Catalogue description Records of the Ministry of Defence

Details of DEFE
Reference: DEFE
Title: Records of the Ministry of Defence

Records mainly relating to the military activities of the United Kingdom after the Second World War, including those relating to:

For series created for regularly archived websites, please see the separate Websites Division.

Date: 1808-2022
Related material:

Records of the Admiralty, Naval Forces, Royal Marines, Coastguard, and related bodies ADM

Records of the War Office, Armed Forces, Judge Advocate General, and related bodies WO

Records of the Air Ministry, the Royal Air Force, and related bodies AIR

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

Ministry of Defence, 1947-

Physical description: 246 series
Access conditions: Subject to 30 year closure unless otherwise stated
Immediate source of acquisition:

Ministry of Defence

Publication note:

Ewen Broadbent, The Military and Government: From Macmillan to Heseltine (London, 1988)

Administrative / biographical background:

Origins and Formation of the Ministry of Defence, 1936-1946

The co-ordination of defence measures by a single minister was first attempted in 1936 when a Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence was appointed to assist the Prime Minister. The post was abolished in April 1940 and when Churchill became Prime Minister in May 1940 he assumed the additional title of Minister of Defence. Following a review of how the lessons learnt from wartime experience could be preserved and developed, the White Paper on Central Organisation for Defence (Cmd 6923) proposed the creation of a new post of Minister of Defence. The holder of the new post would be in charge of a Ministry and responsible to Parliament for the inter-relation of the three armed services and their supply. The Ministry of Defence Act, 1946, laid upon the minister the responsibility for 'the formulation and general application of a unified policy relating to the Armed Forces of the Crown as a whole and their requirements'. The Act received royal assent on 19 December 1946 and a Minister of Defence was appointed on 21 December 1946. The ministry was formally constituted on 1 January 1947.

Expansion of the Role of the Minister of Defence, 1957-1964

In 1957 it was announced that the Minister of Defence was to have increased authority to take decisions on matters of general defence policy affecting the size and shape, organisation and equipment of the Armed Forces, and this was confirmed in the White Paper on Central Organisation for Defence (Cmd 476) of July 1958.

In July 1963, a similarly titled White Paper (Cmd 2097) proposed the establishment of a unified Ministry of Defence in which complete authority and responsibility for the Armed Forces would be invested in a single secretary of state. These proposals were given statutory authority under the Defence (Transfer of Functions) Act, 1964, the vesting date being 1 April 1964.

From that date the Ministry of Defence, Admiralty, War Office and Air Ministry were amalgamated, and arrangements were made for collaboration with the Ministry of Aviation. The Secretary of State now had complete control of both defence policy (there had previously been three cabinet places for single service ministers) and the machinery for the administration of the three services.

The new unified ministry marked the start of a period which saw increasing pressure to improve efficiency and increase the effectiveness of the administrative functions of the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence. It was mostly organised on a joint rather than an 'integrated' or 'functional' basis in that sections of the Naval, Army and Air Staffs with similar responsibilities remained separate within their own departments, but were brought together in joint committees. The new organisation included three ministers of state who headed and implemented policy within the Navy, Army and Air Departments. They also had responsibilities across the whole of the defence field for international policy, personnel and logistics, and research development and production, although they did not have executive responsibilities. They were assisted by three parliamentary under-secretaries of state.

The Defence Secretariat and Other Bodies

A Defence Secretariat was established, under the Permanent Under Secretary of State. The Chiefs of Staffs Committee was unchanged by the creation of the new ministry, and remained collectively responsible to the government for professional advice on military strategy and operations. The Naval, General and Air staffs of the Joint Service Staff of the pre-1964 ministry became the new Defence Staff, responsible to the Chiefs of Staff Committee. An expanded Defence Scientific Staff was established under the Chief Scientific Adviser who oversaw the work of two new committees, the Defence Research Committee and the Weapons Development Committee. Intelligence matters were completely integrated between the three services, under the Defence Intelligence Staff.

The Reorganisation of 1967 and beyond

1967 saw a re-organisation of the ministry aimed at moving towards a functional rather than service based structure. The three single service ministerial posts were replaced by two functional ministerial positions:

  • Minister of Defence (Administration) responsible for managing personnel and logistics for the entire defence establishment. He was assisted by Chief Adviser, Personnel and Logistics.
  • Minister of Defence (Equipment) responsible for managing research, development, production, procurement and sales. He was assisted by Chief Adviser (Projects), formerly the Chief Scientific Adviser.

The positions of Head of Defence Sales and Deputy Under Secretary of State (Equipment) were created to assist the Minister of Defence (Equipment) in general questions of research and development, procurement and production and sales.

The three single service second permanent under secretaries were replaced by two functional second permanent under secretaries, for administration and equipment, and ministerial responsibility for the single service departments was delegated to the parliamentary under secretaries of state.

The Defence Staff was formed from the existing Naval, General, Air and Joint Service Staffs, and was responsible to the Chiefs of Staff Committee rather than the Chief of Defence Staff. The appointment of Deputy Under Secretary of State (Civilian Management), created a single civilian management organisation for all civilian staff. By this time rationalisation of many of the functions previously undertaken in isolation within each service had been centralised including financial control, civilian management, statistics and contracts but the process of rationalising the armed forces continued.

In 1969 the Directorate for Statistics, Management Services, Accounts and Contracts was established.

1970 saw a new administration. During the previous six years there had been a shift to a more centralised Ministry, breaking away from the single service divisions in many areas. However, the new government moved to reverse this trend through the appointment of three single service Parliamentary Under Secretaries of State appointed under one minister of state.

The new administration shifted the emphasis of UK Defence Policy towards maintaining the UK's overseas military presence outside NATO, and an increase in manpower and equipment. The additional responsibilities incurred by this change in policy led to a new drive to streamline the Ministry of Defence.

In August 1971 the Procurement Executive was established under a Minister of State for Defence Procurement (this post was abolished at the end of 1972 when responsibility passed to the Minister of Defence). The new Executive provided for the integration of all defence research, development and production under a single minister.

In 1972 the Directorate of Internal Audit was created and the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment transferred into the Controllerate of Research and Development Establishments and Research. There was also a split from Civil Aviation research, which passed to the Department of Trade and Industry, but a Ministerial Aerospace Board attended by both secretaries of state was established to ensure communication between the two departments on aviation matters.

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