Minister of Defence (United Kingdom)

The post of Minister of Defence was responsible for co-ordination of defence and security from its creation in 1940 until its abolition in 1964. The post was a Cabinet-level post and generally ranked above the three service ministers, some of whom, however, continued to also serve in Cabinet.


Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, concerns about British forces being understrength led in 1936 to the creation of the post of Minister for Coordination of Defence by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. The post was abolished by Baldwin's successor Neville Chamberlain in April 1940.

On his appointment as Prime Minister in May 1940, Winston Churchill created for himself the new post of Minister of Defence. The post was created in response to previous criticism that there had been no clear single minister in charge of the prosecution of the war. In 1946, the post became the only cabinet-level post representing the military, with the three service ministers—the Secretary of State for War, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and the Secretary of State for Air—now formally subordinated to the Minister of Defence.

In 1964, the creation of a single, merged Ministry of Defence and the abolition of the separate service ministries in the UK led to the creation of the new post of Secretary of State for Defence, more popularly known as Defence Secretary.

Ministers of Defence, 19401964

Name Portrait Term of office Political party Prime Minister
Winston Churchill 10 May 1940 27 July 1945 Conservative Winston Churchill
(War Coalition)
Clement Attlee 27 July 1945 20 December 1946 Labour Clement Attlee
A. V. Alexander 20 December 1946 28 February 1950 Labour Co-op
Emanuel Shinwell 28 February 1950 26 October 1951 Labour
Winston Churchill 28 October 1951 1 March 1952 Conservative Sir Winston Churchill
The Earl Alexander
of Tunis
1 March 1952 18 October 1954 none
Harold Macmillan 18 October 1954 7 April 1955 Conservative
Selwyn Lloyd 7 April 1955 20 December 1955 Conservative Sir Anthony Eden
Sir Walter Monckton 20 December 1955 18 October 1956 Conservative
Antony Head 18 October 1956 9 January 1957 Conservative
Duncan Sandys 13 January 1957 14 October 1959 Conservative Harold Macmillan
Harold Watkinson 14 October 1959 13 July 1962 Conservative
Peter Thorneycroft 13 July 1962 1 April 1964 Conservative
Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The post of Minister of Defence was abolished in 1964 and replaced by the new post of Secretary of State for Defence.

See also

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