- Svensen, Randi
- History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2008 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
General MacArthur, too, involved Halvorsens in his campaigns, notably in his return to the Philippines. When the Japanese capitulated, surrender documents were signed in many locations, some of them on Halvorsen Fairmiles and on Halvorsen-crafted desks.
The 112 foot Fairmiles represented a significant achievement of wartime construction. Magnus was responsible for production planning of the Fairmiles and personally undertook all the mould-lofting and templating. Sixteen of the English-designed Halvorsen-built Fairmiles saw action in the Philippines and New Guinea campaigns.
Vessel number 256 out of the Halvorsen yard, built in 1940, was an experimental model for the Australian Army, a collapsible boat that could be flattened for transportation and camouflage. It was a plywood and canvas construction and was to be tested as an assault boat. It was highly innovative but proved too heavy and cumbersome to be of practical value.
The Royal Australian Navy also ordered towing skids—barges that carried large electrical coils designed to detonate the new magnetic mines invented by the Germans. The skids were towed a distance behind the ships and were, of necessity, expendable. They were strongly built, but were certainly not fancy, and were built quickly. Using an electric screw driver, Carl was able to fasten one screw per second when working on the skids. Towing-skids were ultimately superseded by a system of electric cables around the ships’ hulls to demagnetise them, a process called degaussing.
Repairs were another large part of the Halvorsen business, mostly carried out at the Neutral Bay site under Trygve’s supervision. Some repairs, particularly the larger ones, were completed at the Ryde yard. More of a new boat than a repair, a 30 foot pinnace was ordered by the captain of a US Navy destroyer to replace one that had been destroyed in the air raid on Darwin. Only the engine, a few bits, and the plans remained of the original. The firm built it, installed the engine and delivered the new craft in only ten days.
At the peak of their production during World War II, Halvorsens’ workforce numbered in excess of three hundred and fifty. Only about ten of those workers were shipwrights; the others included tradesmen of all kinds—master builders, carpenters, painters. The brothers were impressed with the skill of their new staff, and in spite of the workers’ disparate backgrounds and skills, they worked as a committed team. To their knowledge, only once did the firm experience any act of dishonesty when a number of electric drills disappeared, but the losses quickly stopped when bag searches were introduced. On another occasion, an electric light globe was found in the bilge of one of the 62 footers under construction. The light had been connected, switched on and covered with timber shavings. Fortunately, it was found before a fire started. Sabotage was suspected, and from then on an armed naval guard was on duty, day and night.
The firm’s work was considered to be of the same priority as aeroplane building, and under the government’s Dilution Scheme of Labour, they only had to ask if they needed more workers, and a labour pool was supplied. Costs weren’t subsidised though, and with every boat made for a contracted price, each design had to be carefully costed, and efficient business practices observed. Costing was a major job in itself-—the quote for the Fairmiles, alone, was researched from a pile of plans one metre high.
When peace finally arrived, the Halvorsens were as excited and thrilled as the rest of Australia but, after six years of frenetic war-oriented activity, they also had to concentrate on re-focusing their business and putting into place embryonic plans to diversify into new markets.