Ministry of Supply

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The Ministry of Supply (MoS) was a department of the UK Government formed in 1939 to co-ordinate the supply of equipment to all three British armed forces, headed by the Minister of Supply. There was, however, a separate ministry responsible for aircraft production, and the Admiralty retained responsibilities for supplying the Royal Navy.[1] During the war years the MoS was based at Shell Mex House in The Strand, London.

The Ministry of Supply also took over all army research establishments in 1939.[2] The Ministry of Aircraft Production was abolished in 1946, and the MoS took over its responsibilities for aircraft, including the associated research establishments. In the same year it also took on increased responsibilities for atomic weapons, including the H-bomb development programme.

The Ministry of Supply was abolished in 1959 and its responsibilities passed to the Ministry of Aviation, the War Office and the Air Ministry. The latter two ministries were subsequently merged with the Admiralty to form the Ministry of Defence.

The Ministry of Supply instigated the Rainbow Codes designation system. This assigned projects a two-word codename, the first word being a colour and the second a noun. As a result, secret weapon projects—including numerous nuclear weapons—were given lighthearted names such as Green Cheese, Blue Slug or Red Duster.

Second World War[edit]

The Royal Ordnance Factories[edit]

The Ministry of Supply was responsible for building and running the Royal Ordnance Factories which produced explosives and propellants; filled ammunition; and constructed guns and rifles. However, the Ministry of Works and/or private building contractors acted as agents during their construction. The Ministry was also responsible for the supply of tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles; however, these were mostly designed and built by private arms companies, such as William Beardmore and Company and Vickers, as well as other engineering companies.

Agency factories[edit]

The Ministry of Supply also arranged for the construction of a large number of Agency Factories which were run on its behalf by private companies, such as Nobel Industries. These were similar to the Royal Ordnance Factories, but were not part of the Royal Ordnance Factory organisation.

Ministry of Supply factories[edit]

Labour supply[edit]

The Ministry of Supply was also responsible for the labour force of these factories, although the Ministry of Labour did the recruitment. From the middle of the war onwards the Ministry of Supply was in direct competition with the Ministry of Aircraft Production for labour and the two organisations had to reach agreement. Towards the end of the war the Ministry of Supply released labour so that they could transfer to the Ministry of Aircraft Production.

Research establishments[edit]

From the beginning of the Second World War the army research establishments were put under the control of the Ministry of Supply. It was through the MoS that the essential connections were made between military requirements and the scientists and engineers of the civil service, industry, and academia (many academics were recruited into the civil service on a temporary basis). Examples include:

  • The Experimental Bridging Establishment, Christchurch (later to become part of MEXE)
  • The Experimental Demolition Establishment, Christchurch from 1942 (later to become part of MEXE)
  • The Experimental Tunnelling Establishment, Christchurch from 1942
  • The Fighting Vehicles Proving Establishment (FVPE), Chertsey
  • The Projectile Development Establishment at Fort Halstead (moved to Aberporth in 1940 where it remained until 1945)
  • The Telecommunications Research Establishment in Malvern, critical in the development of radar
  • The Wheeled Vehicle Experimental Establishment (WVEE), Farnborough 1942, then Chertsey from 1943

Post-war Ministry of Supply[edit]

Expansion of scope[edit]

Following the Second World War, the post-war Ministry of Supply was created on 1 April 1946 as a result of the amalgamation of the former Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Aircraft Production. The functions and responsibilities of the new department remained basically the same as its predecessors.

Atomic weapons[edit]

Later in the same year, the MoS took over the responsibility for atomic weapons research. Lord Portal was appointed as Controller of Production (Atomic Energy); and in 1950 the High Explosive Research Establishment at Fort Halstead was renamed the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE), with William Penney as its first Director.[3]

The atomic energy research function was relinquished in 1954 when the UK Atomic Energy Authority was set up, although the Ministry of Supply retained responsibility for the control of atomic weapons. The AWRE moved from Fort Halstead to Aldermarston in 1955.

Post-war research establishments[edit]

Immediately after the war, aviation research establishments joined the army ones under Ministry of Supply control, and further new research establishments were developed during the Cold War era. Among the Ministry of Supply research establishments (in addition to HERE and AWRE mentioned above) were :

  • The Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (AAEE) at Boscombe Down from 1945
  • The Clothing and Stores Trials Establishment (CSTE) was formed in 1948 at West Byfleet
  • The Clothing and Equipment Physiological Research Establishment (CEPRE) was formed in 1948 at Farnborough
  • The Clothing and Stores Experimental Establishment (CSEE) was formed in 1955 at West Byfleet by merging the CSTE and CEPRE
  • The Explosives Research & Development Establishment (ERDE) was formed in 1945 at Waltham Abbey
  • The Fighting Vehicle Research and Development Establishment (FVRDE) at Chertsey, formed in 1952 from the Wheeled Vehicle Experimental Establishment and the Fighting Vehicles Proving Establishment
  • The Guided Projectile Establishment formed in 1945 at Westcott (in 1946 becoming part of the RAE and renamed the Rocket Propulsion Establishment)
  • The Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment (MAEE) came under the Ministry of Supply after moving from Helensburgh to Felixstowe in 1945, and closed in 1956
  • The Military Engineering Experimental Establishment (MEXE) at Christchurch formed in 1946
  • The Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough (and both RAE Bedford from 1946 and RAE Aberporth from 1947)
  • The Services Electronics Research Laboratory (SERL) at Harlow and Baldock formed in 1945
  • The Signals Research and Development Establishment at Christchurch formed in 1948
  • The Telecommunications Research Establishment which merged with the Radar Research and Development Establishment in 1953 to become the Radar Research Establishment, and from 1957 was renamed the Royal Radar Establishment

Reversion to single-service ministries[edit]

The Ministry of Supply was wound up in 1959 when the Ministry of Aviation was created, and other functions in respect of British Army and Royal Air Force supply reverted to the War Office and Air Ministry respectively.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hornby (1958)
  2. ^ "National Military Establishments and the Advancement of Science and Technology", Paul Forman, José Manuel Sánchez Ron, Springer Science & Business Media, 1996
  3. ^ Arnold (2001), Chapter 4: What Must Britain Do?