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Naval Ordnance Branch


The Naval Ordnance Branch was the department within the Australian Navy Office that was responsible for Naval Armament Depots from World War 1 to around 1965. It was re-titled the Naval Ordnance and Underwater Weapons Branch around 1955 and the Weapons Branch in 1960. It also had responsibility for weapons policy, provisioning and procurement.

Depots also had an administrative line of control from their local Naval Officer-in-Charge, e.g., in 1929 the Armament Supply Officer, Sydney submitted his annual report to the Captain Superintendent, Sydney.

First World War

Responsibility for naval ordnance matters in the infant Royal Australian Navy seems to have been exercised by Captain W.H.C.S. Thring, initially (from 1913) as the Naval Assistant to First Naval Member of the Naval Board. In the Navy List for October 1917, he is shown with the additional title of Director of Naval Ordnance; in October 1918 he is listed simply as the Director of Naval Ordnance. Thring's responsibilities during the war seem to have been wide-ranging, and extended well beyond the ordnance field. He had, however, a lightly manned organisation - in the 1917 List Thring and W.M. Hine, Naval Staff Clerk 4th Class, are the sole branch officers named. According to Thring's biographer "...As director of war staff he became the genius of whatever wartime autonomy the Naval Board preserved. ..."

In November 1918, Thring, as Director of Naval Ordnance, wrote that "Mr Hine has by himself carried out all Naval Ordnance store duties at the Navy Office entirely to my satisfaction ... I submit that Mr Hine should be given an appointment as Assistant Ordnance Store Officer for duty at Navy Office ..."

This appointment did not eventuate. As the Finance and Civil Member of the Naval Board pointed out:

"Mr Hine was appointed by Order in Council as a Naval Staff Clerk ... There are no regulations in existence providing for the appointment, salaries and increments of Assistant Ordnance Stores Officers ..."

In the interim, however, Hine was recommended for promotion to Naval Staff Clerk Class III; this was approved by the Minister on 19 March 1920.

The Inter-War Years

In 1919 a "Navy Office Reorganization Committee" was established under the Presidency of the Finance and Civil Member of the Naval Board.

A reorganization proposal was prepared by Lieutenant Commander Robinson for the Director of Naval Ordnance (DNO) and was submitted by him, with minor reservations, to the First and Second Naval Members on 8 December 1919.

This submission envisaged the translation of the Naval Ordnance Branch into a Directorate of Ordnance, Torpedoes and Mines (DOTM) along lines recommended by Lord Jellicoe in his recent report to the Australian Government.

The directorate was to be divided into five sections, i.e. Torpedoes and Mines, Gunnery, Inspection, Stores and Clerical. However, as a temporary expedient, the Inspection and Stores sections were to be combined under one officer of Commander level, to be known as the Assistant Director of Armament Supply. The total number of Navy Office-based staff was 8.

In the original submission, DOTM was to be a Captain "G" or "T". Below him was an Inspector of Naval Ordnance, Torpedoes & Mines and Director of Armament Supply - a Commander "G" or "T". At the next level were:

The submission concluded with a gentle criticism of the procedures for selection, appointment and promotion of officers of the Directorate, insofar as the DNO was not being consulted:

"Though this procedure is one at present virtually accepted, yet it has not been carried out in the past; for instance ... the omission from the 1919/20 estimates of the provision of a Foreman of Stores for Spectacle Island, although this civilian officer is still performing these duties and received an extension of his appointment for a further time of 3 years some few months ago ... the selection of the Naval Ordnance Officer, Spectacle Island, recently appointed should also have been a matter for the Director of Ordnance, Torpedoes and Mines to advise upon."

This reorganization was approved in some form by August 1920 when DNO had become DOTM. (F&CM Circular of 3 November 1919; DNO 19/0236 of 8 December 1919; DOTM to 1stNM N19/1456 of 12 August 1920).

The October 1921 issue of the Navy List mentions the following 8 positions:

In June 1921 the Clerical staff at Spectacle island was reviewed by the Civil Staff Committee. The staff then comprised W.M. Thompson, A.V. McDonald, H.J. Gardner, S.T. Atherton and C.W. Purdom. All were Naval Staff Clerks Class V.

The following decisions were approved by the Minister on 11 July 1921:

The Assistant Armament Supply Officer position was withdrawn to Navy Office in October 1922 and the Island was without such a position until 30 June 1927 when the Public Service Board created a new office. The position was justified as necessary to provide additional assistance to the Armament Supply Officer in the governing and supervision of the Depot at Spectacle Island, Newington, St Georges Head Magazines and the Smoke Float Store at Chowder Bay (D609/402/144 of 3 February 1927).

Naval Ordnance Branch staffing always encompassed both service and civilian positions. The civilians holding positions such as Armament Supply Officer, Deputy Armament Supply Officer and Assistant Armament Supply Officer (known as "Directing Staff") were members of a career service, who could be and were redeployed around Australia to meet emergent needs. This persisted until the mid-1960s.

World War 2

By January 1938, the Branch had grown from the 8 of 1921 to 15. This reflected the increasing emphasis on local production of munitions. The Navy List at that time shows staffing of:

This staff, however, was to be dwarfed by that in existence towards the end of the war. The Navy List for April 1944 shows a total of 126, not including Inspection staff, who now constituted a separate Branch with 29 positions:

A good overview of the activities of the Branch during the war can be gained from the once Secret document titled R.A.N. Organization for War - Lessons Learnt.

Post World War 2

In October 1945, the senior Armament Supply position within the Branch was titled Assistant Director of Armament Supply; by January 1947 it was Deputy Director of Armament Supply; in 1954 Superintendent of Armament Supply, and by January 1961, Director of Armament Supply.

The January 1962 Navy List shows the Armament Supply Organisation as a separate Branch, the Armament Supply Branch. It's unclear, however, whether it was fully independent of the Weapons Branch. By September 1965 the title was Armament Supply Division, now within the Office of the Fourth Naval Member, a precursor to its incorporation into the new Navy Supply Division in 1966.

The names and periods of service of many senior members of the Branch are listed on the Executive Staff page.

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Robert Curran
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