The Naval Staff divisions bear responsibility for the distribution and readiness of the Fleet and its effectiveness in the event of war. They are concerned with the framing of strategy and tactics, the planning and conduct of operations, and the collection and dissemination of intelligence. They operate under the First Sea Lord as Chief of Naval Staff, supported by a Vice-Chief of Naval Staff and Assistant Chiefs of Naval Staff.
It is also their task to indicate to the responsible departments the needs of the Navy as regards manpower, training, weapons and materials. Through the First Sea Lord's membership of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and the service of the Vice-Chief of Naval Staff on the Deputy Chiefs of Staff Committee, links are maintained with the Army and Air Force.
The institution of a formal Naval Staff within the Admiralty in 1912 arose from an evident need for plans to form the basis of a coherent naval strategy in the event of war and had been preceded by pressure to this end from the Committee of Imperial Defence and the appointment of Churchill as First Lord in 1911. Initially the Naval Staff had three divisions (dealing with operations, mobilisation and intelligence), but it was not until the end of the First World War, by which time it possessed twelve divisions, that it had an organisation suitable for its task. For an account of developments during this period see TheAdmiralty by Dr N A M Rodger (Terence Dalton Ltd, 1979). For information concerning Naval Staff organisation during the Second World War see John D. Cantwell, The Second World War: AGuide to Documents in the Public Record Office (PRO Handbooks, XV, 2nd edn, 1992), 17-28.
Although the Naval Staff's divisional organisation changed from time to time, there was an Operations Division during both World Wars responsible for the operational control of ships with a separate Combined Operations Division, liaising with Combined Operations Headquarters, from 1943. There was also a Plans Division concerned with questions of strategy as well as operational plans and providing, during the Second World War, the naval part of the Joint Planning Staff.
Another key division was the Trade Division, responsible for the protection of maritime trade and trooping by means of the organisation of convoys and escorts and by the fitting of armaments in merchant vessels. In this connection, it worked closely in both World Wars with the Ministries of Shipping and, from 1941, with the Ministry of War Transport. The division was also associated with the Economic Warfare Division, responsible for contraband control (in concert with the Ministry of Economic Warfare, and it had links with the Anti-Submarine Warfare Division, both these divisions also forming part of the Naval Staff.
There was also a Naval Air Division, responsible for the policy and organisation of the Fleet Air Arm and, from 1944, a Signals Division created to deal with communications separately from the production of communications equipment, which remained in the Signal Department. A Local Defence Division was responsible for naval defences at home and abroad; the Minesweeping Division was separated from it shortly after the out-break of war in 1939. There was also a Training and Staff Duties Division, within which was included a Historical Section. A Gunnery and Anti-Aircraft Division was established in 1941.
Also part of the Naval Staff was the Naval Intelligence Division. This had been formed in 1886 in succession to the Foreign Intelligence Committee, which had existed from 1882. It concerned itself not only with the collection of information about foreign navies, but also with war planning. In July 1917 it absorbed the small group of civilian experts engaged since the outbreak of the First World War on the deciphering of enemy naval wireless signals. This group was known as 'Room 40' after the room in which they were housed in the Old Admiralty Building. 'Room 40' became the core of the Government Code and Cipher School (GCCS) established on 1 November 1919, still under the control of the Director of Naval Intelligence, but intended to work for and with all government departments interested in wireless intelligence and cryptography.
On l April 1922 control of the GCCS passed to the Foreign Office. During both the First and Second World Wars there was a Geographical Section attached to the Naval Intelligence Division responsible for producing handbooks on various parts of the world, dealing with geographical, geological, ethnological, historical, etc factors affecting the countries concerned, illustrated by maps, diagrams and photographs.
In 1937 an Operational Intelligence Centre to serve the Naval Staff was established and it was to this centre that the naval section of the Government Code and Cipher School at Bletchley Park sent the deciphered texts of enemy signals during the Second World War.
In 1940 the Topographical Section of the Naval Intelligence Division was evacuated to the School of Geography at Oxford. The urgent need for reports regarding areas in which combined operations or opposed landings might take place resulted in the expansion of the work of the section which became an organ of the Chiefs of Staffs Committee as the Inter-Services Topographical Department. The department came directly under the orders of that committee, but continued to be administered by the division.
In 1963 the Naval Intelligence Division became part of the Joint Intelligence Staff, which soon afterwards came under the new Ministry of Defence.