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Halesowen's industrial output in the Second World War

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: June 07, 2014

By John Workman

  • One of the drums used in Operation'Pluto'

  • A 10 ton bomb machined at Walter Somers Ltd

  • A sketch of a vista of Halesowen and the Clent Hills circa 1945

  • Cranckshaft made at Walter Somers

  • An aerial view of James Grove and Sons Ltd in Halesowen where an estimated 153,000,000 buttons of all types were made in WWII

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IT WAS back on April 10 that we told the story of how the people of Halesowen had risen to the challenge on numerous occasions during the Second World War to raise money to fund the building of fighter aircraft, warships and support the soldiers on the ground.

With both VE Day and VJ Day celebrations still fresh in the memory, the Mayor of Halesowen, Councillor H. Parkes urged the people of the town to make one last effort to raise £200,000 in a 'Week of Thanksgiving' (October 6 - 13, 1945) for victory over Germany and Japan, and using words similar to those heard in patriotic speeches by Winston Churchill, he added "Let this be our greatest hour".

As well as highlighting the achievements of the people of Halesowen to raise money throughout the war, a booklet published for thanksgiving described at length the efforts made by industry between 1939 - 1945 to adapt to changing circumstances, and using extracts taken directly from the book this is the story of how individual companies set out their stall to fight the war.

"The Coombs Wood Works of Stewarts & Lloyds Ltd has certainly played an important role in the war production effort. In addition to the normal peace-time activities many new adaptations of steel tubular products were carried out. Steel tubes, which usually carry out supplies of domestic gas and water, were in urgent demand for war factories, anti-invasion and fire-fighting precautions, ships of all descriptions, airfields, petrol supply lines, and water mains in the Western Desert, etc.

"Many types of tubular constructions were designed and fabricated, including gun mountings, rocket projectors, aircraft inspection platforms, tubular framework for army huts and hangars, bridges, forts for coastal defences, derricks for well drilling. In fact it is difficult to imagine any sphere of this country's war activities in which steel tubular products have not played a prominent part.

"The story of Operation 'Pluto', the system of pipe lines under the English Channel for supplying petrol to our invasion armies in France and beyond, now holds a place in history. Coombs Wood Works were asked to design, erect, and ultimately operate a special factory at Tilbury for welding pipes into long lengths and coiling them onto big drums. By 'D' Day a total of 630 miles of steel pipe had been welded ready for the invasion, and in the end a total of 975 miles was completed. Churchill said of Operation 'Pluto', "It is a wholly British achievement and a feat of amphibious engineering skill of which we may well be proud."

"Also at Coombs Wood two forging plants were installed for the manufacture of many types of shell forgings in the 3.45" / 4.5" range. When production ceased in July 1945, 150,000 tons of steel had been consumed in the manufacture of 7.5 million shell forgings, and including more than a million of the famous 25 pounder, a million nose forgings for the 6" rocket shell, and nearly a million 60 pounder forgings.

"Walter Somers Ltd supplied forgings of all types for the Royal Navy, Army, RAF and the Ministry of Supply, including turbine and gearing forgings, shaft brackets and rudder frames for all kinds of sea going vessels, and finished machined crankshafts and propeller shafting for submarines; forgings for Oerlikon gun mountings and those connected with location and destruction of magnetic mines. Work for the Army including forgings in connection with experiments for dealing with land mines by tanks, and re-forging worn A.A. gun barrels. Work for the RAF comprised machining 10 ton bombs, forgings for cylinders, and rams for aircraft undercarriages.

"In 1940 Laminated Springs Ltd of Haywood Spring Works, Halesowen, were approached to produce a special type of skid chain suitable for heavy motor vehicles never before made in Great Britain. The company designed and equipped the factory for this purpose and between March 1941 and the end of hostilities, over eighty million small forgings were produced on the presses installed. These chains helped our mechanised forces on all fronts over snow, ice, mud and sand.

"The building of the factory for Gaskell and Chambers Ltd at Hayseech, Halesowen, was begun in August 1941 and was in production in the middle of November 1941, chiefly for the production of fuses for the Admiralty. The factory was geared up to produce 9,000 fuses per week, but by the middle of 1943 was producing 20,000 fuses a week, although the labour employed came from all sorts of diverse sources such as bakeries, doll factories, chocolate factories, etc.

"The Halesowen Brick and Tile Co. Ltd continued to make bricks up till June 1941, when it was re-built to accommodate the heat treatment of track links for tanks, etc. The works closed down in 1944 and preparations were made for restarting the manufacture of bricks. The firm of Charles Homes, Grammar School Lane Works, Halesowen, had heavy calls for building accessories for the camps and stores to house our American Allies, and also our own forces. These included no less than 700,000,000 hook bolts, roofing bolts and other fittings; over 4,000,000 pressings and small forgings for camouflage nettings; nearly 50,000 special fittings for the oil pipe line 'Pluto'; 5,000 special spring hooks for barrage balloons.

"The principle line of business of John Hickton & Co. Ltd before the war was builder's ironwork. When war broke out the company converted to produce 90 million round washers for army huts, 8 million tent pegs, and several items for Bailey Bridges. Approximately 99% of the output of Railway Accessories Ltd, Excelsior Works, Halesowen was for the war effort, including large quantities of items for Bailey Bridges and naval launches. Other work comprised large quantities of ARP head clips for public air raid shelters and picket pegs for coastal defences. G. B. Parkes Ltd of Crown Works, Halesowen, were engaged on the manufacture of malleable iron castings for tanks and Bren-gun carrier track links, and malleable iron tube fittings for water, oil and petrol pipe lines.

"Searchlight Ltd, whose peace-time work was the manufacture of bedding, changed to producing shells. The Halesowen branch works of William Bailey (Birmingham) Ltd, came into existence in early 1940 as a dispersal plant for hot pressing aircraft parts in special alloys, and millions of these components were made until the end of 1944. John Brown & Sons Ltd have probably produced a million spades and shovels for the three services. These tools played an important part in the building of defences when the German invasion appeared imminent.

"The firm of James Grove & Sons Ltd are proud to have played their part in the great achievement of clothing all branches of His Majesty's Forces, including the Fighting Services, non-combatant groups, Red Cross organisations, those of the Civil Defence, and police forces, etc. All these men and women of the British Isles, the British Commonwealth and Empire and of the Allied Nations, whether on land, on sea, or in the air, have had among them uniforms bearing buttons made by Grove of Halesowen, and during the course of the war 153,000,000 buttons of all types were made.

"The B.T.H. Birmingham Works is a factory employing 1,200 workpeople for the mass production of industrial electric motors. The nature of the services demanded changed as war progressed and Radar developed and electric devises entered more and more into mobile weapons of war. There was an enormous demand for generators for the army and air force and upwards of 4,000 were supplied by B.T.H. Over 10,000 high frequency alternators were built for radar.

"These extraordinary results and output were attained by B.T.H. without any marked alteration of factory space or equipment, or even of number of workpeople, although 250 of the original 1,200 employees went into the Forces. Too much praise cannot be given to the work force and management by whose work, skill and resilience these results were obtained.

"The National Tube Co. Ltd have specialised in the manufacture of cold drawn seamless steel precision tubes from which most of the famous aircraft have benefited, including the Halifax, Stirling, Mosquito, Hurricane, Spitfire, Seafire, Tempest and Typhoon. Special light tubes for rucksack frames and for folding motor cycles for parachutists, tubes for radio and submarine detectors, tubes for quick emptying petrol cans, for fire fighting appliances and hospital fittings, tubes for tanks, hydraulic controls and rocket firing equipment have also been supplied.

"This is not everything by any means, but enough of Halesowen's wartime industrial effort is recorded here to make everyone in the Borough feel proud of its achievements."

If you have memories or stories of members of your family who were involved in war work during WWII, please let us know on 01384 567678.

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