Glascoed
Monmouthshire

Glascoed, at the very heart of the UK Munitions Industry
Our Glascoed facility sits amidst rolling hills of Monmouthshire, between Pontypool and the market town of Usk. This is the area where King Arthur ruled, Romans bathed, Normans set up home and pilgrims came to worship.  As well as providing employment for around 500 people, largely from the local area, we promote  apprenticeships in local schools and encourage visits to our heritage centre, which tells the story of the site and those who have worked there. 
 
Respirator Assembly
 
The ordnance factory at Glascoed was conceived as part of the British Government plan to re-arm in readiness for World War 2. It was part of a program that eventually saw a total of over forty manufacturing sites known as the Royal Ordnance Factories (ROFs) contributing arms and ammunition to the war effort.
 
Most of these were brand new but they also included the existing factories at Woolwich, Waltham Abbey, Enfield, Hereford, Birtley and Pembrey. Factories were categorised into three types:-
Engineering:   For manufacture of metal products such as guns, tanks, shells, cartridges, bullets etc.
Explosive:       For the manufacture of bulk explosives and propellants.
Filling:            For the fill, pack and dispatch of ammunition.
 
The site at Glascoed was was chosen in preference to another area in Carmarthenshire for the construction of a filling factory. It was ideal as its seclusion and sheltered topography protected it form surprise and accurate bombing whilst its damp micro-climate was highly desired for the handling of explosives.
 
As the ‘Senior Service’, the Royal Navy had wanted an ammunition filling factory of their own near their facilities at Milford Haven, and the Glascoed site was chosen as there was also a plentiful supply of industrial labour from the depressed mining valleys nearby following many years of unemployment after the Great Depression in the 1930s.
 
Airey House manufacturing at Glascoed 1949 Airey House manufacturing at Glascoed 1949
 
Construction of the factory at Glascoed commenced in 1938 on compulsorily purchased farmland with the design and layout based on well-established principles devised by the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich.
 
2 inch Mortar Bomb Stencilling 2 inch Mortar Bomb Stencilling
 
A workforce of several thousand was quickly hired to undertake the construction work on the 1,000 acre site with dedicated production areas planned for high explosive filling, propellant charge manufacture and pyrotechnics processing. Safety was paramount and this can be seen in the layout of the buildings (with extremely thick walls) which were spread throughout wide, open spaces among 20-foot high grassed embankments, designed to deflect energy upwards in the event of accidents.
 
Full support facilities were catered for with component manufacturing facilities and the provision of a number of large storage magazines. Two railway stations and bus facilities were built to bring in the future workforce.
 
In late 1939, a team of specialists were sent to Glascoed from the Arsenal at Woolwich and headed by Mr F.W. Murphy. Their task was to train the new workforce in the processes and techniques of ammunition filling and assembly.
 
Murphy was to remain as Factory Superintendent for the duration of the war and many of his team stayed on at Glascoed until reaching their retirement. The first shell filling was completed on 31st of March 1940 upon which the factory declared ‘operational’.
Original Folly Tower at Pontypool
 
One local landmark to suffer however during the same period was The Folly Tower, high on the hills above Pontypool. 
 
This was quickly demolished as it was seen as an intricate navigational point for visiting German bombers mounting attacks on the factory.
 
Despite this however, in July and October 1940 the factory was attacked by the Luftwaffe during which a number of workmen in the Charges Section were injured, with one killed during the second of the raids.
 
Examination of the German air raid debrief notes however, indicated that the crew involved reported that they had bombed the aircraft factory at Filton, some 40 miles away and the other side of the Bristol estuary.
 
It was rebuilt as a tourist attraction in 1994.
 
In 1942, a new product section called the Heavy Bomb Unit was opened and for the remainder of the war it produced many hundreds of 2,000lb HC (high charge to weight ratio) bombs for the RAF who referred to them as ‘Cookies’. 
 
Fitting fuses to a 4000lb 'Cookie' bomb 1944Fitting fuses to a 4000lb 'Cookie' bomb 1944
 
During 1943, production activity peaked among the 700 separate buildings and the factory was producing ammunition for all three services with a workforce in excess of 12,000 spread over three shifts. A small housing estate was created nearby to accommodate management and staff who were crucial in emergency responses to urgent requirements.
 
Products include various types of aircraft bombs, naval ammunition from 3” to 15” caliber, torpedo warheads, depth charges, 25 pounders, 2 pounders and 40 mm shells. Glascoed was also responsible for filling the highball bouncing bombs designed by Barnes Wallis intended for use against the Turpiz although these were never used. With the ending of hostilities in 1945, the factory was initially engaged on the demilitarisation of large volumes of now unwanted ammunition and the workforce was reduced to about 25% of its peak total.
 
Further diversified work was also found in the late 1940s with the manufacture of sectionalised concrete houses (Airey houses), concrete railway sleepers and refurbishment of ‘Jerry’ cans.
 
Airey House manufacturing at Glascoed 1949 Airey House manufacturing at Glascoed 1949
 
By the 1950s, the level of work had stabilised and the factory continued making reasonable volumes of much the same sort of products that it had produced during WWII. The British military were still engaged in a number of conflicts such as in Korea, Suez and Malaya and also required ammunition for National Service training. That said, the demand for weapons and munitions declined to such a point that many of the Royal Ordnance Factories closed around the UK.
 
The 1960s saw a gradual development of the filling and assembly processes which allowed for the manufacture of more technically sophisticated ammunitions. The growing hostilities evident in the Cold War increased the range of work being carried out at Glascoed which now included munitions for field guns such as Howitzer and for tanks and armoured fighting vehicles.
 
Assembling Tank Ammunition Assembling Tank Ammunition
 
Meanwhile, the factory infrastructure itself went through various upgrades and saw the introduction of the first mainframe computer. This filled a large office, employed two full time staff to feed it data yet it only handled the payroll for the Glascoed workforce of less than 2,000.
 
More improved technology was later directed at the factory boiler houses which provided steam for heating buildings and also for use in melting of explosives etc. Originally there were two buildings, each housing six coal fired boilers. However, after one set was converted to fuel oil the greater efficiency and reduced operating and maintenance costs was such that the second boiler house was permanently closed.
 
Upgrading of the factory in many areas continued throughout the 1970s and 1980s with much of the old WWII plant and equipment being replaced with new. However, some processes were found difficult to improve upon and were thus maintained with the basic plant configuration but with improvements to process methods.
 
The filling of aircraft bombs and torpedo warheads was one such example of this. The ammunition produced during this period included 105mm tank for export, 120 mm tank for Chieftain and subsequently Challenger, 105mm field for the Light Gun, 76 mm for Scorpion Light Tank and also Tigerfish and Spearfish Torpedo warheads, 540lb and 1,000lb bombs for the RAF.
 
Arguably Glascoed’s most successful product is the 81mm Mortar Bomb. This product was first produced at Glascoed in 1963 and has been in almost continuous production ever since. A unique achievement in the Glascoed product range.
 
81 mm Mortar Bomb Filling 81 mm Mortar Bomb Filling
 
Glascoed was privatised in the mid-1980s as part of the Royal Ordnance Factories Bill, the most significant change to the factory in its 46 year history. Originally privatised with shares held by the Secretary of State for Defence, Royal Ordnance was subsequently sold to British Aerospace in 1987.
 
The business had begun an efficiency and rationalisation drive in the lead up to privatisation but this activity was now accelerated in an attempt to make a previously ‘break-even’ business competitive in the world market. Much was achieved at Glascoed to reduce operating costs and in 1994 the business decided to consolidate onto one ammunition filling factory - Glascoed was chosen and much of the manufacturing capability from the Chorley factory was moved to Glascoed.
 
The merger of Marconi Electronics Systems with British Aerospace in 2000 resulted in a new business entitled BAE Systems. Within this new organisation, Glascoed was placed within a newly created business unit called RO Defence. This was further reorganised to create Land Systems Global Combat Systems and the three remaining ROFs became the subgroup Global Combat Systems Munitions  
 
In August 2008, Land Systems signed a £2 billion contract with the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD), which will guarantee secure supplies of ammunition to UK troops. The arrangement is known as ‘Munitions Acquisition – the Supply Solution (MASS)’.
 
It is initially for a 15-year period and will supply approximately 80 per cent of the ‘general munitions’ consumed by UK Armed Forces for training and front line operations, including small arms and medium-calibre ammunition, mortar bombs, tank ammunition and artillery shells.
 
Part of the arrangement provided by this contract is a company funded programme of £34M to transform the business at Glascoed. Improvements to its manufacturing facilities and infrastructure will introduce best practice methods and processes generating increased efficiency.
 
As it celebrates its 80th anniversary in March 2020, Glascoed looks forward to a period of stability whilst matching up to the challenges of producing continuously improved value for money products.  
 
Click here for a fascinating further look at the at the history of Glascoed.

Site Timeline

1940 Royal Ordnance Factory
1987 British Aerospace
2000 BAE Systems
2005 BAE Systems Land & Armaments