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Australia in the War 1939-1945 the Role of Science and Industry-Chapter 24-Tropic Proofing-The Battle Against Moths and Moulds

Australia in the War 1939-1945 the Role of Science and Industry-Chapter 24-Tropic Proofing-The Battle Against Moths and Moulds

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Published by cjnjr1
This volume describes how science and industry played important parts in devising and manufacturing equipment required by Australia–at–arms. The story of a period in which rapid and enduring developments took place in Australia’s scientific organization and manufacturing capacity.

Thsi chapter covers development of processes to tropicalize Allied equipment
This volume describes how science and industry played important parts in devising and manufacturing equipment required by Australia–at–arms. The story of a period in which rapid and enduring developments took place in Australia’s scientific organization and manufacturing capacity.

Thsi chapter covers development of processes to tropicalize Allied equipment

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Published by: cjnjr1 on Jul 19, 2013
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CHAPTER 24
TROPICPROOFING
:
THE BATTLE AGAINS
T
MOISTURE AND MOULD
S
A
LTHOUGH military forces of different nations' had been maintaine
d
under tropical conditions for many years and must therefore hav
e
suffered the disabilities attendant on such climates, up to the secon
d
world war little or nothing had been done in a systematic and scientifi
c
manner to mitigate the often disastrous effects of tropical climates on mili-tary equipment
. Scientists working in the tropics had encountered simila
r
difficulties in relation to their experimental equipment and had to som
e
extent been successful in solving their problems, but their results di
d
not appear to have been widely known
.
2
In pre-war days reliance seem
s
to have been placed chiefly on spit and polish and oil of cloves
.
3
Arm
y
equipment then was not as complex and vulnerable to hot humid climate
s
as it became in later years. Whatever the explanation of the neglect, ther
e
can be no doubt that in the second world war tropical conditions wer
e
so extreme in some parts of the Pacific areas and Burma that it wa
s
found imperative to have the problem of maintaining equipment in thes
e
areas thoroughly investigated
.
In New Guinea the deterioration of stores, noted first in the Por
t
Moresby area where the climate was relatively dry, did not seem ver
y
important, but during the operations in the wet Milne Bay area th
e
position became really serious
. Radio sets, for example, failed completel
y
and in the confusion of the resulting breakdown of communications ad-
vanced parties became lost
.
4
On another occasion our troops went in t
o
attack the Japanese with hand grenades, only to find the grenades fai
l
completely
. The actual cause of the failure of those particular grenade
s
will never be known, but in the light of scientific knowledge it appear
s
highly probable that it was due to a breakdown of the safety fuse in th
e
ignition system
. Potassium nitrate in the gunpowder of the safety fus
e
would, under conditions of high relative humidity (greater than
94
pe
r
cent) become damp and pass into solution, thus preventing its bein
gfired
.
5
An equally disastrous experience occurred with mine detectors
.
There were no means for checking the detectors just before going int
o
action, and a number of areas in the Milne Bay region were examine
d
i
The British in India and Malaya
; Dutch in Indonesia
; and Americans in Panama
.
2
H
. A
. Dade, "A Biologist in the Tropics
"
.
The Scientific Journal,
Royal
College
of
Science, Vol
.
10 (1940), p
. 67
.
8
W
. D
. Chapman,
"
Prevention of Deterioration of Stores and Equipment in Tropical Areas"
,
Journal
of
the Institution
of
Engineers
of
Aust,
Vol
. 22 (1950), p
. 269
. Dr Chapman states tha
t
1
pint per man per annum of oil of cloves was included in the British tropical scale of medica
l
stores
. As the only use that could be imagined for this store was in the treatment of denta
l
decay it was deleted from the Australian scale
!
*There were probably other reasons for the breakdown
. Many sets had already been in use i
n
the Middle East for a year or two, and were not in good condition when they arrived in Ne
w
Guinea
.
6
R
. Burns,
Proceedings
of
the American Society
of
Testing Materials,
Vol
. 36 (1936),
p
. 600
.
 
TROPICPROOFING
55
1
by detectors and declared free from land mines. Tanks moving into thes
e
areas were met with exploding mines
. Here again the cause of failure o
f
the detectors used was never determined, but from later investigation
s
there was little doubt that it was due to a breakdown of the dry batterie
s
of the detectors
. Dry batteries were a constant source of trouble in th
e
tropics until proper care was taken in packing and storing them
.
Port Moresby enjoyed a dry climate for some months of the year
,
but at Milne Bay, for example, high relative humidities prevailed through
-
out the year
. The accompanying table shows the average relative humiditie
s
for the months of April and May 1943 at Milne Bay, at various times o
f
the day
. These high humidities at mean temperatures of about 75 to 7
7
degrees combined to make a climate as uncomfortable and extreme a
s
almost anywhere in the world
.
°
Time
0300
0600
0900
1200
1500
1800
210
0
April
94
95
88
85
81
84
94
May
95
96
89
86
83
87
9
3
Reports filtering back from the fighting areas made it clear that grea
t
trouble was being experienced with the deterioration of all kinds of equip-
ment
. There was nothing in the reports to suggest a basis for a planne
d
attack on the problem. In the absence of any information from oversea
s
Australia was thrown on her own scientific resources during the critica
l
months of the campaigns in New Guinea. Although whatever action coul
d
be taken immediately was taken by the Branch of the Master-General o
f
the Ordnance, which was fully aware of the many difficulties being met
,
it was clear that the problems of rendering the many hundreds of differen
t
kinds of equipment proof against the ravages of tropical climates coul
d
not be completely solved in a week, or even in months
.
?
The Commander-
in-Chief of the Australian Military Forces, Sir Thomas Blarney, perturbe
d
by the incidents related earlier and the reports of his Equipment Directors
,
was emphatic on his return from a period in New Guinea late in 194
2
that something must be done—and in a hurry—to prevent the deteriora-tion of war materials
.
Here, plainly, was a scientific problem of the first order of magnitude
,
for the solution of which no systematic preparations had been made
.
Though the factors mainly responsible for deterioration of materials in th
e
tropics were few in number, the great variety of materials affected b
y
them made it necessary to deploy a correspondingly wide range of scientifi
c
knowledge and skills
. It was also evident that any attack on the proble
m
of preventing deterioration of materials would necessitate coordination o
f
scientific resources to the widest extent possible
.
On 14th May 1943 Ashby called a conference of representatives of
the various Services of the Australian and United States Forces, th
e
More extreme conditions occur in parts of the Amazon Valley and in the worst regions i
n
Africa, but conditions in some parts of New Guinea were appalling and comparable with these
.7
Before May 1943 a whole range of items had received some attention from the MGOincludin
g
the protection of ferrous and non-ferrous metals, packaging, electrical and optical equipment
,
timber, leather, boots and fabrics
 
552
THE ROLE OF SCIENCE AND INDUSTR
Y
Department of Munitions and other government departments,
8
to discus
s
the problem of preventing the deterioration of supplies and equipmen
t
under tropical conditions
. The conference decided that the first thing t
o
do was to collect accurate information, and recommended that a missio
n
be sent immediately to operational areas for this purpose
.
9
General Blarne
y
gave his approval to these proposals
. The terms of reference of th
e
mission were
:
I
. To collect information on the problem of resistance and/or deterioration o
f
stores and equipment under tropical conditions
.
2.
To obtain and bring back, or send forward, representative samples o
f
deteriorated stores or equipment
.
3.
To submit a report setting out the problems as seen and wherever possibl
e
to make recommendations as to priority or urgency of the matters covered
.
Before going north to the operational areas the members of the missio
n
discussed different aspects of the problem with organisations likely t
o
be concerned
;' in this way they prepared themselves to make recommenda-
tions on the spot where the remedies could be carried out immediately
.
Anticipating that much of the scientific work likely to be involved i
n
devising remedies would for some time to come centre on the study o
f
moulds and fungi, the Scientific Liaison Bureau formed a Mycologica
l
Panel in May 1943
.
In New Guinea, especially in the Milne Bay area where at the time o
f
their visit conditions were ideal for such studies, the mission made
a
thorough investigation of the problem of deterioration. Its report containe
d
numerous striking photographs showing the astonishingly destructive actio
n
of tropical climates on all kinds of stores and equipment
.
2
Owing to th
e
continuously high relative humidity and fairly high temperatures, all th
e
processes of deterioration active in temperate climates are greatly acceler-
ated in the tropics. Of the two factors, relative humidity is the mor
e
important
.
3
Much of the deterioration arose from the attacks of fungi,
4
whose growth is specially favoured by tropical conditions. Metallic cor-
rosion was also greatly speeded up
.
In spite of the early efforts of the army's Equipment Directors th
e
economic losses in New Guinea were clearly enormous
: up to the tim
e
of the mission's visit they were estimated to be in the neighbourhood o
f
several million pounds
. The monetary loss was of minor importance com-
pared with the loss of operational efficiency caused by the drain on man
-
s
Dept of Supply
; P
.M.G
'
s Dept; Dept of Home Security
; C
S
.I
.R
.
; and Chemical Defence Board
.
The mission consisted of
: Col W
. D. Chapman (Chief Superintendent of Design, MGOBranch)
,
Leader
; Dr C
. J. P
Magee, mycologist and senior scientific member
; C
. T
Hansen, chemist
;
C
. Kerr Grant, physicist
; Maj W
. K
. Marshall, Branch of the QMG
; Maj S. L
. Leach, Branc
h
of Chief of the General Staff
; F-0 G
. H
. Payne, Directorate of Technical Services,
RAAF.
1
Depts of the Army and Air
; C
S
.I
.R
.
; Ordnance Prodn Dir; Munitions Supply Labs
; Dept o
f
Commerce
; A
.W
.A
.
; S
.T
.C
.
; and J
. W
Handley Pty Ltd
2
C
. J
. Magee, C
. T
. Hansen, C Kerr Grant,
Report
on
the Condition of Service Materiel unde
r
Tropical Conditions
in
New Guinea
.
s
An interesting illustration of this fact is to be found in the opposite effect of extremely ho
t
dry conditions such as obtain in the Valley of the Tombs in Egypt
. When King Tutankhamen'
s
tomb was opened in 1922 for the first time in 4,000 years, linen shawls which had been cas
t
over gold and silver treasures were still recognisable
.
Fungi include organisms known as moulds and mildews
.

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