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Rob's Shed

RAN Gunmounting & Torpedo Depot Garden Island

Introduction

Gunmounting stores, in the Royal Australian Navy, comprised:

When the RAN took over Spectacle Island from the Royal Navy in 1913 the Gunmounting stores came under the control of the Naval Stores Officer at Garden Island (Sydney, New South Wales). Consideration was given to transferring them to the Naval Ordnance Depot but space was wanting at Spectacle Island. In 1916 the Gunmounting section was transferred to the Naval Engineer Officer and combined with the Torpedo Depot.

Gun inspection

Workmen inspecting a 4 inch naval gun at Bld 7/8 Garden Island - now the RAN Heritage Centre, then the gun mounting workshop. From the collection of the Australian War Memorial. (http://cas.awm.gov.au/item/001656)

The combined depot operated until 1942, when the RAN Torpedo Factory was established at Neutral Bay. The Sydney Morning Herald of 22 May 1922 records the appointment of Arthur C. W. Mears "for charge under engineer manager of the torpedo depot and all gun mountings and torpedo tubes" from May 20, 1922. In the Navy List of October 1929, the depot is described as "Torpedo Depot, Gun Mountings & Torpedo Tubes".

It should be noted that the term "torpedo depot" may denote both a maintenance facility or an organisational entity, or both.

After the detachment of the torpedo depot function, the Gunnery Equipment Depot remained with the Engineer Manager. On 2 December 1963 the Gunwharf section at Spectacle Island merged with the Gunnery Equipment Depot; the merged organisation was called the RAN Weapon Equipment Depot, Garden Island.

The Midget Submarine Raid of 1942

Frank J. Lingard

A notable employee of the Torpedo Depot was Frank J. Lingard, who in early June 1942 removed the armed pistol from the warhead of a torpedo fired from a Japanese midget submarine. This torpedo had landed on the shore of Garden Island without exploding, and was intended for the American cruiser "Chicago", anchored nearby. Lingard also removed the unarmed pistols from the torpedoes recovered from the two submarines sunk that night, as well as disarming their demolition charges. Lingard, a civilan torpedo fitter at the time, volunteered for this task, and received little recognition for it. The following year, he became the resident foreman at the new Pittwater torpedo range.

Lingard was well qualified to undertake the disarming task. In addition to his Torpedo Depot experience, he had formerly been an RAN Engine Room Artificer. In July 1935, whilst posted to HMAS Canberra, he qualified as a Torpedo Coxswain and Artificer Diver 2nd Class (Commonwealth Navy Order 118/1935).

Ern M. Florence

Although Frank Lingard is named in the contemporary reports as being solely responsible for the disarming of the torpedo warhead, other sources say that Ern Florence was also involved. For example, the Official War History (Volume V The Role of Science and Industry (1st edition, 1958) - Chapter 13 Torpedoes and Mines (Australia in the War of 19391945. Series 4 Civil - Volume Vol 5.) says, on page 289:

"The dangerous task of dismantling this torpedo and rendering it harmless was carried out by Mr E.M. Florence and Mr F.J. Lingard of the Sydney Torpedo Depot. Another torpedo fired by this midget submarine struck a sea wall at Garden Island. The resulting explosion wrecked the depot ship Kuttabul moored alongside."

Florence (born Lossiemouth, Scotland, 19 September 1902: died January 1967) served with the RAN and then, as a civilian, at the Torpedo Depot, Garden Island from 1929-1942. Thereafter, he was Superintending Foreman, RAN Torpedo Factory, between 1942 and 1946.

In 1938 he was sent to Britain to study the manufacture, ranging and maintenance of torpedoes in the Royal Navy establishments. Florence was therefore extremely knowledgeable, and was Lingard's supervisor. It's possible that Florence's role did not attract mention because he was not a volunteer in the same sense that Lingard was. Additional research is needed on this point.

The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage have an excellent website on the midget submarine raid.

The Demolition Charges

A detailed description of these demolition charges, of which two were installed in each of the submarines sunk in the Sydney attack, has not previously been published.

One of the charges was examined by D. J. Davis at the Munitions Supply Laboratories (Report E. & A.R. No. 35 of 5 October 1942/National Archives of Australia item MP1049/5, 1872/2/161). The following account has been drawn from that report (MSL Report), and a second report entitled "Technical Report on Japanese Midget Submarines", prepared at Garden Island, and dated July 1942 (GI Report).

The demolition charge consisted of a welded steel cylinder, approximately 18" long by 11" diameter, with a removable cover plate and collar at one end, and a lifting lug centrally placed on the side. Three lengths of safety fuse were led from the exterior, through the cover plate and collar, into the interior of the cylinder. The interior end of each length of safety fuse terminated in a commercial-type detonator which would have been crimped to the end of the fuse.

The explosive charge consisted of an hexagonal prism arrangement of cast Picric Acid blocks, in 2 layers, with a central cylindrical "primer" block of pressed, powdered Picric Acid, recessed to accomodate the three detonators. Wooden spacers and cardboard packing pieces were used to fill the voids between the explosive charge and the cylinder. The total weight of explosive was approximately 67 lbs, and the total weight of the charge was approximately 105 lbs. Some of the Picric Acid blocks had been manufactured as long ago as 1917 and even 1903 in one case. The primer block was of more recent (1939) manufacture.

The "explosive train" (i.e. the sequence of initiating events) would be familiar to any shotfirer, or person who has used explosives for agricultural purposes, and is about the simplest possible. The external ends of the safety fuse would be lit, and the flame would travel up the core of the safety fuse until it reached and initiated the detonator. The shock from this would detonate the primer block and the detonation would propagate throughout the entire explosive charge.

The method of lighting the safety fuse is not addressed in the MSL Report. However it is described in the GI Report . This says:

"The temporary electrical demolition charge ignition system consisted of 4 1.5V, 2.5 Ampere dry cells in series which ignited a fuze via a hand operated switch and a time switch."

What remains unknown includes:

Another contemporary report (Report by FOIC Sydney "Midget Submarine Attack on Sydney Harbour. May 31st - June 1st, 1942 File B.S. 1749/201/37 of 16 July 1942/ National Archives of Australia Series B6121; Control Symbol 62I Midget Submarines - Attack on Shipping in Sydney Harbour. Official Reports. Newspaper Cuttings etc) makes the following observations:

(Note: Peter Grose's book A Very Rude Awakening, Allen & Unwin, 2007, reproduces the report into the midget submarine attack submitted by the Rear-Admiral in Charge, HMA Naval Establishments, Sydney.)

Thanks to Brad Duncan, of the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage for providing a copy of the MSL Report and other information.

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Robert Curran
borclaud @ tpg.com.au