Catalogue description Records of the Chief of the (Imperial) General Staff and its directorates

Details of Division within WO
Reference: Division within WO
Title: Records of the Chief of the (Imperial) General Staff and its directorates

Records of the Chief of the (Imperial) General Staff and its directorates relating to responsibilities for military operations, intelligence and training.

Papers of the Office of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff are in WO 216.

Directorate(s) of Military Operations and Intelligence:

  • Directorates of Military Operations and Intelligence, appreciation files, WO 190; collation files, WO 193; miscellaneous records, WO 106.
  • Directorate of Military Intelligence, questionnaires completed by escapees, evaders and liberated Allied prisoners of war, WO 344; records during and after the Second World War, WO 208.
  • Military intelligence papers, First World War, WO 160.
  • Directorate of Military Survey and Survey Units, map and chart catalogues are in WO 401 with reports and conferences in WO 402.
  • International Red Cross and Protecting Powers (Geneva): Reports concerning Prisoner of War Camps in Europe and the Far East, WO 224.

Geographical/survey directorates:

  • Directorate of Military Survey, records of the topographical and geographical sections, WO 181; maps and air charts produced for the Air Ministry, WO 393; maps and chart catalogues, WO 401; General Staff Allocation Books and Receipt Books (Registers) are in WO 408.
  • Maps, WO 252, WO 300, WO 301, WO 303 and WO 369.
  • Photographs of Mulberry Harbour, WO 240.
  • Survey Services: Directorate of Military Survey and Survey Units: technical instructions, WO 403.
  • Map Library Day Books, WO 406.
  • Historic Gazetteers, WO 407.

Other directorates:

  • Directorate of Tactical Investigation, WO 232.
  • Directorate of Air, WO 233.
  • Directorate of Signals, WO 244.
  • Directorate of Staff Duties, WO 260.
  • Directorate of Weapons and Development, photographs, British atomic trials, Maralinga, Australia, WO 320.
  • Inspectorate of Armaments, reports, WO 360.
  • Directorate of Military Training, papers, WO 231.

Military training institutions:

  • Royal Military Asylum for Children of Soldiers of the Regular Army, later Duke of York's Royal Military School, and Royal Hibernian Military School, WO 143.
  • Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, registers of cadets, WO 149; correspondence and letter books, WO 150; miscellaneous books and records, WO 314.
  • Royal Military College, Sandhurst, register of cadets, WO 151; correspondence and letterbooks, WO 152.
  • Staff College Camberley, 1947 course notes on D-Day landings and ensuing campaigns, WO 223.
  • Royal Military College Sandhurst, miscellaneous books and papers, WO 99, have been transferred to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

Date: 1787-1996
Related material:

For the committee of Imperial Defence and the War Cabinet see:

See also CAB 53




Separated material:

Records of the Ordnance Survey for the period when it came under the Topographical Department are in:

OS 1

OS 5

Reports on officers attending courses at the School of Military Engineering, 1858 to 1914, are in WO 25

Technical reports of the Small Arms Schools are in WO 140

School of Artillery trials reports, 1962-1969, are in WO 196

Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Royal Military Academy, 1764-1939

War Department, Topographical Department, 1855-1857

War Office, Chief of the General Staff, 1904-1909

War Office, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, 1909-1964

War Office, Directorate of Military Intelligence, 1915-1922

War Office, Directorate of Military Intelligence, 1939-1964

War Office, Directorate of Military Operations, 1904-1922

War Office, Directorate of Military Operations, 1943-1964

War Office, Directorate of Military Operations and Intelligence, 1922-1939

War Office, Directorate of Military Operations and Plans, 1939-1943

War Office, Directorate of Plans, 1943-1964

War Office, Intelligence Branch, 1873-1888

War Office, Military Intelligence and Mobilization Department, 1901-1904

War Office, Military Intelligence Division, 1888-1901

War Office, Topographical Department, 1857-1873

Physical description: 38 series
Administrative / biographical background:

When the office of Commander in Chief was abolished in 1904, the new post of chief of the general staff was created, largely from the duties hitherto exercised by the director-general of mobilisation and intelligence, for the senior military advisor of the Secretary of State for War and first military member of the Army Council. On 22 November 1909 he was renamed chief of the Imperial General Staff. A deputy chief of the Imperial General Staff was appointed in 1915, lapsed in 1922 and was revived in 1937, and a vice chief was appointed in 1940. The chief of the Imperial General Staff was a permanent member of the Chiefs of Staff Committee of Imperial Defence and War Cabinet from its formation in 1924.

In 1964, when the service ministries were combined to become the unified Ministry of Defence, the post of chief of the Imperial General Staff reverted to its original title of chief of the general staff, and he continues to be the professional head of the British Army.

The Directorates of Air, Military Operations and Intelligence, Military Survey, Military Training, Signals, Staff Duties, Tactical Investigation were among those which made up the Department of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff.

In 1803 the Secretary-at-War authorised the Commander in Chief to establish a depot of military knowledge within the Quartermaster General's branch of his headquarters at the Horse Guards. The duties of the depot were the purchase and compilation of maps of this and foreign countries and the formation and maintenance of a library. Some material was collected in the early years but during the long peace following Waterloo the Military Depot declined and in April 1858 it was absorbed into the Topographical Department, its books going to the newly created War Office Library.

The Topographical Depot or Department had been established in January 1855 to remedy the want of maps of overseas countries felt during the Crimean War. Criticism of this department led in 1857 to the appointment of a committee of investigation, which recommended that it be merged with the Military Depot and the Ordnance Survey. As a first step towards this the director of the Ordnance Survey was also appointed director of the Topographical Department. The survey remained in a separate office until it was transferred to the Office of Works in 1870, when a residual Topographical Department, responsible for overseas surveys, became part of the Commander in Chief's Military Department.

In 1873 this was expanded into an Intelligence Branch with a subordinate Topographical Section. In the reorganisation of 1887 to 1888 it became the Military Intelligence Division of the Military Department, with six sections: A, B and C covering certain territories, D dealing with Asia and with cipher work, E dealing with Austria, the Near and Middle East and non-colonial Africa, and F being the military map drawing, printing and issuing and library section. Work connected with mobilisation and home defence passed to the Mobilisation Sub-division; in the reorganisation of 1895 the Intelligence Branch remained in the Commander in Chief's department.

An additional section H was formed in 1899 responsible for cable censorship, internal security (in conjunction with Scotland Yard), Press matters, enquiries concerning prisoners of war, violations of the Geneva convention and other special duties. In 1901 it merged with the Mobilisation Sub-division to become the Military Intelligence and Mobilisation Department with the director general of military intelligence having a seat on the Army Board.

In the 1904 reforms its name was changed to the Directorate of Military Operations and it was placed in the Department of the Chief of the (Imperial) General Staff; responsibility for home defence passed to the Directorate of Military Training and that for mobilisation to the adjutant general's department.

During this period the formerly MI letter-styled branches became numbered MO branches with minor adjustments being made to their respective functions. General Staff India was formed in 1906 and subsequently responsibility for recording information about Arabia was divided between the War Office and AHQ, India, the duties of MO 2 (b) and MO 2 (h) being amended accordingly. In April 1908 MO 1 was relieved of its longstanding responsibility for military history, on the constitution of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence. In October 1908 the title of MO 4 was changed to Geographical Section-General Staff.

In the First World War a separate Directorate of Military Intelligence was formed, but in 1922 the two directorates were reunited as the Directorate of Military Operations and Intelligence. On the outbreak of war in 1939 they were again divided into a Directorate of Military Operations and Plans and a Directorate of Military Intelligence. In 1943 the former was further divided into a Directorate of Military Operations and a Directorate of Plans, with its Geographical Section, the successor of the original Topographical Department, becoming a separate Directorate of Military Survey.

The Directorate of Military Intelligence was responsible for postal and telegraph censorship until May 1940, when a Postal and Telegraph Censorship Department was established under the Ministry of Information and the Directorate of Military Operations and Plans for the administration of occupied territory until this passed in 1943 to a new Directorate of Civil Affairs.

The earliest military educational establishment was the Royal Academy at Woolwich established by royal warrant of 30 April 1741 under the Board of Ordnance as a school for the training of artillery and engineer cadets. In 1764 it became the Royal Military Academy. The first establishment for the professional training of infantry and cavalry officers was the Royal Military College set up by the Commander in Chief, the Duke of York, in 1801. A Senior Department was formed initially at High Wycombe for the further education of officers with regimental experience, and a Junior Department for training of officer cadets was established at Great Marlow in 1802.

New premises were opened at Sandhurst in 1812. Management was vested in a board of which the Commander in Chief was president. In 1855, on the abolition of the Board of Ordnance, responsibility for the Royal Military Academy also passed to the Commander in Chief, but in 1857 both college and academy passed to the control of the Council of Military Education, and thereafter was vested in the department, directorate, subdivision or section of the War Office responsible for officers' education. In December 1857 the Senior Department of the Royal Military College became a separate institution as the Staff College, which moved to Camberly in 1883.

During the Second World War the academy and college were closed, and when reopened in 1947 they were merged in a single institution, the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.

Other military educational establishments were the School of Artillery, School of Military Engineering, Small Arms Schools, Royal Hibernian School and Duke of York's Military School

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