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War Economy

The Radio Industry fully Engaged on War Work

page 167

The Radio Industry fully Engaged on War Work

A useful contribution to the allied war effort was made by the radio industry in New Zealand. This industry, at the outbreak of war, was not yet able to meet all New Zealand civilian demands, but there was already a move to increase its output and to lessen its dependence on imported components.

Output continued to expand in the early months of the war, and, by the middle of 1940, the production of domestic receivers was sufficient for the country's requirements. From that time on, the industry began to feel the effects of decreasing supplies of components and raw materials, particularly from the United Kingdom and the United States of America. A special committee was set up1 to survey the supply position and to allocate contracts for equipment.

Only small quantities of specialised military equipment were made in the first three years of war, but in 1942 a more urgent need arose for a general purpose receiver and transmitter.2 A suitable type of equipment had already been developed in New Zealand. The demand promised to be sufficient to require most of the capacity of the industry. As a direct outcome of demands by the Eastern Group Supply Council for large-scale production of this general purpose transceiver3 for military use in India and in other theatres of war, the industry was brought under tighter control by the appointment of a Controller of Radio Production in July 1942.

Because of difficulties in importing components, this New Zealand transceiver was based as far as possible on locally made components. The sets were required for use in tanks, armoured scout cars, reconnaissance cars and other military vehicles, as well as for general front-line field communications purposes.

The industry's ability to meet the orders depended on the availability of components and raw materials. To conserve existing supplies, the Controller restricted the manufacture of radio equipment to defence contracts. Stocks of components and materials held by manufacturers and retailers were ‘frozen’ and items in critical supply bought up by the Ministry of Supply. However, as it was likely to be some time before production of the transceiver could begin, sufficient domestic manufacture was allowed to keep the factories intact, and to allow the industry to preserve its skilled manpower.

1 The Radio Equipment Supply Committee.

2 Known as a ‘transceiver’.

3 The ZC 1.

page 168

Full production of the transceiver began in April 1943. Modifications in design were made from time to time after experience with it, but it continued to be a reliable set especially suitable for tropical conditions. Sets and spares sufficient for 15,000 complete stations were supplied by the New Zealand industry. The total value of the transceivers was just over £3 million, involving fifty-six factories.1

From mid-1943, the industry was engaged full-time on this and other government orders. Already expanding pre-war, the radio industry forged ahead under pressure of these wartime government orders, its expansion being specially rapid once manufacture of the transceivers was under way in 1943. By 1943–44 there were over nine hundred persons engaged, nearly twice as many as in 1938–39. The following year over 1300 were in the industry compared with 475 in 1938–39.

Pressure of war work remained heavy. Not until August 1945 could controls be removed to enable the industry to return to normal operations. On 7 August 1945 the Radio Controller reported to the Minister:

‘As there appears to be no possibility of the industry obtaining further war contracts, a relaxation of the control notice will be necessary not later than the end of this month, to enable units to maintain continuity of work in various departments.’

Eight days later Japan had surrendered. The removal of the controls became effective from 1 September. There was a slight fall in numbers engaged when war contracts ceased, but by this time, the radio industry had more than sufficient capacity to supply all normal New Zealand requirements.

1 See also p. 137. A United Kingdom war history suggests a much smaller output, and that this was too late to be used. The New Zealand War History narrative on ‘The Radio Industry’ was ‘corrected and supplemented by R. Slade …. formerly Controller of Radio Production’. It reads, at p. 38: ‘Of the total order for 15,000 completed sets, over 14,500 were delivered. The EGSC was enthusiastic about the set, particularly the Mark II, and found that it compared very favourably with overseas produced equipment and was specially reliable for tropical operations’. An Indian war history lists major items of stores ordered on Eastern Group countries, and includes, under New Zealand, ‘Wireless sets: 14,605.’—Sinha and Khera, Indian War Economy (Supply, Industry and Finance), p. 426.