Ministry of Supply

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

The Royal Ordnance Factories

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

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

Labour supply

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

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 Tunelling 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
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