Case 4: The Optical Munitions Panel

After the fall of France in 1940, Australia was faced with the necessity of finding a substitute for the imported optical glass needed for gun sights and other optical munitions.

Laurence J. Hartnett was seconded from his role as Managing Director of General Motors-Holden Ltd. to be Director of Ordnance Production, Ministry of Munitions, and Chairman of the Optical Munitions Panel.

E.J. Hartung, Professor of Chemistry, experimented with various local sands to produce a glass of the required purity, and with blends of fire clays to make suitable pots. Within months satisfactory results had been achieved, and optical glass was being manufactured in Australia.

The Department of Natural Philosophy (Physics) under Professor T.H. Laby was almost entirely devoted to experimental work, testing, and small-scale manufacture of optical munitions.

Related projects of the Optical Munitions Panel (or Scientific Instruments and Optical Panel as it became) were the Aluminizing Process for producing mirrors for Optical Instruments, the production of graticules (small discs inscribed with measuring marks or scales for determining the size, distance, or position of objects viewed), and the development of methods of tropic-proofing optical instruments against fungi, a problem particularly acute in New Guinea. The Archives holds material on all of these projects.

Summary of the contributions made by the University of Melbourne to the Australian War Effort from The University of Melbourne Annual Reports 1939-1946. Many University Departments are mentioned in the Summary. Here, the activities of the Chemistry School are described.

  • Professor Hartung's graticule samples box.

Hartung Collection

  • G.A. Ampt breaking apart pot containing glass.

Hartung Collection

  • Professor E.J. Hartung removing white-hot pot from furnace.

Hartung Collection

  • Members of the Optical Munitions Panel in c. September 1943. Chairman Professor T.H. Laby seated centre, in dark suit.

Laby Collection

  • J.F. Richardson and Ken Dean test a product, 1941.

J.F. Richardson Collection

  • The text of the silver plate on the base of the small mounted piece of glass reads: 'Presented to L.J. Hartnett Esq. Director of Ordnance Production, Ministry of Munitions & Chairman Optical Munitions Panel 1st Optical Glass Melt 1942'.

Hartnett Collection

  • Hartung's progress report No. 6 on the manufacture of optical glass to the Ministry of Munitions - Optical Munitions Panel, 6 November 1941.

Hartung Collection