Catalogue description Records of the Committee of Imperial Defence

Details of Division within CAB
Reference: Division within CAB
Title: Records of the Committee of Imperial Defence

The records of the Committee of Imperial Defence with its standing and ad hoc sub-committees. Also included are the records of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence in CAB 64

Minutes of the Committee and of the Standing Defence Sub-Committee (1921-1922) are in CAB 2. Circulated memoranda of the committee are in four series

  • Home Defence (A Series): CAB 3
  • Miscellaneous (B Series): CAB 4
  • Colonial Defence (C Series): CAB 5
  • Indian Defence (D Series): CAB 6.

The memoranda of the Standing Defence Sub-Committee are in CAB 34. Photocopies of minutes and papers of the committee until 1914 are in CAB 38. Files of the committee before December 1916 are in CAB 17. Some miscellaneous reports and papers, including those of the Joint Naval and Military Committee on Defence (1891-1903) are in CAB 18

The minutes of the Colonial Defence Committee from 1878, which became the Committee of Imperial Defence, Colonial (later Oversea) Defence Committee, are in CAB 7 and CAB 10. The memoranda of the committee are in CAB 8, CAB 9 and CAB 11

The records of the three other standing committees set up before the First World War will be found as follows: Home Ports (later Home) Defence Committee, CAB 12 and CAB 13; Air Committee, CAB 14; and Committee on the Co-ordination of Departmental Action on the Outbreak of War (including the War Books), CAB 15

The above standing committees, except the Air Committee, were revived after the First World War and the above series include their records to 1939. The records of other committees set up soon after the First World War, and which relate to organisation for war, are in the following series:

Committees relating to strategy and war planning are in the following series:

The records of the main supply committee, the Principal Supply Officers Committee, are in CAB 60, while those of the Oil Board are in CAB 50. The records of the principal committee on National Service are in CAB 57

Records of committees relating to specific overseas questions will be found for Industrial Intelligence in CAB 48 and for the Middle East in CAB 51

The records of ad hoc committees will be found in CAB 16 and committee lists are in CAB 59

Date: 1863-1974
Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Committee of Imperial Defence, 1904-1939

Physical description: 36 series
Access conditions: Subject to 30 year closure
Publication note:

See also the introduction to Handlist of papers of the Committee of Imperial Defence to 1914 (PRO Handbook 6) and for a printed note of the Committee of Imperial Defence's committee symbols see The Cabinet Office to 1945 (PRO Handbook 17), annex 11, pts 1 & 2.

Unpublished finding aids:

See the combined index of committee subjects and symbols for 1916-1939 Please speak to staff at the enquiry desk for the precise location.

Administrative / biographical background:

Committee of Imperial Defence (CID)

While a Royal Commission (Hartington) set up in 1888 had recommended the 'formation of a naval and military council' and a Joint Naval and Military Committee on Defence met from 1891, the Cabinet did not set up a Defence Committee until 1895. This committee was remodelled to include not only ministers but also the professional heads of the Army and Navy, becoming the Committee of Imperial Defence (CID) in December 1902.

The Committee was formally brought into existence, and completely reconstituted, by Treasury minute of 4 May 1904. The Prime Minister became its chairman and only permanent member, with complete discretion to summon other ministers, Chiefs of Staff, and other experts as required. At the same time the committee was given a permanent secretariat. It was an advisory body with no executive functions. With the assistance of its sub-committees it formulated for the Cabinet general principles on which defence policy should be based; made recommendations to the Cabinet and relevant departments on specialised defence problems; and prepared, in consultation with departments, detailed plans for the effective co-ordination of naval, military and civil authorities in the event of war.

When war came in 1914 the activities of the committee diminished rapidly and by 1915 they were virtually suspended. After the war the CID met twice in 1920, but not again until July 1922; in the interval, matters with which it would normally have dealt were discussed by a Standing Defence Sub-committee.

In 1936 the Minister for Co-ordination of Defence was made deputy chairman of the committee and chairman of various sub-committees.

When the War Cabinet was formed in September 1939 it absorbed the CID, which was not revived after the war, when many of its former concerns passed to the Ministry of Defence, which was set up in 1947.

Sub-Committee Structure

Before 1914, the Committee of Imperial Defence had four permanent sub-committees. The Colonial Defence Committee, which was mainly concerned with the preparation of detailed defence schemes for the dominions and colonies, originated in 1878 as an inter-departmental committee composed of representatives from the Admiralty and the War and Colonial Offices. It lapsed the next year only to be revived in 1885, after the report of a Royal Commission (Carnarvon) on the Defence of British Possessions and Commerce Abroad in 1882. This committee was under the chairmanship of the permanent under-secretary of the Colonial Office. In 1904 it was taken over by the CID and was renamed the Oversea Defence Committee in 1911. To deal with the defences of the home ports and coasts a Home Ports Defence Committee was set up in 1909. This was followed by a Committee on the Co-ordination of Departmental Action on the Outbreak of War in 1911 and an Air Committee in 1912. In addition to these standing committees a large number of ad hoc committees were appointed to deal with particular issues.

After the end of the First World War, all the standing committees were revived, except the Air Committee. They first met late in 1919 or early 1920 and from March 1920 joint meetings of the Oversea and Home Defence Committees were held.

The Imperial Communications Committee became a sub-committee of the CID in June 1920 to be followed by a clutch of committees in 1923 and 1924 dealing with such war organisation issues as air raid precautions, trade, censorship and war legislation.

The Standing Inter-departmental Committee on National Service was set up in 1923, followed by the Principal Supply Officers Committee in 1924 and the Oil Board in 1925.

The main committee dealing with war strategy and planning, that of the Chiefs of Staff, was set up in 1923. It had a number of subordinate committees including the Joint Planning Committee (1927), the Joint Intelligence Committee (1932) and the Deputy Chiefs of Staff Committee (1936).

On the outbreak of war in 1939, many of the committees of the CID, such as the Chiefs of Staff Committee and its subordinates, were taken over by the War Cabinet. The supply organisation of the committee was transferred to the Ministry of Supply. Further details of the administrative history of the standing committees will be found with the relevant series descriptions.

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