Naval Intelligence Division (United Kingdom)

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Naval Intelligence Division
United Kingdom
Division overview
Preceding Division
Superseding agency
JurisdictionGovernment of the United Kingdom
HeadquartersAdmiralty Building
Parent departmentAdmiralty Naval Staff

The Naval Intelligence Division (NID) was created as a component part of the Admiralty War Staff in 1912. It was the intelligence arm of the British Admiralty before the establishment of a unified Defence Intelligence Staff in 1964. It dealt with matters concerning British naval plans, with the collection of naval intelligence. It was also known as "Room 39", after its room number at the Admiralty.[1]


The Foreign Intelligence Committee was established in 1882[2] and it evolved into the Naval Intelligence Department in 1887.[3]

The NID staff were originally responsible for fleet mobilisation and war plans as well as foreign intelligence collection; thus in the beginning there were originally two divisions: (1) intelligence (Foreign) and (2) Mobilisation. In 1900 another division, War, was added to deal with issues of strategy and defence, and in 1902 a fourth division, Trade, was created for matters related to the protection of merchant shipping. The Trade Division was abolished in October 1909 in the wake of the Committee of Imperial Defence inquiry into the feud between the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir John Fisher and former Commander-in-Chief Channel Fleet, Admiral Lord Charles Beresford, when it was discovered that the captain heading the Trade Division had been supplying the latter with confidential information during the inquiry.[4]

In 1910, the NID was shorn of its responsibility for war planning and strategy when the outgoing Fisher created the Navy War Council as a stop-gap remedy to criticisms emanating from the Beresford Inquiry that the Navy needed a naval staff—a role the NID had been in fact fulfilling since at least 1900, if not earlier. After this reorganisation, war planning and strategic matters were transferred to the newly created Naval Mobilisation Department and the NID reverted to the position it held prior to 1887—an intelligence collection and collation organisation.[5]

In 1912 the division was established as a component part of the new Admiralty War Staff organisation when that body was abolished in 1917 it continued as a division of the new Admiralty Naval Staff until 1964 when the Admiralty Department was abolished.

World War I

During World War I the NID was responsible for the Royal Navy's highly successful cryptographic efforts, Room 40.[6] The interception and decoding of the Zimmermann Telegram played a role in bringing the United States into the War. It has described as the most significant intelligence triumph for Britain during World War I,[7] and one of the first occasions on which a piece of signals intelligence influenced world events.[8]

World War II

Naval Ultra messages were handled differently from Army and Air Force Ultra because the Admiralty was an operational HQ and could give orders during a battle; while the Imperial General Staff (Army) and Air Staff would give commanders general orders such as, "clear the enemy out of Africa" without telling them how to do it. Hence verbatim translations of naval decodes were sent by Hut 4 to the NID and nowhere else (except for some naval intelligence sent directly from Bletchley Park to Commanders-in-Chief in the Mediterranean).[9]

Hut 8 which decrypted Enigma messages for Hut 4 to translate and analyse had less information for Ultra as the Kriegsmarine operated Enigma more securely than the German Army and Air Force. Hut 4 also broke various hand cyphers and some Italian naval traffic.[10]

The NID also initiated the 30th Assault Unit whose role was information gathering, reconnaissance and sabotage. Members of the unit, including Ralph Izzard, are acknowledged as inspirations for Ian Fleming (who also worked for the NID) in the creation of his fictional spy, James Bond.[11]

Geographical section

The Geographical Section of the Naval Intelligence Division, Naval Staff, Admiralty, produced a series of Geographical Handbooks from 1917-1922 to provide information for the British Armed Forces. The Naval Intelligence Division Geographical Handbook Series was produced between 1941 and 1946 to provide information for the British Armed Forces.[12]


In 1965, the three service intelligence departments were amalgamated in the new Defence Intelligence Service at the Ministry of Defence.[13]

However, well before the mid-1990s another Royal Naval branch existed, namely the Directorate of Naval Security & Integrated Contingency Planning (DNSyICP), which is based at HM Naval Base Portsmouth under the staff command of the Second Sea Lord & C-in-C Naval Home Command.[citation needed]

Directors of Naval Intelligence

Directors of Naval Intelligence included:[14]

Deputy Directors of Naval Intelligence

Deputy Directors of Naval Intelligence included:[15]

See also


  1. Dorril, Stephen (2002). MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service. Simon & Schuster. p. 137. ISBN 0-7432-1778-0.
  2. Allen. The Foreign Intelligence Committee. p. 68.
  3. "Obituary". Obituaries. The Times (34523). London. 13 March 1895. col F, p. 10.
  4. Hurd, Archibald (1921). "The Merchant Navy". John Murray. Retrieved 7 November 2015.
  5. Strachan, Hew (2003). The First World War: Volume I: To Arms. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199261918.
  6. "The Room 40 Compromise" (PDF). U.S. National Security Agency. 1960. Retrieved 7 November 2015.
  7. "Why was the Zimmerman Telegram so important?". BBC. 17 January 2017. Retrieved 17 January 2017. It was, many believed, the single greatest intelligence triumph for Britain in World War One.
  8. "The telegram that brought America into the First World War". BBC History Magazine. 17 January 2017. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
  9. Top Secret Ultra by Peter Calvocoressi p16,17 (1980, Cassell Ltd, London) ISBN 0-304-30546-4
  10. Briggs, p. 67
  11. 11.0 11.1 Pearson, p. 194-195
  12. "The Naval Intelligence Geographical Handbook Series (Great-Britain, 1941-46) : a description and a call for comments". Retrieved 7 November 2015.
  13. Dylan, p. 184
  14. "Senior Royal Navy appointments" (PDF). Retrieved 7 November 2015.
  15. Mackie, Colin. "Senior Royal Navy Appointments from 1865". Retrieved 3 February 2017.


External links

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