Admiralty War Staff

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Admiralty War Staff
Ensign of the Royal Navy animated.gif
Agency overview
Formed8 January 1912
DissolvedMay 1917
Superseding department
JurisdictionGovernment of the United Kingdom
HeadquartersAdmiralty Building
Agency executive
Parent departmentDepartment of Admiralty

The Admiralty War Staff[1] was the former senior military staff advisory and operational planning organisation within the British Department of Admiralty that existed from 1912–17. It was instituted on 8 January 1912 by Winston Churchill in his capacity as First Lord of the Admiralty[2] and was in effect a war council whose head reported directly to the First Sea Lord. After the First World War ended, the War Staff was replaced by the Admiralty Naval Staff.[3][4]

History and development

The department's development can be traced back to 1885. It evolved out of some of the functions within the Naval Intelligence Department (NID), which originally consisted of two subsidiary specialist divisions: Foreign Intelligence Division and Mobilisation Division. In 1900 a third was added, the War and Coast Defences Division, to deal with issues of strategy and defence. In 1902 a fourth function was added, the Trade Division, which was created for matters relating to the protection of merchant shipping.

The Trade Division was abolished in October 1909 in the wake of the Committee of Imperial Defence inquiry into the feud between the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir John Fisher and former Commander-in-Chief Channel Fleet, Admiral Lord Charles Beresford, when it was discovered that the captain heading the Trade Division had been supplying the latter with confidential information during the inquiry.[5]

Following restructuring the Naval Intelligence Department was relieved of its responsibility for War Planning and Strategy when the outgoing First Sea Lord, Admiral Fisher created an interim Navy War Council [6] as a stop-gap remedy to criticisms emanating from the Beresford Inquiry that the Navy needed a naval staff, a role the NID had been in fact fulfilling since at least 1900, if not earlier. After this re-organisation, war planning and strategic matters were transferred to the newly created Naval Mobilisation Department (NMD), and the NID reverted to the position it held prior to 1887, an intelligence collection and collation organisation.[7]

Sir John Fisher had made known his support for the need of a Naval Staff as early as 1902. In creating a staff the Admiralty was certainly lagging behind, particularly when the War Office had a Chief of the General Staff with his own department as early as 1904, to deal with the aftermath of the Boer War and an assessment of the problems they faced the Admiralty. However, at this point the Royal Navy had no Naval Staff department.

In May 1909, the Director of Naval Intelligence, Rear-Admiral Alexander Edward Bethelll, submitted a proposal for a Navy War Council composed of the First Sea Lord as its President, the Director of Naval Intelligence as its Vice-President, an Assistant Director for War, the President and the Captain of the Royal Naval War College, and the Naval Assistant to the First Sea Lord. The head of the Naval Intelligence Department's War Division and the Commander of the Royal Naval War College were to act as Joint Secretaries.[8]


In 1911, Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, communicated to the Prime Minister that the Admiral of the Fleet was opposed to any formation of a new naval staff, and because of this he insisted that he be relieved of his duties by January 1912. Churchill would continue to brief the Prime Minister as the project developed and advised him as to what the composition of the new staff department might initially entail:

  • War Education Division
  • War Information Division
  • War Planning Division
  • War Mobilisation Division

These divisions would be headed by a new Chief of the War Staff answerable to the Board of Admiralty and supported by an Assistant Chief of the War Staff. In January 1912, the First Lord released his communique detailing the administrative function of the new department and listed the following new appointments.

  • Chief of the War Staff
  • Director of the Operations Division
  • Director of the Intelligence Division
  • Director of the Mobilization Division

From 1912, onward additional divisions were established headed by directors responsible for their particular function.

At its founding, 12 officers were selected to undergo the new course of training for staff officer. Reginald Plunkett was the first officer selected.[2]


As stated in the Churchill Memorandum on a War Staff for the Royal Navy [9] Point 10: The functions of the War Staff will be advisory. The Chief of the Staff, when decision has been taken upon any proposal, will be jointly responsible with the secretary for the precise form in which the necessary orders to the Fleet are issued, but the Staff will possess no executive authority. It will discharge no administrative duties. Its responsibilities will end with the tendering of advice and with the accuracy of the facts on which that advice is based.


In early spring 1917 the name "War Staff" was abolished and was replaced by an Admiralty Naval Staff. The First Sea Lord also assumed additional title of Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) and staff functions were grouped under two new heads, the Deputy Chief of Naval Staff (DCNS) and the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (ACNS).

Chief of the Admiralty War Staff

Assistant to the Chief of the Admiralty War Staff

Special Service, War Staff

Special Service, War Staff included retired flag officers and active officers:[10]

  1. Vice-Admiral Sir Edmond John Warre Slade, April 1915 – November 1918.[10]
  2. Vice-Admiral Sir Douglas Austin Gamble, July 1915 – May 1917.[10]
  3. Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Nelson Ommanney, August 1915 - – November 1918.[10]
  4. Captain the Hon. Charles Joseph Thaddeus Dormer, July 1915 – November 1918.[10]
  5. Captain Egerton Bagot Byrd Levett-Scrivener, July 1915 – November 1918.[10]

War Staff Divisions

As of December 1916, operational divisions included:[11]


  1. Black, Nicholas (2011). British naval staff in the First World War. Woodbridge: Boydell Press. pp. 15–52. ISBN 1843836556.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Obituary: Sir Reginald Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax – First Director of the Naval Staff College". The Times. The Times Digital Archive. 18 October 1967. p. 12.
  3. Moretz, Joseph (6 December 2012). The Royal Navy and the Capital Ship in the Interwar Period: An Operational Perspective. Routledge. p. 247. ISBN 9781136340369.
  4. Archives, The National. "The Discovery Service". National Archives. Retrieved 19 November 2019.
  5. Hurd, Archibald (1921). "The Merchant Navy". John Murray. Retrieved 7 November 2015.
  6. Kennedy, Paul (24 April 2014). The War Plans of the Great Powers (RLE The First World War): 1880-1914. Routledge. p. 128. ISBN 9781317702528.
  7. Strachan, Hew (2003). "The First World War: Volume I: To Arms". Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199261918.
  8. Harley, Simon; Lovell, Tony. "Navy War Council - The Dreadnought Project". Lovell and Harley, 2007.
  9. Churchill, Randolph S. (1969). Winston S. Churchill (Repr. ed.). London: Heinemann. pp. 1486–1490. ISBN 0434130087.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 Black, Nicholas Duncan. "The Admiralty War Staff and its influence on the conduct of the naval war between 1914 and 1918" (PDF). University College London, 2005. Retrieved 18 January 2017.
  11. Black, Nicholas Duncan. "The Admiralty War Staff and its influence on the conduct of the naval war between 1914 and 1918" (PDF). University College London, 2005. Retrieved 19 November 2019.


  • Black, Nicholas (2009). The British Naval Staff in the First World War. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press. ISBN 9781843834427.
  • Harley, Simon and Lovell, Tony (2007).The Admiralty War Staff,, Harley and Lovell.
  • Naval Staff, Training and Staff Duties Division (1929). The Naval Staff of the Admiralty. Its Work and Development. B.R. 1845 (late C.B. 3013). Copy at The National Archives. ADM 234/434.
  • "Proposals by Director of Naval Intelligence for carrying out the Duties of a General Staff and Re-organisation of the Naval Intelligence Department." 15 May 1909. The National Archives. ADM 1/8047.
  • Rodger. N.A.M., (1979) The Admiralty (offices of state), T. Dalton, Lavenham, ISBN 978-0900963940.

External links