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R.A.N. Organization for War - Lessons Learnt


At some time shortly after the end of World War 2, a Secret document titled R.A.N. Organization for War - Lessons Learnt was written by an unknown person who was probably a member of the Directorate of Ordnance, Torpedoes and Mines (most likely Reginald A. Ball although other evidence suggests that Charles Hill had a role in its preparation). It provides some insights into how the war unfolded for the Directorate and the Armament Supply Depots. What follows is an edited extract. Additional material on World War 2 is contained on the Experience of War 1939-1945 page.

1. Supply of Equipment and Information from United Kingdom

The supply of equipment for modernising R.A.N. ships has been greatly hampered and delayed during the war by an inadequate liaison staff in London. In general it was necessary to wait for the issue of C.A.F.O.s etc., before sufficient information was available to enable orders to be placed for new equipment or modification parts of old equipment. ...

2. Ammunition etc. - Manufacture and organisation for keeping Production up-to-date.

Here again the delay and scarcity of information from United Kingdom has worked to our disadvantage. In many cases the first we know of a new design is the arrival of the sealed drawings or an ammunition circular letter. We seldom know why the design has been altered until very late. ...

3. Production in Australia of Gun Mountings etc.

Australian manufacture has fully justified itself in this war and we should be prepared to go in for local manufacture in a much more ambitious way in any future war. ... In the 4" XIX-XXIII Mounting project many necessary modifications were designed simultaneously here and in United Kingdom, resulting in non standardisation and wasted effort. ...

4. Weights of Equipments.

One of our great difficulties has been the lack of reliable information about the weight of gunnery equipment, which has made the planning of topweight surrender, etc., slow and laborious. ...

5. Ordering Equipment from United Kingdom, particularly Fire Control Equipment.

Experience has shown that detailed orders are not satisfactory in wartime, as lack of information in Australia, together with modifications subsequently introduced in United Kingdom before delivery is effected lead too often to endless correspondence and the short delivery of essential parts of the equipment.

It is generally better for a blanket order to be placed on United Kingdom with the equipment specified only in the most general terms. ...

6. Provision of Gunnery Equipment for Arming D.E.M.S. and Auxiliaries in emergency.

The Admiralty had a scale of D.E.M.S. Equipment both LA and HA to be maintained in Australia in peacetime, but this provision was found quite inadequate and it was necessary to use in addition every available Commonwealth gun even down to .303" Maxims, and to provide ammunition for nearly all guns by local manufacture. ...

7. Arming, Manning and Maintaining D.E.M.S.

Prior to the war Sydney was the only Arming Port in Australia. Melbourne was added a few days before war broke out, and subsequently Fremantle, Brisbane, Adelaide and Newcastle, the last being run from Sydney.

All these arming Ports were necessary for the installation and maintenance of Armament and P.V's (Paravanes), and provision should be made to re-establish them on the outbreak of war. ...

There is a serious shortage of Lifting appliances at all Australian Ports.

8. Control of D.E.M.S. Activities

At a later stage in the war Port Gunnery Officers were appointed to the larger ports; they were placed in charge of the Gunnery Instructional Centres, and also controlled all Ordnance Artificers other than those attached to Armament Depots. This brought about a certain amount of friction at some ports, particularly where the D.E.M.S. Officer was senior to the Port Gunnery Officer. ...

9. D.E.M.S. Material

A record is available in D.O.T.M. Branch of the Armament carried by all D.E.M.S., which visited or served in Australian waters during the war. This record would be invaluable in any future war.

10. D.E.M.S. Training

Although excellent facilities were provided in the Gunnery Instructional Centres at Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle the utmost difficulty was experienced in getting merchant seamen to attend. The Shipping Companies would not allow the men to attend in Owner's time, and the men refused to attend in their own. ...

11. Maintenance of Ordnance by Base Staffs

Consider pools of machine tools and other equipment should be maintained for establishing ordnance workshops at wartime bases. ...

12. Ordnance Mechanics

The rating of Ordnance Mechanic should be re-instituted in the event of a state of emergency. ...

13. Base Torpedo Organization.

There should be a Port Torpedo Officer at all the principal ports, in charge of all Torpedo and Electrical ratings of the Base staff. ...

14. Motor Transport

At all Australian ports for the greater part of the war and at Navy Office, Melbourne for the whole of the war, Naval motor transport was grossly inadequate. ...

The only Motor transport available to Senior Officers at Navy Office was a contract hired car, which could be obtained on application to a member of the Secretariat, accompanied by a full explanation as to its necessity ...

This may seem a minor matter but it undoubtedly added to the strain on senior and elderly officers to have to fight their way on to crowded trains and trams during 6 years of war, whilst their opposite numbers in Army, Air Force, Royal Navy, Allied Services and Civil Departments rolled past in limousines. ...

15. Red Tape.

At Sea, officers are firmly of the opinion that their efforts both in peace and in war are greatly handicapped by red tape which is assiduously and constantly wound by Naval and Civilian officers at Navy Office, more particularly the latter. ...

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. ...

16. Inspection of Guns in Ships operating in Forward Areas.

The operations in the SW Pacific area resulted in ships of the R.A.N. becoming scattered in small forces over a very wide area. A very large number of rounds were fired in Bombardment from guns of all calibres in all classes of ships, and it proved impossible to ensure that guns were inspected regularly after firing the prescribed number of rounds, due to the scattered disposition of the ships and the difficulty of obtaining air transport for the inspection staff and equipment.

In the case of the cruisers and destroyers fairly satisfactory inspection was achieved by frequent flying visits from the Naval Ordnance Inspecting Officer, who kept a set of inspection gear on board each cruiser, but inspection of the guns in frigates, A.M.S. Vessels and Motor Launches could only be arranged occasionally as these ships were frequently on detached operations for long periods during which they fired very large quantities of ammunition. ...

17. Armament Supply

This section deals particularly with the Armament Supply of the R.A.N., the supply of the B.P.F. being dealt with separately, but the principles enunciated apply to the supply of any force operating a long way from its main base.

The key note of supply is of course shipping, a commodity which always has been and probably always will be in very short supply.

Armament Supply of advanced forces can best be achieved by Armament Store Issuing Ships supported by Armament Store Carriers. It was realised early in the war that this was the most satisfactory solution and the following action was taken:-

Two A.S.I.S ("YUNNAN" and "POYANG") were fitted out. One A.S.I.S. ("MOONTA") was fitted out, and fittings were then removed and stored against an emergency.

When Japan entered the war the R.A.N. Squadron became part of the US 7th Fleet and both "YUNNAN" and "POYANG" were attached, being loaded 50/50 with U.S. and R.A.N. ammunition as at that time there were no U.S.N. Ammunition Ships available.

"YUNNAN" and "POYANG" were retained by 7th Fleet up till 1945 when "POYANG" was again made available to A.C.N.B. Meanwhile the problem arose as to how to arrange the Armament Supply of the Seafrons Force which remained under A.C.N.B. control. There were two schools of thought, D.O.T.M.was in favour of an Issuing Ship, whereas Naval Staff preferred Armament Depots at fixed points supplemented by Lighters.

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. (

"MOONTA" or other alternative ship, could not be made available, and up till 1945 when "POYANG" was given back and "MULCRA" was detailed as a carrier, reliance was placed on small semi permanent Depots which were established at Townsville, Cairns, Port Moresby, Thursday Island and Milne Bay, these being supplemented by 50 ton concrete lighters. The system failed because the war was not static and because the lighters provided unsatisfactory storage, and were not seaworthy enough to transfer from place to place when loaded. It thus became necessary to improvise ammunition dumps at Madang, Lae, Manus, Mios Woendi, Torakina etc, etc. Ammunition in Lighters and improvised dumps soon became unserviceable. The lesson learnt is that the basis of Armament Supply must be the A.S.I.S. supported by carriers, that one semi-permanent Depot should be established in or near the operational area so as to shorten the lines of communication, and that there should be portable "dumps" to deal with small scattered units.


Armament Supply was severely hampered by lack of trained staff. ...


(1) Consideration should be given to the adoption of an alternative lighter pack for all heavy items of ammunition, to permit of man-handling, observing that existing packages are designed for hoisting and transporting by mechanical means. ...

(2) The Navy should provide in peace-time its own reserves of motor transport and lifting appliances, with the necessary storage and maintenance workshops. In the sphere of Armament Supply at least, one of the greatest single causes of delay was the difficulty of obtaining requirements of both vehicles and lifting appliances. ...

(3) The Navy should provide its own Labour Corps. Dependence on the Army for shore labour often led to delays and recriminations. However willingly it was supplied, as it normally was, it was always liable to be withdrawn if Army needs predominated.

(4) The Navy should provide its own Works and Engineering Organisation for urgent and operational works in Shore Bases. ...

(5) Modern scientific methods for the engagement of civilian personnel (temporary) in Naval Establishments should be introduced, and Industrial officers qualified to administer personnel employment on these lines should be provided in Establishments ...

Much waste of time and effort, loss of efficiency, staff dissatisfaction, and worry of Executive Officers was caused by the entry of unsuitable persons in Armament Depots, by the placing of square pegs in round holes, by employing persons in jobs inferior to those they were capable of filling (and the reverse), by training men for jobs which they could never fill, and by the necessity for keeping incompetents in jobs because there was no-one else to do the work. ...

(6) Sydney is far from ideal as a port for ammunitioning a large Fleet in war-time. To discharge ammunition in any appreciable quantities in quick time into or out of Sydney, it is necessary to use commercial wharves (Woolloomooloo, the Quay, Pyrmont etc.) more or less in the heart of the city; for transport between storage area and wharf, motor transport is necessary, and this must pass through more than 20 miles of thickly populated built-up areas as well as across the City itself. The remedy is to distribute ammunition reserves at other Ports.

(7) The Magazine Main office of the Naval Armament Depot, Sydney, should be located at Newington, not Spectacle Island. The Armament Supply Officer in charge of the Magazines is a Resident Officer and his office should be at Newington so that he can devote more time to direct control of the office work.

(8) Formal courses of training should be provided for all Naval Ordnance Clerks, and Storehouse and Laboratory Staff before advancement to grade of Assistant Storehouseman and A/Laboratoryman. Weapons have so increased in number and technical complexity that it is impossible for anyone, on appointment, to pick up within a reasonable period of time, a sufficient knowledge of stores by the existing method of learning on the job. And in any case, much of what is learnt by this method is of doubtful authenticity because the knowledge and teaching ability of even experienced employees are often questionable.

(9) Training classes in Naval Armament Depots should be conducted by special instructors, not by the Depot Staff. The training of classes in Depots is necessarily hampering to Depot work, but this is unavoidable, and it can be reduced to negligible proportions if the Executive and subordinate officers of the Depot do not have to give up their normal duties to instruct the classes.

(10) Candidates for Storehouseman and Laboratoryman grades should have higher educational qualifications than hitherto considered appropriate. ...

18. Local Manufacture of Naval Armament Supplies

One of the most outstanding lessons of the war is how extremely unwise it is to rely on overseas supplies for Naval Armament Stores.

Numerous examples could be given of how nearly we were in trouble because we were not wholly self-supporting, but the following will suffice:-

In 1941 there was a world shortage of piercing Shell for Cruisers, a store for which we were then entirely dependent on overseas supply.

When "AUSTRALIA" was serving overseas Admiralty required her reserves shipped to United Kingdom, but when the ship returned her reserves did not.

At one stage the only reserve of 8" S.A.P. Shell available to the RN and R.A.N. East of Suez was the remnants of the R.A.N. Reserves at Sydney and only then was DOTMs proposal (made on the outbreak of war) to place orders for increasing reserves approved. At that time Admiralty could not meet the demand but "AUSTRALIA's" reserves were at last returned. Eventually we got supplies from United Kingdom and also developed the technique here. Reserves of 6" piercing shell were little better and it is indeed fortunate that there were few surface ship actions at that time.

The situation was eventually restored because of the severe losses in cruisers which were suffered in the Mediterranean and after the loss of Singapore.

In 1943 the station reserves of 8" Bombardment shell were expended in a single bombardment. Admiralty could not meet our needs, but the situation was restored firstly by using USN Shell in our guns (only adopted after exhaustive trials, although forbidden by Admiralty) and eventually by local manufacture.

A further example is the fortunate circumstance that at no time were the shipping routes to Australia cut. After the fall of France a great effort was made to manufacture locally every Armament store on which we were dependent upon overseas supply, and this was mainly achieved, but it would not have been in time if communications had been cut.

An example of a success, was the counter to the Japanese suicide attacks when the whole of the R.A.N. and the majority of the B.P.F., were equipped with Australian made Bofors guns, mountings and ammunition which could not be obtained in time from overseas.

There appears to be a real danger that this lesson will be forgotten, as witness the fact that the War Cabinet is even now deliberating whether to save a little money by importing the Armament Equipment for the "Battle" Class Destroyers. If the decision is made we shall not only lose the skilled labour acquired with so much difficulty but the actual factory may disappear.

19. Secrecy.

The work of Directors was hampered at times during the war by super-Secrecy. ...

20. Armament Supply of B.P.F.

Admiral Daniels' mission which visited Australia to make arrangements for basing the B.P.F. recommended that Armament Supply should be undertaken by A.C.N.B. and that no separate R.N. Supply organisation should be set up. The actual wording in the detailed overall Administrative plan (D.O.A.P.) was:-

"The present R.A.N. organisation with additional staff to be provided by the R.N., would direct the Armament Division generally."

(2) The plan provided inter alia for a Deputy Director of Armament Supply, and one Senior Armament Supply Officer to be attached to A.C.N.B.

Mr N.P. Luscombe S.A.S.O. was detailed by Admiralty, his appointment (Admiralty message 041744B Sept.'44) being "for liaison duties with ACNB, as arranged with D.O.T.M."

(3) Mr. Luscombe never took up duty with D.O.T.M., and not long after his arrival he assumed the title of Assistant Director of Armament Supply (Pacific),on the Staff of V.A.(Q).

(4) As a result, a system of dual control of Armament Supply in Australia was inaugurated under which the A.D.A.S.(P) after consultation with C. in C. B.P.F. Staff, issued a series of requisitions on D.O.T.M.for the Armament Supply of the B.P.F., the D.O.T.M. being held responsible for their timely execution.

(5) This led to many difficulties, e.g. on the arrival of the Fleet Train it was decided to make drastic alterations in the loads carried by Armament Supply Issuing Ships, as originally arranged in England. This entailed handling a total of 30,000 tons of Ammunition at Sydney during one quarter, the largest amount handled in any previous quarter being 5,000 tons. The work was far beyond the capacity of the Port both in handling facilities and manpower, and had to be supervised by the small R.A.N. staff at Sydney, since no Admiralty personnel arrived until midway through the operation. The work had not been completed when the Fleet returned to Sydney for the first replenishment period, and the Armament Depot had hardly recovered from this initial task by the time the war ended.

(6) Another major difficulty arose because the provisioning (calling forward of Reserve stocks from East Indies and United Kingdom) did not take into account the difficult local conditions at Sydney - particularly shortage of labour; also provisioning greatly exceeded actual B.P.F. requirements. At the end of the war the quantity of R.N. ammunition at Sydney was more than double that for which the Admiralty had asked us to arrange storage. This necessitated the opening of emergency depots with open storage under most unsatisfactory conditions. R.N. and R.A.N. ratings had to be employed in large numbers to clear incoming ships, even to the extent of closing down for a time the R.A.N. Anti S/M. instructing establishment at Rushcutter. Ammunition was unloaded at commercial wharves and carried through the heart of the city in petrol driven lorries obtained from every available Service and Commercial source, and the congestion of explosives in the Port was a matter of grave anxiety for a considerable time during and after the war.

(7) D.O.T.M.was never consulted on the matters decided in paragraphs 5 and 6 above, he was merely informed of decisions which he was required to implement.

(8) At one stage the A.D.A.S.(P) actually issued instructions to R.A.N. Armament Depots but V.A.(Q) stopped this when personal representations were made to him by the C.N.S. (Admiral Royle).

21. The majority of lessons learnt from the war in connection with Inspection are of an internal nature and action to improve the conditions concerned can and will be taken within the Inspection section as opportunity offers during peace time, or at the outbreak of war, as applicable.

The points referred to hereunder however are the major problems which it is considered require action by the Naval Board in order to take proper advantage of Inspection experience gained during the war.

22. Recruitment of Inspecting Officers

It is considered that for any future emergency the system of recruitment of officers for Inspection needs to be definitely established in peace time.

Inspection was fortunate in this war in that (a) the war itself was slow to develop and (b) the Australian Munitions Industries - apart from the Government Munitions factories - were at the beginning of the war in their infancy in munitions production and relatively unorganized, and thus took some years to reach a high output. Aided by the delays Inspection was able to build up a patch work organization of Inspecting Officers by the time full output was achieved about 3½ years after the outbreak of war. ...

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Robert Curran
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