Ministry of Shipping, 1917-1921 and 1939-1941
In 1916, a shipping controller was appointed to regulate merchant shipping for government purposes and to provide and maintain an efficient supply of shipping in wartime. A Ministry of Shipping was established following the Defence Regulations of June 1917.
The Ministry of Shipping was assigned control of mercantile shipbuilding, previously a function shared shared among the Admiralty, the Board of Trade and, after April 1916, the Shipping Control Committee of the Cabinet. In May 1917, control of mercantile shipbuilding had passed to the controller of the Navy, and in May 1918 to a controller general of merchant shipbuilding at the Admiralty. In January 1918 responsibility for the building and purchase of merchant ships abroad was restored to the Ministry of Shipping, which absorbed the Admiralty Directorate of Overseas Purchase.
From February 1917, the shipping controller was also responsible for the handling of vessels in port. In May 1917 a Port Branch was set up in the Ministry of Shipping. In 1917, the requisitioning of British ships became virtually universal and the Ministry of Shipping became responsible for the maintenance and operation of a vast merchant fleet.
After the Armistice of November 1918, the primary functions of the ministry were the transport of troops, prisoners of war and material back to the United Kingdom, the liquidation or release of requisitioned ships and the reconditioning of vessels for release to private owners.
The Ministry was dissolved on 31 March 1921.
The formation of the Ministry of Shipping in October 1939 owed much to the precedent of the Ministry of Shipping of 1917-1921. In the late 1930s, the Admiralty and the Board of Trade, to which the residual functions of the old Ministry of Shipping had passed in 1921, recommended the formation of a separate Ministry of Shipping to undertake the functions of the Sea Transport Division and the Mercantile Marine Department of the Board of Trade and to control mercantile ship building.
The new department established in 1939, had responsibility for most aspects of merchant shipping, together with responsibility for foreshores, navigation and the coastguard service. These functions were reduced by the transfer to the Admiralty of control of mercantile shipbuilding in February 1940.
Ministry of War Transport, Shipping Divisions, 1941-1945; and Ministry of Transport and successors, Shipping Divisions, 1946-1965
In May 1941, the Ministry of War Transport was formed on the merger of Ministry of Shipping with the Ministry of Transport, bringing shipping and inland transport under one department, and easing problems of co-ordination of transport in wartime.
The following divisions were taken over from the Ministry of Shipping in 1941:
Allocation of Tonnage Division, responsible for the provision of shipping, other than liners, for tankers and other coastal craft;
Ship Management Division, responsible for the City Central Chartering Office, which after March 1940 chartered free tonnage on behalf of the government on the Baltic Exchange in London and abroad;
Coal Division, established in 1941 to ensure the provision of bunkering facilities at home and abroad for the use of controlled merchant shipping; the division was dissolved in 1945;
Coasting and Short Sea Shipping Division, responsible for the wartime control of shipping in home waters;
Commercial Services Division, responsible for reviewing the requirements of government departments needing to convey commodities essential for military, civil or industrial needs, and arranging tonnage provision;
Foreign Shipping Relations Division, responsible for negotiations for the use of foreign ships and policy towards foreign and neutral shipping;
General (Shipping) Division, responsible for war risks insurance, the tonnage replacement scheme and general shipping matters;
Liner Division, responsible for the operation of the liner requisition scheme instituted in February 1940;
Sea Transport Division, responsible for the movement of troops and stores in wartime, post war planning, shipbuilding and repair in peacetime;
Ship Management Division, concerned with the management of ships owned, requisitioned or seized by the department through various ship owners;
Shipping Operational Control, a co-ordinating council for those divisions with executive duties;
Tanker Division, responsible for the wartime control of the carriage of oil supplies, molasses, whale oil and palm oil by tanker and for liaison with the government departments concerned in the supply of such goods;
War Risks Insurance Office, responsible for the management of the scheme of marine insurance against losses through war of merchant ships on government service.
In 1942, the Ministry of War Transport set up new divisions responsible for Ship Repair and concerned with Statistics and Intelligence.
In 1945, divisions not dissolved or absorbed by other divisions, gradually assumed duties in connection with peacetime shipping policy.
In April 1946, the title of the department altered to the Ministry of Transport. In the same year, a General Shipping Relations (later Policy) Division, was formed as a link between the government and the shipping industry to further the interests of British shipping and to deal with merchant shipbuilding policy in conjunction with the Admiralty; it bore ministerial responsibility for all shipbuilding policy until 1959.
In 1950, a Shipping Planning Division was formed to co-ordinate defence planning in relation to merchant shipping in association with the Ministry of Defence, the three service departments and the international committees set up under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.