Sunday History Photo / NSW

Submitted: Sunday, Feb 16, 2014 at 04:26
ThreadID: 106254 Views:5437 Replies:4 FollowUps:2
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The Small Arms Factory at Lithgow opened on 1 June 12 under the Defence Act 1903-1911, which enabled the Commonwealth Government to "establish and maintain arms and ammunition factories" and authorized "the employment of persons in a civil capacity for any purpose in connection with the Defence Force”. The Department of Defence was made responsible, under the Minister, for the administration of the Factory.

The Department had chosen the site for the Factory in 1909, and at the same time tenders were sought for plant to manufacture fifteen thousand .303 Lee-Enfield rifles per annum. the factory initially manufactured Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield Mk III rifles (and bayonets thereof) for the Australian military during World War I. During World War II production expanded to include Vickers machine guns, Bren Guns, and, post-WW2, branched out into sporting goods (including civilian firearms and golf clubs), tools, sewing machines, (from the mid-1950s) the F1 submachine gun, L1A1 Self Loading Rifle, KAL1 General Purpose Infantry Rifle rifle prototype and similar products. The Small Arms Factory at Lithgow was known to produce their single shot models 1A and 1B as well as their model 12 repeater under the Slazenger brand during the 1960s.
Six mechanics were selected and sent to the Pratt and Whitney Factory in the USA to undergo training. A Pratt and Whitney engineer, Mr A.C. Wright, was appointed the factory's first manager. Mr F.R. Ratcliffe, a former employee of the Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield (UK) and of Pratt and Whitney, was appointed Assistant Manager. In 1912 there were 250 employees, and by 1913 the factory had produced the first consignment of .303 Lee-Enfield rifles for the defence forces.

During World War I production was increased, new buildings erected and additional machinery acquired from Pratt and Whitney. Employment had increased to 1,300 by 1915/16 when the first apprentices were taken on to train under skilled tradesmen. In the post war period production decreased and there was a consequent retrenchment of employees in 1922. The 1930's saw the staff numbers reduced to 250. For the first time the Factory manufactured commercial products. Manufacture of .303 inch calibre Bren light machine guns commenced on 8 January 1941. A total of 12,000 people were employed by the Lithgow factory and other newly established Small Arms Factories during World War II.
Peak production of small arms amounted to 4,000 rifles, 150 Bren guns and 70 Vickers machine guns per week. Bren and Vickers gun production ceased at the close of the war. Production of the .303 Lee-Enfield rifle continued until 1956. By 1959 the factory had been reorganised with new buildings and large-scale manufacture of the 7.62mm L1A1 rifle commenced. Production of other military weapons, components and ammunition, as well as firearms for the civilian market, was undertaken.
As of 23 April 1958 the Factory came under the control of the Department of Supply. By 1959 Lee-Enfield rifle production had ceased and large scale production of the 7.62 mm L1A1 rifle for the defence forces had commenced, as well as expanded production in other areas. A medal was issued in 1962 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Lithgow Small Arms Factory

The Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum displays numerous non-military items manufactured during the near 80 years of precision engineering, including sewing machines, sheep shearing apparatus, hand cuffs and many other commercial items.
The second largest small arms factory in NSW after the Lithgow factory. Now an Electrolux Factory (formerly Email factory).
The plant covered 29 acres with 19 buildings. Many of the original buildings remain on the site.
The Orange Small Arms Factory had been built hastily between June 1941 and March 1942 to manufacture .303 rifles and bayonets. The buildings were constructed at a cost of £300,000.
Construction of the main factory building commenced on 4 August 1941 and by 17 March 1942 the first consignment of manufacturing equipment arrived from the Lithgow factory, manufacture of the first .303 rifles commencing the same day. By the end of 1942 1000 workers were employed at the factory and this rose to 2356 at peak production in 1943. By 1945 numbers of staff were down to 763.Orange became the main rifle factory to allow Lithgow to concentrate on Vickers and Bren guns. The Forbes and Wellington factories supplied the Orange factory with components and the Lithgow factory supplied Orange with timber rifle butts.

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Reply By: landed eagle - Sunday, Feb 16, 2014 at 08:37

Sunday, Feb 16, 2014 at 08:37
All that precision engineering........ and not a computer in sight. Also not much by the way of hearing or eye protection either for that matter!
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Reply By: Member - Howard (ACT) - Sunday, Feb 16, 2014 at 09:59

Sunday, Feb 16, 2014 at 09:59
took the opportunity to visit the lithgow SAF musuem last sunday on the way home from a few days in Newnes stateforest.
well worth the $ 10 entry fee and a great way to spend a few hours.
the upstairs display of over 600 handguns which were donated by one person was also very interesting.
thanks again Doug for another sunday morning read
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Reply By: Nomadic Navara - Sunday, Feb 16, 2014 at 10:07

Sunday, Feb 16, 2014 at 10:07
Doug, interesting and informative as usual.

Your trivia for the day. You may have wondered why the company Pratt and Whitney became the supplier for machine tools. Some may have remembered the first Pratt and Whitney engines were no built until Christmas 1925. The company they purchased the machinery from was Pratt & Whitney Company which is now known as Pratt & Whitney Measurement Systems.

Former employees of Wright Aeronautical approached the machine tool company for machinery and backing to build aircraft engines and that's how the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company came into existence.

So Doug, you fire some of us into further research. Thanks

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Follow Up By: Nomadic Navara - Sunday, Feb 16, 2014 at 10:15

Sunday, Feb 16, 2014 at 10:15
Also for those wondering what happened to the factory (apart for the bit that is the museum,) wepons manufacture is still there - Thales Australia Limted trading as Lithgow Arms

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Follow Up By: Life Member-Doug T NSW - Sunday, Feb 16, 2014 at 12:20

Sunday, Feb 16, 2014 at 12:20
Thanks Peter, you did well digging up the info about Pratt & Whitney.
I sent those 2 links to friends in USA that had parents in the USAAF during WW2 serving in B-24 Liberators that were powered by 4 Pratt & Whitneys.

Unfortunately Their stories passed onto me would make mind blowing SHP's but they not Australian , but the 380th Bomb Group was in the NT and the 90th Bomb Group on Cape York so I might look at their history while they were in Australia in the future.

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Reply By: Nomad Navara - Sunday, Feb 16, 2014 at 22:22

Sunday, Feb 16, 2014 at 22:22
Thank You once again for your Sunday History lesson, Please keep the this great work going.
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