Naval warrant officers and others of the Seaman, Electrical and Signals (Telegraphist) Branches who, in 1947, became the founder members and back bone of the ROYAL NAVAL ELECTRICAL BRANCH whose alma mater was, and still is, H.M.S. Collingwood. The start of a new professional code!.

  We were the very last warrant officers whose origins date back centuries. However, our direct ancestors really came to prominence in the Napoleonic Wars starting with the first sea battle "The Glorious 1st of June" 1794 and ending with "Trafalgar" 1805.

  The following two images are of Commissioned Warrant Officer William H.K. Morton. The one on the left is as you see him in 1947 as a Commisioned Warrant Officer, with a green cloth underneath his quartr inch stripes. The image on the right is of him having been promoted to Senior Commissioned Warrant Officer wearing the green cloth beneath his half inch stripe.

but what did we (the Navy) do 'electrically' before we had an Electrical Branch ?

**NOTE** 20 September 2016. This page is in the course of revision in the light of new information regarding "Electricians Mates" versus "Electrical Mechanics" and their substantive rates, especially in the Torpedo Branch. New information on the Radio Branch and its nomenclature in and post WW2 is also being investigated


(i).  General.

  Seaman ratings in the Torpedo Branch were subjected to a selection process for which personal preference, suitability for further technical training and past record, as well as age were important factors. There was a reluctance to release seamen who had excellent records as 'Users' with potential or existing value as instructors. Selection therefore was very dependent on the ability of the individual to represent his case when made necessary and on that of the Divisional Officer to make an objective judgement, bearing in mind the long term benefits to the Service. This proved difficult in many cases especially in ships stationed overseas where manpower shortages were dominant at the time of the transfer.

  When the Electrical Branch was formed there was a significant problem relating to re-engagement by personnel due, or nearly due, for release and the chances of attracting 'hostilities only' ratings to transfer to a 'regular engagement', were small. These factors also made selection for transfer very difficult. However successful the process, it was soon evident that it would be a number of years before the new Branch could reach the stage where it could satisfactorily meet the requirements laid down by MIDDLETON.

(ii).  Torpedo Branch.

Table of Comparisons

Torpedo Non-Substantive Rate

Substantive Rate

Electrical Rating

Seaman Torpedoman (ST)
Able Seaman
Electrical Mechanic
Leading Torpedo Operator (LTO)
Leading Seaman
Leading Electrical Mechanic
Torpedo Instructor (TI)
Petty Officer
Petty Officer Electrician
Torpedo Gunners Mate (TM)
Chief Petty Officer
Chief Electrician

  The level of technical competence (non substantive rate) of seaman ratings in all Branches was separate from the actual substantive rate held. At the time of formation of the new Branch, advancement to Leading Seaman or Petty Officer was possible without achieving an increased technical standard. For example a Petty Officer could only have a 3rd level ("ST") qualification. Conversely, a Leading Seaman could be technically qualified as a (TI), but not rated Petty Officer because of lack of seamanship qualification or because of overbearing of Petty Officers. In the new Branch, promotion to LEM and beyond was dependent on attaining a higher level of professional competence. This factor made further training necessary or the acceptance of a lower standard than that needed for the responsibilities involved. It is of interest to note that no ratings in the highest Torpedo technical grade (Torpedo Gunners Mate) was transferred. Because Torpedo ratings had been employed on maintenance and repair of electrical equipment, no cross-training was normally required unless needed for next employment.

(iii).  Submarine Detector Branch - Ratings

Torpedo Non-Substantive Rate

Seaman Rating

Submarine Detector (SD)
Able Seaman
Higher Submarine Detector (HSD)
Leading Seaman
Submarine Detector Instructor (SDI)
Petty Officer

  A second category of Torpedo Ratings was employed as Submarine Detector Operators as well as being seaman ratings. The technical non-substantive Rate comparison is shown above. Although administered separately they were part of the Torpedo Branch and were responsible for maintenance and operation of ASDIC (Sonar) equipment. Possibly for purely political reasons none of these were transferred, but the responsibility for maintenance and repair of the equipment was gradually taken over by the Electrical Branch. There was a considerable reluctance on the part of both parties since few Electrical ratings had the necessary expertise in the early years and the Operators were anxious to avoid any possible interference in their own arrangements. However, with the introduction of more complex technology, the incorporation of Sonar within a weapon system and the greatly improved Electrical Branch training enabled it to take over the responsibility originally intended.

(iv).  Hostilities Only Torpedo Branch Ratings

  Apart from the Seaman Ratings there were two other categories belonging to the Torpedo Branch. These were Wiremen and Electrical Mechanics, both introduced during WW2 and were automatically transferred without selection to the new Electrical Branch at the equivalent new Branch rating.

(v).  Signals Branch

  Telegraphists were the only Signal Ratings affected by the changes brought about by the introduction of the Electrical Branch. Apart from those who had volunteered to transfer to the Radio Mechanic Branch after 1944, no other Telegraphists were transferred. The take over of responsibility for maintenance and repair of radio equipment was not whole heartedly welcomed. In some ships the Telegraphist ratings continued to maintain and repair equipment with the tacit approval of the ships Electrical Officer. This practice persisted for several years but was again overtaken by the advent of new equipment requiring specialised training for which the Radio Electrical Artificer and the better trained Radio Electrical rating were competent to undertake. As in the case of the Torpedo Branch Ratings (Ratings (ii) above), Telegraphists had a non substantive qualification and could be promoted to Leading Hand of Petty Officer without attaining a higher technical qualification. This did not present any problems as those transferred to Radio Mechanic (W/T) were rated Leading Hand or Petty Officer as appropriate on completion of cross-training. No 'hostilities only' telegraphists were transferred. Telegraphists on Continuous Service (CS) engagements accepted for transfer to Radio Mechanics (W/T) did not commence training until after the new Branch was formed.

(vi).  Radio Mechanics

  With very few exception, until the transfer of Telegraphist ratings to Radio Mechanic, the majority of these ratings were serving ' hostilities only' engagements. Radio Mechanics were either attached to the Signals Branch or supervised by the Radar Office if available. They were all transferred automatically to the new Branch and cross-trained as required.

Table of Comparisons



Leading Radio Mechanic (W/T)
LREM / Radar
Leading Radio Mechanic (R)
Leading Radio Mechanic (W) - W/T & Radar in small ships till 1944
LREM / Some Radar & W/T
Leading Radio Mechanic (S) - Shore W/T only till 1944
LREM / Ship W/T and all Radar
Petty Officer Radio Mechanic (W/T) or (W) or (S)
Radio Electrician
Petty Officer Radio Mechanic (C) - All ship W/T and Radar
Radio Electrician / Shore W/T
Chief Petty Officer Radio Mechanic (W/T) or (W) or (C)
Chief Radio Electrician / Shore W/T

  After completion of basic technical and workshop training at civil technical colleges throughout UK, Radio Mechanics were sent for further equipment training either for ship equipment or aircraft equipment. Ship equipment instruction was undertaken at HMS Valkyrie in the Isle of Man for radars and at HMS Mercury at Leydene for W/T equipment. Until 1944 some ratings who opted for ship service were given training in both radar and W/T fitted in destroyers and below and these became Radio Mechanics (W). The rest received training in all types of ships radars leading to them becoming Radio Mechanics (R). After 1944 the Radio Mechanics (W) category lapsed and instruction was provided in all types of ship W/T equipment. These were to be then identified as Radio Mechanics (W/T), and attended courses at HMS Scotia, Ayr, Scotland, followed by further training in older equipments at HMS Mercury.

  All categories of Radio Mechanics were transferred automatically on formation of the new Branch at the appropriate rating. Cross-training in either radar or W/T equipment was needed and given as soon as the opportunity allowed. Further promotion was subject to same requirements as Electrical ratings.

(vii).  Shore Wireless Service

  Radio maintenance in Shore Wireless Stations was carried out by Radio Mechanics (S) who had largely been selected from members of the Royal Navy Volunteer (Wireless) Reserve (RNV{W}R) who had civilian professional qualifications or who were radio amateurs ("Hams") and needed no special training other than that needed for the various types of high power transmitting and specialised receivers used ashore. They were retained in this type of employment and did not serve afloat. On release they were replaced by Radio Electrical Ratings who were given suitable special training. If no relief was available, civilian personnel from the separate Shore Wireless organisation sources or telegraphists with Shore Wireless experience were used. By the 1960's the Electrical Branch had assumed full responsibility for all maintenance of shore wireless station equipment.

(viii).  Chief Electrical Artificer and Electrical Artificer

  These key ratings were employed usually by the Torpedo Officer and considered part of the Torpedo Branch. They had all been given apprentice training in basic engineering skills prior to selection for work on electrical equipment on all types of warships. They were able to carry out any type of repair work and also employed in specialist areas such as Gyro Compasses and Gunnery Fire Control systems. Warrant Electricians were promoted only from this category of rating. All Electrical Artificers were transferred directly into the new Branch.

  The need for a direct equivalent specialising in repair of radar and W/T equipment had been recognised by the MIDDLETON Report. However, no equivalent artificer rating existed and there were insufficient Radio Mechanic ratings serving on Continuous Service Engagements who could be given suitable additional craft training. For that reason it was necessary to initiate a major training programme to provide sufficient Radio Electrical Artificers to fill complement billets in the Fleet. Candidates were selected from existing Electrical Artificers of all grades and Electrical Artificer Apprentices under training were also transferred to the new category. None of these needed craft training but they did require instruction in all types of radar and W/T equipment. In addition, Radio Mechanics (W/T) and (R) were also selected and given the necessary workshop training to enable them to take their place in the new Radio Electrical Artificer structure. These two categories also required cross-training in the element with which they had not previously been associated. The Radio Electrical Artificer special training arrangements continued for over 15 years after which selection could be made entirely from the normal apprentice intake.

  Even after completing the initial training there was a long transition period before the new category had sea experience in these equipments to be considered of the same high professional standard as the pre 1939 Electrical Artificer. By the mid 1960's there were sufficient Radio Electrical Artificers to meet most requirements and they had acquired sufficient practical knowledge to be so recognised. This is confirmed by the numbers of ex-apprentice and ex-Radio Mechanic ratings who were promoted to warrant officer and commissioned warrant officer ranks.


(i).  Permanent Commissions - Electrical Specialisation.

  Although no specific Electrical Branch existed before 1946, there was a specialist category of officers who by virtue of training and experience had made a tremendous contribution to the efficient operation of all electrical systems onboard ships. These were Electrical Lieutenants and had been promoted from the rank of Commissioned Electrician (Warrant Officer). From 1937 onwards their contribution had been recognised by an increasing number of promotions and all were transferred to the new Branch on formation as Lieutenants (L) and many were quickly promoted to Lieutenant Commander (L) after 1946. They did however require cross-training in W/T and Radar equipments, although in some cases their particular employment did not afford the opportunity.

(ii).  Torpedo Specialist

  Executive (Seaman) officers who had qualified as Torpedo Officers by the Long Course (T) and who were accepted for transfer, retained their existing ranks and had an increased chance of promotion to fill higher ranks in the new Branch. They were identified by the suffix (L) after their rank designation. All officers in this category required cross-training in W/T and Radar equipment. It should be noted that most of the senior appointments in the Electrical Branch were filled by these officers between 1946 and 1955.

(iii).  Signal Specialists

  Executive (Seaman) officers who had qualified in Signals by the Long Course (S) (including W/T) did not transfer to the new Branch but some Lieutenants who had been promoted from Commissioned Telegraphists were able to transfer. The experience of these officers in particular was essential since their careers were fully concerned with maintenance and repair of both wireless and radar equipment.They were able to continue employment in the technical environment offered by the new Branch. Those who had already been selected for direct promotion to Lieutenant (S) were transferred as Lieutenant (L) and were given cross-training in electrical and radar equipments on transfer.


(i).  Torpedo Branch.

  During the period 1939 to 1945 there was extensive recruitment of RNVR officers. Some with suitable academic or professional engineering qualifications joined as officers. Many more were selected from 'hostilities only' ratings having similar qualifications or experience in electrical engineering and promoted to commissioned rank in the RNVR and allocated to what was known as the "Special Branch" which did not require extensive seamanship training. After a short basic officer training course some served in sea appointments normally filled by Torpedo Officers (T) and others as Assistance Torpedo Officers in major warships. A considerable number were employed ashore in specialised work such as 'Mine Development and Disposal', 'Degaussing' and research work. Those RNVR officers who volunteered to remain in RN service and who were accepted for transfer, received permanent commissions as Lieutenant Commanders or Lieutenants (L) in the Electrical Branch on formation.  Cross-training in W/T, Radar and Fire Control as well as in additional electrical subjects was needed to complete their technical knowledge. These officers formed a large proportion of the Electrical Branch 'middle ranks' until the late 1950's.

(ii).  Radar Branch.

  The first Radar Officers were from the RCNVR and belonged to the "Special Branch". They took up appointments with RN ships after May 1940.  An extensive recruiting drive in universities in 1941 resulted in the first RNVR officers becoming available. Many more graduates were recruited after 1942 and promotions from 'hostilities only' Radio Mechanic Ratings, were made from 1943 onwards. After the end of hostilities appeals were made for RNVR Radar Officers to transfer to permanent commissions and on formation of the Electrical Branch those accepted were transferred as Lieutenants (L) or Sub Lieutenants (L). These officers required cross-training in High and Low Power electrics as well as in Fire Control systems. Promotion prospects to Commander were an attraction since the new Branch was going to be under manned for several years.


(i).  Warrant and Commissioned Electricians.

  In 1939 these were the only true Electrical Officers serving at sea. They were skilled and experienced craftsmen promoted from Artificer ratings. The 'few' Electrical Lieutenants selected from commissioned rank were mainly employed in specialist shore appointments. Employment for several years on maintenance and repair of electrical equipment after extensive training made them of paramount importance in the new Branch. Many, as Artificers, had paramount importance in the new Branch. Many, as Artificers, had paramount importance in the new Branch. Many, as Artificers, had Control systems. As officers they only served in cruisers and above where they were responsible for all technical support to the Torpedo Officer, although they were also concerned with other equipment. All this category of officers were transferred to the Electrical Branch as Warrant or Commissioned Electrical Officers (L). No cross-training was needed at the time of transfer, although after 1950, because of a shortage of Radio Specialists, some did receive training in radar and W/T equipment. On completion of this training they became Warrant or Commissioned Electrical Officers (R). There was no increased chance of promotion for Warrant Officers in the new Branch to Commissioned Warrant rank because of wartime 'Acting' Promotions, not to Electrical Lieutenant because of the restrictions in overall numbers of Lieutenants permitted financially.

(ii).  Torpedo Branch - Gunner 'T' and Commissioned Gunner 'T'.

  A specialist category of Warrant Rank extensively serving at sea, and as a Head of Department (HOD) in Destroyers and A/S Escorts. In Cruisers and above they were responsible to the Torpedo Officer. In addition to their technical responsibilities for electrical equipment they were employed as Seaman Officers and in charge of the training of ratings manning torpedo and depth charge equipments. These ratings also had maintenance responsibilities. Those accepted (or allowed) to transfer to the Electrical Branch became Warrant or Commissioned Warrant Electrical Officers (L) as appropriate. No extensive cross-training was needed and they gained no promotion advantages for the reasons already explained in (i) above. There was a certain degree of reluctance within the Torpedo Branch to allow unrestricted transfer because of fears of losing experienced officers and some were encouraged to change because for quite the opposite reason.

(iii).  Boatswain (A/S) and Commissioned Boatswain (A/S).

  These Warrant Officers were the equivalent of those in (ii) above, who had specialised in ASDIC (Sonar) equipment.  They were far fewer of this category than of the Gunners (T)'s and apart from serving in specialist appointments in A/S Flotillas, they were largely employed ashore. Because of the restricted numbers involved and the need to retain their particular knowledge within the Torpedo Branch, as ' Users' they were excluded from transfer. This deliberate policy decision had long lasting repercussions since the maintenance and repair of all A/S equipment was not fully undertaken by the new Electrical Branch for at least a decade. It was only when it became evident that the use of more sophisticated systems demanded a level of specialist knowledge and training only available to Electrical Branch personnel, that A/S equipment maintenance was totally maintained and repaired by Electrical Branch ratings.By late 1950's there were many more Special Duties* Electrical Officers available and modern A/S equipment was included in their initial training. * In all cases, the Warrant Officer Rank ceased to be in 1949 and was replaced by the Branch List Rank which in its turn was replaced by Special Duties Officers in late 1956.

(iv).  Warrant and Commissioned Telegraphists.

  Maintenance and repair of all W/T equipment was carried out by the User and supervised by these officers. The majority transferred to the new Electrical Branch and became Warrant or Commissioned Warrant Electrical Officers (R). Cross-training in Radar equipment was needed, although for those employed in the Shore Wireless Service (SWS) this was not done if the age at the time of the transfer precluded further General Service appointments. There was no advantage in transfer for these officers other than continuation of technical responsibility.

(v).  The Radar Branch.

  There were no Warrant Officers existing at the time of formation of the Electrical Branch although six ratings were actually on promotion course and five were promoted on the 1st March 1947 to be the first Warrant Electrical Officer (R). Four of these were Radio Mechanics (ex telegraphists) and the other, a Radio Mechanic already qualified in Radar and W/T. Two other Radio Mechanics (ex telegraphists SWS) were promoted later in 1947 and all subsequent promotions were from Radio Electrical Ratings already in the new Branch.


  Prior to the formation of the Electrical Branch in 1947, responsibility for all aspects of availability of electrical equipment fitted in warships was divided between several departments despite the recommendations of the Field-Waistell Committee in 1920 that a single department should be formed for this purpose. Provision of main ship's DC power supply and the maintenance of all electrical equipment fitted in Engine and Boiler Rooms was the responsibility of the Engineer Officer, whilst distribution of all remaining electrical supplies and maintenance of domestic electrical equipment outside those compartments was dealt with by the Torpedo Officer. All other equipment was maintained by the User Department, such as W/T, A/S and Gunnery items.  As a result there was no overall responsibility for the availability of electrical services in ships. This weakness had long been recognised before 1939 but the comparatively simple nature of the systems and equipment, coupled with excellent training of personnel and good will by all concerned, satisfied the needs of a peacetime Navy. The onset of war conditions soon revealed the true depth of the situation. Even before the introduction of far more sophisticated equipments such as radar and power controlled gun-mounting, it became evident from reports relating to damage control and losses of ships, that the way in which electrical maintenance and repair was organised needed drastic review. In addition to the problems being presented onboard ships, this fragmentation of responsibility affected the organisation of Admiralty Departments whose structures were arranged to suit the way in which reports from ships, or directives to ships, were handled. This whole situation was also made more complex by the huge increase in numbers of personnel needed to man and support the Fleet consisting largely of officers and men who were only going to be available for the duration of hostilities. Once the need for re-organisation was accepted by the Board of Admiralty, a Committee {PHILLIPS} was set up to consider the implications of the use of increasing more complex equipment. It had to take into account the large number of personnel required to provide the high standard of support at sea and ashore needed so as to ensure high availability of ships for war. The conclusions of this Committee convinced the Board that an Electrical Branch had to be instituted and a Steering Committee {MIDDLETON} was then set up to make specific recommendations relating to the responsibilities, personnel structure and training for the new Branch. The implementation of the MIDDLETON proposals was not without opposition from those whose horizons were limited to perceived loss of responsibility and promotion prospects. The problems introduced by the need for a large cross-training programme was also considered to be a significant disadvantage. This was unavoidable in order to ensure that those whose experience had been limited by specialist boundaries would be able to adequately deal with a far wider technical field.

  On the 22nd October 2005 a precedent will be set in HMS Collingwood when Communications Branch Warrant Officers (past and serving) will attend a Trafalgar Night Dinner in the Establishment

  To my uncertain {but very near certain} knowledge, this will be the first event of its kind, for normally, despite our aspirations, offering a toast to THE IMMORTAL MEMORY has always been (inexplicably so) a wardroom event. It is therefore an historic event and, I hope, the first of many. The Committee deserves a BRAVO ZULU (meaning well done) for the initiative, which I am sure will send a message to other Branch Warrant Officers and to officers {per se}, that we are serious in our endeavours to meet and match all comers when considering such profound naval matters like for example the legacy left to all Royal Sailors by Admiral Lord Nelson. We are, by and large, knowledgeable devotees of our inheritance manifest in British naval history and particularly that of the 18th century to the present day.


  In passing, and in anticipation of a 'new adventure' which I am sure will be professionally executed and responded to robustly by totally sincere attendees, I found this little piece on a web site which I think would be a wonderful event, were it not for the commercial aspect and the need for 'bums on seats' notwithstanding the background of the attendee, but taking into account their bank balance - and that's per seat! Whilst I have no doubts about naval sincerity, I do wonder about the paying guests.

Trafalgar Night Royal Navy Dinner in the Painted Hall - Greenwich - 20 October 2005

Greenwich Dinner

A magnificent, traditional Trafalgar Night Royal Navy dinner in the Painted Hall of the old Royal Naval College Greenwich on 20th October.

Price: £ 200.00

The opportunity to dine with the Royal Navy at a magnificent, traditional Trafalgar Night dinner in the Painted Hall of the Old Royal Naval College (Greenwich) on 20th October.

Dress for the occasion is Black Tie or Royal Navy 2A (White Waist-Coat) with miniatures.

From 7pm Guests arrive and will be greeted and led to a Champagne reception by actors in period costume as Marines and seamen of 1805, accompanied by the music of the Royal Marines Orchestra. The call to dinner will follow at 8pm.

The four-course meal includes the traditional parading of a ‘Baron of Beef’ by actors dressed as seamen to the beat of a Royal Marine drummer accompanied by a piccolo player; also in period costume. The final course will be chocolate ‘Ships of the Line’, which again, will be paraded before being served. White and Red wines will be served during the meal and Port at the end.

After toasting Her Majesty, the guest of honour: the Commander-in-Chief Fleet, Admiral Sir Jonathon Band KCB, will address the diners and propose the toast to ‘The Immortal Memory’. The dinner will conclude with the singing of sea-shanties and for those who wish to, the evening will continue with a cash bar open until midnight, after which guests will depart.


Leviathan’s Prize from The Deep

Smoked Trout Mousse wrapped in Smoked Salmon

Fighting Temeraire

Roast Baron of English Beef Winter Vegetables

Swiftsure’s Scurvy Stopper

Lemon and Hazelnut Roulade With a Balsamic Glazed Fig

Band of Brothers’ Ships of the Line and Coffee

Note: Vegetarian and Special Dietary requirement menus available


   It may reasonably be assumed that the members of the PHILLIPS and the MIDDLETON Committees were unable to take into account the extensive changes in the naval service which took place in the 20 years Electrical Branch. They could not have foreseen either following the formation of the the decimation of the Fleet or the tremendous technical advances to be made. In addition recruitment problems have plagued all attempts to provide a high standard of technical support for all types of weapon and electrical equipment. It is these factors which have had the greatest influence policy making since 1947. The amalgamation of the Marine Engineering Branch and the Electrical Branches, including those elements such as Ordnance is one of the milestones along this track. Many changes in training and the transfer of personnel into further new categories has been necessary. By the 1990's an even more significant policy decision was made when an entirely new rating structure was introduced. In the latest arrangements a return has been made to the old concept of the User-Maintainer. Those who operate weapon and communication systems are now charged with its availability and supported by suitably trained back-up by both officers and artificer ratings who are also involved in the operation of equipment. For this reason it is suggested that the developments since 1935 have been completely 'revolutionary' rather than a process of 'evolution'. Perhaps this basic approach, made after the introduction of steam propulsion and increased use of mechanical devices in warships, did not need to change ? Current feedback, suggests that the user maintainer concept has too many problems to be a viable course of action, and as such is subject to a complete re-think. As this was written (2006) the navy certainly was in a state of flux on this and these subjects.

  Recent feed back points to the flux nearing melt-down, and after various user maintainer schemes failing, the 'system' is still not resolved for the Navy. However, since the navy is now managed by civilian companies who own the equipment sited in our ships, and service/repair things in-situ, there is really no need to have any front line maintenance system, and after all, were they allowed to touch these civilian managed/owned equipments, couldn't anybody be trained to change a board, so why the need for the old fashion and traditional Greenie ?