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Arms for the Navy - Preparation for War, 1940

Reproduced below is a newspaper article, from the Sydney Morning Herald of 27 August 1940.

Whilst significant expansion of the armament supply capabilities was occurring at this time, it was dwarfed by what was to come after the outbreak of the Pacific war.


New Ammunition Storage.


Because of the war demands of the Royal Australian Navy, a tremendous expansion has taken place at the naval armament depots in Sydney. This expansion is proceeding rapidly.

More than £100,000 has been spent in the construction of magazines and ammunition storehouses in secluded areas in Sydney and many more thousands will be spent this year.

Previously, ammunition and explosives for the Navy were stored at the depot at Spectacle Island but because the small size of the island and the risk of an explosion destroying the entire establishment, it was decided that the stocks of live ammunition and explosives should all be at a depot where they can be isolated and protected by proper earthworks.

Spectacle Island will continue to be the depot for all naval armaments of a non-explosive nature, such guns, from eight-inch to two-pounders, and their parts, rifles, machine-guns, revolvers, swords, accoutrements and gas respirators. The workshops will also remain there.


The work and importance of the armament stores are little-known features of the activities of the Australian Navy. The value of the reserve armaments and ammunition stores is estimated at considerably over £1,000,000. Since the outbreak of hostilities about 7,000 tons of these stores were handled, including 4,000 tons of explosives.

Part of the work at the armament depots is the making of cordite gun cartridges for the eight-inch and smaller guns of the Navy. Many thousands of cartridges are made each year, and the work has increased since the war started.

Bundling cordite

Sydney, NSW. 1940-05. RAN personnel inspecting cordite then tying it into bundles. From the collection of the Australian War Memorial.

The cordite is manufactured at the Commonwealth Government Factories in Melbourne. At present, certain of the shells fired from the larger naval guns by the cordite cartridges are imported from Britain.

Six inch shell

1939-10. ORDNANCE MARIBYRNONG - 6" & 7" NAVAL SHELLS. MUNITIONS. AMMUNITION. (NEGATIVE BY E.L.C.). From the collection of the Australian War Memorial. (

In the recent action in the Mediterranean in which H.M.A.S. Sydney sank the Italian cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni, Australian-made cordite cartridges were fired in her six-inch guns. The accuracy of the Sydney’s shooting was a tribute to the work of the Australian munitions workers.

HMAS Sydney ammunitioning

Ammunition barges moored up against the light cruiser, HMAS Sydney II, to replenish the ammunition expended during the battle of Cape Spada. From the collection of the Australian War Memorial. (

Note: the location of the above photo isn't definitely known but is most likely to be Alexandria.

The ammunition in store in Sydney includes large quantities of filled shell containing "T.N.T.", torpedo warheads, depth charges, guncotton, bombs for aircraft attached to the fleet, small-arms ammunition, pyrotechnics for flares and signalling, etc, and smoke floats for making smoke screens.

Not only are the armament store experts responsible for the storage, maintenance, repair and examination of all the descriptions of armaments required for the British and Australian naval ships, but also armed merchant ships, armed merchant cruisers and auxiliary vessels.

Pom pom ammunition

At Sea, New Guinea. 19 June 1944. Preparing ammunition for the pompom guns on board the Australian built tribal class destroyer HMAS Arunta, during operations in northern waters in the Hollandia action. From the collection of the Australian War Memorial. (


Apart from the arming of merchant cruisers and auxiliary ships the armament depots since the war began have equipped with defensive guns more than 130 ships of the mercantile marine.

The Australian naval vessel which sank the Italian liner Romolo recently after her crew had set he afire and attempted to scuttle her was armed in Sydney.

The personnel of the Naval Armament Stores are civilians, and a great part of their routine work is the safeguarding of the dangerous stores.

Great care is taken in the testing of explosives for deterioration. Anything which is not in first-class condition is of no use to the Navy.

A fleet of ammunition lighters is maintained for the water transport of naval explosives on the harbour.

Spectacle Island is the oldest naval depot in Australia. It has been a naval ordnance establishment since 1881, when it was taken over by the British Admiralty from the New South Wales Government. Before that, it was used as a gunpowder store by the colonial troops. Some of the buildings date from 1865. In 1913 it was transferred to the Commonwealth Government and since then Imperial and Australian naval stocks have been maintained."

Note: The photographs on this page were not part of the published article.

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Robert Curran
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