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War Economy

Demands on Other Industries

Demands on Other Industries

Even before the war, United Kingdom manufacturers had been unable to meet all New Zealand demands for war equipment. Australian industries could not do very much towards filling the gap, and purchases from the United States and Canada were, in the early years, restricted by shortage of hard currencies. It became increasingly necessary for New Zealand industries to turn to the manufacture of munitions, if her armed forces were to be properly equipped. By normal standards, most munitions production in New Zealand was probably uneconomic and, in practice, it was spread through hundreds of small units throughout the country. Much of the equipment required had to be adapted or improvised; and staff had to be trained to use new types of machinery. This was a diversion of manufacturing effort to meet a war need. In spite of the difficulty in importing proper equipment, a high degree of precision in manufacture was attained. The value of war equipment and munitions produced in New Zealand during the war has been estimated at £42 million, equivalent to about a quarter of a full year's output from all manufacturing industries.1

To meet war needs, a considerable proportion of the resources in the building and construction industry had to be diverted from dwelling construction and industrial buildings to the construction of military camps, airports and other defence requirements. This work was facilitated by the fact that there had been considerable page 80 imports of heavy earthmoving equipment for public works purposes in the years immediately preceding the outbreak of war. Defence construction work during the war totalled £47 million in value. While it was being done, a forbidding total of deferred dwelling construction and other capital work accumulated.

Industrial effort in New Zealand was also diverted to step up shipbuilding. More than 500 small ships were built, including minesweepers, submarine chasers, tugs and barges. Ship repair work was important throughout the war, but became increasingly so as the centre of war shifted to the Pacific.

Coal mining, which had had a slack period prior to the war, was called on to increase production as the Australian imports of coal which had been available before the war became difficult to obtain.

New Zealand depended largely on her own resources to clothe her armed forces and, increasingly, the efforts of clothing factories, woollen mills, and footwear factories were diverted from civilian production for this purpose. Employment of women in these industries was considerably expanded, but demand increased faster. In May 1942, clothing joined other commodities which were rationed to the New Zealand consumer.

The general picture is of a very considerable diversion of industrial effort from peacetime supplies to war requirements, frequently involving considerable structural change in New Zealand industry, with new equipment and re-training of personnel to meet new demands. Not only were new types of munitions made, but many essential civilian commodities had to be made in place of supplies which could no longer be imported. This work, in many cases, had to be done with substitute materials and improvised equipment. New Zealand's productive capacity was put to the test as never before.

1 Based on average output of manufacturing industries for the war years.