In 1939, the first order was received for the manufacture of Brodie Steel Helmets. Between 1939 and until production of the steel helmets ceased, over two million helmets were made at the Waratah site.
Plans were also underway for the Shell Annexe for the production of armour-piercing shells. Construction of the Annexe was authorised in August 1939 just one month before the outbreak of the War.
The manufacture of the six-inch shells was quite a complicated operation. There were 14 components in each shell, and there were 165 operations involved in making each one. 73 inspections were required on every shell made. In addition to the 165 manufacturing operations, there were another 13 operations in the heat treatment cycle.
In the early 1920’s, the number of people employed totalled 140. By 1939, as the war broke out – the total was about 600. At the height of war production, over 3,200 people were employed on site. Many of them had never been within miles of a steel works in their lives. So training as well as production became an important part of the Company’s work during the war.
The construction of the building for the Open Hearth Department commenced early in 1939, and the first heat was tapped from the furnace in January 1942. The original building did not include the heavy foundry bay or the dressing shop, which were added after the war. The original capacity of the furnace was 40 tons but was later increased to about 50. During the war it produced considerable quantities of nickel-chrome-molybdenum steel for semi-armour piercing shot, steel for gun barrels and other munitions.
Wheel, Tyre and Axle production continued during the war years at an even higher rate than in normal times, as these items were just as important to the war effort. They were not only needed to keep the troop trains and supply trains running in Australia. Considerable quantities were sent abroad, first to the Egyptian Railways and the South African railways.
About 31,000 tons of gun-barrel of steel was made during the war. A considerable amount left the plant in the shape of rough-machined barrels ready for finishing. Production of these barrels totalled nearly 14,000 ranging in size from the 3.7 anti-aircraft gun to the 20 millimetre aircraft cannon. Other outstanding figures in defence production include over 14,000 breech rings and breech blocks; nearly 35,000 aircraft cylinder barrel forgings, 27,000 aerial bombs and over 78,000 4.2 mortar bombs.
At the height of war-production, only a very few years after production commenced – the Special Steels plant was rolling steels in over 140 various grades and by August 1945, had rolled nearly 40,000 tons.
In 1945 the war was coming to its inevitable end and from that time forward, one department after another began to turn to other forms of production. Buildings were enlarged, new plant was been added and new processes were developed.