Flag of the Lord High Admiral
The office of Admiral of England (later Lord Admiral, and later Lord High Admiral) was created around 1400; there had previously been Admirals of the northern and western seas. King Henry VIII established the Council of the Marine—later to become the Navy Board—in 1546, to oversee administrative affairs of the naval service. Operational control of the Royal Navy remained the responsibility of the Lord High Admiral, who was one of the nine Great Officers of State. This management approach would continue in force in the Royal Navy until to 1832.
King Charles I put the office of Lord High Admiral into commission in 1628, and control of the Royal Navy passed to a committee in the form of the Board of Admiralty. The office of Lord High Admiral passed a number of times in and out of commission until 1709, after which the office was almost permanently in commission (the last Lord High Admiral being the future King William IV in the early 19th century).
In this organization a dual system operated the Lord High Admiral (from 1546) then Commissioners of the Admiralty (from 1628) exercised the function of general control (military administration) of the Navy and they were usually responsible for the conduct of any war, while the actual supply lines, support and services were managed by four principal officers, namely, the Treasurer, Comptroller, Surveyor and Clerk of the Acts, responsible individually for finance, supervision of accounts, Shipbuilding and maintenance of ships, and record of business. These principal officers came to be known as the Navy Board responsible for 'civil administration' of the navy, from 1546 to 1832.
This structure of administering the navy lasted for 285 years, however, the supply system was often inefficient and corrupt its deficiencies were due as much to its limitations of the times they operated in. The various functions within the Admiralty were not coordinated effectively and lacked inter-dependency with each other, with the result that in 1832, Sir James Graham abolished the Navy Board and merged its functions within those of the Board of Admiralty. At the time this had distinct advantages; however, it failed to retain the principle of distinctions between the Admiralty and supply, and a lot of bureaucracy followed with the merger.
In 1860 saw big growth in the development of technical crafts, the expansion of more admiralty branches that really began with age of steam that would have an enormous influence on the navy and naval thought. Between 1860 and 1908, there was no real study of strategy and of staff work conducted within the naval service; it was practically ignored. All the Navy's talent flowed to the great technical universities. This school of thought for the next 50 years was exclusively technically based. The first serious attempt to introduce a sole management body to administer the naval service manifested itself in the creation of the Admiralty Navy War Council in 1909. It was believed by officials within the Admiralty at this time that the running of war was quite a simple matter for any flag officer who required no formal training. However, this mentality would be severely questioned with the advent of the Agadir crisis, when the Admiralty's war plans were heavily criticized.
Following this, a new advisory body called the Admiralty War Staff was then instituted in 1912, headed by the Chief of the War Staff who was responsible for administering three new sub-divisions responsible for operations, intelligence and mobilisation. The new War Staff had hardly found its feet and it continually struggled with the opposition to its existence by senior officers they were categorically opposed to a staff. The deficiencies of the system within this department of state could be seen in the conduct of the Dardanelles campaign. There were no mechanisms in place to answer the big strategic questions. A Trade Division was created in 1914. Sir John Jellicoe came to the Admiralty in 1916. He re-organized the war staff as following: Chief of War Staff, Operations, Intelligence, Signal Section, Mobilisation, Trade.
It was not until 1917 that the admiralty department was again properly reorganized and began to function as a professional military staff. In May 1917, the term "Admiralty War Staff" was renamed and that department and its functional role were superseded by a new "Admiralty Naval Staff"; in addition, the newly created office of Chief of the Naval Staff was merged in the office of the First Sea Lord. Also appointed was a new post, that of Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff, and an Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff; all were given seats on the Board of Admiralty. This for the first time gave the naval staff direct representation on the board; the presence of three senior naval senior members on the board ensured the necessary authority to carry through any operation of war. The Deputy Chief of Naval Staff would direct all operations and movements of the fleet, while the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff would be responsible for mercantile movements and anti-submarine operations.
The office of Controller would be re-established to deal with all questions relating to supply; on 6 September 1917, a Deputy First Sea Lord, was added to the Board who would administer operations abroad and deal with questions of foreign policy. In October 1917, the development of the staff was carried one step further by the creation of two sub-committees of the Board—the Operations Committee and the Maintenance Committee. The First Lord of the Admiralty was chairman of both committees, and the Operations Committee consisted of the First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff, the Deputy First Sea Lord, Assistant Chief of Naval Staff, and Fifth Sea Lord. The Maintenance Committee consisted of the Deputy First Sea Lord (representing the operations committee), Second Sea Lord (personnel), Third Sea Lord (materiel), Fourth Sea Lord (transport and stores), Civil Lord, Controller and Financial Secretary.
Full operational control of the Royal Navy was finally handed over to the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) by an order in Council, effective October 1917, under which he became responsible for the issuing of orders affecting all war operations directly to the fleet. It also empowered the CNS to issue orders in their own name, as opposed to them previously being issued by the Permanent Secretary of the Admiralty in the name of the Board. In 1964, the Admiralty—along with the War Office and the Air Ministry—were abolished as separate departments of state, and placed under one single new Ministry of Defence. Within the expanded Ministry of Defence are the new Admiralty Board which has a separate Navy Board responsible for the day-to-day running of the Royal Navy, the Army Board and the Air Force Board, each headed by the Secretary of State for Defence. This structure remained in place until the department was abolished in 1964; the operational control and this system still remains in place with the Royal Navy today. For the organisational structure of the admiralty department and how it developed through the centuries see the following articles below.