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War Economy

Non-Ferrous Metals

Non-Ferrous Metals

The wartime story of non-ferrous metals furnishes a good illustration of the threatened loss in wartime of New Zealand's traditional sources of supply for many commodities. From the very beginning, non-ferrous metals had been among the raw materials whose shortage was most critical. Immediately the war began, the United Kingdom Government had banned all exports of non-ferrous metals, and Australia had taken similar action soon afterwards.

Because of the importance of these imports to industry, negotiations to keep supply lines open were carried out at the highest level on a Government-to-Government basis. The results of negotiations were summarised in a 1940 Ministry of Supply report to Parliament:1

‘… Arrangements have now been concluded through official approaches to the controlling authorities overseas for supplies of non-ferrous metals in their ingot form. In addition, the Dominion depends entirely upon overseas suppliers for semi-manufactured non-ferrous metals such as bar, tube, and sheet, and the supply of these had also to be considered…. It was not until February of this year that any serious interruptions in supply of these semimanufactured non-ferrous metals were experienced, but in that

1 Parliamentary Paper H–38, p. 4.

page 134 month the authorities in the United Kingdom prohibited all exports of these commodities. This necessitated urgent representations to the authorities in the United Kingdom for the largest quota which could be allocated for export to New Zealand in view of the fact that this Dominion has always been very largely dependent on the United Kingdom for these supplies. The Ministry of Supply in the United Kingdom has agreed to facilitate deliveries of certain tonnages, and the system has been evolved whereby an authority to export from the United Kingdom is obtained on the recommendation of the New Zealand Ministry of Supply.’

As a result of these arrangements, it was decided to ensure that supplies reached the most vital war production by restricting to the Government all overseas purchases of a number of basic non-ferrous ingot metals. Hence copper, tin, lead, and zinc were among the first commodities to be ordered and distributed solely by the Ministry of Supply. Later, aluminium, antimony, brass, gun-metal, magnesium and certain aluminium alloys were added to the list. With some of the non-ferrous metals, a quota, revised annually, was arranged with the exporting countries through the Combined Raw Materials Board.1 In general, approximately 50 per cent of New Zealand's wartime requirements of processed and semi-processed forms were obtained from Australia and most of the balance from the United Kingdom and Canada.

The use of non-ferrous metals was restricted to essential purposes approved by the Factory Controller.2 Specific restrictions were placed on the use of copper and brass sheets, and on nickel chromium wire. The use of zinc for a number of galvanising purposes and for the manufacture of brass castings, or of sheet for decorative and furnishing work, was prohibited without the prior approval of the Factory Controller.

1 Writing of events after Pearl Harbour, J. Hurstfield says on p. 406 of History of the Second World War, The Control of Raw Materials: ‘The opportunity and the need now existed for the pooling of the fighting resources of the Allies and for the close co-ordination of their production programmes. In February 1942 the Combined Raw Materials Board was accordingly set up in Washington. This was one of the celebrated “two-men boards”, in this case the British Minister of Production and the American chairman of the War Production Board, both of them acting through deputies. Combined Raw Materials Board was made responsible for allocating between the nations of the non-Axis world the available supplies of critical raw materials and for enlarging, as might be necessary and possible, the amounts or the areas under production.’

2 The Non-Ferrous Metals Control Notice of 20 May 1942.