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RAN Armament Depot Depot Maribyrnong

Introduction

Maribyrnong is an inner suburb of Melbourne, Victoria, and the location of many defence production facilities before, during and after World War 2. The depot occupied a number of sites during and immediately after the war, but in later years, the depot office and non-explosives storage was located in Chicago Street, Maribyrnong, whilst the explosives storage was at the Somerton Magazine Area.

Photo of RANAWED Maribyrnong

General View of Depot from the Administration Building in 1953

Early History

The following extracts from the May 1948 issue of the Newsletter of the RAN Armament Depot, Maribyrnong give an account of the foundation of the depot, and its facilities in 1948:

"The Naval Armament Depot, Maribyrnong, came into being on 1st January, 1936, to provide liaison with the Department of Supply & Development (then the Department of Munitions) and to receive and issue stores etc. in connection with production of Navy stores in the various factories. In that year the total staff employed was one Assistant Storehouseman who began business in a hired galvanized iron shed, direct control being exercised from Navy Office. Transport of explosives was by horse and dray.

From these humble beginnings the depot has progressed, by way of many and varied hired and temporary premises, from a purely "transit" and "paper" depot, to a depot employing at total of 108 personnel...

The Gunwharf, Gunmounting, Paravane and Miscellaneous Magazine stores are located at Maribyrnong, together with a small workshop. Owing to the limited facilities and staff available, and the close proximity of the Department of Supply & Development Factories, major modifications and repairs etc. to these stores are almost exclusively carried out by these factories...

Magazine (explosive) stores comprising about 6,000 tons are distributed between the magazines at Maribyrnong (River), Longlea (Bendigo - 100 miles), Somerton (13 miles) and Keilor (4 miles). The magazines at Maribyrnong and Longlea are the property of the Department of Supply & Development, whilst those at Somerton are situated in an Army magazine area.

Laboratory facilities are available at Somerton and Keilor, capable of dealing with a variety of stores, but as yet not fitted for breakdown or assembly of fixed ammunition.

The shipment of explosives from Melbourne has been made difficult by the refusal of the Melbourne Harbour Trust to permit loading and unloading of explosives other than safety ammunition, at Melbourne wharves. As a consequence incoming explosives have to be discharged into or embarked from lighters in Port Phillip Bay and dealt with at Swan Island (about 50 miles from Melbourne.)"
Maribyrnong depot storehouses

View of Depot Storehouses from Remount Hill in 1953

Consolidation

During World War 2, a project was initiated to consolidate the depot from various requisitioned sites into a permanent site. What follows is a somewhat jaundiced account of the travails of this project, taken from R.A.N. Organization for War - Lessons Learnt.
"An example of a project floated under the red tape pendant is the Naval Armament Depot at Maribyrnong:-

It became obvious to me in 1943 that a Depot was essential to enable us to vacate the large number of requisitioned premises then occupied, their scattered nature made supervision bad and it was clear that the Depot was a permanent peace or war requirement.

The following time table speaks for itself: -

7/4/43 - Requirements for Depot set out by D.O.T.M.
12/5/43 - Naval Board approved in principle.
3/6/43 - Estimate of cost forwarded by A.W.C.
23/11/43 - Site selected.
3/3/44 - Detailed drawings completed by Department of Interior.
13/4/44 - Business Member initiated a round-table conference on the project.
11/5/44 - Conference held - cost reduced by £16,000.
1/7/44 - Project referred to Central Storage Accommodation Committee.
18/9/44 - Central Storage Accommodation Committee approved the project.
24/10/44 - Project submitted to Treasury.
31/10/44 - Project considered by Business Board and referred by them to the Victorian Business Committee.
7/11/44 - Victorian Business Committee having cross examined D.O.T.M. as to the necessity for the project, referred it back to the Department of Navy for further consideration.
10/11/44 - Matter further considered - plans modified to meet requirements of Victorian Business Committee (Cost reduced by £28,900).
11/12/44 - Business Board approved revised proposals.
19/12/44 - Project referred to Works priorities Sub-Committee who accorded A.2 priority on 2/1/45.
19/1/45 - Project referred to War Cabinet.
24/1/45 - Project approved by War Cabinet.
/6/45 - Contracts let for Construction of Depot.
28/2/46 - Target date set for completion.

In the unlikely event of the Target date for completion being met, it will be 3 years from start to finish. Meanwhile the Department is being hard pressed by the owners of the requisitioned premises who wish to resume their trade. It can be seen from the file that the necessity for the project was never disproved by anybody.

The procedure for its examination brought about a total saving in cost of about £34,900, which represented nearly 30% of the original £118,000.

The saving was achieved by the substitution of temporary buildings in certain instances, by a reduction in size of buildings and by a reduction in standards of accommodation. The depot when completed will consist of some stubtailed buildings shorn of every frill, and a collection of woebegone comfortless huts with few facilities and poor amenities. The Depot will never be a credit to its progenitors or the people who have to work there. ...

The loss in efficiency due to the makeshift arrangements suffered during the last 2 years of the war, and the time and energy devoted by overworked officers in flogging the project to its conclusion can only be reckoned in terms of blood and sweat and toil. ...

Unlike other RAN Armament Depots during World War 2, Maribyrnong did not report to the local Naval/Flag Officer-in-charge. The Navy List shows it reporting directly to the Director of Ordnance, Torpedoes and Mines (DOTM) at Navy Office. This was possibly because Navy Office and DOTM were then located in Melbourne.

In April 1944, the Deputy Armament Supply Officer in charge was Herbert J. Gardner, whilst the Assistant Armament Supply Officer, William M. Thompson, was on duty at Sydney. Other office staff comprised a Senior Clerk, 4 Senior Clerical Officers (including one on loan from Victorian State Railways), 11 Clerks (presumably male), 17 female Clerks, 9 female assistants, 3 typists and 3 messengers.

Commonwealth Navy Order 352 of 1945

"R.A.N. ARMAMENT DEPOT, MARIBYRNONG TITLE OF OFFICER-IN-CHARGE.

The title of the Officer-in-Charge of the Naval Armament Depot, Maribyrnong, will in future be Naval Armament Supply Officer, Maribyrnong (short title, N.A.S.O.).
(404/201/731.)"
Photo of ordnance and gunnery equipment store at Maribyrnong

The Ordnance and Gunnery Equipment Store in 1953

Somerton Magazine

The Somerton Magazine Area was established by the Army in 1941, later shared with the Navy, and finally taken over entirely by the Navy (around 1950).

Typical magazine at Somerton

A Typical Magazine at Somerton (1953)

"14. The Magazine Area at Somerton, Victoria, comprises approximately 200 Acres on which 57 buildings have been erected. The buildings are at present allocated as follows:-
Explosives Storages Ancillary buildings (Laboratories, Guard Quarters etc.) Total Present Allocation
10 5 15 Navy
21 11 32 Army
15. The Army is about to vacate the Area and negotiations are in train for this Department to take over the whole Depot. If we are successful, our explosive storage position in Victoria will be improved to the extent of 3,000 tons." (Naval Ordnance Branch Newsletter, December 1948)

By the 1960s explosives storage had been consolidated at Somerton, on approximately 210 hectares.



Laboratory rooms at Somerton in 1953

Laboratory Rooms and Shifting Room at Somerton (1953)

After the closure of the Swan Island Mine Depot it's likely that shipping of explosives was conducted at the Commonwealth explosives wharf at Point Wilson, near Geelong.

In 1988, there were 11 explosives storehouses, including 2 magazines for dusty explosives, and 7 explosives workshops on the site. The storehouses had approximately 5,000 cubic metres of raw storage capacity; actual capacity was dependent on quantity distance and compatibility considerations.

Explosive storehouse interior at Somerton

An Explosives Storehouse Interior at Somerton in 1953 Showing Anti-submarine Projectiles

Both the Maribyrnong and Somerton sites are now closed (2010).


Like to Know More?

Dot point  The RANAD Maribyrnong Chronology page contains additional information.

Dot point  Take a mid-20th century photographic tour through the Maribyrnong and Somerton depots.

Dot point  Further historical information about the foundation of the Somerton Magazine Area can be found on the website Somerton History by Rowan Crowe of Craigieburn Historical Interest Group.


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Robert Curran
borclaud @ tpg.com.au