Norman Denning

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Sir Norman Denning
Born (1904-11-19)19 November 1904
Whitchurch, Hampshire
Died 27 December 1979(1979-12-27) (aged 75)
Micheldever, Hampshire
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  Royal Navy
Years of service 1921–1967
Rank Vice-Admiral
Commands held Director of Naval Intelligence (1960–64)
Battles/wars Second World War
Cold War
Awards Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Companion of the Order of the Bath

Vice-Admiral Sir Norman Egbert Denning, KBE, CB (19 November 1904 – 27 December 1979) was a Royal Naval and Intelligence Officer at the Admirality and Defence Intelligence Staff who served as Director of Naval Planning from 1945 to 1956, Director of Naval Intelligence from 1960 to 1964, and Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff for Intelligence from 1964 to 1965. Denning was a prominent and pioneering figure in naval and military intelligence and established a successful career during and after the Second World War, holding many senior ranking staff positions.

Early life[edit]

He was born to Charles and Clara Denning in 1904, and his siblings included Alfred Thompson 'Tom' Denning and Reginald Denning. Educated at Andover Grammar School along with his brothers Norman joined the Royal Navy shortly after the end of World War I; despite his bad eyesight[1] he was accepted into the Paymaster Branch. He served as secretary to various senior figures and also worked in supplying naval vessels, but quickly became an expert on naval intelligence. For several years in the early 1930s he served in Singapore and while there was surprised by the number of Japanese fishing and research boats around Singapore, and from his research concluded that the Japanese were in a position where they were able to attack Singapore by land, rather than sea as the British defence plans assumed.[2] He wrote a report and submitted it to the Director of Naval Intelligence, but it was dismissed as him 'over-exercising his imagination'.[1] In 1937 was appointed to the Naval Intelligence Division and attempted to reform the division using lessons learnt from World War I. He was assisted in this by his discovery of a room of old Naval Intelligence papers from World War I and its aftermath, including studies by staff members as to how the unit could be used more effectively and what lessons should be learnt from the use of intelligence-gathering in the war.[3]

Wartime career[edit]

In 1939, with the permission of James Troup, Director of Naval Intelligence from 1935 to 1939, and John Henry Godfrey, Director of Naval Intelligence from 1939 to 1943, the then Lieutenant Commander Denning formulated and established the Operational Intelligence Centre (OIC) for the Navy based at the Admiralty Citadel in London.[4] The OIC became a key and vital element for the British intelligence services, coordinating efforts between decryption units such as the Government Code and Cypher School and the staff and command officers planning operations.[4] Furthermore, Denning was one of the first intelligence officers to recognise the potential of photographic reconnaissance as a worthwhile intelligence source. Consequently, Denning helped persuade the heads of the Royal Air Force to allow the Australian officer Sidney Cotton's pioneering unit, the RAF Photographic Development Unit and then No. 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit RAF to be used for intelligence-gathering.[5]

Later career[edit]

Denning was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his work in 1945, and after the war was made Director of Planning for the Admiralty. He became Director of the Royal Naval College, Greenwich in 1956 and in 1958 became Deputy Chief of Naval Personnel. In 1959 he became Director of Manpower and in 1960 he was made Director of the Naval Intelligence Division, becoming the first non-executive officer to be promoted to that position.[4] He was appointed Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in the 1961 New Year Honours,[6] and promoted Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in the 1963 New Year Honours.[7] In 1964 he was made Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff for Intelligence. He retired from the Navy in 1967 and became head of the D-notices section. After his retirement he spent most of his time at his home in Micheldever, and occasionally gave lectures at institutions both in the United Kingdom and overseas. He died on 27 December 1979; after separating a pair of fighting dogs he was bitten on the hand, and the resulting tetanus jab caused a reaction which set off a heart attack.[8]

Personal life[edit]

He married Iris Curtis in 1933, with whom he had two sons and a daughter.[4] His eldest son John followed him into the navy and joined the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, dying in 1975 after a fall.[8]


  1. ^ a b Heward (1990) p.9
  2. ^ Daniel, R.J. (2004). The End of an Era: The Memoirs of a Naval Constructor. Periscope Publishing Ltd. Retrieved 2009-01-11. 
  3. ^ Denning (1981) p. 111
  4. ^ a b c d "Denning, Sir Norman Egbert". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. 2004. Retrieved 2009-01-10. (subscription required (help)). 
  5. ^ Denning (1981) p. 112
  6. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 42231. p. 8890. 27 December 1960. Retrieved 2009-01-12.
  7. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 42870. p. 5. 28 December 1962. Retrieved 2009-01-12.
  8. ^ a b Denning (1981) p. 121


  • Heward, Edmund (1990). Lord Denning: A Biography. George Weidenfeld & Nicholson Limited. ISBN 0-297-81138-X. 
  • Denning, Alfred Thompson (1981). The Family Story. London: Butterworths. 
Military offices
Preceded by
Sir John Inglis
Director of Naval Intelligence
Succeeded by
Patrick Graham
Preceded by
New post
Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff (Intelligence)
Succeeded by
Sir Harold Maguire