GMH and the DAP BeaufortAustralia's First Torpedo Bomber
Story extracted from the book covering GMH at War (1939-1945)
Designed and built by the Bristol Aeroplane Company of England, the Beaufort Torpedo Bomber was in initial production in England shortly before the outbreak of war. When it was decided to build this aircraft in Australia, further changes in design were necessary because of the use of substitute materials and components and these, together with change notices coming through from overseas, and others occasioned by new short-cuts to production being developed, were responsible for considerable modifications in the Australian version of the Beaufort.
The Beaufort is a twin-engine, heavily armed aircraft, possessing exceptional manoeuvrability. It is of all-metal construction, with stressed skin wing design. It was equipped to operate both as a torpedo and medium bomber. Powered with two Pratt & Whitney R1830 Wasp twin-row 1200 h.p. engines, the Australian Beaufort is equipped with Curtiss Electric or Hamilton Hydromatic full-feathering propellers, hydraulically operated retractable undercarriage, and a power operated gun turret. Carrying a crew of four, the Beaufort has taken part in most of the principal aerial operations in the South-West Pacific Area, blasting all the most important targets in Papu New Guinea and New Britain, sinking enemy cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and shipping, and carrying out extensive reconnaissance and convoy work.
The first order received at General Motors Holden (GMH) Woodville was for fuel tanks, and certain components to enable the Beaufort Division of the then Aircraft Production Commission to complete the production of ten Beaufort machines sent out from England for the initiation of the Beaufort programme in Australia. Then came an order for 50 sets of aircraft components, and as this order was to be considerably increased, approval was given by the Government for the erection of a plant at Woodville for the production of aircraft components. Following the completion of this building, the fabricating set-up was transferred and production increased enormously. Up to the time of transfer we had only handled minor sub-assemblies, but with the increased tempo of production major assemblies were allotted to the Woodville Plant.
With the development of the Beaufort programme certain processes foreign to the normal Woodville production procedure were introduced into the Plant, such as Salt Bath treatment of aluminium alloys, anodising of these alloys, and spot-welding of light alloys. In fact, one of the few light alloy spot-welders in Australia was at Woodville. Special pneumatic riveting equipment was developed resulting in faster and improved production; also special machines were developed for special operations such as those for high speed vertical drilling, radial arm drilling, and for punching and driving two rivets per stroke.
New methods of production resulted in a number of modifications to the design of certain components on the Beaufort. Notable amongst these was the redesign of the cannon and dinghy stowage doors.These were cut down to two major parts, deleting some 15 to 20 components. The new method meant that these doors comprised an inner and outer pressing similar to the construction of the luggage compartment door of an automobile. The old type of door comprised tubular frame and bracings, riveted to the metal exterior covering. The redesign of the nose ribs of the Beaufort and the Beaufighter to a pressed part deleted the fabrication of several components, and considerably lightened the part. In other words, the automotive technique of metal pressings was applied with successful results. In all these modifications, the Department of Aircraft Production extended the keenest co-operation.
The building of the Beaufort in Australia was no mean performance for a country uninitiated in the production of modern front line aircraft. The entire aircraft, including power installations, embodied some 39,000 parts all basically different in manufacture
General Motors Holden is extremely proud of its achievement in providing some fifteen thousand of the airframe components for each of the 700 sets of Beaufort aircraft plus a considerable number of spares, and delivered them well within the scheduled time, despite the complexities of their production.