Naval Intelligence Division

This article is about the British intelligence organisation. For other uses, see Defense intelligence (disambiguation).
For the division in the Israel Navy, see Naval Intelligence Division (Israel).
Naval Intelligence Division
United Kingdom
Agency overview
Formed 1882
Preceding agency
  • Foreign Intelligence Committee
Dissolved 1964
Superseding agency
Jurisdiction Government of the United Kingdom
Headquarters Admiralty Building
Parent agency Admiralty

The Naval Intelligence Division (NID) was the intelligence arm of the British Admiralty before the establishment of a unified Defence Intelligence Staff in 1965. 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]

World War I

During World War I the NID was responsible for the Royal Navy's highly successful cryptographic efforts, Room 40.[6]

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).[7]

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.[8]

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.[9]

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.[10]


In 1965, the three service intelligence departments were amalgamated in the new Defence Intelligence Service at the Ministry of Defence.[11]

Directors of Naval Intelligence

Directors of Naval Intelligence included:[12]

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. Top Secret Ultra by Peter Calvocoressi p16,17 (1980, Cassell Ltd, London) ISBN 0-304-30546-4
  8. Briggs, p. 67
  9. 1 2 Pearson, p. 194-195
  10. "The Naval Intelligence Geographical Handbook Series (Great-Britain, 1941-46) : a description and a call for comments". Retrieved 7 November 2015.
  11. Dylan, p. 184
  12. "Senior Royal Navy appointments" (PDF). Retrieved 7 November 2015.


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