Mobilisation of the Royal Navy

The following has been transcribed from the Admiralty Library's copy of

CB1515(50) [later OU 6171/31] The Technical History and Index (Part 50): Mobilisation of the Fleet. Demobilisation Records, 1918-19, written by the Mobilisation Department of the Admiralty, January 1921.

Mobilisation of the Fleet.

1. The mobilisation of the fleet ordered in August 1914 was carried out in accordance with the Instructions for Mobilisation (Edition 1912) CB 220. Little serious difficulty was experienced in the actual mobilisation, and ships were got away within the prescribed time, due to the thoroughness of the pre-arranged arrangements.

Several minor points arose, however, such as:-

A. The Manoeuvres had been carried out just before the mobilisation and some ships had not paid off. Their crews were therefore composed of men in many cases who did not form part of the mobilisation crew. This involved many more active service changes at the last moment than would otherwise have been necessary.

B. The nominal appropriation of R. F. R. [editor's note: Royal Fleet Reserve] and pensioners was largely upset on account of all the "manoeuvre ships" not being paid off. Fresh appropriations of the first arrivals of reserves in depôt had to be made, as it was known that many reserve men were already in "Manoeuvre ships," whom it was not desirable to change.

C. More reserves responded to the first mobilisation orders than had been anticipated. The result was a great congestion at the depôts and schools, and many reserves had to be sent home again temporarily for lack of accommodation.

2. The Board have recently approved of the abolition of nominal appropriation of reserves, the mobilisation of 1914 having shown that depôts can make appropriations in sufficient time from first arrivals in depôt after the order to mobilise. Arrangements have also been now approved by which only a sufficient number of reserve men to meet the initial requirements of mobilisation (with a margin) will be called up immediately, others being summoned later as required. This is being arranged by issuing personal summonses to all reserves, instead of a general proclamation.

3. Directly the mobilisation of the fleet was over, two steps were taken which had important results on our naval manning resources.

(a) the R. N. division was established, which absorbed large numbers of surplus reserves.

(b) ships building for foreign countries were taken into the navy and fresh vessels were ordered, none of which had been provided for in manning calculations or mobilising arrangements.

As regards the Royal Naval Division, the original intention was to form three brigades, each of four battalions of 1,000 men, or a total of 12,000 naval and marine ranks and ratings. It was specifically stated at the time, that the above 12,000 were to be taken from "the active service and reserve officers and men not immediately required for service in the Fleet,", but naturally when once these brigades had been sent to the front, the return of the men in the Royal Naval Division to the Navy, although they were trained naval ratings and were taken from naval resources, was strongly resisted by the military authorities. 1,500 of the Royal Naval Division were also interned in Holland before the end of 1914. Nevertheless before the Royal Naval Division had been long in existence, heavy personnel commitments began to arise (see para. 6), and it became necessary to recall numbers of naval ratings from the Royal Naval Division to meet the increasing requirements of the Fleet. It soon became evident to the Manning Department of the Admiralty that on the one hand the inference in the above quotation that the men of the Royal Naval Division would return when required by the Fleet would be almost impossible to enforce entirely, while on the other hand all the men in these divisions would soon be needed for Fleet services. The result, therefore, of the formation of the Royal Naval Division was a double dislocation of fighting personnel. Men already trained for naval work were employed for military services, for which they had to be re-trained, while the Admiralty had to enter new men from the shore and hurriedly train them for naval duties. From the strictly naval point of view the diversion of so many trained naval ratings into the Royal naval Division was a mistake which was felt more and more as the war went on. It would have been much better if the naval ratings had been left to their proper duties, and the new men trained for the Army direct.

4. One other result of the above was that by May 1915 we had drawn in and use the whole of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve authorised before the war as well as 25,000 new additional entrants (including R. N. Air Force ratings). As soon as the Royal Naval Division had transferred its headquarters to Blandford, the Crystal Palace was started as a recruiting and training depôt for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. By the end of the first year of the war the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve had nearly doubled in numbers (viz., from 5,680 to 9,678). In August 1916 they reached 21,000, in October 1917 their numbers had risen to 30,000, and they reached their maximum - over 40,000 - in October 1918. The Crystal Palace was thus very successful in recruiting all classes of men for entry into the naval service for the period of the war. They provided large numbers of telegraphist and signal ratings for the Fleet and gun ratings for armed merchant ships. It is very probable that some similar organisation will be required in the event of a future mobilisation in order to expand the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve force quickly.

5. The original scheme of mobilisation involved the removal of the majority of the offices and crews of all the harbour establishments (including the gunnery and torpedo schools) and their replacement on a much smaller scale with reserve officers and men. This was actually carried out and it involved the stoppage of all training immediately after mobilisation. It soon became obvious, however, that training must be proceeded with, but when it re-started it could only be on a very much smaller scale and with a staff in most cases of retired officers and pensioners. As the war progressed and the numbers of men to be trained increased, the schools were gradually strengthened. The need for maintaining the schools at full peace strength in war has now been recognised and provision made for retaining their peace complements nearly untouched when mobilisation takes place.

6. The main difficulty experienced by the Manning authorities after Mobilisation was in dealing with:-

(i) heavy increases in complements of all H. M. Ships on a war basis.

(ii) enormous expansion of Auxiliaries to the Fleet.

The first of the above has been met since the war by fixing what is to be the war complement of each class of ship, and including provision in Navy Estimates for these war complements. Provided no additional demands for increased complements are made after future Mobilisations, this difficulty will not arise again. Recently, however, a new difficulty has been introduced as regards complements by the practice of assessing the complements of ships going abroad during peace on a lower scale while so employed. This is due to the lack of accommodation for the full complement while in hot climates, resulting in an undue crowding in the living spaces which is unjustifiable in peace. The result, however, will be that nearly every vessel going abroad will need to be fulled up to her war complement in the event of mobilisation. This will entail some difficulties in the matter of transport at a very inconvenient time during future mobilisations.

7. As regards Auxiliaries, demands were made which had never been contemplated. Such items as Mine Sweeping, Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships, Motor Launches, Armed Merchant Cruisers, Shore Bases, &c, required enormous numbers of men. The extent of these demands may be estimated from the fact that immediately after the Mobilisation of August 1914 we had 201,000 officers and men in the Fleet, and in September 1918 we had 409,000 and this excludes the 55,000 raised for the Air Force and some 50,000 raised for Transport Agreements. Efforts are being made to specify in advance more nearly for what services Reserves will be required on mobilisation and to provide only these. Unless this is done, delays to find and train new entries for specific duties must be expected.

8. So far as finding men was concerned, the war was divided into two periods. During the first period the country relied entirely on volunteers for all services. During the second period, compulsion to serve in one of the armed forces was introduced by the passing of the Military Service Act. So long as sufficient notice was given, there was no difficulty in finding the necessary men under either of these systems. Every man required to serve had the right to volunteer for the Navy if he so desired and if he was required, and in future wars it will be necessary again to secure this advantage for the Navy.

9. One point, on which no decision has yet been reached, is whether the numerous classes of Reserves and Transport Agreements are to be perpetuated. During the last war it was found that they entries under the various Transport and Auxiliary agreements competed very seriously with the entries in the regular Naval forces. The Transport Department in particular, forced up the rate of pay for men on T.124 agreements in competition with the ordinary commercial shipowners, and it frequently happened that men entered in the regular services found themselves serving in the same ship with men nominally junior to them, and of less service, who were receiving much higher rates of pay.

10. In the latter half of 1917 when the nation begun to feel the drain on its manpower, it became necessary to institute a process of substitution wherever possible. Unfit or less fit men were placed in shore billets and other suitable places as substitutes for men fit to go to sea, and eventually, after the institution of the Womens Royal Naval Service, women were largely used for the same purpose. The question of a permanent reserve of this women's force was raised during demobilisation, but it was decided that such a reserve was not necessary and would not justify its cost in peace. It is, however, considered that should another great war arise, it would be politic and wise to re-organise another Women's Naval Corps at once, instead of waiting till the war was nearly over. The W. R. N. S. did excellent service and proved themselves a most useful and reliable force within the limitations of a women's capacity, and their conduct and morale was worthy of every praise.

Last Updated: 26 August, 1999.

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