The 2nd World War (1939-1945)

The Day war broke out Allens, at least, was up to speed. By summer of 1939 60% of Allens production was for the Navy.

The company took a decision to limit Navy work to 60% of total production and to continue supplying the Merchant marine and the utility industry.

The war years were ones of rapid growth. Biddenham works was reopened and new buildings added.

A new office block was built at Queens and a new machine shop away from the existing shops was added.

To give an indication of the production level during the war the list includes :-

For the Royal Navy

  • 526 steam turbine driven generator sets,
  • 1794 steam turbine driven fans,
  • 310 steam turbine driven main circulating pumps,
  • 1,152 steam engine driven generating sets,
  • 28 diesel driven generating sets,
  • 310 motor driven pumps.
  • 58 motor driven fans.

For the Merchant Navy

  • Nearly 100 steam turbine driven generating and pumping sets,
  • Over 100 steam engine driven generating sets

The electrical dept supplied

9819 motors and generators – with 3286 spare armatures.

The company installed equipment on 290 naval vessels ranging from battleships to sloops and installed machinery in 55 ships of the merchant marine.

Records show that, with the indirect supply of equipment, the company had supplied equipment on some 500 ships.

Outside their normal expertise the company also produced

  • 1,200 gun mountings for 20mm Oerlikon guns,
  • 700 gearboxes for tank landing craft,
  • 156 sets of submarine detection gear,
  • 170 tank turret rings and complete tank turrets,
  • 300 spur wheels for tanks,
  • 15800 Trunnion gears for tanks,
  • 800,000 chainwheel components.

As in any war there was a rapid development in the technologies of the time and considerable research and development went on alongside the main production.

HMS Belfast, now sitting serenely in the Pool of London, suffered an underwater explosion in 1939 and nearly all the cast iron casings were cracked. A programme of redesign was put in hand to replace all iron casting with steel fabrications on all subsequent work.

As far as the workforce were concerned the war years brought long hours of work and hardship. The works went into 24 hour mode and only closed from 5pm to 8pm on Saturday and Sunday. Employees had one shift in seven off. Work stopped and it was all in the shelter every time there was an air raid and it is estimated that 109,000 hours were lost by the end of 1941 due to air raids. By locating spotters on the high points work continued during raids unless the aircraft came within 10 to 15 miles of the works. The works suffered no damage from air attacks.

The works also turned out a LDV force ‘dads army’ – home guard unit of 450 men who also provided cover to the town as well as the works.

When the war started the workforce totalled 2,211; 147 men had joined up and only 37 women were employed. A peak was reached in December 1943 of 3,034. By this time there were 458 women full time and 54 part-timers.

Just before the war started the company had introduced a staff pension and life assurance scheme and an employees holiday accumulation fund for paid holidays, a very rare practice before the war. There was no state pension at that time.

With the dropping of the Atom bombs on Japan in August 1945 the war came to a sudden end and all outstanding naval orders were cancelled.