Maritime War--The British Shore Organisation
It is good for us to studie in the time of peace how to defend ourselves in the time of warres and troubles; as generally we provide in harvest for to live in winter.
William Bourne. The Arte of Shooteing in Great Ordnance. 1578
NOW that we have considered the meaning and purpose of maritime strategy, it may be helpful to the reader's understanding of what follows to describe briefly those aspects of the Admiralty's shore organisation which we shall meet in later chapters. It would be outside the scope of these volumes to attempt a full description of the whole vast and complex organisation which the Board of Admiralty controls from Whitehall. But the functions and work of certain divisions of the Naval Staff will be touched on; mention will be made of how ships, aircraft and weapons were designed and built for the Royal Navy; some account given of how the fleet was manned and, finally, the control of the fleet's movements and actions will be discussed.
Mr Churchill has told how, on the day that war was declared, he was offered the Admiralty, with a seat in the War Cabinet, how he returned to the First Lord's room that same evening after an interval of twenty-four years and was there joined almost immediately by his principal naval colleague.1 The First Sea Lord was, in his capacity of Chief of Naval Staff, 'responsible to the First Lord for the issue of orders to the Fleet affecting war operations and the movements of ships'. He was also the responsible adviser to the Board [of Admiralty] on all questions of naval policy and maritime warfare'. In June 1939 Admiral Sir Dudley Pound was recalled from the Mediterranean Fleet, of which he had been Commander-in-Chief for the preceding three and a half years, to take over the office of First Sea Lord from Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Backhouse, who had been seriously ill for some months past. Admiral Pound brought to Whitehall a very long experience not only of high naval command at sea in home waters and the Mediterranean, but also of the working of every side of the Admiralty. As a captain he had been Director of the Plans
Division of the Naval Staff. After serving as a young Rear-Admiral under Sir Roger Keyes, as Chief of Staff in the Mediterranean Fleet, he became Assistant Chief of Naval Staff from 1927 to 1929. He next commanded the battle cruiser squadron in the Atlantic Fleet as a Vice-Admiral. In August 1932 he returned to the Admiralty as Second Sea Lord and served in that capacity for three years. In September 1935 he went back to the Mediterranean Fleet as Commander-in-Chief.
The illness of Sir Roger Backhouse and his death just after Admiral Pound had taken office were a great loss to the Service and to the country, especially as they occurred at a most unfortunate moment, when the Navy was in the throes of preparing for a second war with Germany. But there was certainly no officer better equipped than Admiral Pound to succeed him. He was to carry a very heavy burden through no less than four years of war, the first three of which imposed a greater strain on the Navy and its whole organisation than any previous struggle. It was, perhaps, Admiral Pound's imperturbability which enabled him to lead his service through that period of great trial. No matter what disasters befell, or appeared to be pending, he never lost his outward calm. Only rarely did he show emotion; yet those who knew him well felt that strong emotions, most powerfully controlled, lay not far beneath the surface of his character. His capacity for work was enormous, his patience un- limited. His loyalty to his superiors was such that, if a decision was taken against his advice and things went wrong, he never let it be known that he had tried to prevent the steps which ended in misfortune.
The First Sea Lord's special responsibility was for maritime operations all over the world and Admiral Pound always had to master the details of their many intricacies. The continuous pressure of this work, which might demand that a difficult decision be made at any time of the day or night, was additional to his responsibility as adviser, with the Chief of the Imperial General Staff and the Chief of the Air Staff, to 'His Majesty's Government on defence policy as a whole'. His dual responsibilities--for it must not be forgotten that the Admiralty, unlike the War Office and the Air Ministry, was an operational centre--left Admiral Pound little time to keep his colleagues on the Board of Admiralty informed about current or projected operations. As it was, he generally worked until the small hours of the morning, and the short hours of sleep which he allowed himself were often broken into by the arrival of urgent messages. It is certainly the case that he constantly overworked himself, but how far this was inevitable where one man had to carry such great responsibilities it is hard to say.
If Admiral Pound carried centralisation of authority inside the
The Reserve Fleet drawn up for inspection by H.M. King George VI in Weymouth Bay, August 1939.
H.M.S. Effingham, flagship of Vice-Admiral Sir Max Horton, in the foreground.
Part of the Home Fleet lying off Invergordon, August 1939.
The ships shown are: (left-hand line) Repulse, Royal Sovereign, Royal Oak, Resolution, Rodney;
(central line) 2nd Cruiser Squadron; (right-hand line) destroyers.
Admiralty too far, he was certainly right over the principles which he laid down, and himself scrupulously followed, regarding dealings with the other Services. Though some sections of the Naval Staff were, at times, impatient of his refusal to insist on what they regarded as essential, it seems to-day that Admiral Pound was right to maintain that reasonable compromises must be found. All the Services were beset by great difficulties, and serious inter- Service differences might well have brought irretrievable disaster during the years when we suffered a succession of grave defeats.
Though we, with all the necessary information from both sides available to us, may feel that Admiral Pound made occasional mistakes in the direction of maritime operations, the true measure of his accomplishment lies in the turn of the tide at sea in 1943. Happily he lived long enough to realise that the ultimate victory, to which he contributed so much, had become a certainty.
The composition of the Board of Admiralty changed considerably as the war progressed and new requirements arose; and in the Naval Staff new divisions were formed to meet new responsibilities.2 Those with which we are principally concerned are the Plans, Operations, Intelligence and Trade Divisions, because their work constantly appears in the foreground of our story. But all the staff divisions advised the Board, with whom the ultimate responsibility lay, on matters of policy affecting the particular aspect of the war with which they were concerned. The welding of all the divisions of the Naval Staff into one integrated team rested with the Vice-Chief and Assistant Chiefs of the Naval Staff, under whom they worked. Throughout the war the Naval Staff met daily to review the previous twenty-four hours' actions, to consider the signalled reports which arrived in an unending stream from the naval authorities all over the world and to decide matters on which immediate action was necessary.
The Admiralty's War Plans for a conflict with Germany alone or with Germany and Italy combined were approved in January 1939; they will be described in some detail in a later chapter. Once war had broken out the planning of future operations replaced the preparation of war plans as the chief responsibility of the Plans Division. It became, in fact, a continuing function which lasted throughout the war. Not only did the Plans Division prepare all naval plans but its Director joined with his colleagues from the Army and Air Force to form the Joint Planning Committee, which advised the Chiefs of Staff on all inter-Service planning problems. Only a small proportion of the plans made received, for one reason or another, the approval of the Board of Admiralty or Chiefs of Staff; but planning for almost
every conceivable eventuality had, none the less, to be carried out, because a sudden requirement for an emergency plan might arise. This was particularly the case during the period of the war when the initiative rested with the enemy.
The staff of Plans Division had to cover a far wider field than the making of operational plans. Long-term policy regarding the composition of all our fleets and squadrons came within its responsibility, as did the planning, for several years ahead, of the naval construction programmes. These were, moreover, subject to constant modification as the emphasis shifted from one aspect of the war at sea to another.
The work of Plans Division was closely linked and co-ordinated with that of the Intelligence Division, because information about enemy actions or intentions must greatly influence the preparation and execution of our own plans. As the approach of a second conflict with Germany became more and more clear, the Intelligence Division was able gradually to direct its work towards meeting the requirements which would certainly arise if war broke out. In particular, preparations had to be made to collect and distribute what is called 'Operational Intelligence'. This consisted of the day-to-day, even hour- to-hour, reports and deductions regarding the actions and movements of every one of the enemy's varied instruments of war. This work, the complexity and scale of which will be easily realised from the fact that it had to cover all the seas and oceans of the world, and that it might affect every British and Allied warship and any of our merchantmen at sea, was done in a series of rooms known as the Operational Intelligence Centre (O.I.C.). In February 1939 a Captain was specially appointed to the Intelligence Division to create and organise this centre. One section of the O.I.C. was wholly devoted to enemy submarines; for the German intention again to use them against our shipping was plain. In the Submarine Tracking Room a highly skilled and specialised staff made it their duty to collect, study and follow every sign of enemy submarine activity. They developed an uncanny skill in placing themselves in the enemy's position and so deducing his probable actions. Every piece of evidence, from reports of the torpedoing of merchantmen, which gave firm evidence that U-boats were present, to the crop of doubtful sightings and unreliable rumours which every day produced, was carefully sifted. The results were then used as the basis for routing our shipping clear of danger, and for counter-action by our own forces. There is no doubt at all that the skill of this room's staff, and the vigilance which they never relaxed for over five years, contributed greatly to the defeat of the U-boat. Another section of the O.I.C. dealt in similar manner with the activities of enemy surface ships.
In its final form the O.I.C. was linked by direct telephone and
teleprinter lines to the operational headquarters of all the naval Commanders- in-Chief at home, to the headquarters of the Coastal and Fighter Commands of the Royal Air Force and to all the Area Combined Headquarters, the functions of which will be described in the next chapter. Liaison officers from Coastal and Fighter Commands were continuously on duty within the O.I.C. and themselves communicated instantly with their own people as soon as any matter which affected them arose. It was the intimate collaboration thus developed between the naval and air forces concerned with the same object which ultimately became the key to our success.
Before leaving the O.I.C. it must be made clear that, although the rooms beneath the Admiralty were the nerve centre, it was the operational staffs of the naval commands ashore and afloat, and of their colleagues in the headquarters of the associated R.A.F. Groups, who acted on the intelligence deduced in London. Though the Admiralty was always responsible for the broad disposition of our forces and occasionally assumed direct operational control in particular cases, it was, in general, the commands which planned and executed the movements based on the daily, even hourly, reports from the O.I.C.
There has been a good deal of criticism of the intelligence provided from London, particularly during the difficult days of 1940. Some of this criticism is well-founded and some incompletely informed. It must be remembered that it takes many years and much money to build up an efficient intelligence organisation, and further that, when not only the strategic initiative but also numerical and material superiority rested with the enemy, even good intelligence was unlikely to affect the outcome of a particular campaign. None the less it must be admitted that, during the early months of the war, the procurement by the enemy of intelligence regarding our warship dispositions and movements was superior to our own. It is now plain that the enemy's advantage in this respect was achieved, firstly, through regular air reconnaissance of our bases and, secondly, through the study he had made of our wireless traffic, which could and did reveal to him a great deal. It was many months before we were able to overtake the enemy in both these important sources of intelligence.
Nor was it only in the procurement of intelligence that we were, in the early days, at a disadvantage. Sometimes correct intelligence was available, but either it was ignored or its value and reliability were not realised. The correct assessment of intelligence will, however, always be difficult as long as the strategic initiative rests with the enemy, since he is able to strike in so many different directions. It is noteworthy that, after the initiative had passed into our hands in the autumn of 1942, the enemy, though doubtless possessed of much
information regarding our invasion preparations, completely failed to anticipate our intentions. The situation in 1940 was, in fact, then reproduced in reverse.
Just as much of the work of the Director of Plans was done with his colleagues from the other services on the Joint Planning Committee, so did the Director of Naval Intelligence work with the heads of the War Office and Air Ministry's Intelligence departments on the Joint Intelligence Committee. Their object was to produce for the Chiefs of Staff intelligence 'appreciations' based on the knowledge, experience and requirements of all three services. It was, possibly, through the organisation and success of these inter-service bodies that our capacity to wage war successfully showed the greatest superiority over that of the enemy. The German records are full of instances of bitter disputes, disagreements and jealousies, between the different arms and services, many of which were never resolved because Hitler's organisation was incapable of finding the reasoned solution to them. On our side disagreements were, inevitably, fairly frequent, but if they were not resolved by the appropriate inter-service body they could be referred to a higher authority and finally, if need be, to the War Cabinet. Once the decision was made all services then loyally abided by it.
The fleet expanded rapidly from the day of mobilisation until it reached its peak strength in about the middle of 1944, and this, together with the ever- widening area over which our control of sea communications was disputed, greatly increased the responsibilities of the Operations Division. It was soon divided into two divisions to deal with the Home and Foreign theatres; and separate sections were formed and made responsible for certain special types of operations such as minelaying, coastal force operations, irregular warfare and combined operations.
The Operations Divisions (Home and Foreign) were responsible for the distribution of the fleet all over the world and for the day-to-day, even hour-to- hour, movements of each of its units. Though each Commander-in-Chief regulated the movements of the ships and squadrons allocated to him, the responsibility for the distribution of our maritime strength rested, under the Board of Admiralty, with the Operations Divisions. It was, in fact, their organisation which exploited the flexibility of maritime power mentioned in our first chapter. To do so with speed and sureness, accurate information had constantly to be available regarding the position and condition of all our more important warships. This necessitated keeping operational plots showing their movements and, to some extent, their future intentions; comprehensive records of all damage received, all refits in progress and the current state of all important ships in regard to supplies of fuel, ammunition and stores also had to be kept.
The operational plots referred to above were, of course, intimately linked with the Intelligence Centre already described. The Operations Divisions received the incoming intelligence and took, or, on major issues, recommended to the Board, the necessary action. The orders finally approved as a result of this procedure were then sent by wireless, by cable or by other means, in the name of the Admiralty, to the fleets, squadrons, ships and authorities who would execute them.
The need for intimate collaboration between Plans, Intelligence and Operations will be evident even from the brief description given. It is no exaggeration to say that together they formed the trinity on which the execution of our maritime strategy chiefly rested.
The Trade Division developed rapidly from very small beginnings to one of the largest organisations within the Naval Staff under its own Assistant Chief of Naval Staff. The Admiralty assumed control of all British merchant shipping on the evening of the 26th August 1939, and this control was chiefly exercised through the Director of the Trade Division and his Naval Control Service staffs stationed in all ports used by British shipping all over the world. The procurement of merchant shipping tonnage by purchase, charter or other means remained the responsibility of the Ministry of Shipping (later amalgamated with the Ministry of Transport to become the Ministry of War Transport) as did the manning of the Merchant Navy.3 The Admiralty's responsibility began shortly before a ship sailed on an outward voyage and ended with her safe arrival after completing the journey. The organisation of convoy escorts and the conduct of convoys at sea, the routes used by all shipping and the instruction of masters in the execution of the Admiralty's policy and orders all rested with the Trade Division.
In June 1939 a special section of Trade Division was formed to plan and organise the defensive arming of the whole British Merchant Navy. In co- operation with the Ministry of Shipping and the shipowners, anti-submarine and anti-aircraft guns were collected and distributed, the ships were made ready to receive them, and naval reservists and Merchant Navy crews were trained in their use. Officers were sent to the more important ports abroad to help the ships with the installation and use of the weapons; and reserves, not only of guns and ammunition but of equipment such as paravanes and smoke floats, were accumulated at the ports. The guns allocated to the merchantmen were, for the most part, naval weapons which had been removed from scrapped warships; but they were the best
that could be provided. The chief difficulty was to find anti-aircraft weapons. The need for them had long been realised, but the shortage was so acute, even in the fighting services, that nothing like the required number of suitable weapons could be supplied to the Merchant Navy for several years.
The size and complexity of the problem of defensively arming the Merchant Navy is best indicated by giving a few figures. The number of ships requiring equipment was about 5,500 of which 3,000 were ocean-going vessels, 1,500 were coasters and the rest were small craft and fishing vessels. To give as many of them as possible antisubmarine protection, low-angle guns were, in general, the first to be mounted; by the end of 1940 some 3,400 ships had been so fitted. As the war progressed the need to equip many Allied vessels arose, and this remained an Admiralty responsibility until the United States took over the arming of the ships which they controlled. By May 1945 Britain and the Dominions had armed 9,500 ships, of which 5,600 were ocean-going vessels. No less than 50,000 anti-aircraft machine guns had also been supplied to merchantmen by the end of the war.4
The great scale on which weapons were provided led naturally to heavy demands for men to fight them, and to the need to train large numbers in their use. The nucleus of the guns' crews supplied to the Merchant Navy was formed of naval and Royal Marine reservists, but as the war progressed great expansion became necessary. Some 24,000 naval men were actually trained to fight the defensive armaments of merchantmen, and the Merchant Navy crews themselves supplied large numbers to help man their own ships' guns. Over 150,000 merchant seamen were trained in such duties.
The fitting of weapons in the ships presented peculiar problems, because no delays in harbour from that cause could be accepted. The work had therefore to be carried out piecemeal, and a ship might be stiffened to take a gun in one port but not receive the weapon until she called at another. Arming was carried out in all the major ports of the world, but the lion's share fell, as was natural, on the British shipyards. So much for the responsibilities and accomplishments of the Defensively Equipped Merchant Ship section of Trade Division.
To enable a continuous survey to be made of the success of the enemy's various methods of attack and of our own counter-measures, statistical analysis of all casualties to merchant ships was kept in Trade Division, and reports of their experiences were collected from the survivors of sunk or damaged ships. Yet another responsibility was to keep constantly up to date the Trade Plots which were maintained in rooms adjacent to the O.I.C., on which the positions of all our convoys and independently-routed merchantmen were shown.
To turn now to minesweeping, a separate Staff Division to carry
the responsibility for this type of warfare was not actually formed until the 2nd of October 1939, by which time the enemy's attempts to disrupt our coastal communications by minelaying had assumed menacing proportions. To deal with this threat a great number of small ships had to be requisitioned, purchased or built by the Admiralty and a wide variety of counter-measures developed. The minesweeping forces comprised, possibly, a greater variety of ships than any other branch of the naval service, ranging from fleet mine- sweepers of considerable size and speed and manned by Royal Navy crews, down to converted drifters and trawlers manned largely by fishermen who had joined the R.N. Patrol Service. These small ships were stationed at all ports in these islands and also abroad, wherever enemy mines might be laid.
The Anti-Submarine Warfare Division was to a great extent the twin brother of the Minesweeping Division since it dealt with the other under-water threat to our sea communications, namely the U-boat war in all its aspects. This required a large number of small anti-submarine vessels similar in some aspects to those employed on minesweeping. In fact many small vessels came to be equipped for both types of duty. From the earliest days of the war a large number of our best fishing trawlers was requisitioned by the Admiralty for conversion to anti-submarine duties; and each base and port had to have its quota of such vessels for local defence against the coastal type of submarine. Numerous small vessels, such as the 'Fairmile types of motor launch, were also built for this purpose in the small boat-yards of the country--one of the earliest examples of the prefabrication and mass production of ships.
Whenever a serious attack on a U-boat was reported the results were carefully studied by an assessment committee, under the Director of Anti- Submarine Warfare, in order that the conclusions drawn might be as accurate as possible and the naturally optimistic hopes of the attacker verified. Since any assessment of the trend of the submarine war must depend greatly on the success of our countermeasures in achieving the actual destruction of U-boats, the monthly reports of the Anti-Submarine Warfare Division became documents of importance. It is worth noting that, in spite of the care with which all claims to have sunk U-boats were checked, the number actually sunk during the greater period of the war was somewhat less even than the relatively cautious assessments of this committee.
The importance to maritime strategy of the possession and security of the bases from which our forces must work has already been mentioned; the consequences of the insecurity of certain bases will appear later in our story. Here it must be mentioned that even before the outbreak of war a large number of pressing problems and unfulfilled requirements for the defence of naval bases and commercial ports
were arising, and the Local Defence Division of the Naval Staff was formed in May 1939 to carry the responsibility for assessing their priority and for meeting them.
It must be mentioned that none of the work of the Naval Staff could have been effective without efficient communications in the fleets and squadrons and between them and Whitehall. The Admiralty controlled not only the central wireless stations in Britain, from which messages were passed to and from the fleet, but a network of stations all over the world--generally situated at or near our overseas bases, and it was on this network that rapid communication greatly depended. The responsibility for the whole naval communications organisation rested on the Signal Division of the Naval Staff, and the traffic which had to be handled grew rapidly to enormous proportions. The same division was responsible for the issue of all codes and cyphers to the fleet and, jointly with the Director of Naval Intelligence, for their security. Inside the Admiralty the coding or cyphering of outgoing messages, the decoding of the incoming 'raffle and the rapid distribution of all messages to those who might have to take action on them was the responsibility of an organisation called War Registry. It was manned by civilians and was under the Permanent Secretary.5
The responsibility for the manning of the fleet and for the training of all officers and men, rested with the Personnel Departments of the Second Sea Lord. On the 1st of January 1939 the strength of the Navy on the active list was under 10,000 officers, the greatest proportion of whom were, of course, in the lower ranks, and 109,000 ratings. To expand rapidly from this small nucleus to a strength which at its peak in mid-1944 reached 863,500 officers and men, plainly demanded the existence in peace-time of large reserves, of an. organisa- tion for rapidly recalling the reserves to the fleet, and also the training of large numbers of men called to the Colours under the National Service Act.
Rapid and smooth mobilisation is a long-standing tradition of the Navy. The reason is not far to seek, since an intending enemy can easily despatch raiders into the wastes of the oceans to wait upon events long before war is declared, and thus be ready to start attacks on our trade from the very opening of hostilities. In fact, Germany, by the preparations made long before the outbreak of war, showed herself to be well versed in such practices, and fully justified every measure of readiness which the Admiralty and the naval Commanders-in-Chief desired to take during the summer of 1939. In spite of the growing menace of the international outlook in the spring and early summer of that year, the Government of the day continued up to the eleventh hour to pursue a policy of doing nothing upon
which Hitler might place an unfriendly construction, or which might (so it was suggested) alarm the British populace. These volumes are not the place to discuss the cause and effects of such a policy, but the impact on naval preparedness was, of course, serious. As early as May the Commanders-in-Chief of the home ports, who were responsible for the smooth conduct of naval mobilisation and for the bringing forward to service of the ships of the Reserve Fleet, were expressing serious concern to the Admiralty over the need to press ahead with measures of naval readiness, and to obtain a change in the policy which was making it impossible to implement such steps effectively.
On the 1st of January 1939 the strength of the naval reserves totalled some 80,000 officers and men of several different categories, and instructions were issued on the 26th of May 1939 for 15,000 of these men to be called up to man the Reserve Fleet, which was brought forward to readiness for service on the 15th of June.6 This fleet, consisting, in general, of the older ships of the Royal Navy which were maintained in serviceable condition but were not fully manned, could only be prepared for service by calling up a proportion of the reserves. It formed, in fact, the first and most rapidly attainable increase of naval strength. When all the peace-time reserves had been called back further expansion depended on the flow of National Servicemen, on the transfer of men from the Merchant Navy under special agreements and on other new measures. The calling-up of the last peace-time reserves was therefore far from being the final limit to the Navy's strength in war; but these reservists were, none the less, of great importance because they had all served periods in the Navy and did not need to undergo immediate further training. In fact the retired and emergency list officers, the pensioners and Royal Fleet Reserve ratings, the peace-time Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and Royal Naval Reserve formed the first line of the Navy's reserve strength.
In addition to the Second Sea Lord's responsibilities for naval officers and men outlined above, the department of the Adjutant General, Royal Marines, also came within his sphere. The Royal Marines not only supplied a detachment to every major warship but fulfilled a long tradition of instant readiness to fight on land. They also manned an organisation called the Mobile Naval Base Defence Unit which, with its complete equipment, was held ready to proceed overseas to set up a temporary base wherever it might be required. The regiment's far-flung activities will constantly appear in our story. On the outbreak of war its strength, including reservists, was 16,146 officers and men. By the end of 1944 it had reached a total of over 36,000.
Before leaving the Second Sea Lord's departments mention must be made of the Women's Royal Naval Service. It had been disbanded after the 1914-18 war, but was restarted in 1939. Then the W.R.N.S. quickly showed that they could carry out a large number of the duties formerly carried out by men in the naval shore establishments. The men were thus released for service at sea. By the autumn of 1944, when their strength reached its peak of 74,620 officers and ratings, no naval establishment at home or abroad was without its complement of 'Wrens' and their conduct, courage and capacity had won the affection and admiration of the whole service.
Lastly we must turn to the material and supply departments under the Third and Fourth Sea Lords. The responsibility of the former included the design and construction of all warships and of all their machinery, weapons and equipment. When naval aircraft began to occupy an ever-increasing importance in maritime war an additional member was added to the Board with responsibility for all air material. We cannot here describe in any detail the technical departments of the Third Sea Lord. It must suffice to say that every aspect of ship and weapon design and production, of scientific research and development, of naval construction, of marine and electrical engineering, of wireless and radar design and production was covered by one or other department of his vast organisation. The Fourth Sea Lord's departments dealt with the procurement and distribution all over the world of the stores and supplies, including fuel, on which the mobility of our maritime forces greatly depended.7
The responsibilities of the Fifth Sea Lord originally included the staff side as well as the material side of naval air warfare, but in January 1943 the two were separated and an Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Air) was appointed to the Board. On the outbreak of war the Naval Air Division was responsible for the whole staff work of that aspect of maritime war, but as it rapidly gained in importance the work was split up between several new divisions. On the material side the fulfilment of the Admiralty's requirements for naval aircraft, their weapons and stores was the responsibility of the Air Ministry until July 1937, when control of the Fleet Air Arm was returned to the Admiralty. Departments to handle air material and personnel matters were then formed. The reasons for the backwardness of the Navy in design and production of aircraft will be discussed in the next chapter.
Treatment of the subject of Admiralty organisation should include some mention of the methods whereby the movements and operations of our fleets and squadrons were controlled. The Admiralty, as has been said, was an operational centre and could at any time exercise its
right to issue orders direct to the senior officers of fleets and squadrons. This long- standing right would, however, if not exercised with caution and restraint, plainly cut across the functions of the naval Commanders-in-Chief who, not unnaturally, were sensitive regarding interference in matters for which they carried the responsibility. While, therefore, the Admiralty's right to intervene in the conduct of operations cannot be disputed, the manner and the frequency of such interventions must naturally be regarded by the Commanders-in-Chief as important.
Soon after Admiral Pound became First Sea Lord in June 1939 he gave his views on this question to the Commander-in-Chief Home Fleet, Admiral Forbes. Admiral Pound proposed that the normal procedure should be for the Admiralty to give the Commander-in-Chief all the information and leave him to make the necessary dis- positions but that, on certain occasions--notably when the fleet was at sea and keeping wireless silence--it might be necessary to alter his dispositions. He suggested 'that it be recognised that at times it will be necessary for the Admiralty to alter dispositions but that Admiralty control will cease as soon as possible'. Admiral Forbes, in his reply, agreed that the necessity to alter his dispositions might occasionally arise, but he claimed that discretion should be left to him whether or not to carry out the Admiralty's orders, because the Admiralty could not possibly be kept aware of the constantly changing conditions and circumstances which might prevail many hundreds of miles away at sea. He asked that 'if at all possible information rather than an order should be passed' to him by the Admiralty.
Though no reply appears to have been sent to Admiral Forbes, and this important issue cannot therefore be said to have been resolved before the outbreak of war, in October 1939 the First Sea Lord, apparently in reply to verbal representations from Flag Officers against Admiralty intervention in the conduct of their operations, expanded his views and the policy he proposed to adopt in a letter to a colleague. He stressed that orders would only be issued from Whitehall in certain special circumstances, and that Admiralty control would cease as soon as possible. He ended by saying, 'Why have Commanders-in-Chief and do their work for them? If they are not capable of doing it they must make room for someone who can'.
This correspondence has been quoted because it makes clear the personal views and outlook of the Chief of Naval Staff regarding the control of the fleet. The wide difference between those intentions and the policy sometimes followed will become apparent when the story of the early operations at sea is told.
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