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War Economy

New Demands for Manufactured Goods

New Demands for Manufactured Goods

Wartime demands for munitions and war stores, together with the growing need to supply essential commodities which could no longer be imported, required considerable diversion of manufacturing resources from other production. The readjustments and delays involved in this diversion tended to slow up the overall rate of manufacturing expansion. The metalworking industries, in particular, had to become much more versatile in order to meet the very urgent needs of war at a time when many of New Zealand's usual suppliers were too hard pressed to come to her assistance.

New Zealand industries turned to the manufacture of mortars, shells, grenades, anti-tank mines and Tommy guns. Small-arms ammunition had been manufactured in New Zealand before the war, but much higher outputs were now required. Bren-gun carriers and light armoured vehicles were produced in considerable numbers. Aircraft frames and parts were made and light tanks and aircraft page 150 assembled. These calls on New Zealand manufacturing were not unforeseen. It had become apparent as early as 1938 that many United Kingdom suppliers were going to be too busy to attend to New Zealand's requirements of military equipment.

chart of employment statistics

Chart 33

Heavy calls were made on the clothing industry for military clothing. Boots, clothing and blankets for the New Zealand armed services were produced in New Zealand. The necessary industries had been in existence before the war; they now had to adjust their organisation to the making of military requirements.

There was an infant shipbuilding industry in New Zealand before the war. It had to come rapidly to maturity under the heavy demands made on it for war needs. Minesweepers, patrol vessels, barges and tugboats were built, and there were increasing demands for repairs to warships and merchant vessels.

Imports of farm implements and plumbing supplies declined, and the New Zealand metal industries had to turn to the production of these and other requirements to fill the gap.

Apart from the usual processing of farm products, the food industries were called on to meet special orders for manufactured foods for the United Kingdom War Office. The commodities required were mainly canned meats, service biscuits, chocolate, oatmeal page 151 and processed cheese. During the war, goods to the value of over £6 million in New Zealand currency were supplied in fulfilment of War Office contracts. This was in addition to the bulk purchases of farm products arranged in the early days of war by the United Kingdom Government.

The wide variety of goods supplied, under Reverse Lend-Lease, for the United States Forces in the Pacific included many manufactured goods, and, by arrangement with the Eastern Group Supply Council, a substantial manufacturing programme was undertaken to supply goods required by other allied forces. Radio transceivers1 were the most important item ordered by the Council, but many other manufactured goods were sent.

The upsurge of defence construction work accentuated the shortage of building steel and required extra output from the rolling mills in Dunedin. Many other building materials had also to be made in New Zealand.

Rubber goods industries before the war were increasing their output, but were still too insignificant to be shown separately in factory production statistics. After the Japanese conquests of rubber-producing countries early in 1942, imports of rubber goods fell away drastically and New Zealand production had to be stepped up wherever possible. Local output increased in value from £200,000 in 1939–40 to £1,400,000 in 1945–46. With raw rubber imports severely curtailed after 1941, reclaimed rubber became an important link in the production chain.2 A reclaim factory was set up at very short notice to provide rubber for retreads, soles, heels, gumboots and canvas shoes. The need for rubber goods became so urgent that factories had to accept rigid restrictions on their range of products to ensure that scarce rubber went only into the most urgently needed goods.

One important new rubber manufacture was gumboots. Imports fell from an average of about 240,000 pairs before the war to only 24,000 pairs in 1942. Severe rationing became necessary3 and New Zealand manufacturers had to step in and try to fill the gap. By 1945, production was at the rate of 125,000 pairs a year, enabling the most urgent needs of dairymen and others to be met fairly well, with the assistance of the reduced supplies from overseas.

These were just a few of the extra wartime demands on New Zealand manufacturing.

1 A general purpose transmitter and receiver.

2 See also p. 145.

3 See also p. 141.