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RAN Torpedo Factory Neutral Bay

Badge of RAN Torpedo Maintenance Establishment

Note: the titles RAN Torpedo Factory, RAN Torpedo Establishment and RAN Torpedo Maintenance Establishment refer to the same organisation at succeeding stages of its life.

Introduction

From A History of the RAN Torpedo Maintenance Establishment (c. 1974):

"In the year 1941, for strategic reasons, the Admiralty requested torpedoes should be manufactured in Australia for use by the Fleet Air Arm in the South West Pacific Area.

Since it was known the RAAF had a requirement for torpedoes for Beaufort Torpedo Carrying Aircraft, the War Cabinet approved procurement of 360 torpedoes (18-inch Mark XV) from the UK at a cost of £954,800.

It was found however that UK supplies were inadequate and alternative supply from the USA would not be available until 1943."

A decision was then taken to manufacture the torpedoes in Australia, with the Royal Australian Navy being responsible for the operation of the factory.

The Construction of the Factory

Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 4 – Civil, Volume V – The Role of Science and Industry (1st edition, 1958), Chapter 13, Torpedoes and Mines, pp. 282-300:

The site chosen for the factory was that of the North Sydney Gasworks, and as a result of quick and effective action by the Business Board immediate possession was gained late in 1941. The original plan was to economise by adapting the existing buildings, which were in some respects suitable, but when after several months work had not even begun, the navy sought the aid of Mr Essington Lewis. Lewis decided that to keep pace with the program agreed upon it was necessary to demolish the existing building and erect an entirely new factory. The next day, a Friday, he called a meeting at his office in Melbourne which was attended by all concerned, including representatives of the architects and the contractor from Sydney. A contract was placed that night and the contractor began to clear the site on the following Monday morning. This was a good example of what could be done when it was possible to make a clean cut through red tape. By February 1943 the buildings, known as the Royal Australian Naval Torpedo Factory, were completed, in remarkably short time. The factory was well designed and splendidly equipped; so completely did its structure harmonise with its surroundings that despite the fact that it covered over 100,000 square feet, it was by no means a conspicuous landmark.
Torpedo stowage at RAN Torpedo Establishment

Torpedo Stowage, RAN Torpedo Establishment, 1949 - Paravanes in Foreground

Even before the first torpedo had come off the production line changing priorities led to a drastic reduction in the number of torpedoes required and only about 40 were manufactured. For the remainder of the war the Factory was engaged in servicing large quantities of torpedoes for the Royal Navy, including the US 22.4-inch diameter Mark 13 torpedo. Two experimental teams, one Australian and one from the USA were also engaged in experimenting with designs for homing torpedoes. One of these designs was a mechanical wake-following torpedo.

For further information about the early history of the Torpedo Factory during World War 2, read or download Volume V – The Role of Science and Industry (1st edition, 1958) - Chapter 13 – Torpedoes and Mines (Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 4 – Civil - Volume Vol 5.)

The Torpedo Range

Commonwealth Navy Order 287 (1947)

R.A.N. TORPEDO RANGE, PITTWATER, N.S.W.

The R.A.N. Torpedo Range is situated in Broken Bay, N.S.W., the firing point being on Taylor's Point, Pittwater, and the range extending from there in a northerly direction.

2. Transport of torpedoes is normally carried out by road from the R.A.N. Torpedo Factory, a distance of 22 miles, as no vessel with a draught greater than 12 ft. 6 in. can enter Pittwater. 3. The following firing guns are fitted:—

1—No. 21-in. above water firing tube.
2—No. 18-in. tubes.
1—No. 21-in. submerged firing tube.

There is also a launching cradle for use in running torpedoes not otherwise catered for.

4. The Torpedo Range workshop is capable of carrying out complete overhauls on all torpedoes.

5. Applications for torpedoes to be ranged should be made by signal to Admiral Superintendent, Sydney, repeated for information to Superintendent, R.A.N. Torpedo Factory.

6. Transport of torpedoes from the ship's side to the range and return will be arranged by the Superintendent, R.A.N. Torpedo Factory.

(569/224/396.)"
Torpedo being hoisted at torpedo range

Hoisting Recovered Torpedo at RAN Torpedo Range, Pittwater, 1949

Post World War 2

In 1948, the Factory described itself thus in its inaugural Newsletter:

"The R.A.N. Torpedo Factory which is situated at Neutral Bay, first began to operate in 1942, prior to which the Torpedo Depot which had formerly been situated at Garden Island was transferred to its present site with the Factory. The Torpedo Range which is situated at Pittwater (25 miles from the R.A.N. Torpedo Factory) first began to range torpedoes late in 1943. ...

Upper workshop at RAN Torpedo Establishment

Upper Workshop, No. 2 Bay, RAN Torpedo Establishment, 1949 - Repair and Modification

There is an additional large storehouse situated at Rydalmere (14 miles from the R.A.N. Torpedo Factory) which is necessary for storage of the large overflow of stores from the Torpedo Depot due to the very limited covered storage space available in the latter.

Production of Torpedoes stopped prior to the cessation of hostilities but pending resumption of torpedo manufacture the Factory has been kept fully occupied with manufacture of stores for other branches of the Navy and other government departments in addition to the usual manufacture of requirements for the Depot. A good deal of maintenance and modification work on torpedoes, gyroscopes and pistols is also carried on due to the fact that the back log of such work consequent upon the end of the war and the large stocks now held both for the R.A.N. and as Imperial reserves is beyond the capacity of the Depot Workshop as originally planned....

The range is now equipped for ranging of both 18" and 21" torpedoes and is engaged on the annual percentage re-ranging of both Commonwealth and Imperial stocks. ..."

Staffing at this time comprised, in addition to the Superintendent:
Technical and drawing office - 17
Factory and maintenance staff - 156
Depot (Clerical and storehouse) - 42
Workshop - 55
Range - 20
Accounts - 8

"11. Production of torpedoes for the destroyers now being built in Australian yards is about to commence at the R.A.N. Torpedo Establishment, Sydney. Fabrication of some of the components will take place in the United Kingdom. Action is now being taken to enter the additional staff required. ...The Superintendent (Engineer-Captain R. Berry-Smith, M.V.O, R.A.N.) was at Navy Office this month to discuss final plans for this major undertaking." (Naval Ordnance Branch Newsletter, February 1949)

These torpedoes were 21-inch Mk 9** Mod 1, for use by surface ships.

In 1964 it was recorded that:

Production of torpedoes ceased in 1960, just as the first of an order for 115 in No. 21" Mk.20 electric homing torpedoes was completed. The prior manufacturing order to this was for 120 in No. 18" Mk.30 electric homing torpedoes for use with aircraft. (Royal Australian Navy - Torpedo Establishments Sydney N.S.W., 1974 version)
18-inch mark 30 torpedo

18-inch Mark 30 Torpedo - also known as Dealer B (Public domain image - refer http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:18_inch_Mk_30_Torpedo.jpg)

At this time the Establishment was handling:

No explosive-filled mines were handled, only exercise versions.

By 1974 the inventory had changed to:

Organisation

In December 1967 a committee was 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."

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:

In 1972 the Guided Missile Unit at RANAD Kingswood 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.

Superintendents

Superintendents of RAN Torpedo Factory/Establishment

ENG. CAPT A. C. W. Mears CBE 1942-1946
ENG. CMDR O. F. McMahon OBE 1946-1946
ENG. CAPT R. Berry-Smith 1946-1952
ENG. CAPT W. J. M. Armitage 1952-1957
A/CAPT J. K. Menary 1957-1964
CMDR H. K. Kirkman 1964-1964
CMDR W. F. Walmsley 1964-1965
CMDR G. V. Dunk 1965-1967
CMDR H. G. Baker 1967-1968
CMDR D. C. Brett 1968-1972

Superintendents of Missile and Torpedo Maintenance (SMTM)

CMDR D. C. Brett 1/5/1972 to 8/1/1973
CMDR K. L. Neave 9/1/1973 to 23/3/1975
CMDR L. J. Dennis 24/3/1975 to 10/9/1978
CMDR P. I. M. Ferguson 11/9/1978 to 1/1/ 1979
CMDR R. W. Garing 2/1/1979 to 21/2/1982
CMDR Chris J. Skinner 22/2/1982 to 17/2/1984
CMDR L. W. Renfrey 20/2/1984 to 1989 (?)

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Robert Curran
borclaud @ tpg.com.au