and Harpoon Missile at an estimated cost of $M4.9 and approved inclusion in the 1978/79 works program. (Cabinet Decision No. 6139)

1979

Construction of the Integrated Weapons Facility and the Mk 48 Torpedo Facility commenced.

1980

28 November 1980. Approval to fly the Australian White Ensign was granted by the Chief of Naval Staff.

1982

August 1982. The Mk 48 Torpedo Facility was handed over by the contractor.

The first Harpoon Missiles and Mk 48 Torpedoes were processed.

1983

January 1983. Final certification of the Mk 48 Torpedo Facility was achieved.

22 July 1983. The RANMME crest or badge was approved by the Chief of Naval Staff.

The Integrated Weapon Facility (for Mk48 Torpedo, Harpoon Missile and Standard Missile Block VI) was completed (construction commenced in 1981).

Integrated weapon facility under construction

Integrated Weapon Facility (Mk48 Torpedo/Harpoon Missile) Under Construction at RANMME During 1980s (photo courtesy of Joe Garrett, Gould Field Engineer)

All Navy and RAAF units on the Kingswood 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.

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Robert Curran
borclaud @ tpg.com.au