Admiralty War Staff

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On 5 November, 1911, Churchill wrote to the Prime Minister stating that Wilson was completely opposed to any Staff, and that he would have to be replaced as First Sea Lord before January, 1912 at the latest. He also updated Asquith on the progress of plans for a War Staff:

It will probably comprise four distinct branches, all of which exist in imperfect combination at present:—
1) War Education, under the President of the War College;
2) War Information, under the Director of Naval Intelligence;
3) War Plans, under the Director of the War Division; and
4) War Organization, under the Director of Naval Mobilisation: the whole associated in a 'War Staff Circle' (or Committee) under the Chief of the War Staff, who will be the servant of the Board of Admiralty as a whole, tho' brought in special contact with the First Sea Lord.[1]

On 8 January, 1912 Churchill released his Memorandum on a War Staff for the Royal Navy which detailed the administration of the War Staff. On the same day, Rear-Admiral Ernest C. T. Troubridge was appointed Chief of the War Staff at the Admiralty,[2] and Captains George A. Ballard, Thomas Jackson and Alexander L. Duff were appointed Directors of the Operations,[3] Intelligence,[4] and Molilisation[5] Divisions, respectively.

Rear-Admiral Sir Edmond J. W. Slade recounted to Captain Herbert W. Richmond Battenberg's opinion:

[He] won't listen to the idea that the First Sea Lord is really the C.O.S. He says he could not lower the position of his office by becoming the Chief of Staff to a civilian First Lord. That, I think, was the principal objection in his mind. Then he said theoretically it was wrong, as he was the Executive head of the Navy, and he could not mix up Staff duties with executive work.[6]

Arthur Marder opined:

There was no serious effort made in Churchill's time to separate staff from administrative duties. The First Sea Lord, who was responsible for operations, continued to carry out a multitude of other duties. At any rate, war plans were no longer locked up in the brain of the First Sea Lord.[7]

Opening Months of the War

In 1919 Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wemyss wrote that:

The Admiralty needs a large and efficient staff organisation. At the commencement of the war this was lamentably inadequate."[8]

Captain Richmond, the Assistant Director of the Operations Division, wrote:

The War Staff was deficient in all the characteristics needed for staff work. The whole of the work passes through the Chief of Staff. There is no decentralisation, and his mind has to grapple with every problem that arises, even in its details. The result is that the First Sea Lord and Chief of Staff are so overworked that they cannot foresee and provide in advance.[9]


Historian Richard Hough described the Staff at the time of Coronel as, "craven, inexperienced and not sufficiently brainy."[10] Vice-Admiral Kenneth G. B. Dewar, an opinionated officer (to put it mildly) wrote in his memoirs, "We had the opportunity but not the intellectual capital to float a staff."[11]

Admiral Wilfred Henderson, then retired, later claimed that:

The plans provided by the heads of the departments of the Staff, which had only been instituted at the end of 1911, up to 1914 were also turned down on account of economy or because the Board considered them a departure from traditional policy and custom, and they were not taken seriously.[12]

Chiefs of the Staff

Assistants to the Chief of the Staff


  1. Winston S. Churchill. Companion Volume II Part 2. p. 1322.
  2. The National Archives. ADM 196/42. p. 78.
  3. The National Archives. ADM 196/42. p. 65.
  4. Jackson was actually appointed on the 9th. The National Archives. ADM 196/42. p. 496.
  5. The National Archives. ADM 196/42. p. 80.
  6. Slade to Richmond. Letter of 26 September, 1913. National Maritime Museum. Richmond Papers. RIC/1/8. Quoted in Marder. Dreadnought to Scapa Flow. I. p. 266.
  7. Marder. Dreadnought to Scapa Flow. I. p. 266.
  8. Quoted in Bennett. Naval Battles of the First World War. p. 84.
  9. Quoted in Bennett. Naval Battles of the First World War. p. 85.
  10. Hough. Former Naval Person. p. 64.
  11. Dewar. The Navy from Within. p. 154.
  12. "Admiral of the Fleet Sir Arthur Wilson." Naval Review. p. 304.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Black. The British Naval Staff in the First World War. p. 247.