Entry and Training (Officers)

Officer training in the Royal Navy 1914
Chrono date: 
1914 Jan 01

UP till 1902 all naval and marine officers had been entered in the three definite and distinctive branches of the service : Executive, Engineers, Marines. The future Executive Officers, entered as Cadets at from 13 to 15 years of age, were sent direct to the Britannia at Dartmouth, where they underwent their schooling and early training preparatory to being sent to sea. The Engineer Students were sent to Keyham College, where they graduated as Engineer Officers; while the Marines, Red and Blue, entered their respective corps, where they went through a long course of training preparatory to a sea life. In 1902 the whole of this system was altered for one of common entry ; the scheme was introduced by Lord Selborne, at that time First Lord, and unquestionably gave rise to one of the bitterest controversies that has ever affected the Navy. It is not our task here to take sides in that controversy, but to set out the causes that led up to the change.

Far away back in the past the dominating influence on board all ships of war was  essentially military. In those times the definite Navy ship was not known, so that when soldiers wanted to cross the water to meet the enemy they had to use ships for the purpose ; the seamen were simply used to navigate and handle the ship. As time passed a definite Navy came into existence, the purely military element - that is Army element - gradually gave place to the Sea Officer, and to the Seaman proper came the work to navigate and fight his ship, the fighting officer retaining all executive power in his hands. So extraordinarily jealous were these old Sea Officers of their position as fighting officers, that while they would work the ship from port to port they would not navigate her, looking on a knowledge of navigation as something beneath them and infra dig. The result was that the Navy carried its own special Navigating Officers, known as Masters and Masters' Mates, and it was not till an Order in Council of 25 June, 1867, that the office of Master was transferred to the Navigating Officer—an executive lieutenant who specialises in navigation.

The Surgeon and Purser, though officers, were looked down on by the Executives, while when Marines were introduced afloat, the Marine Officer was also subordinate to the Executive Officer.

When auxiliary engines were first introduced into ships of war could the rulers of the King's Navy have seen ahead they would probably have made provision for the gradual development of engineering science. But we have to realise that our old Sea Lords had been brought up to masts and sails, and the very last thing they were capable of realising was that a ship could ever move from port to port by any other motive power than the wind. The Board of Admiralty in Lord Melville's day was confronted by a proposal to introduce steam into the Navy; they looked on it as a monstrous innovation and repudiated it in the following minute :—

"They felt it their bounden duty upon national and professional grounds, to discourage to the utmost of their ability the employment of steam vessels, as they considered that the introduction of steam was calculated to strike a fatal blow to the naval supremacy of the Empire."

It was under those conditions that the engineer and stoker were introduced into the Navy!

The first of the engineers had to deal only with auxiliary engines-which were never used if it could be avoided—and were scarcely above the level of a working mechanic. They seem to have laid no claim to birth, breeding, or education, and though entered as officers, their comrades scarcely looked on or recognised them as such. But all the prejudice in the world could not hold back the progress of the steam-engine, and as engines grew in power and complication of mechanism the type of man necessary to manipulate them also improved. So enormously rapid was the development of steam during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, that by its end we had actually got back to the same condition of things that existed several centuries ago, when the soldiers used to dominate the ship without knowing anything of seamanship, trusting to the seamen whom they looked down upon to carry them from place to place. Sails had gone, masts had gone, and a ship of war was a huge piece of complicated machinery. An Executive Officer had all power of control, yet they were being educated as their fellows of a past generation, and when anything wanted doing they had to wait till an engineering officer came along to put things right.

The Marine Officer also held a somewhat anomalous position. Brought up as either infantrymen or artillerists, but essentially soldiers rather than sailors, their activities were limited to looking after certain portions of the work of their detachments, and "got a better job than the Captain of Marines" came to be a service expression denoting the perfection of easy times.

We also have to remember that the Engineers' branch of the personnel had grown to such proportions that it involved a large part of a ship's company, while the Engineer Officer hardly bore any relationship whatever to his position of a past generation, yet a very great deal of class prejudice existed, a thing which after full consideration the Admiralty felt was anything but beneficial to the service : men are only too prone to identify themselves with any little friction or feeling existing amongst their officers. In 1902, therefore, Lord Selborne introduced a scheme which entirely revolutionised the entry and training of officers for His Majesty's Navy. Instead of there being Executive, Engineering, and Marines, all entered separately and trained separately, there was to be one concise source of entry. Every future officer would be entered as a Cadet at the age of from 12 to 14, and would undergo two years' training; a new College was built at Osborne and an entire new system of education and training was instituted.

These young officers were educated in engineering, gunnery, torpedo, and all parts of engineering. They were to pursue their labours and studies up to the time of Lieutenant rank, when they could specialise either as Executives, Engineers, or Marines, but as all came from a common source, and all had gone through a common training, all class prejudice would be, it was hoped, eliminated.

The progress of the new Cadets was very carefully studied during the first two years of the new system, and at the close of that time the Admiralty felt that the experience gained warranted them in instituting a detailed enquiry into the probable future development of the new officer. A committee was appointed under the presidency of Admiral Sir Archibald Douglas, g.c.v.o., k.c.b., who was at that time Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth, to consider whether the time had arrived to formulate regulations for the allocation of the duties of future officers in the various branches of the service and to report :-

a.Whether any necessity exists for the distinct classification of such officers under existing branches of the Navy with a view to their remaining specialised (i.e. Executive, Engineer, and Marine) for the whole of their future career.

b. Whether specialisation for a period of their career only is necessary ; and if so to indicate the procedure that should be followed to carry out the necessary duties of the service afloat.

c. How best to provide for filling the higher scientific appointments of the Admiralty and the Dockyards.


With the Report we need not deal here except to say that it stated that there would be no need for a final division into the three branches, and that specialisation for a period only was necessary as opposed to permanent classification into definite lines. Since then very considerable modifications have been made to suit both prejudice and experience, but the net result will be, it is expected, a good all-round skilled engineer, able to thoroughly understand the multitude of engines a modern ship contains.

These, however, are the days of the specialist, and even if we successfully overcome the difficulty of the three branches, the specialist will still survive.

To-day the Cadet goes through his course of College training and is then drafted to sea in a special training cruiser. He becomes a midshipman and is eligible for ships in the fleet. Here he has charge of a boat and other responsibilities thrown upon him to teach him how to handle men. His next step is Sub-Lieutenant, and another series of courses and College, more sea time and promotion to Lieutenant. It is from here that he becomes a specialist amongst specialists, gunnery, torpedo, or navigation claiming him for its own. If he desires, he may, having qualified in other directions, enter the Submarine Service or the Air Service. It is from these specialists that promotion to the higher ranks are chosen. We give here some of the regulations guiding the entry of Cadets into the Navy :-

No nomination is required by a Candidate for a Naval Cadetship. All that is necessary is to send an application to the Assistant Private Secretary to the First Lord of the Admiralty. Applications should not be made until the Candidate has reached 12 1/2 years of age.

Candidates must be of pure European descent, and the sons either of natural-born or naturalised British subjects. In doubtful cases the burden of clear proof will rest upon the parents or guardians of Candidates.

All Naval Cadets entered under these regulations are trained together until they pass for the rank of Lieutenant.

After passing for the rank of Lieutenant, they may be required to serve either as general service Officers or in one of the special branches, undertaking either Engineering, Gunnery, Torpedo, Navigation, or Marine duty.

As far as possible Officers selected for special service will be allowed to choose the branch in which they will qualify, subject to the proviso that all branches are satisfactorily filled. On the entry of a Cadet, parents or guardians will be required to undertake that, in the event of his withdrawing or being withdrawn from the College,

or from the Navy, before being confirmed as a Sub-Lieutenant, they will pay to the Admiralty, if demanded, the sum of £25 per term in respect of each term passed by him at the R.N. College, Osborne or Dartmouth, from the date of his entry to the date of his withdrawal, as a contribution towards the balance of the cost of his training and maintenance not covered by the annual payment of £75.

This undertaking does not apply to Cadets withdrawn at the request of the Admiralty.

The Qualifying Examination is in the following subjects :-

(1) English (including writing from dictation, and reproduction of the gist of a short   passage twice read aloud to the Candidates).

(2) History and Geography, with special reference to the British Empire.

(3) Arithmetic and Algebra (two-thirds of the questions in this paper will be on Arithmetic. The use of Algebraic symbols and processes will be allowed).

Arithmetic.—The simple and compound rules, avoirdupois weight, linear and square and  cubic measures, the elementary mensuration of rectangular surfaces and volumes,

measure of capacity (pints, quarts, gallons), the metric system (the metre, gramme, and litre, with their multiples and submultiples), money (including the relationship  of the cent to the dollar, and the centime to the franc), reduction, factors, the addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and simplification of vulgar fractions, non-recurring decimal fractions, simple proportion, ratio and percentage, simple interest.

Algebra.—The meaning of algebraic symbols, substitution of values, easy identities, equations of the first degree, including simultaneous equations, verification of the

solution of equations, problems leading to simple equations, multiplication and division by binomial operator, easy factors (excluding sum and difference of cubes), fractions with numerical denominators.

(4) Geometry. The paper will consist of questions both on Practical and Theoretical Geometry.

All Naval Cadets shall be subject to the Regulations for the time being in force respecting Cadets while at the Royal Naval Colleges at Osborne and Dartmouth and on board the Training Cruisers.

For all Cadets entering under these regulations payment will be at the rate of £75 per annum for the period under training at the Colleges, to be paid in sums of £25 every term in advance to the Cashier of the Bank of England on receipt of claim from the Accountant-General of the Navy. But the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty reserve the power of selecting from among the Cadets entered on each occasion subsequent to November, 1913, a number not exceeding 25 per cent of the entries, with respect to whom the annual payment will be £40 only (to be paid in sums of £13 6s. 8d. every term in advance). A proportion of those admitted at the reduced scale will be sons of Officers of the Navy, Army, or Marines, or of Civil Officers under the Board of Admiralty, the reduced scale being reserved for such boys up to a maximum of 10 per cent of the total entries on each occasion. The reduced scale will be allowed only in cases where the pecuniary circumstances of the parents are, in the opinion of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, such as to justify it. Forms of application for admission at the reduced scale will be issued in respect of all candidates who are selected after interview to attend the Qualifying Examination, and when duly filled in should be returned as soon as possible by such parents as desire to make application for the reduced scale.

Claims will be made upon the Parents or Guardians by the Accountant-General of the Navy for the sums payable as they become due, and the money should be at once remitted.

In addition to the above payments, any expenses incurred by a Cadet for clothing, sports, books, instruments, washing, etc., as well as the allowance of Is. a week paid as pocket-money, are included in the personal account sent to the Parent from the College as soon as possible after the end of each term.

The course of study includes the following subjects :—

Mathematics, with Geometrical Drawing.

Physics and Chemistry.

Mechanics and applied Mechanics, with laboratory work.

Applied Electricity, with laboratory work.

Engineering, with workshop practice and Mechanical Drawing.

Seamanship, with Gunnery in the Training Cruiser.


French or German.

English Grammar and Composition.

English Literature.

History, including Naval History.


Bible Study.

Drill and Physical Training.

A large proportion of the time of the Cadets is given to the practical study of Engineering in the Workshops and Instructional Steamboats attached to the Colleges, and also in the Training Cruisers.




Established in 2003, Royal Navy History is the leading and official website for the History of the Royal Navy.
Copyright © 2017, Royal Navy History